Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Leap Year

        February 29th, commonly known as Leap Day, is a date that occurs every four years in the Gregorian calendar. Earth’s complete revolution around the sun takes approximately 365 days and 6 hours, but most years only have 365 days. Leap Year is a way to make-up these unaccounted for 24 hours and balance the modern calendar. There are many traditions surrounding Leap Day including an old Irish legend made popular by Leap Year, a 2010 movie starring Amy Adams and Matthew Goode. The story goes that St. Bridget made a deal with St. Patrick to allow women to propose to men once every four years. This reversal of tradition balances the gender roles of men and women in the same way Leap Day balances the calender.

        The Gottman Institute also believes in balancing your relationship. The 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, and airing differences. A certain amount of conflict is necessary to help couples weed out actions and ways of dealing with each other that can harm the marriage in the long run. Thus, couple therapy should not declare war on negativity. A relationship without any negativity would be lifeless and boring, and their marriage would not be stable if they didn’t talk about their complaints at all. 

        Research suggests that what really separates contented couples from those in deep marital misery is a healthy balance between their positive and negative feelings and actions toward each other. Even volatile couples can stick together when they balance frequent arguments with lots of love and passion. However, balance does not mean a fifty-fifty equilibrium. Dr. John Gottman charted the amount of time couples spent fighting versus interacting positively—touching, smiling, paying compliments, laughing, etc. He found there is a very specific ratio that exists between the amount of positivity and negativity in a stable relationship. 

        The magic ratio is 5 to 1. In other words, as long as there is five times as much positive feeling and interaction between partners as there is negative, the relationship is likely to be stable. It is based on this ratio that Dr. Gottman is able to predict divorce; very unhappy couples tend to have more negative than positive interactions. So even though some level of conflict is necessary for a stable relationship, positivity is what nourishes your love.

        Leap Day only comes once every four years, so make it count! Do something special with your partner and talk about the balance within your own relationship. Pay attention to your interactions and see where they fall within the 5 to 1 ratio.

J. Fuller
TGI Staff
(Why Marriages Succeed or Fail, pp 56-57, 66-67)


  1. I'm confused by this ratio. Do you mean a 5 to 1 for the entire relationship or for just conflict? And how is that 5 to 1 coded? So if someone makes a complaint while yelling is that already two negatives? If for example I wanted to find out what that ratio was in a particular interaction how would i figure it out? Do you have a standard list that you look at or is it subjective? Also, do cultures that are less blunt with their criticism require a different measure? Sorry, I know that was a lot...

  2. Hi Amanda,

    In answer to your question, the ratio is 5:1 positive to negative in conflict conversations. The ratio is 20:1 positive to negative in non-conflict conversations. For more information about coding and research please click here:


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