Gottman’s 5 to 1 Ratio

Everyone wants to feel heard and valued.

Increasingly, I find myself reading up on all things autism, due to my recent diagnosis. The other day I was particularly interested in how people cope with meltdowns, because I was writing blog post on the subject, which you can find here. I find that you can learn a lot if you not only read articles, but read the comments from readers that often follow them.  This time was no exception.

Many people were giving advice based on their own experiences with autistic meltdowns, and one mom said that she always tries to follow Gottman’s 5 to 1 Ratio. Unfortunately, she didn’t elaborate. Now, I knew I had heard of this ratio before, but for the life of me, I couldn’t place it. So naturally I delved deeper with the help of a search engine, as one does.

I went directly to the source. The Gottman Institute website reminded me why I had heard of this ratio. It comes from their research into healthy and happy marriages. By studying how couples work through conflicts, they were able to predict, with 90% accuracy, which couples would divorce. They determined that for every negative interaction a couple has during a conflict, a stable and happy marriage has at least five positive interactions.

I genuinely believe this ratio is true, based on my own observations. However, I had never thought of applying it to relationships that weren’t romantic, such as those with work colleagues or children or friends. I have no idea why.

I think everyone wants to feel heard and valued. Everyone appreciates little acts of kindness. It’s always a more comfortable conversation when we can emphasize common ground, understanding, and compassion. All of these things constitute positive interactions.

Dear Husband, in particular, is very adept at this. I’ve never met anyone before him who seemed to be born to be married. DH definitely is. He thrives in matrimony. He is positive with me in particular, but he’s also that way in general. It’s second nature to him to seek out the positive spin on every situation, and you can tell that he’s really sincere about it. How lucky I am to have found him!

I, on the other hand, waited until I found a keeper, which means I married for the first time at age 53. Sometimes I feel like I’m a baby giraffe just learning how to walk in this marriage thing. DH is very patient with me, and he has taught me a great deal by sheer example.

You’d think positive interactions would be common sense, but they don’t come as naturally to others as they do to my husband. That’s unfortunate. I agree that it’s also good to be playful in a marriage, but I’ve known a lot of people who take this way too far.

It’s okay to joke and gently tease, but it’s easy to cross the line. Some jokes can be cruel. Some teasing can be humiliating. If you get too comfortable in your interactions, they can become hurtful. I’ve witnessed a lot of couples who interact in that manner, and often at least one of them doesn’t seem to realize that they’ve stopped being mindful of the other’s feelings. Those are the relationships that don’t last. I often wish those people could pay more attention to how Dear Husband treats me.

But the same thing can be said about how one deals with coworkers or friends. Have fun, yes, but also show that you respect the people you interact with. Make sure they feel that you support them. These basic tenets have fallen by the wayside since 2016, and it’s having a negative impact on society in general. We have to turn this around somehow.

I know it sounds corny, but that’s only because it’s so true: “In a world where you can be anything, be kind.”

An attitude of gratitude is what you need to get along. Read my book!