What's The 5:1 Ratio In A Relationship?

Are the arguments between you and your partner normal? Do you have more rough patches than good times together? Obviously, those are trick questions — there isn't one "right" or "normal" way to deal with conflict in a relationship. Just as some couples claim to never fight, others argue often and still maintain a healthy connection (after all, there can be benefits to arguing with your significant other). As licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Joseph Cilona tells Glamour, "There is no one correct formula when it comes to frequency of conflict, and there is no one correct way to navigate conflict that's right for all couples."

Still, how you and your other half interact during heated conversations can determine relationship satisfaction. A 2019 study published in the journal Family Process revealed that happy couples don't actually argue less often than unhappy couples, but they do argue differently.

So how can you replicate what the satisfied pairs do when you and your partner don't see eye to eye? Experts suggest striving for a 5:1 ratio. Here's what that means and how to apply it to your relationship.

The 5:1 ratio can stop conflict from spiraling

If fights with your significant other seem to have you stuck in a gridlock, the 5:1 ratio may help get you both unstuck. The concept grew out of research by Dr. John Gottman of The Gottman Institute and Robert Levenson, which studied romantic partners during conflict. The happy couples had more positive interactions during these times of conflict than negative interactions — five to one, to be exact.

In other words, to maintain a healthy relationship, even when you're upset with each other, it's important to have at least five positive moments for every single negative one. Couples who exceed this number of negative interactions are more likely to break up, according to the research.

As marriage and family therapist Elizabeth Earnshaw tells MindBodyGreen, the 5:1 ratio can act as a reminder to treat each other with love and respect, even if not followed perfectly. "Of course, no one is going to walk around all day calculating their interaction ratio," she remarked. "However, we can use it as a reflective tool — if I wrote down a list of our interactions today, would I be writing about more positive interactions than negative?"

How to have more positive interactions in your relationship

The 5:1 ratio sounds great and all, but what actually counts as a "positive" or "negative" interaction? According to The Gottman Institute, positive interactions include showing interest in each other's feelings, holding hands, expressing appreciation, joking (though never at the other person's expense), and offering a heartfelt apology, just to name a few. Negative interactions might look like criticizing each other, acting defensively, stonewalling, or using sarcasm.

If you or your partner struggle to fight fair during disagreements, a few simple tweaks can help turn pettiness into positivity. First, though it's generally a bad idea to bottle up your grievances, delaying a discussion for at least a few hours may offer a chance to cool down and process what happened. Deborah Grody, a clinical psychologist, shares with Time that couples should take a time-out from an argument when feeling triggered. "Most of the time, things are said on impulse in the heat of anger," Grody explained. "But the words stay with us." You can also schedule weekly check-ins to discuss problems in a structured setting. The Gottman Institute calls these sessions "State of the Union" meetings and suggests sharing both relationship wins and setbacks during these talks.

Finally, monitor your own behavior and work on improving yourself — not your significant other. Even if your partner strays from the 5:1 ratio, continue modeling the positive interactions you want to see more of in your relationship.