Marriage Relationships: Accentuate the Positive (5:1)

Posted on January 4, 2012


My grandmother used to say, “You can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar.”  Her point was that it is much easier to get what you want if you are nice to be people than if you are antagonistic.  Compliments take you further than complaints.  Grandma lived to be 90 and had managed to acquire some wisdom in that time.

John Gottman has been one of the leading researchers examining the interactions between married couples.  Over the course of years of research, Gottman’s group has been able to observe both subtle and overt aspects of couple interaction that lead to marital satisfaction or spell trouble for a marriage.  Gottman (1994) through videos, interviews, and careful examination of the details of couple interaction essentially found that Grandma was right and was able to put numbers to her assertion.  Research into couple interactions found that couples need approximately five positive interactions to every negative one for relationship health.  Gottman & Gottman (2011) offered seven principles that keep a marriage together.  High on the list is the need to nurture fondness and admiration.  “By reminding yourself of your spouse’s positive qualities­—even as you grapple with each other’s flaws—and expressing out loud your fondness and admiration, you can prevent a happy marriage from deteriorating.”

In therapy with couples, I usually ask each person about their courtship and what it was about their partner that made them think, “This is the person I want to go through life with.” In distressed couples, it has often been a long time since each spouse had heard their partner speak of their admirable qualities.  When one partner speaks about the good qualities of their mate, there is a change in the countenance of both.  There is power in feeling loved and appreciated.



“I work with individuals, couples, and families to help develop secure connections
and craft manageable solutions.”

More information is available on my website  I am also available for speaking engagements, seminars, and retreats

Scott Wood is a registered marriage and family therapist intern (IMF67385) and is supervised by Dr. Melinda Reinicke, Psychologist (Psy11011).


Gottman, J. (1994). Why marriages succeed or fail: And how you can make yours last. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Gottman, J. & Gottman, J. (2011).  How to keep love going strong.