The ‘relationship ratio’ that makes love last

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The concept of “relationship ratio” — which pertains to conflict resolution —  refers to the number of positive interactions a couple should have that must exceed the number of negative interactions in their relationship.

The “magic ratio” for a healthy marriage is five to one.

This means that for every negative interaction during conflict, to sustain a healthy marriage, couple’s should have five [or more] positive interactions.

One of the major differences between happy and unhappy couples is the balance they have between positive and negative interactions during conflict.

There is a very specific ratio that makes love last.

So what’s considered a negative interaction?

Examples of negative interactions include the predictors of divorce, such as constant criticism, emotional dismissiveness, contempt and stonewalling.

While anger is certainly a negative interaction and a natural reaction during conflict, it isn’t necessarily damaging to a marriage.

Anger only has negative effects in a marriage if it is expressed physically or is prolonged to the point of bitterness.

Body language such as eye-rolling can be a powerful negative interaction, and it is important to remember that negativity holds a great deal of emotional power, which is why it takes five positive interactions to overcome any one negative interaction.

And these negative interactions happen in healthy marriages too, but are quickly repaired and replaced with validation and empathy.

Couples who flourish engage in conflict differently from those who eventually break up.

Not only do healthy marriages approach conflict more gently, they also make repairs in both minor and major ways that highlight the positivity in their relationship.

Below is a list of interactions that stable couples regularly use to maintain positivity and closeness.

Be interested

When your partner complains about something, do you listen?

Are you curious about why they are so mad?

Displaying interest includes asking open-ended questions, as well as more subtle signals such as nods, making eye contact, and timely “uh-huhs” that show how closely you are listening.

Express affection

Do you hold hands with your partner, affectionately touch, kiss or embrace when greeting them at the end of the day?

Expressions of affection can happen in small ways both within and outside conflict.

Don’t stop doing so just because of the conflict.

Within conflict, displays of physical and verbal affection reduce stress.

If you’re having a difficult conversation and your partner takes your hand and says, “Gosh, this is hard to talk about ... I really love you and I know we can figure this out together,” you will likely feel better because their display of affection is bound to reduce tension and bring you closer together.

Demonstrate that they matter

Our motto for making marriage last is “small things often”.

The small acts that demonstrate you care are powerful ways to enhance the positivity in your marriage.

Bringing up something that is important to your partner, even when you disagree, demonstrates that you put their interests on par with yours and shows them you care.

How you treat each other outside conflict influences how well you’ll handle your inevitable disagreements.

Small gestures of kindness accumulate over time and will provide a buffer of positivity in your marriage so that when you do enter a conflict, it will be easier to engage in positive interactions that outweigh the negative.

Intentional appreciation

How you think about your partner influences how you treat them.

By focusing on the positives of your marriage, such as the good moments from your past and your partner’s admirable traits, you add positive energy to your relationship.

Negativity is bound to enter your thoughts, especially during conflict.

Intentionally focusing on the positive will counterbalance any of the moments when you struggle to find something good about your partner.

Find opportunities for agreement

When couples fight, they focus on the negative aspects of the conflict and miss the opportunities for what they agree on.

When you seek opportunities for agreement and express yourself accordingly, you show that you see your spouse’s viewpoint as valid and that you care about them.

An alliance in conflict, even minor, can fundamentally shift how couples fight.


Empathy is one of the deepest forms of human connection.

When you empathise with your spouse, you show that you understand and feel what they’re feeling, even if you express empathy non-verbally through a facial expression or a physical gesture.

Saying things like, “It makes sense to me that you feel ...” will help your partner see that you are on their side.

Empathy is a profound connecting skill that all romantic partners should improve on.

Accept your partner’s perspective

An approach that drastically improves conflict is understanding that both your perspectives are valid.

While you may not agree with your partner’s perspective, letting them know that their perspective makes sense shows them that you respect them.

One of the best ways to do this is to summarise your spouse’s experience during a conflict, even if you disagree.

Remember that validation doesn’t mean agreement, but it does signal respect.

Make jokes

Playful teasing, silliness, and finding moments to laugh together can ease tension in a heated conflict.

Most couples have inside jokes they only share with each other, which highlights their exclusivity as a couple.

However, remember to find a way to joke around that maintains respect and appreciation for your spouse and that serves to bring you both closer together.

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