Marriage Hack: Mastering Gottman’s Magic Ratio

Marriage Expert John Gottman is able to predict divorce with 95% accuracy with his magic ratio of 5:1 positive to negative interactions. Sounds like we should  learn how to cultivate more positive interactions.

Our theme for the month is marriage hacks- helpful tips and tools for your marriage.  Recent posts:

This hack comes from John Gottman, king of marriage research.  Astonishingly and against all odds in social science, Gottman is able to predict divorce with 95% accuracy.  That does not happen in social science.

He observes a couple for an hour, measures all sorts of things and based on those codings, is able to predict whether or not that couple will be divorced in 15 years.  With 95% accuracy.

Say what?!

What is he looking for in this hour of observation?  Well a lot of things actually, but a key component is the ratio of negative interactions to positive ones.  He found that in relationships where positive interactions (touching, smiling, laughing, complimenting, etc) outweigh negative interactions by a ratio of 5:1 or more, those relationships are extremely stable.

In relationships where the ratio is less than that, problems arise and those relationships are likely to end in divorce.

So, with this in mind, the marriage hack for today is CULTIVATE POSITIVE INTERACTIONS WITH YOUR SPOUSE!!!

Marriage Expert John Gottman is able to predict divorce with 95% accuracy with his magic ratio of 5:1 positive to negative interactions. Click through to learn how to cultivate more positive interactions.

As I’ve been thinking about the interactions I have with Rich, I’ve come to realize that we have slightly different definitions of “positive” and “negative” interactions.  For instance, when we are chatting during a date night or some time when we are in bonding mode and its my turn to pick a topic of conversation, I almost always go to some type of scheduling topic- an event we have coming up, a decision we have to make, something going on with the kids, etc.  It’s just how my mind works.

It took me a while to understand why Rich would recoil from these topics- to him talking about to-do lists and schedules does not qualify as a positive interaction as it does for me.  To him, it is neutral at best and stressful and overwhelming at worst.

Which is kind of a bummer because SO much of our daily interactions are scheduling related.  Particularly when we are both busy.

For instance, I’m actually holding my phone right now, scanning through mine and Rich’s text messages recently. Here are a few:

  • “What’s your eta?”
  • “Any memory if the dishwasher got turned on last night?”
  • “Double checking you’ll be home by 5:20 so I can go to parent teacher conference?”
  • “Don’t forget to pick up that package today”
  • “Running late.”
  • “Do we have tomatoes or should I buy some?”

Now obviously these texts aren’t mean or bad, but since they constitute so much of our daily interactions, I could definitely put in more effort to push them further into the positive interaction camp.  Particularly since, as I mention, Rich doesn’t like scheduling talk as much as I do. ( Mmmmmm scheduling talk, love it.)

Time to sprinkle a little more love into those texts!

Anyway, so the marriage hack for this week is to be the bearer of good news to your spouse.  Make those texts a little more loving or funny or sweet or interesting or whatever your spouse likes.

Consciously curate positive interactions with your spouse this week- whatever that means to them.

Let me know how it goes!

Marriage Hack: Fill Yourself Up with Love

In our attempts to be the best spouse we can be, lets try filling ourselves up with love first.  Love then won’t be able to help itself oozing all over those around us.

Our theme for the month is marriage hacks- helpful tips and tools for your marriage.  Recent posts:


In marriage we can often feel so consumed in feeling like our marital progress is being impeded by our SPOUSE.

Filling our thoughts with fears and concerns about what our spouse is or isn’t doing for the betterment of our marriage is an extremely backwards and ineffective way to progress.

You are responsible for what YOU can do. I am responsible for what I can do.

That’s it. You are not responsible for what your spouse does or doesn’t do.

With this in mind, one of the very best ways to improve your marriage is simply to fill yourself up with love.

Fill yourself up with love to the brim, to overflowing. Fill yourself up with love so much that love unconsciously oozes out of you. The people around you will feel that. Its real.

How do you fill yourself up with love?

That’s a great question. I think it is different for everyone. I do not know the most effective methods for you. But you know them. Or can discover them with some practice and exploration.

I can tell you what helps me fill up with love. Here are a few tried and true practices for me:

  1. Meditation. Such a fan of meditation. I need to be alone breathing with all my feelings everyday. It fills me up. Particularly when coupled with prayer.
  2. Listening to soul-fulfilling music. Sometimes that means hymns. Sometimes that means Hamilton. Whatever, my soul knows what it wants.
  3. Reading good books. I love books that fill me up with love. I checked a short, simple book out at the library last week called The World According to Mister Rogers. Its a quote book and it is fantastic at filling me up with love even if I only pick it up for a minute.
  4. Seeing people. This is so momentary and fleeting a thing for me- it only lasts a second, but sometimes I look around and see the people around me with my “love lenses” on and I am filled with love at what beautiful people are around me.
  5. Anticipation, savoring and reflection. Gretchen Rubin says in order to glean the most happiness from an event, you should look forward to it before, savor it during and remember it after.
  6. Spending one-on-one time with my kids.  Doesn’t happen often enough, but consciously focusing my love and attention on one kid always makes me feel better.
  7. Relaxing. Taking time for myself when I plan it out always leaves me feeling more energized. Whether it is some guilt-free time watching Gilmore Girls or a trip to the library by myself, a little self-care goes a long way.

In order to be the best spouse I can be, I need to fill myself up with love and then that love oozes out of me onto those around me.  Click through to read some self-love tricks.

When I try to fill up on love ALL day long, I’m always disappointed. I get distracted, selfish, tired. I can never keep up good feelings all day. These little love fill ups are often so fleeting and short that if I don’t catch them and let them fill me up, they just leave forgotten.

Its a constant battle for me to not focus on the busy, all the stuff I have to do, all the tasks left undone that weigh me down.

I think one of Christ’s greatest gifts is His gift of taking the weight of these stressors off my shoulders. The tasks are still there, but the weight can be gone. Christ’s gifts relieve me of guilt and allow me to be filled with love in order to spread that love to others.

When I am weighed down, it is hard for me to fill him up with love. When I allow Christ to take the weights of my worries, I am free to fill myself up with love and let that love spill over to my children, my friends and my husband.


How do YOU fill up with love?

Marriage Hack: Write a Marriage Manifesto

In a nod to Gretchen Rubin, I’ve written my own 10 commandments for my marriage, or my marriage manifesto.

Our theme for the month is marriage hacks- helpful tips and tools for your marriage. Last week’s post:

I’ve recently gotten into this great podcast called Happier by Gretchen Rubin (author of The Happiness Project) and her sister Elizabeth. In it, Gretchen and Elizabeth talk a lot about manifestos, which are meant to be reminders of the life lessons you’ve learned and aspirations for who you want to become. These manifestos can be for one specific thing or just for your life generally.
Here is Gretchen’s for her life (which she outlines in this post ):
1. Be Gretchen.
2. Let it go.
3. Act the way I want to feel.
4. Do it now.
5. Be polite and be fair.
6. Enjoy the process.
7. Spend out. (This is probably the most enigmatic of my commandments.)
8. Identify the problem.
9. Lighten up.
10. Do what ought to be done.
11. No calculation.
12. There is only love.

Her sister Elizabeth recently outlined a manifesto for her marriage, which she describes further in this podcast ):

1. Use a kind voice.
2. Pick up, pick up, pick up.
3. Assume the best, accept the worst.
4. Temples are there to be rubbed. (he gets a lot of migraines)
5. Devices down.
6. Say yes.
7. Nag sparingly.
8. If not him, then an exact replica (If she didn’t have him, she would be out looking for someone EXACTLY like him)


Guess how much this self-help guru loves the idea of manifestos???



So, I will now delight you all with my own marriage manifesto.


1. Let Rich be Rich.
2. I didn’t get my way and that’s ok.
3. Love what is.
4. Forgive before you fix.
5. Listen before you speak.
6. To every time there is a season.
7. Focus on feelings.
8. It starts with me.
9. Expect almost nothing.
10. Charity never faileth.

Key point here before I go deeper- manifestos are meant to be aspirational, so this is not necessarily a list of what I do, but what I ASPIRE to do. Remember, I am not a better wife than you.

Let’s break those down, shall we?

1. Let Rich be Rich

This is probably the number one lesson I’ve learned since starting this blog. It’s not my job to correct his character flaws. It’s not my responsibility to oversee his spiritual progression. It is not my place to police his interactions with our children. I get to be me, he gets to be him. Learning to let go of the feeling of responsibility I used to carry to “make him the best him that he can be” has finally granted me the freedom to love Rich unconditionally.

2. I didn’t get my way and that’s ok.

One of my marriage heroes, Dr. Fred Luskin in his book Forgive for Love (which I talk about here and here) defines forgiveness as “the ability to remain at peace when you do not get what you want.” I truly believe forgiveness is one of, if not THE most important characteristic of a happy marriage. When I don’t get my way and can feel a temper tantrum starting in my head I try to think, “oh yeah, I’m not getting my way right now. . . . and oh yeah, that’s ok.”

3. Love what is.

This comes from Byron Katie’s book Loving What Is. I just talked about this last week here, but the very idea of loving whatever stage your marriage is at right now and loving your spouse however they are right now without waiting for what you might consider crucial improvements, is a beautiful sentiment. And I LOVE how she provides a little worksheet and set of questions to apply over and over and over in any situation you find yourself not loving your reality. So helpful.

4. Forgive before you fix.

This is another gem from forgiveness expert Dr. Fred Luskin, and it has helped me immensely. Learning to fight well is key to the success of any marriage, and this little tip of trying to forgive your spouse for whatever is upsetting you BEFORE you discuss it with them (or yell at them or angry text them, whatever the case may be . . .) has been extremely helpful.

5. Listen before you speak.

I learned so much researching for this article about weekly check ins or what we call companionship inventory. Formerly, I have to say often these meetings weren’t super fun because I was so focused on getting Rich to see things my way on whatever issue we were discussing (parenting, household duties, a purchase, etc). Now, I consciously try to just listen to understand his side before I present my own.

Or . . . . I would if I were perfect. Which I’m not, so I’ll say I now aspire to do that. I’m probably putting myself in too great a light in this post, these are things I have to remind myself of frequently because my knee-jerk reaction is to do the opposite of them.

This is my marriage manifesto- a set of 10 guidelines and aspirations I've written to remind myself to be the wife I want to be. Click through to read more.

6. To every time there is a season.

I’ve noticed that whenever things are going really well in our marriage, I think things will never be bad. And whenever things aren’t so great I think they’ll never be great again. But it’s not true. Marriage is full of peaks and valleys. It just is. They pass. I’m trying to remind myself to soak up all I can from our peaks and know that the valleys won’t last. Fights are like clouds in the sky – they may be big and ugly sometimes, but they pass.  They don’t define us.

Also, after we did our series last year on improving intimacy, I have to say our love life in the bedroom was . . . . ahem, pretty great. I honestly thought it would be like that forever, like we had reached an understanding of how important it was and how great it was for our marriage to be intimate frequently, but sadly, we didn’t keep it up to the same extent we had been. I was feeling down on myself for this, but I’m realizing that to every time there is a season.

We used to be super great about having a 10 minute connect each night, and now that has died down. There will be another season where we put all our focus on our bedroom again I’m sure, just like seasons where we focus on communication or date nights or physical fitness or whatever. Peaks and valleys are natural.

7. Focus on feelings.

I had always heard that we should be using “I” statements instead of “you” statements when we disagree (ex: “I feel unloved when you are on your phone so much.” vs “You are on your phone all day and night! YOU never talk to me!”).

I haven’t always been very good at it, but this idea of focusing on feelings was really driven home to me recently as I was conducting an interview for my new book about mixed-faith marriages. The lady I was interviewing said,

“For so long I was so hurt and distraught, off in my own corner grieving, blaming my spouse. And he’s off in his corner grieving and blaming me. And finally we started saying, ‘Hey I’m hurting.’ And I started just asking for a hug. The first step is noticing, getting in tune with what we are feeling, what is going on within ourselves. This puts us in a position to ask what we need from each other without accusing them of anything.”

So great, right?

8. It starts with me.

So much of our potential marital progress has been stymied by me “waiting” for Rich to solve or help solve a problem. For instance, the idea, “well, I would love to work out a budget/ exercise together/ have more sex/ improve our companionship inventories, but HE isn’t on the same page.”

No more. I can do what I can do. And it turns out, I can do a lot. It has to start with someone and since I can’t control anyone else, well, that means if I want something started, I have to start it.

Be the initiator.

9. Expect almost nothing.

This has been a learning curve for sure. So, so so many of our previous fights could have been avoided if I had learned earlier the value of keeping my expectations low. Often I will imagine how I want my day to go or an event to go and when that doesn’t happen I have a really hard time letting go of my disappointment.

Particularly where Rich is involved, I am learning to keep my expectations very low. Not because I don’t believe in him, but because if I want something done, I need to do it myself and not expect him to fulfill my expectations that he is not responsible for and is generally completely unaware of.

If I don’t expect him to do the dishes, I’m not upset he doesn’t do them! If I want the dishes done, I need to do the dishes.

10. Charity never faileth.

It’s true. It never does. This is from a scripture found in Moroni 7:46 of the Book of Mormon. Charity, or the pure love of Christ can get us out of the negative spiral of marital misery faster than anything else.  Love, pure love, unconditional love NEVER fails.


And because I know you couldn’t possibly have satiated your appetite for hearing about my manifestos, I’m going to include my overall life manifesto I wrote as well (I’ll spare you my blogging manifesto, health manifesto and spiritual manifesto 😉 )

1. I can’t, but WE can. To remind myself I can’t do much of anything, but with Christ and Rich, WE can do quite a lot.

2. It’s not how much I give, but how much love I put into the giving. Thank you Mama T for my life motto. I apply it to my marriage, parenting, blogging and serving.
3. There is no them, only us. To remind my mind to stop judging people I deem different than myself (also the name of this article I wrote)
4. People only remember how you make them feel. Based on a quote by Maya Angelou to remind myself that people don’t really care how I look, dumb things I say, the fact that you often can’t see the carpet in my front room, they’ll remember most how they feel when they are around me.
5. You can’t do everything, but you can do something. To remind myself not to believe Satan’s lie that it’s all or nothing. It’s a full on diet plan or junk food all the time, it’s giving a homeless person a meal and ride to the homeless shelter or avoid eye contact.  Lies.
6. Be the change you wish to see in the world. If everyone in the world acted as I did, what would it be like? What would the environment be like? What would Facebook be like? What would politics, religion, parenting, neighborhoods be like?
7. You eat an elephant one bite at a time. I need to remind myself fervently and frequently to not be overwhelmed.  Big tasks are accomplished little task by little task.
8. There you are! “There are two types of people – those who walk into a room and say: ‘Here I am!’ and those who walk into a room and say: ‘There you are.’” – Glennon Doyle
9. Don’t pray to change your circumstances, but that YOU in your circumstances might be changed. This is what David A. Bednar says is the key to unlocking grace, and I think the key to unlocking happiness.
10. You are a woman of love. To remind myself I am a child of God and as such I can fill myself up with so much love that it oozes out of me.  My identity as a woman of love is a foundation that can never be threatened or taken from me.


That’s it.  Have you ever written a manifesto?  Or set of guidelines for yourself?  If you have or if you will, would you mind sending them to me??  I would LOVE to read them!!!  athingcalledloveblog{at}gmail{dot}com.

Marriage Hack: Put Yourself Through Therapy

Write out your negative emotions and what you wish would be different, then ask yourself these four questions by Byron Katie.

Our theme for the month is marriage hacks- helpful tips and tools for your marriage.

Marriage Hack of the week:  Put Yourself Through Therapy When Your Spouse Bothers You

Personally, I think everyone should go to a therapist at some point in their life.  It can be a very healthy place to process negative emotions so they won’t build up in unhealthy ways.

But we don’t all have the money, time or inclination to go to therapy, so if you are in this boat, try the next best thing: putting yourself through therapy.

Your negative emotions need a healthy place to process. A therapist's office is a great place for that, but if not, you can journal it out by asking yourself these four questions.

This is something I’ve been working on a lot ever since I read the book Loving What Is, which I describe more thoroughly in this post, but basically Byron Katie says whenever you have something that is bothering you, you should write it all down, ask yourself four questions and turn it around.

Generally when Rich and I disagree or when something bothers me, I unconsciously focus all my efforts on trying to figure out how to make him see things from my point of view.  I think through the best words to use, the best time.  When I’m upset, that hypothetical conversation with him is always running around my mind like a track on repeat.  I am desperate for him to see things MY WAY.

Now that I’ve read the book, when I’m upset, I’m consciously trying to focus my efforts on accepting my reality, questioning my own assumptions and forgiving.  That’s a pretty big shift from the general habits my brain has formed through the years.  My brain still reverts back to old habits pretty frequently, but I’m improving.

Thankfully that Byron Katie has provided everyone with a VERY helpful little worksheet to put yourself through if you have something that bothers you.  She calls it THE WORK and the worksheet can be found here (click on the image and it will take you to the PDF)


Most of that worksheet is the getting out your frustration part, but the magic happens in those four little questions at the bottom:

  1. Is it true?
  2. Can you be absolutely certain that its true?
  3. How do you react, what happens when you think this thought?
  4. Who would you be without this thought?

You put your frustrating thoughts through those questions then turn them around to prove the opposite true and your brain (and heart) have quite a helpful exercise to realize that the things that make us miserable don’t have to.


So, here’s a little example of this therapy at work with what happened to me on Sunday:

Sunday this week for whatever reason we were all in bad moods.  I think our Saturday was a little over-scheduled, the house was a mess, we didn’t get enough sleep, whatever, the Davises were all a bunch of grumpy pants.

Rich really wanted to go on a family drive through a local state park since the fall leaves are right about at peak beauty around here.  I agreed.  But then we kinda bummed around for a couple hours after church and then I had to go visiting teaching (like an assigned friend program at our church) at 4:00.   And the visit lasted longer than I anticipated so I didn’t end up coming home until 6:00 at which point we had to eat dinner and then it was dark and the day was over.

No family drive through pretty leaves.  No glorying at the world in its autumn splendor.  No butterflies.

Put yourself through therapy
Nope. None of this.

Just a bunch of grumpy Davises.

We were all crabby, but I noticed Rich more so since I returned.  When I asked if he was ok he snapped, “I just really wanted to go on that drive.  That’s all I wanted to do today!!”

Immediately, I felt attacked and my brain unconsciously went through all the reasons I was in the clear (It wasn’t my fault!  I was trying to leave earlier! I was doing something nice!) and why he wasn’t so innocent (We had hours we could have gone before I left! YOU didn’t initiate it!).  I felt like I was being blamed for his bad mood unfairly.  I was bugged.

So I gave myself a time out.

I went upstairs and gave myself a little therapy to calm down. I went through “the work” and filled out that worksheet.

I’ll spare you the exact transcript of what I wrote, but as I filled out the what is bothering me part I could feel myself calming down as my negative emotions now had a healthy channel to process through.

The work by Byron Katie can be life-changing. Write down the thoughts that make you miserable and then question them. Click through for more detail.

Then, when I asked the four questions, as I was answering the question “Who would you be without the thought?”  (my thought this time specifically was “Rich shouldn’t blame me for his bad mood”) something changed in me.  Like a little light switch in my heart when on.  I saw that without the thought I would be more understanding and forgiving.  That I could see him for who he is and what he’s going through instead of how he’s acting.  I would be compassionate.  I would be the Celeste I want to be.

That question was the freedom I was seeking.  My bad mood slowly transformed to peace and I was able to go downstairs, give Rich a hug and apologize sincerely that the day didn’t go how he had hoped.

We talked through some stuff after the kids had gone to bed and it wasn’t all rainbows and sunshine (bad moods don’t tend to dissipate so suddenly), but the next day we were back on track.  I think if I hadn’t taken the time out to go through therapy the bad mood and blame and defensiveness I had felt initially could have meandered on the next couple of days pretty easily.

Thank you Byron Katie!

Here she is talking about the work: