June 13, 2024

Improving Marriage: a 5 to 1 investment ideal

“Remember working briefly on your marriage everyday will do more for your health and longevity than working out in a health Club.” John Gottman

“No deposit, no returnwords on a coke bottle

The preeminent marriage therapist of our time, John Gottman, reports couples that are positive at a ratio of 5/1 are more likely to have healthy relationships. He is talking about making nice gestures and saying nice things to the one who is most important in our life. He notes these couples “turn toward” each other and appreciate partner intent even when the deed may fall short. He speaks of a kiss on the cheek, a smile or a thank you. A so called “deposit” in contrast to a “withdrawal” every time the same spouse says “you didn’t turn the light off” or “you left the drawer open.” If a couple does this at a 1/1 ratio, Gottman notes the relationship is quite unhealthy. Makes sense when you think about it. Who, in fact, do we generally like and want in our life? I’d say people that generally appreciate us for who we are and what we do. Additionally, when these friends, or family offer critique, we are more likely to hear it and thus adjust and improve (if we agree) about our behavior.

Oddly sometimes we take the opposite point of view, sort of a higher standard for those we love thus when they don’t meet that standard….here come the critiques. The thought seems to be “if I criticize, remind you enough you will improve.” Couples sometimes, with a bit of embarrassment, tell me they are doing 5/1 in the other direction…5 complaints for every appreciation. They seem to think it is their job to bring every point up as if their job is to be the best critic possible. Turning this around can be a key to improving the relationship. The comment that “my partner should know” that they are appreciated is often a clue to significant problems. Make sure your partner (and kids and friends) know they are appreciated. It also feels good to notice the pluses of others, to appreciate. Making the “deposits” is not only good for receiver but also for the giver.

One way to do this is develop habits, especially at recurring times. So that when you leave for work in the morning there is a smile, kiss on the cheek, an “I love you”. Similar habits can be developed at times of reuniting and at bed time. These are good habits. Ironically the feedback needs to be genuine, not just habitual. If 5/1 is not happening with your significant other you will find that the change may be difficult…and I expect worth the effort.

Another part of the plan may be to decide about the small things that your partner does (or does not do), at least for some of them, maybe it is really just your job. Can it be your job to turn the closet light out or close the drawer? So many of the small things just do not seem worth making a “withdrawal.”

By the way, don’t keep score. While you may want to keep score, don’t; just be sure you make your deposits. Keeping score seems to turn into another way to critique.

Give this a try with your partner, kids and/or friends.



  1. It’s a shame that all too often we treat people we barely know better than the ones we love. I’m reminded of what a therapist once told me that he gave couples as a task between sessions: “This week, treat each others as strangers.”

  2. Linda Leslie says

    Believe these comments apply to all close relationships; close friends too. Have been noticing the tendency to want to “improve them”(or be improved) by critiques. (Even pets are known to respond much more favorably to positive attention rather than negative. I heartily agree with often “treating others as strangers.”