How Words Can Prevent Divorce, Failure and Pain

word power

Words In Marriage

Dr. Gottman, a renowned marriage and relationship therapist, is able to predict divorce with startling accuracy. He does this using a “magic ratio” of positive to negative interactions.

Negative: Arguing, criticism, sarcasm, whining
Positive: Touching, smiling, paying compliments, laughing, sympathy

As long as there are five times as many positive interactions between partners as there are negative, the relationship is likely going to be stable, Gottman’s research says. This holds true even if the negative interactions are volatile and angry.

5:1  is the magic positive to negative ratio

Why do we need so much positivity? One reason may be that negative experiences and interactions tend to be much more influential than positive ones. Social psychology professor at Florida State University Roy F. Baumeister wrote about this phenomenon in an article called “Bad Is Stronger Than Good.”

“Bad emotions, bad parents, and bad feedback have more impact than good ones, and bad information is processed more thoroughly than good,” he and colleagues wrote. “…you are more upset about losing $50 than you are happy about gaining $50.”

Words At Work

Research published in American Behavioral Scientist showed that positive words in the work place are important for productivity.

The study measured the positive and negative interactions of different teams, and then measured their productivity. The highest-performing teams had a positive to negative comment ratio of 5.6 to 1. Low-performing teams had an average of 3 negative comments to 1 positive one.

Positive Comments: “I agree with that” , “that’s a good idea”
Negative Comments: “We shouldn’t do that” , “I disagree”

Bear in mind this is no indication to discard negative feedback entirely. In fact, surveys indicate that negative feedback is just as helpful, if not more helpful than positive feedback. It just doesn’t have to come in equal doses.

Sources:, Forbes

Words And Pain

Researchers in China conducted a study where they had nurses use positive or negative words with patients who underwent surgery. For patients who received “doses” of negative words, pain intensity, stress levels and morphine consumption increased for hours afterward.

So negativity directed at us does in fact hurt us, sometimes literally. But we can use words ourselves to counter painful experiences, research shows. Researchers from Keele University in England say that swearing alleviates pain. Expletives come from a different part of the brain than normal language, and somehow influence pain sensation, researchers say. This may be why swearing is a natural response to injury situations.

To come to this conclusion, researchers had study subjects see how long they could keep their hands immersed in cold water. Participants who were allowed to swear during the exercise reported less pain and endured significantly longer than those who used neutral words.

Other researchers agree that swearing can be a beneficial response. Swearing raises one’s heart rate, allows expression and raises our defenses. Be aware, however, that swearing too much decreases swearing’s positive effects.

Sources: Nanjing Medical University, Scientific American

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