When it comes to maintaining happy relationships (both romantic and professional), you may have heard of the magic 5:1 ratio. Developed by famed couples therapist John Gottman, the rule states that if you want your relationship to thrive, make sure you and your partner have five positive interactions for every negative one.
Why is the proportion of happy times to sad ones so lopsided? The rule is rooted in a wider truth about human psychology: we're wired to be biased toward the negative. While we barely notice success and let compliments go in one ear and out the other, we remember every setback and slight, and often ruminate about the smallest failures for days or weeks.
This bias helped us avoid hungry lions back in the day, but now according to a new book by Gary Lewandowski Jr., it might be taking a serious toll on your relationship. As Lewandowski, a psychologist who studies the science of healthy relationships, writes on the Greater Good Science Center, our negativity bias "makes us more critical of our relationship than we should be. Along the way, we take the good times for granted and they become an under-appreciated part of our partnership."
The solution for many of us, he argues, is to remind ourselves just how good we have it with our current partners. Sure, you might bicker about the laundry or get irritated at their constant presence during the pandemic, but if you can answer yes to the following questions, Lewandowski insists your relationship is probably a lot stronger than you sometimes think. Fight back against your bias for the negative and celebrate that fact.
- Can you be yourself? If you can honestly say "you and your partner accept each other for who you are; you don't try to change each other. You can simply be yourself and show your true identity without worrying if your partner will judge you," that's the first sign you're doing alright, according to Lewandowski.
- Are you BFFs? Think being best buds with your partner will kill the romance? Research actually suggests "that romantic partners who emphasize friendship tend to be more committed and experience more sexual gratification," Lewandowski reports.
- Do you feel comfortable and close? Vulnerability can be incredibly hard, so if you feel like you can let your emotions (even your ugly ones) show with your partner and still feel close and secure, that's a very good sign.
- Are you more alike than different? Opposites attract? Not according to science. "Key areas of similarity may help make your relationship more satisfying, new research suggests," notes Lewandowski. Differing taste in music, movies, or food is nothing to worry about, but it's definitely a good thing if you both enjoy the same basic lifestyle and values.
- Do you feel like a team? "Words matter. When you talk, do you often use words like 'we,' 'us,' and 'our?'" asks Lewandowski.
- Do they make you a better person? What you're looking for here isn't a partner who wants to change you (that rarely works out well). Instead, partners in strong, healthy relationships help their better halves become the person they want to be.
- Do you share the power? One partner might be the family's designated vacation planner, while the other rules the kitchen, but looking across the whole span of your life together, do you just have an equal say and an equal workload ? "Unsurprisingly, couples are happier when they feel the division of labor in their relationship is fair," Lewandowski confirms.
- Are they fundamentally good? Again it's no shock that people want a partner "who is reliable, warm, kind, fair, trustworthy, and intelligent. Though these traits aren't flashy and may not immediately come to mind when creating your partner wish list, they provide the foundation for a resilient relationship," writes Lewandowski.
- Do you trust each other? This isn't just about trusting that your partner really is where he says he is on Saturday night. It also means that you're confident your partner has your best interests at heart.
- Do you avoid major drama? "There are problems, and then there are problems. Sometimes it's easy to forget about all of the problems and major red flags we don't have to deal with. 'Dark side' issues like disrespect, cheating, jealousy, and emotional or physical abuse are relationship killers," Lewandowski reminds readers. If your relationship lacks these major issues, give yourself proper credit.
How many of these questions were you able to answer in the affirmative?