Would you like to know how to make your relationship perfect? There’s one easy to remember rule. Influential couples psychologist, John Gottman figured out we need to balance each bad thing we do to our partner with five good ones (on average). Seems a bit vague? Hey, I said it was easy to remember, not easy to do.
This delightful little gem comes from Gottman’s ‘couple typology’, in which he describes the five major types of romantic couple (men and women, no data from him on those that bat for the other team). He primarily focused his research on married couples, but it easily translates to any romantic relationship.
First off, he tells us that couples are either ‘regulated’ or ‘unregulated’ (or ‘non-regulated’). Regulated couples are those that have got the whole five to one ratio down pat. Unregulated couples don’t and as such, are more dysfunctional than their counterpart. There are three couple types that are regulated, the other two are unregulated.
- Volatiles – these couples are highly emotional. A roller-coaster if you will. A lot of ups and downs, but somehow they manage to balance out (five to one). Super passionate with lots of sex, arguing, love and happiness. In one word? Well, you can’t go past the namesake. Volatile says it all.
- Validators – not so much emotion here. A much more relaxed type of relationship, with a lot of talking through problems (really good at accommodation). One word to describe these guys? Calm.
- Conflict Minimizers – these guys don’t believe the fights are worth it. Problems pop up? No worries, let it go, the relationship is too valuable to argue about it, we’re going to spend our time focusing on the positives instead. One word? Optimistic.
And now the unregulated:
- Hostiles – open warfare baby. These guys are sick of it and sick of each other. There’s no holding back. Lots of exit behaviours – actively attacking each other, blaming each other and just generally hating each others’ guts. These guys rarely slide in those positives to balance out the all the negatives. One word? Angry.
- Hostile/Detached – more like guerrilla warfare. They’ll get up close, have a stab at each other and then zone out, completely detached before the next skirmish. This is the most common ‘pre-divorce’ pattern of behaviour. Vicious attacks followed by days or even weeks of neglect. This one is easily the worst, because ignoring your partner when they need support is particularly distressing. In one word? Cold.
The couples that are unregulated are far more likely to be divorced (or consider it) over a four year period than regulated types. In fact, Gottman is so sure of this, that he thinks he can check out a couple for a few minutes and predict whether they’ll be divorced within four years. The women spend more time on disgust and contempt than enthusiasm, care and joy. Both parties will spend a lot of time whinging and angry. This means they’re spending way more time doing those negative things than patching it up with the good.
If you’re worried you’re an unregulated couple, there’s still time to patch things up. Just concentrate on that five to one ratio and Gottman says you’re pretty likely to come out on top. Meanwhile, keep an eye out for the ‘four horsemen of the Apocalypse’ (check those out here), sure signs that a relationship is on the rocks. On the topic of magic rules, why don’t you learn the ‘magic number’ that determines how much stuff you can remember (and how to game it to remember more). Turning scholarship into wisdom without the usual noise and clutter, we dig up the dirt on psychological theories you can use. Become an armchair psychologist with The Dirt Psychology.