There was an interesting article in the Washington Post on June 3, 2018, written by John Gottman and Christopher Dollard. It’s called “Five Myths About Marriage.” It confirms something I’ve always believed – that it’s not really common interests that keep couples together. It’s common decency and courtesy in relating to each other.
“Our research has shown that criticism … is one of the four destructive behaviors that indicate a couple will eventually divorce. A stronger predictor of compatibility than shared interests is the ratio of positive to negative interactions, which should be about 20-1 in everyday situations.”
The only thing that surprised me was the ratio they promulgated. 20-1 is a huge differential. That means that relationships can only survive one negative comment out of 20 positive ones.
I’ve always known that negative interactions have a far greater impact and carry far more weight than positive ones. Put another way, one negative comment can erase 20 positive ones! This was definitely true for me and my kids. Their father, my ex-husband, was bipolar. When he was in a manic phase, he said some pretty hurtful and destructive things. But when he was not manic, he said many positive things as well.
My kids and I always seemed to take the negative comments to heart way more than the positive ones. My ex could be very loving and affectionate. But when he was bad, he was very, very bad. And that left a mark on all of us. I used to say that one criticism or slight would wipe out a dozen compliments. I was close, according to the Post article.
I think this is true because most people have many insecurities. No matter how much we try to build up our kids’ egos, there are always big holes we can’t seem to plug. Therefore, it’s easier for us, on an unconscious level, to believe bad things about ourselves than good. So we need a lot of positive reinforcement to feel good about ourselves. On the other hand, it only takes one diss to deflate us completely. This is especially true when the negative comments come from parents or spouses.
It turns out that the old cliché is true. Mutual respect is the most important thing in a relationship. Treating each other with consideration is the true secret to most successful relationships.
A corollary to this is letting go of the small stuff. Procrastinating about taking out the garbage is annoying. But it’s not critical. And above all, it’s NOT ABOUT ME! My husband is not purposely ignoring me when I ask him to take the garbage out and he doesn’t. He’s also not slighting me. He’s just lazy and he hates garbage! If I make it about him not caring about my feelings, we’re both screwed.
Some people hang onto negative feelings about the small stuff and let them blow up into a big deal. That is counterproductive. You’re definitely not going to get garbage taken out faster if you’re harboring anger and resentment about the garbage. You’re also going to sour the rest of your relationship.
So, the take away from this article/study is to accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, just like the old song says!