Study unlocks “magic ratio” of positive and negative interactions in relationships

Negative interactions with your partner may not mean the relationship is doomed to fail.


US – While quarrelling often with your partner could signal a doomed relationship, negative interactions are also necessary for a healthy relationship, according to Dr John M. Gottman, who has studied marital stability and relationships for years.

The psychologist has found a “magic ratio” for positive and negative interactions in strong relationships. This ratio of 5 to 1 indicates that there are five positive interactions for every negative interaction in long lasting, happy couples. He refers to this as his balance theory of relationships, where he suggests that “negativity is important in healthy partnerships”.

Dr Gottman also suggests in one of his articles that having insufficient negativity in a relationship could be unhealthy. He points out the benefits of negativity – “culling out interaction patterns that don’t work (and) renewing courtship over time”.

Thus, couple therapy should not declare war on negativity. On the contrary, we submit the idea that a relationship without negative affect would be lifeless and boring.

-Dr John M. Gottman

As people change and grow throughout their life, “negative interactions” of providing feedback to your partner helps to ensure that both parties have their feelings, perceptions, and targets aligned.

Besides the “magic ratio”, how a couple fights is important as well.

Dr Gottman and his team discovered that couples who were apathetic during disagreements had unhealthier relationships as compared to couples that seemed temperamental.

According to Big Think, these couples “exert a healthy amount of influence on one another, both positively and negatively.” For lasting relationships, the couple’s interactions tend to be more positive than negative.

According to another study on how business leadership teams provide feedback, the “magic ratio” is also at play in the workplace.

The leading teams in the study had an average of 5.6 positive comments for every negative one, while the teams that fared the worst had a ratio of 0.36 to 1. Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman, who explained the results in the Harvard Business Review, supported the idea that negativity is important in business interactions.

First, because of its ability to grab someone’s attention. Think of it as a whack on the side of the head. Second, certainly, negative feedback guards against complacency and groupthink.”

-Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman on why negativity is crucial in interactions

Zenger and Folkman concluded that negative feedback is beneficial for any individual when it is constructively conveyed and suggested that business leaders should aim towards reaching the ideal ratio during meetings, leading by example.

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