Try This: The Magic Rule for Healthy Relationships

We learned last week that our close relationships are one of the top predictors of healthy aging.

But how can you ensure you’re engaged and connected in your relationships?

There’s a simple rule (that works!) you can follow called the “5-to-1 rule.” 

Today we’re talking about why the 5-to-1 rule works and how you can apply it to feel more happy, connected, and supported in your relationships.

Let’s jump in!

What Is the 5-to-1 Rule?

I’m a huge fan of the Gottman Institute’s evidence-based approach to healthy relationships. After being in a tough relationship myself many years ago, I discovered Drs. John and Julie Gottman’s work. This was around the time I first learned about the 5-to-1 rule, and it totally changed how I thought about the day-to-day interactions in my relationships.

The premise of the rule is simple: the difference between happy and unhappy couples is their balance of positive to negative interactions. 

According to decades of research, five-to-one is the magic ratio of positive to negative to strive for. This was one of the top things that the Gottmans looked at in their studies, and it predicted which couples would stay together and which would divorce with over 90 percent accuracy.

In this short clip, Dr. John Gottman explains that the couples who had five positive interactions for one negative one were more likely to stay together. On the other hand, couples who were headed for divorce had a ratio of 0.8 to 1, meaning they had slightly more negative interactions than positive ones. 

And it’s not just married couples; the 5-to-1 rule can be applied to any of the relationships in our lives. It can serve as a guiding principle for strengthening our relationships with our family, friends, kids, and even coworkers.

Why Does the 5-to-1 Rule Work?

Neuroscientist Dr. Rick Hanson says, “The brain is like Velcro for negative experiences and Teflon for positive ones.” Unfortunately, this is the way our brains are wired. Our negativity bias makes it easier for us to remember the bad instead of the good.

That’s why the 5-to-1 rule works. It acknowledges the negativity bias and builds up a bank of positivity, affection, and trust to overcome it. That way, when conflict does arise (and it will), it’s less likely to cause serious damage to the relationship.

Below are a few simple tips for how to create more positive interactions and practice the 5-to-1 rule daily. Again, this isn’t just for your marriage. This is for building strong, lasting relationships in all areas of your life.

Try This

  • Show appreciation and practice gratitude. In any relationship, it’s important to focus on the positives. Give compliments, say thank you, and acknowledge your loved ones’ achievements—especially the small daily ones. Taking the time to intentionally show how much they mean to you makes a big difference when compounded.
  • Small acts of kindness can help build trust and show your partner, a friend, or a family member how much you care. Bringing your partner a cup of coffee in the morning, cooking them dinner, or doing the dishes are simple gestures to build up your positivity ratio. For friends and family, try sending a random gratitude text or audio message letting them know how much you appreciate them.
  • Physical touch. The 5-to-1 ratio isn’t just about words; it could also be practiced through intentional physical touch. When’s the last time you just went up to your husband, wife, child, or close friend and gave them a hug for no reason? Hopefully not too long ago! Physical touch is a powerful tool to remind those in your life that you are thinking about them, even if no words are exchanged.

Final Thoughts

There’s no greater investment we can make for our health and happiness than investing in our relationships. And as we learned last week with the Harvard happiness study, there’s research to back this up!

These tips and rules might all seem overly simple, but the truth is very few people consistently practice them in their relationships. Why is that? Honestly, I think it’s because we all just get too busy focusing on the day-to-day stuff.

Hopefully, today’s newsletter is the nudge you needed to remind yourself that, no matter how busy things are, we can’t take our close friendships for granted.

Here’s to healthy relationships,
Dhru Purohit

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