We can improve in two ways – by doing less “bad” or by doing more “good”. Improving your marriage is the same, more good or less bad both result in an overall improvement.
Bad, hurtful, negative things do a great deal of harm. A single good event does not make up for a single bad event. John Gottman says his research indicates there must be at least five positive interactions for each negative interaction for a relationship to succeed.
Imagine if you got things wrong in your job as often as you got them right – how long would you have the job? Getting it right 90% might be enough to keep your job, but would you expect a raise or a promotion? Why should we expect our marriages to be any different?
Various studies* have found:
- Bad life events affect how people feel longer than good life events.
- Losing money causes more distress than gaining the same amount of money results in joy.
- While good sexual events are among the strongest positive events for most people, a single negative sexual event can wipe out all good events.
- Negative attitudes and distress early in marriage correlates with higher levels of divorce later, but good events do not correlate to less divorce.
- Sexual dysfunction has a greater effect on the marriage than good sex.
In short, the bad we do to our spouse has a huge effect, and it stays with them a long time. The good we do has only a minor effect, and is quickly forgotten. If you want a solid marriage, you must do two things:
- Work on reducing the bad. Apologies are good, but they do little to change things.
- Do good often. Daily small things are better than occasional big things.
Trying to make up for bad things with good things is a losing strategy. A lot of good can help offset a bit of bad, but the good will be forgotten long before the bad. The amount of good necessary to fully offset bad is unsustainable.
* These are mentioned in Bad Is Stronger Than Good