How Much Can You Get Away With?

The Gottman’s, pioneers in the field of marital research, have found that a couple may be able to exchange two hostile messages in 15 minutes but that will exceed a healthy set point. Our relationship breaker flips and there is no power left to constructively resolve a conflict if over that point.

One of the Gottman’s pieces of research discovered that during conflict interactions, a positive to negative affect ratio of 5-1 or higher is healthy. That is the average ratio in a stable, happy couple. By contrast if the positive to negative ratio during conflict is one to one or less that would be unhealthy and need to be characterized by the term “disaster”. These people would be high probabilities of divorce.

Practically speaking, when my wife approaches me about an item on “my banquet of short-comings”; Gottman’s recommends that, her success will be dependent on her finding things that she can say or do to keep me constructively engaged. If she is making the “complaint”, that initial responsibility of delivering it well is hers. She may make a comment on my caliber of my dress code. She may give me an affectionate touch, a teasing remark, she may express appreciation for how good our communication is (is that four?) then say “sweetheart, my love, do you know what would be really helpful for me? If you could…” and away we go, hopefully to a conclusion.

Some say this is manipulating. Some say it is pathetic. Some say it is childish. Masters smile and hold hands. They don’t care as long as it is respectful, kind and forward moving. They do not tie their ego or pride to the process. They can maturely delay their immediate gratification for the longer term goal of relational well-being. They do not even consider the idea of manipulation or being “whipped” because they have developed an auto-trust from years of practice.