By Nina Lei
5:1. That’s the ratio of positive to negative interactions that occur in strong marriages, according to research compiled in Tara Parker-Pope’s book, For Better: The Science of a Good Marriage (an excellent book that I recommend, by the way). So basically for every “Ugh, why didn’t you do this?” there should be five “I love how you did this…” or some things of the sort. Of course, most of us aren’t going to be sitting around tallying our positive and negative interactions with our partners throughout the day, but we can sense if we’re generally playing mean or playing nice. What it boils down to: relationship researchers say that partners should tell each other more positive than negative things each day.
Makes sense, but it might be easier said than done. To be honest, especially if we’re used to being treated nicely and having nice things done for us most of the time, the things that are not so nice are glaring – not only easy to spot, but easy to point out as well. It can be hard to resist blurting out a criticism, particularly when we think we’re “helping” by informing our partner of what he/she has done to tick us off. While communication is essential, letting someone know that you are upset does not have to be a negative type of interaction; in fact, it can be positive if it is done in a compassionate way.
Even if you aren’t having negative interactions with your partner, it doesn’t mean that you’re having positive interactions either. It’s easy to think, “My partner already knows I appreciate him/her” or “My partner already knows how great I think he/she is,” etc., which goes hand-in-hand with “So why do I need to tell my partner something he/she already knows?” Well, simply put, just because your partner knows it somewhere in their mind doesn’t mean your partner feels it from you at that moment. Part of loving and respecting our partners is showing them our love and respect on a consistent basis.
Truthfully, actively creating positive interactions is work, at least at first. But working for something (or in this case, someone) you love is so worth it! You and your partner’s relationship will grow stronger and hopefully your love will deepen as well. With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, give your partner more than just flowers and chocolate – tell them you love them by taking an active step towards making your relationship better. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a therapy session and work towards strengthening your relationship.