With Thanksgiving nearly upon us, we break from our regularly scheduled programming on The Gottman Relationship Blog to share an article from The Huffington Post featuring our 5:1 ratio for happy partnerships. We have added additional Gottman commentary and useful links (in italics) for your reading pleasure. 

In True Holiday Spirit Turn Adversaries Into Allies

by Kare Anderson

You can be the wreath that encircles others with genuine warmth. 

1. Vividly Praise Them in the Presence of Those Who Matter to Them 
Taylor Swift graciously accepted her CMA Pinnacle award on television by thanking country music friends George Strait, Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, Keith Urban and Brad Paisley by name. She turned and looked at them, then specifically, self-deprecatingly said what she had learned from each of star. For example she said, “Brad Paisley, who I toured with for nine months… I sat on a speaker by the side of the stage and watched him every single night and he was funny, and I’ll never be that funny.”

TGI Tip: This step is about showing those you care about affection and appreciation. See our blog on Turning Towards as it can be applied to family interactions and used liberally! When you feel stretched thin, spread thickly and experience the return of good cheer.

2. Adopt the Attitude That You Want Others Around You to Have 

“A two-year-old falls down unexpectedly. He isn’t hurt but instinctively knows he wasn’t supposed to fall,” writes Bob Burg in his idea-packed new book Adversaries Into Allies. “He looks at Mom and Dad for an interpretation of what happened. If they laugh as though it’s funny, he’ll probably laugh. If they panic and act upset, he will most likely begin to cry. In either case, Mom and Dad unintentionally set the frame that led to the outcome,” suggests Burg. 

We make that framing choice, consciously or not, many times everyday in our interactions with others. For example, the owners of the above business positively framed their request using unifying humor in the language on their outdoor sign. More people report feeling down than up during the Christmas holidays. Each time you meet someone in person or online, consider that you may be the only angel in that person’s life right now. Set the situation for them to feel cared for, in that moment.

Holiday Hint: In every interaction this holiday, remember that healthy, happy marriages, according to John Gottman, usually have a “magic” 5:1 ratio of positive to negative interactions — so why not attempt to exceed that standard in all your relationships? Practice affirming their positive side and letting negative comments or behaviors slide. Be their soft shoulder. A warm smile tends to beget a smile in return.

TGI Tip: Check out our blog on the 5:1 ratio of positivity to negativity. Remember to express gratitude when others are generous – and to give and receive genuinely (4G!). Be a wreath. 

3. Brash Friendliness Pushes Us Back Yet Warm Geniality Pulls Us In 

A warm smile tends to beget a smile in return. Yet an effusive, over-the-top laugh and wide grin, for example, may cause an introvert or someone who has just gone through a trying time to back into their shell. So bring out the friendly, expressive part of you that’s close to the energy level of the person you are with. Then you are more likely to close the gap of connection rather than widen it.

TGI Tip: The next time you are widening someone’s smile, try to notice what you’re doing. Chances are, you are connecting with them by becoming emotionally attuned to their current-feelings-frequency. Stay authentic. Remember that authenticity can’t be achieved without real presence. Remember that real presence can’t be achieved without some degree of sanity. Remember that to maintain some degree of sanity, you have to take care not only of others but of yourself. 

4. Be The Gift They Are Happy to Receive 

Some people just don’t act right, like you. That’s probably the biggest cause for friction. Turn that around this holiday with Burg’s key insight. While it’s extremely difficult to change what others believe you can often avoid conflict, or turn around a fractious situation and sometimes even sway others if you are willing to “work within their belief system.” 

Burg cites The Sages of Talmud: “Say little, do much, and greet everyone with a pleasant countenance” then advises that, “instead of talking a good game, actually play a good game.”

TGI Tip: If have gotten this far, chances are that celebrating family is important to you. It’s probably important to those who join you in celebrating as well. As most of us have uncomfortably learned, celebrating family can mean very different things to different people. But at the core, most of us feel that family is about belonging. When we get together for the holidays, we want to feel fulfilled, honored, and connected. We mostly want to feel comfortable and warm, re-experience familiar traditions, and create positive memories.Explore ways to create shared meaning through rituals that include everyone and their shared histories. As Dr. Gottman wisely observes, “Behind every complaint there is a deep personal longing.”

Most of all, remember to take care of yourself! Remember to accept the help of others when they offer it. The holidays are about giving AND receiving. Ask for support. Take a walk. Love yourself. 


More in The Archives
Turn Adversaries Into Allies: Be A Wreath

Ellie Lisitsa is a staff writer at The Gottman Institute and a regular contributor to The Gottman Relationship Blog. Ellie is pursuing her B.A. in Psychology with an emphasis on Cognitive Dissonance at Reed College in Portland, Oregon.