Positives Vs. Negatives

 Written By: Dewey Wilson, Ph.D.


One of the biggest misconceptions in relationships is believing that each negative event can be balanced or negated with one positive event. After all, if we wanted to achieve equilibrium on a scale, we simply distribute the same amount of weight on each side, right? According to Dr. John Gottman’s balance theory, the mathematical equation for balance in physics is not the same when it comes to the marriage relationship. In fact, Gottman’s research suggests the magic ratio that seems to separate the happy couples from those that aren’t is 5 to 1. Meaning, as long as there are 5 times as many positive behaviors exercised for every 1 negative comment or behavior, the marriage relationship will likely be more stable and joyful.

In more practical terms, for each hurtful comment I make toward my wife Lynne, in order for our marriage to return to a place of emotional stability, it will take an average of 5 additional positive remarks or caring behaviors just to get back to a place of stability in our marriage. That is why it is so important for me to not dig myself into a hole by stacking multiple negative words and behaviors on top of each other.

Here’s another perspective. I have learned its much better to stock pile as many positives as I can. I know there will be times in the future where I am going to make selfish or hurtful comments or exercise dishonoring behavior toward Lynne. Having already stored up an excess of positives seems to make the impact of my behavior less devastating. Guess what? There’s something else that stock piling has done for me and our marriage. The more time I spend extending blessings toward Lynne, the more I find that I don’t want to hurt her with criticism or damaging behavior.

Here are a few suggested positives that seems to work in our marriage. Remember, it is very likely that you will need to have at least 5 positives stored away for every negative you input into your marriage.

  1. Anything according to our love languages – Lynne’s love languages involve acts of service and quality time. Mine involve affirmation and physical touch. Each time I do something around the house that I know she needs or simply go for a walk with Lynne, I'm stacking up more positives.
  2. Honoring each other in public – We try our best to not disrespect each other in public—things like openly discrediting your spouse or exercising bad body language such as rolling your eyes while they are communicating.
  3. Stop, drop and role – Stop before saying something negative, drop by asking the Lord in prayer for strength, discernment and wisdom. Role is making the right choice time after time. 

Learn Ephesians 4:29 – "Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers." The more we exercise this truth, the more we can be confident that we’ll never have a deficit in the positives versus negatives ratio.

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