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When the Going Gets Good: Maintaining Healthy Relationships

By Chapel Taylor- Olsen, BA, Health & Wellness Coordinator & Dr. Ashley Yaugher, Health and Wellness Faculty, HEART Initiative

couple holding hands

When a couple is interviewed for having hit a major milestone anniversary, the interviewer cannot help but ask, “What’s your secret?” We all want to feel good about our relationships.

We can’t, and shouldn’t try to, avoid all conflict with our loved ones. But relationship balance is worth considering. Experts suggest that we should strive for a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative interactions (as cited in Brown, 2020). So, for every negative discussion or fight we have with a partner, we should try to have five positive interactions. Negative events stick in our minds, so it takes a lot of positive events to balance the scales (Brown, 2020). Here are five small ways we can improve our ratio. 

  1. Notice the Small Moments – How we feel about our partner and respond to conflict with them is impacted by small moments like how we respond when they tell us their mother called. Responding to mundane moments with a playful attitude or enthusiasm can improve our overall relationship health. Large gestures (i.e. candlelit dinners, date nights) might not be enough to repair the small, frequent slights that the other person feels throughout the week (Driver & Gottman, 2004).
  2. Give Compliments – It’s easy to become focused on things that annoy us. Looking for things to complement our partner on every day can combat this tendency. Compliments build the self-esteem and confidence of the other person and show them that we see what they do and are grateful. Compliments also remind us why we chose that person and help us focus on their positive traits (as cited in Treleaven, 2018).
  3. Share in Joy – When we experience things that make us joyful, we should tell our partner. It can lift our mood and feelings of satisfaction well beyond the importance of the event (Gable et al, 2004). When our partner shares with us we should meet their enthusiasm with our own. This is because when a person regularly responds to positive news from their partner in a supportive way, their partner tends to feel closer and more satisfied in their relationship (Gable et al, 2006).
  4. Reach Out and Touch – Touch itself is a human need and is the most basic way to communicate and show a desire for connection. Touch “bridges the gap between ourselves and others” (Elkiss & Jerome, 2012, p. 514). We should show people in our lives that we care with whatever kind of physical connection feels right to both of us. It could be as small as putting a hand on our partner’s shoulder.
  5. Have Patience – We’re going to mess up sometimes and so is our partner. As Johnson says “these moments are actually inescapable in a relationship. If you’re going to dance with someone, you’re going to step on each other’s feet once in a while” (2009, p. 75). Have patience with each other and honor the work that you’re putting in. 

Relationships are not just about “letting the good times roll,” they are about trying to actively find and increase connection. These five strategies can help us attend to the good things and maintain healthy relationships by getting closer to a 5:1 ratio of positives to negatives.