How much conflict can the typical marriage tolerate and remain intact? Research indicates that couples need to look away from conflict to answer that question.

Gottman’s Golden Ratio

Marriage research by Dr. John Gottman demonstrates that every marriage maintaining a five positive to one negative encounter ratio will remain solid and intact. He dubbed the 5:1 ratio as the “golden ratio.”

The main question becomes, how do we ensure the golden ratio in our marriage. Well, consider these avenues for positive encounters:

  1. Listen for Understanding—Most of us have developed sloppy listening habits or self-centered listening habits. Sloppy listening usually equals distracted listening. For example, do you continually glance at the TV or phone, or book as your spouse talks to you? That’s sloppy listening.
    Self-centered listening begins forming a response or solving a perceived problem in the mind as your spouse still describes the situation. Also, self-centered listening seeks to justify oneself instead of understanding the other. So, your mate communicates a disagreement with something you said or did. As she speaks, you begin forming your defense in your mind. You want to prove that you’re right more than to lovingly listen for understanding of your beloved. Listening for understanding makes for a positive encounter.
  2. Speak Your Beloved’s Love Languages—Gary Chapman’s five love languages offer frequent, intentional expressions of love. Think of how positively your spouse would feel if daily you communicated your love in a way that deeply connected to your companion’s heart?
  3. Daily Small Acts for HUGE Impact—Akin to expressing love languages, we can substantially positively impact our marriage by accumulating small words and works regularly. For example, each ‘bid’ accepted from our spouse shows how we value them. Any invitation to connection rates as a ‘bid.’ Say my bride wants to show me some cute animal video from Pinterest during a TV program. I accept the bid if I pause the TV program and appreciate the video with her. These small acts build greater goodwill.
  4. Intentional Gratitude—Saying thank you quickly builds a positive environment for the relationship to thrive. How many times a day can you acknowledge your mate’s efforts? The opportunities to express thanks abound. You may express gratitude for a meal cooked, or dishes washed, or the gas tank filled for you, or the clean towels and washcloths placed weekly, or the repair of that leaky faucet, or getting the car’s oil changed, or taking out the trash, or cleaning or changing the cat litter, or fetching the mail, or swabbing the toilet. The list grows with a bit more awareness. Imagine how good you two would feel if you and the kids lived in a house filled with gratitude expressed.
  5. Be Humble: Apologize! Apology rands as one of the most challenging and the most relationship-enhancing acts. As we humble ourselves to accept responsibility for wrongdoing and mistakes, and as we admit to our spouse our faults and seek forgiveness through apology, we repair our relationship. Few acts serve to strengthen a marriage quicker than a humble apology, right?

No couple can avoid conflict. We disagree on things large and small. We see life from different perspectives. We bring different family histories and traditions into the marriage. Our personalities differ. We may enjoy different favorite cuisines or hobbies, or movie genres. So how can we avoid conflict?

While friction may be unavoidable, building goodwill can become intentional. Exercising selfless love daily and intentionally by engaging in the five acts above creates deposits in the Marriage Bank.

Think of how large the goodwill account would grow if we make regular, minor deposits, say one or two a day. Then, when a conflict arises, you can withdraw the goodwill. So the goal becomes making at least five goodwill deposits for every conflict withdrawal.

The 5:1 “golden” ratio usually keeps a couple’s goodwill balance in the black. How’s your account? Made any deposits today?

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