There's a "magic ratio" for how often happy couples argue

Dr. Gottman, a psychologist who studies relationships, explains the 5:1 rule.

A couple argues
A couple argues – Photo: geralt via pixabay

Everyone knows couples break up when they fight too much. But what if they don't fight enough?


Dr. John M. Gottman, a psychologist who's studied marital stability and relationships for decades, is known for finding that the "magic ratio" of positive and negative interactions in successful relationships is about 5 to 1. That is, couples who stay together tend to compensate for every negative interaction with five times as many positive ones. Gottman calls this his balance theory of relationships.

So, too much fighting leads to breakups. That's obvious. But what's interesting about the theory is it implies that one sign of a doomed relationship could be not enough negativity. An article on one of Gottman's websites elaborates this idea.

This balance theory implies the unusual point of view that negativity is important in healthy relationships. Negativity plays many prosocial functions — for example, culling out interaction patterns that don't work, renewing courtship over time, etc. Thus, couple therapy should not declare war on negativity. On the contrary, we submit the idea that a relationship without negative affect would be lifeless and boring.

The idea is that because people and environments are always changing, partners must provide one another with enough corrective feedback so they can be "on the same page."

Of course, it's not just about the quantity of fighting in a relationship. The style is also important. Gottman and his colleagues found that couples who remained stoic during conflicts actually tended to fare worse than couples that were more "volatile".

Another negative, dysfunctional pattern that emerged from our longitudinal research was both the absence of escalated negative affect during conflict, and also the absence of any positive affect during conflict. There was a marked lack of affection, shared humor, question-asking, active interest, excitement, joy, support, and empathy.

Conversely, volatile couples who get into lots of heated fights aren't necessarily doomed to split up. These couples exert a healthy amount of influence on one another, both positively and negatively. But as long as their interactions favor the positive, they tend to enjoy relatively stable relationships over the long term.


The 5:1 ratio also seems to ring true in the business world. Past research has examined the ways in which successful business leadership teams deliver criticism. The results showed that the most successful teams made an average of 5.6 positive comments per every negative one, while the average ratio among the lowest performing teams was just 0.36 to 1.

Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman interpreted the results in the Harvard Business Review

"So, while a little negative feedback apparently goes a long way, it is an essential part of the mix. Why is that? First, because of its ability to grab someone's attention. Think of it as a whack on the side of the head. Second, certainly, negative feedback guards against complacency and groupthink."

Folkman and Zenger went on to add one final point that could apply to any area of life: Negative feedback can prevent you from driving off a cliff.

For a realistic look at what it takes to stay in love, here's Dr. Helen Fisher:


Humanity's most distant space probe captures a strange sound

A new paper reveals that the Voyager 1 spacecraft detected a constant hum coming from outside our Solar System.

Voyager 1 in interstellar space.

Credit: NASA / JPL - Caltech.
Surprising Science
  • Voyager 1, humankind's most distant space probe, detected an unusual "hum" in the data from interstellar space.
  • The noise is likely produced by interstellar gas.
  • Further investigation may reveal the hum's exact origins.
Keep reading Show less

China's "artificial sun" sets new record for fusion power

China has reached a new record for nuclear fusion at 120 million degrees Celsius.

Credit: STR via Getty Images
Technology & Innovation

This article was originally published on our sister site, Freethink.

China wants to build a mini-star on Earth and house it in a reactor. Many teams across the globe have this same bold goal --- which would create unlimited clean energy via nuclear fusion.

But according to Chinese state media, New Atlas reports, the team at the Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) has set a new world record: temperatures of 120 million degrees Celsius for 101 seconds.

Yeah, that's hot. So what? Nuclear fusion reactions require an insane amount of heat and pressure --- a temperature environment similar to the sun, which is approximately 150 million degrees C.

If scientists can essentially build a sun on Earth, they can create endless energy by mimicking how the sun does it.

If scientists can essentially build a sun on Earth, they can create endless energy by mimicking how the sun does it. In nuclear fusion, the extreme heat and pressure create a plasma. Then, within that plasma, two or more hydrogen nuclei crash together, merge into a heavier atom, and release a ton of energy in the process.

Nuclear fusion milestones: The team at EAST built a giant metal torus (similar in shape to a giant donut) with a series of magnetic coils. The coils hold hot plasma where the reactions occur. They've reached many milestones along the way.

According to New Atlas, in 2016, the scientists at EAST could heat hydrogen plasma to roughly 50 million degrees C for 102 seconds. Two years later, they reached 100 million degrees for 10 seconds.

The temperatures are impressive, but the short reaction times, and lack of pressure are another obstacle. Fusion is simple for the sun, because stars are massive and gravity provides even pressure all over the surface. The pressure squeezes hydrogen gas in the sun's core so immensely that several nuclei combine to form one atom, releasing energy.

But on Earth, we have to supply all of the pressure to keep the reaction going, and it has to be perfectly even. It's hard to do this for any length of time, and it uses a ton of energy. So the reactions usually fizzle out in minutes or seconds.

Still, the latest record of 120 million degrees and 101 seconds is one more step toward sustaining longer and hotter reactions.

Why does this matter? No one denies that humankind needs a clean, unlimited source of energy.

We all recognize that oil and gas are limited resources. But even wind and solar power --- renewable energies --- are fundamentally limited. They are dependent upon a breezy day or a cloudless sky, which we can't always count on.

Nuclear fusion is clean, safe, and environmentally sustainable --- its fuel is a nearly limitless resource since it is simply hydrogen (which can be easily made from water).

With each new milestone, we are creeping closer and closer to a breakthrough for unlimited, clean energy.

The science of sex, love, attraction, and obsession

The symbol for love is the heart, but the brain may be more accurate.

Videos
  • How love makes us feel can only be defined on an individual basis, but what it does to the body, specifically the brain, is now less abstract thanks to science.
  • One of the problems with early-stage attraction, according to anthropologist Helen Fisher, is that it activates parts of the brain that are linked to drive, craving, obsession, and motivation, while other regions that deal with decision-making shut down.
  • Dr. Fisher, professor Ted Fischer, and psychiatrist Gail Saltz explain the different types of love, explore the neuroscience of love and attraction, and share tips for sustaining relationships that are healthy and mutually beneficial.

Sex & Relationships

There never was a male fertility crisis

A new study suggests that reports of the impending infertility of the human male are greatly exaggerated.

Quantcast