I was at the Conference on Intimacy and Infidelity in Irvine recently. I had a chance to talk with John Gottman who is famous for his research on marriage. One of John and Julie Gottman’s wonderful findings, was that couples who report a ratio of 5 to 1: 5 things that they appreciate about their partner for every 1 complaint that they have, report having a happy marriage! As that ratio gets closer to the 50/50 mark, people report being dissatisfied in their marriage. I love statistics like this because they give us a bearing. Think about your own internal and external conversation. How much of what you say to yourself or to your partner is some kind of criticism or complaint? Even off-handed remarks, eye rolling, or muttering convey negative messages.
Dr. Gay Hendricks of the Hendricks Institute shared another interesting statistic with me: In studies done with adults and children, for every one positive thing that an adult says to a child, they say TWELVE negative things! “You didn’t clean up your dish.” “Don’t do that.” “You shouldn’t….” “Put that down.” “No no no.” “You can’t do that.” Sound familiar? This crap just comes rolling out of our mouths without even thinking about it. We don’t even think of it as negative.
I’d love to know the statistic on this for adults to their significant others! How many negative messages do you give for every positive?
So how can you “tip the scale” in your favor? I love to play a game with my kids and my closest friends. It’s called “Gimme Five!” How it goes, is that whenever someone says anything negative, like a complaint or a put down, the other person looks at them and says, “OK! Gimme Five!” And that is that person’s cue to come up with 5 appreciations or “put ups” for their partner. It’s fun! You can still acknowledge the issue, such as:
“Hey, you didn’t take out the garbage!”
“Hmmm….you’re right! I’ll take it out now. And when I come back, I’d like five appreciations for all the things I have done!”
Ah! OK, “I really appreciate that you usually remember to do this.” “I really appreciate your willingness to respond to my requests. It makes me feel heard.” “I love the way you make me laugh. It lightens me up.” “I really liked how you arranged the patio. I enjoy being out on the deck now.”
Shift the conversation toward the positive. Offer heartfelt appreciations and acknowledgment. Couples who focus on the negative create a home environment that is unsafe and toxic to the human spirit. This is often the source of divorce and infidelity. People find another partner where they feel appreciated and come alive.
Appreciate who you are and are not, and who your partner is and is not. Think of appreciation as a verb. It’s something you “do,” not something you just are or aren’t.
I love to give this exercise to clients: Find something new every day to appreciate about your partner. Something about them physically, something they do, some aspect of their character. After all, you chose this person, so there are obviously things you like about them. Look for those things and return your attention to that, over and over again. That’s what makes new relationships so hot! We are really focused on the person’s attributes and good qualities. Then later, we find out that they are human and that annoys us to no end. So bring your awareness back to what you liked about them in the first place and what is still there. This will have a powerful impact on your partner and the dynamic of your relationship. Do this for 7 days straight and notice what happens. Take criticism, complaints or correction completely out of the conversation. Instead, turn all complaints into direct, polite requests communicated without “attitude” and in a respectful tone as follows:
“Sweetheart, I would love it if you could help me get the kids to bed tonight after you’ve had a chance to relax a bit.”
You’ll have to pay close attention to what you are used to saying and then switch to the positive. Then sit back and watch what happens!
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