I love research.
Sure, some people manipulate statistics to “prove” whatever they want.
But I love solid studies about relationships. To me, they’re an easy way for me to learn how to have the best marriage possible. (I’ve already paid enough tuition to the school of hard knocks!)
I’m not saying that we should slavishly adhere to every conclusion generated by every study. Each couple and relationship is unique.
But some statistics can be valuable tools for reflection and, as needed, recalibration. Here are six questions, based on scientific research, that I keep in the back of my mind:
1. Is our ratio of positive-to-negative interactions at least 5:1?
If not, why? Sometimes our ratio drops because we’re in a difficult spot in our marriage. Other times, it drops because we’re going through a tough season of life. Either way, conscious attention to this ratio helps me be more intentional about adding more positivity to my words and actions.
2. Are we averaging an hour (or more) a day together?
During some seasons, this was all-but-impossible. But we kept it in mind as our goal. We didn’t want to settle for 15 minutes becoming the new normal for our marriage. Now that our kids are out of the house, we are eagerly “making up for lost time” because we’ve hung on to the belief that more time together is better.
3. Do we communicate respect even when we disagree?
Of John Gottman’s “Four Horsemen” of destructive marital communication, the worst is contempt. Gottman calls it the “single greatest predictor of divorce.” Since we want the opposite of divorce, we aim for the opposite of contempt. We consciously express respect, even (or should I say especially!) when we’re at odds with each other. (This is vital for me: I tend to be very sarcastic, and sarcasm easily comes across as contempt.)
4. Have we laughed together today?
Laughter triggers the release of happy hormones in our brains, counteracting stress chemicals like adrenaline and cortisol. Daniel constantly tells me, “You’re just so dang funny!” which, of course, only encourages me to crack more silly jokes and look for the funny flip side in every difficult situation. When neither of us can muster up a laugh, we watch favorite comedy videos together to remind us how much fun it is to laugh. (Bonus: #4 double-dips with #1!)
5. When was the last time we walked down memory lane?
Playing the “Remember when…?” game often gives a much needed redirection to our focus.
- “Remember when we lost 5th gear on the Accord one hour into a ten-hour drive?”
- “Remember when we brought home a second cat and the two of them fought all night long…all over our bed?”
- “Remember those bargain brand blueberry muffin mixes we used to buy, with blueberry-flavored “bits” instead of berries?”
Reminiscing is a powerful bonding activity. It reminds us why we got together in the first place and how much history we’ve built together.
6. What’s something new we can try together?
Daniel and I have finally found a way to exercise together: While he goes on a 3-hour bike ride, I drive to his destination and wait to pick him up. Okay, so maybe this doesn’t quite qualify as “exercising together,” but it is something new that we’re enjoying immensely. While he rides, I hang out at Starbucks and write; then, we enjoy lunch together and head home. While we love the many comfortable routines of our relationship, intentionality with newness keeps our routines from becoming ruts.
A few free downloads for you:
- From Happify: The Science Behind a Happy Relationship
- Printable from Cheri: “Bragging on My Beloved” gratitude journal