Valentine’s Day has come and gone. To many couples, Valentine’s Day is one of the few days of the year to carve out some time to spend with their significant other and whether it is via greeting card, love letter, or these days even Facebook post, verbalize the positive feelings that they have for that person.
I have always loved Valentine’s Day. I love all holidays for that matter for the sole reason that they give us something to celebrate. Something to look forward to. Valentine’s Day prompts us to sit back and notice positive attributes of the people in our lives. However, for many couples, once Valentine’s Day is over, they too quickly forget about the need for time together and the importance of communicating appreciation for their loved ones.
In my therapy office, I often see couples who have fallen prey to the habit of “nit picking.” Oftentimes, it is easier to notice things that irritate us in our interactions with others because those are things that we naturally would like to change. We notice these small annoyances and are quick to point them out to our partner.
The problem with this is it is easy to begin to communicate the negative things that our significant other does far more often than the positive things. How do we feel at work when we have a boss who constantly criticizes our errors but rarely praises us for a good performance? It is a good recipe for high turnover in a place of employment. What about with our children? Many of us recognize the importance of praising children for good behavior rather than just correcting negative behavior. We KNOW the importance of praise in relationships, but many of us forget about this in our romantic relationships.
The thoughts that we choose to attend to can easily shape our experiences. If we choose to spend more time focusing on negative thoughts about our significant other and writing off any positive thoughts, it is understandable that feelings of irritation and resentment might creep in. It can be incredibly powerful to make an effort to be mindful of the amount of negative comments that we make to our partners.
John Gottman, a well known researcher of marital satisfaction, pointed out that a good rule of thumb for many relationships is something called the “5:1 ratio.” He stated that for marital satisfaction to be high there needs to be five times as many positive interactions between partners than negative.
When we think about this ratio in terms of “nit picking,” we can assume that if we try to say 5 positive things to our spouse for every criticism, we may experience increased marital satisfaction. These things can be as simple as saying “thank you for taking out the trash” or “you are such a good father.” A small amount of praise can go a long way in our relationships. If we treat our children, employees, co workers or even the cashier at the grocery store with thanks and appreciation for their help, why not give our partners the same courtesy.