positive to negative ratio

 5:1 Positive to Negative Ratio

Hello, hello! Welcome to episode 10! So, I was kinda thinking about when this episode was going to come out and I realized that this one is coming out the week of Christmas. So, I wanted to, with the holiday season in general, I wanted to really highlight an episode that really focused on what is helpful in terms of stress and times of conflict with our partners. I wanted to do today’s episode on this 5:1, positive to negative, ratio. This is also a Gottman thing, so lots of research behind it.

We talk about the masters and disasters, so to speak, of relationships and the masters tend to have a 5:1, positive to negative ratio during conflicts. So, key word is DURING, this isn’t 2 weeks before or after conflict this is during an actual conversation when there is conflict in a couple’s relationship. Having conflict within your marriage doesn’t mean your relationship is on the rocks, it means you are normal. So, congratulations! How you maneuver through this conflict is key. 

The couples who do this so well are the couples who have learned to do things that are positive such as empathizes, be respectful, accept their partner's perspective. Acceptance doesn’t mean that you agree with the perspective, ok it is like, “Yeah, I know you and I can see where that makes a lot of sense.” It is a respectful thing. Listening well, physical touch. In general, extending any positive interaction.

So those are the things that couples who are masters in relationships do well. It isn’t that they don’t have conflict, they may have frequent conflict but HOW they do this is important. The 4 Horsemen are either absent, or if they show up, they are quick repair attempts and apologies. Which, an apology is a repair attempt. We will go into that another episode. 

“Poor Jake, being married to a therapist..."

Jake and I have not always been great with this 5:1 positive to negative ratio. I can remember in the beginning, I’ve shared with you guys before that there was a lot more conflict in the beginning, that there was a lack of empathy and defensiveness and maybe a lack of eye contact and a lack of physical touch during the conversation of conflict. We may have been sitting on opposite sides of the couch or different things like that.

Now it is funny, because we do this so much better now! I am so grateful for that. Now, Jake will nod and say something like, “Yes, I can see how you would feel that way” or “I can see where you would think that” and it is just so funny because now I smile when he says that and I am like, “Poor Jake, being married to a therapist, he’s got to learn those statements” He has definitely become a master at empathy! Which is great!

We also tease each other a lot, like, and remember teasing needs to go both ways! So, both people need to find it funny, it doesn’t need to be hostile humor. It needs to be playful that both people can interact with. We do a lot of that. So, we may give each other a hard time about a personality quirk that we have, the other person might say, “What, who, me!” You know, something like that. We can handle that, and we can laugh. It makes the conflict go so much better and we usually end up in a WIN-WIN!

We are also much better about doing the physical touch part during a conflict. We tend to sit closer to each other on the couch kinda turned toward each other. A lot of the time Jake will grab my hand, or he will put his hand on my leg and usually that is another opportunity for teasing. Jake is notorious for having cold hands and cold feet all the time. So, I like to give him a hard time about that. 

“Oh yeah, it was so good!”

With my clients, and you know it is interesting when talking about my clients, or talking about conflict with my clients, again because I am only hearing one side of the story. All of us have our own inherent biases. Each one of us is limited in how we are retelling the story of conflict.

I try to do my best to figure out what my clients role in this conflict, what was going on for him or her and trying to zero in on what I think might have been the other person's perspective or what they may have been experiencing. A lot of the time, I am talking with my client about openness and we may have talked a lot about the struggle of sharing what their wants or needs are. It gets built up overtime and then there is resentment and bitterness.

So, just working on openness and sharing, maybe assertiveness. Just being able to say something, just check in and say “That really bothered me the other day when you did that. I was wondering if we could talk about that later this week”. Something like that, being able to speak up instead of letting it pass by and not saying anything for a while.

Also, empathy, you know a lot of times it is easy to dig in our heels with our own perspective. I kinda find that therapy is working on adopting multiple perspectives. I try to help my clients with that. Not that I think that their perspectives are wrong, I don't’ really operate in a right or wrong perspective. There are some exceptions with that like when a client is suicidal, you guys know I work with a lot of eating disorders so there are certain things there that I take a stronger right or wrong, black or white perspective. For the most part I am not making any judgements on a perspective or what is going on, what I am trying to do is help a client understand his or her perspective and then what a different perspective might be from their partner.

Once we practice for a while, then I might say ok this time, “This upcoming week, if this topic comes up, I want you to try out some of these things and let me know.” And almost always it is like, “Oh yeah, it was so good!” “We talked about this, and we said this, and we decided on this” It was so good! A lot of these things really help and work, most of us out here we aren’t out to get our partners. We aren’t out to make them mad or make their lives miserable.

So, when we operate from a core belief or assumption that people are doing the best that they can, it can really help us to open and be more empathic during times of conflict. This is something I talk frequently with my clients. 

Practice, practice, practice! 

So, for you guys listening, and maybe I am making some assumptions during the week of Christmas and the holiday season, that it is more stressful than other times. Maybe you have very little stress during this time. Which is awesome!

But for those of us who do, I want you to think on a few different things. I want you to focus in on doing a soft start up WHEN you bring up conflict. So, it might be something with the kids or something with the work schedule. It might be something with picking up take-out or what you are cooking for dinner or whatever it is. Focus on a soft start up when bringing it up. “So I wanted to circle back around, can we talk about the Christmas decorations this year again” or “I wanted to check in with you about the dinner the other evening, do you have a few minutes we can chat about it?”

Things like that, very collaborative and not this short tone of voice, and body language. Not folding your arms and saying, “Why would anybody…….” So, we are focusing on soft startups and listening.

We want to listen and genuinely be interested in their perspective. Practice empathy imagine putting yourself in someone’s shoes. Practice being respectful, playful if that is right for you and your partner. Playful like being light-hearted and or teasing a little bit and physical touch. Holding hands or putting a hand on an arm or hugging, something like that.

Focus on those things when conflict comes up this week.  

Team Improvement!

During the holiday season, think about what you need from your partner during times of stress or conflict and how can you support each other and in conflict. You are a team. What areas of the 5:1 positive to negative ratio already go well for you and what would you like to improve upon? We all have areas of improvement. I can assure you!

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