Positivity: "Get Off Your Lazy Fat Ass"

The above title comes from a story we'll tell you about something a man said to his wife, something which you can tell right away isn't positive.

We know the research says a lasting relationship needs partners who will each have a positivity ratio of 5 to 1. That means you need to give your partner 5 positive messages for every negative message (messages of equal weight). We can help you learn to do that.

What it Takes to Insure Your Relationship Lasts

Every successful relationship requires at least one positive person, and it’s much better if you both are positive.

Whenever you have an ‘issue’ discussion, make sure you begin the discussion on a positive note, and end it on a positive note.

This means you don’t discuss an issue when either of you is angry, sad, domineering, belligerent, defensive, disgusted, or contemptuous. Make an agreement that one or both of you will “walk away” until you can start the discussion with humor, affection, or some other positive mode.

Identify, as early as you can, those ‘issues’ in your relationship that are irresolvable. Every relationship will have some.

If you don't know what issues may be irresolvable, one way to find out is to use the 1,000 questions every partnership should ask each other to really get to know each other really well. (See the link at the bottom of this article to order.)
Decide before you marry if you can live with his or her irresolvable issues. Ask your partner if he or she can live with yours. If you both say yes, then promise each other that you will accept that issue in the other and vow never, ever, to fight about that issue once you’re married.

What do you mean by a "5 to 1 positivity ratio?"

Earlier readers have asked for a deeper understanding of what we mean by a 5 to 1 positivity ratio. For example:

An email from a young woman with a question regarding how positive her husband was toward her.

It turns out that they had an irresolvable issue regarding her return to work after they had a baby. He expected that she would quickly return to work and help maintain their comfortable lifestyle. Before she had the baby, that had been her expectation as well.

After she had the baby, she read a great deal about babies' mothers who worked, versus babies whose mothers stayed home with them. Whether right or wrong, she formed a strongly held opinion that it would be much better for the baby’s health and well being, if they cut back on their lifestyle and she became a ‘stay at home’ mom.

This ‘issue’ quickly became irresolvable. Right or wrong, neither of them were going to change their views. He blamed her for going back on her commitment to him, and She blamed him for not agreeing that it was the best thing they could do for their child. They failed to recognize that this had become an irresolvable issue, and continued to fight about it.

One evening, when he came home from work, the house had the normal amount of mess that toddler’s homes often have, and due to a doctor’s appointment, she was late in preparing dinner.

The husband exploded with anger and said to her, “I’m sick and tired of coming home to a pigsty. If you’re too lazy to get off your fat ass and go back to work, you could at least keep a decent house and have dinner ready on time. “

She wanted to know how many negative points did his tirade count for, and how many positive interactions would he have to have to end up with a 5 to 1 positivity ratio?

In my answer, I included the ratings used by Dr. Gottman et al, in their effort to produce a mathematical model to predict marriage stability and divorce probability in a couple after observing 15 minutes of discussion on some issue that they often disagreed about.

Here is the point list:

Weighing Positive Vs. Negative Interactions

Surprise/Joy +4
Humor +4
Affection +4
Validation hi/lo +4
Tension/humor +2
Interest +2
Neutral +0.1
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Tension -0-
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Whining -1
Sadness -1
Domineering -1
Anger -1
Defensiveness -2
Stonewalling -2
Criticism -2
Belligerence -2
Disgust -3
Contempt -4

In his tirade, the husband expressed disgust, anger, contempt, and multiple criticisms (of her person, “laziness,” “fat ass” and of her job performance, housekeeping and cooking). Just using the simplest, single counting, bookkeeping, he easily has exceeded 13 points of negativity toward his wife.

Research shows that you need a positivity ratio of 5 to 1, so this single tirade might require at least (5 X 13)= 65 points of positive interaction.

That is the simplest way to look at the interaction. In fact, she has spent several days repeating what he said to her, in her mind. She has heard his tirade again and again in her head for several days. She repeated it one more time when she wrote me the e-mail.

Now, that was her fault. She wasn't using her coping skills to accept, forgive, and stop looping on his tirade, but it also shows the extreme risks involved whenever one uses contempt, disgust, anger, domineering or belligerence.

In my reply I suggested instead of counting points, she focus on using her coping skills to minimize the damage, consider what he said as a single data point in a huge bank of more positive communications, and ask him “positively” if they could agree to consider the subject of her working to be an irresolvable issue, and treat it with acceptance, grace and humor.

You’ll notice on the chart that humor is a very positive way to express yourself to your partner. Humor is even positive as a tension reducer when you are having a small marital tiff.

What could the husband do?

I tried to write something that this husband could say that might produce 65 points of positive interaction, and I realized that he would have to take quite a while making enough positive interactions to make up for this one tirade.

Somehow, while it doesn't show up easily in the point count, I expect that the most valuable things he could communicate would include the following:

As you can see, the positivity cost of a single thoughtless tirade is very high. My best advice is to learn and do the daily practices that will make you more positive, so you don't run the risk of high cost mis-adventures.

To order the Michael Webb's 1,000 Questions couples can ask each other. click on
1,000 Questions for Couples

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