The success equation involves a number of factors. Determination, willpower, grit--a trait  you can definitely develop--is one. Being more likable is another; and yep, you can develop that quality, too. Creating processes that, if followed consistently, lead to the right outcomes. (Call it the Jerry Seinfeld Method.)

None of those attributes come as a surprise, but here's one that might: the person you marry.

People with relatively prudent and reliable partners tend to perform better at work, earning more promotions, making more money, and feeling more satisfied with their jobs, according to researchers at Washington University in St. Louis. 

The math is simple. "Conscientious" partners perform more household tasks. They exhibit more pragmatic behaviors their spouses are likely to emulate. They promote a more satisfying home life. 

In short, a good partner sets a good example...and makes it possible for you to be a better you.

So let's say you've done that. Your partner is conscientious and prudent. So are you. 

And you actively work on being supportive. Both of you lead by example, finding ways to help each other achieve individual and joint goals. 

Even so: While marrying the right person is important...for the partnership to work, you also have to stay married.

And it turns out there's math for that, too.

The Argument Equation

A psychologist and a mathematician conducted a simple experiment. They asked couples to spend 15 minutes:

  1. Talking about their day. Something that happened. Something they did. Basically, "How was your day?"
  2. Talking about something positive. Something they liked. Something they enjoyed. 
  3. Talking about something they didn't agree about. Something contentious. Spending. Politics. Sex. Food. Chores. As long as it led to disagreement, the actual subject didn't matter.

They then rated the emotions displayed during the conversations. From anger, belligerence, and affection, warmth, and shared humor.

The worst emotion? Contempt. (No surprise there.) The best? Humor. But the humor had to be shared. 

If we're laughing together, that's a sign of warmth and companionship. If only one person is laughing, especially at the other...that's a sign of disrespect and disdain.

And even contempt.

Each emotion was assigned a score, from -4 (contempt) to +4 (shared humor). The resulting ratio indicated how couples resolve conflict.

And is extremely predictive of the likelihood of divorce.

Some couples averaged five positive comments to every negative comment; those couples turned out to be extremely unlikely to divorce.

Others averaged one positive comment for every negative comment; the couples who fell into that category were almost all divorced within four years. 

The 3 Keys to Relationships: Validation, Validation, Validation

The researchers determined a "validating" relationship is most likely to survive.

And thrive.

Think about how you argue. If a simple disagreement often quickly devolves into sneering, eye-rolling, name-calling, etc., not only does that make it tough to resolve a difference, it's also a recipe for bigger problems.

If you're busy arguing, you aren't thinking about your role in the dispute. You aren't thinking about what you might have said. Or done. 

And you definitely aren't listening--which means you can't understand or appreciate what the other person is saying. Much less feeling. 

Which means you could end up with a "hostile-detached" relationship.

Which means, over time, you could end up with no relationship at all.

The Argument Equation at Work

All of which leads to a broader point.

If a marriage--a relationship at least initially based on caring, affection, and love--can break down due to how people resolve conflicts...think how easily a work relationship (boss to employee, peer to peer, etc.) can break down. The journey from "validating" to "hostile-detached" can be incredibly quick, especially when there's no personal foundation to the relationship.

And that's why three of the most important things you can say when you and another disagree, whether it's with your significant other or someone you hardly know, are: 

"I'm wrong."

You don't lose respect when you admit you made a mistake. You gain it.

And you show that you care a lot more about what is right than about being right.

And you show that you care more about the relationship than about being right.

"You're right." 

Same reasons.

Plus: No one gets enough praise. Saying, "You're right," is not only validating, it also implies praise.

And respect.

Which is the underpinning of any relationship.

"I'm sorry." 

We all have things we need to apologize for: words, actions, omissions, failing to step up, step in, show support....

Just don't follow "I'm sorry" with a disclaimer like "But I was really upset because..." or "But I do think you could have...." Or with any statement that places even the tiniest bit of blame on the other person.

Say you're sorry. Say why you're sorry. Take all the blame. That alone will decrease the heat in just about every argument.

Which gets you back on the road to validation.

Which, in any relationship, is definitely the place you want to be.