the ratio

This has been a good week.  Last Friday three friends from the US came and babysat the boys while Laura and I went to Lake Balaton for the night.  We had a blast!  (Thanks Liz, Katherine, and Kami!) It was a really great time of relaxing and talking by the lake.  It has been a year since we’ve had the chance to get away like that.  What in the world? 

This getaway prompted us to think about marriage this week.  It’s easy to let our home-life revolve around the kids and around parenting.  Life keeps moving and it is also easy to neglect or overlook the importance of our marriage.  I’ve said it before, but it is easy to let marriage slip into “cruise-control.” 

Today I spent some time with a friend thinking about what makes for a healthy marriage.  John Gottman has a fantastic book entitled “Why Marriages Succeed or Fail” which sheds some unusual light upon this subject.  Gottman writes, “…happiness isn’t found in a particular style of fighting or making up.  Rather, our research suggests that what really seperates contented couples from those in deep marital misery is a healthy balance between their positive and negative feelings and actions toward each other.”

In fact, after studying 2000 married couples, Gottman found a very specific ratio for healthy, lasting marriages.  That magic ratio is 5 to 1… long as there is five times as much positive feeling and interaction between husband and wife as there is negative, we found the marriage is likely to be stable.”  He continues to say that based upon this ratio he is able to predict, with a high degree of accuracy, whether or not a marriage will endure.

Well finally, we have a mathematical formula to solve the problem of marriage!  🙂  Actually it makes a lot of sense, and this is why “cruise-control” is so dangerous for marriages. 

Now my friend had a good point today.  He said, “This seems a little artificial.  I can imagine a wife becoming overwhelmed or irritated as the husband is attempting to throw so many positive things her way and keeping track of his “ratio” all the while.”  Yep.  Great point.  Laura never likes it when I pull out my “ratio” chart.  🙂  Just kidding.  I really don’t have a “ratio” chart.  But this raises the question of authenticity and how marriages change for the better.

For me, even an akward, somewhat forced positive gesture comes from an authentic desire to grow and improve.  With time and practice these akward and seemingly inauthentic acts can become genuine expressions of the heart.  We’re talking about the heart afterall.

So we’re having a great time nurturing our marriage this week, learning and re-learning, and accentuating the positive.


  1. I’m not sure about ratios or anything like that, but I think that we have a fairly healthy marriage. I think that Amanda’s family sees us as being unhealthy because we tend to argue when we disagree. In other words, we actually talk about stuff when we disagree. And that seems to help quite a bit.

    Two verses have really helped me to be a better husband, I think:

    Ephesians 5:25 – Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church, giving Himself up for her…

    James 4:17 – So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.

    The first one is kind of obvious. The second one is about being a guy. It often doesn’t occur to me to do things like empty the dishwasher. But if it does pop into my head that it needs to be done then I’d better do it instead of just letting it go. I find that this helps me to serve Amanda better.

    And the amazing thing is that as I commit to serving her more she commits to serving me more. She’s spent the last 2 1/2 years becoming more of what she always swore she’d never be — a homemaker. She does all the cleaning. She does all the laundry. She does almost all the cooking. She spends a lot of time with Lily and it shows in Lily’s development. Basically, she’s turning into a Proverbs 31 woman before my eyes.

    So I thank God for the times of conflict, though they are never fun. I know that we’re growing together and I love that!

  2. Jason is both right and lucky, I think. The times when he can look upon himself from an outer point of view and see himself sitting at the table and say to himself ‘Hey Jason, don’t you think you ought to empty the dishwasher’ this is rare is these ‘good deeds’ haven’t been integrated into the daily routine initially… so if it comes instinctly that’s rare, but that can be enough to form a firm basis of a loving marriage.

    The reason why think that maybe it should be a little bit artificial because we, the mundane and mortal beings have the genetically coded behavior that we let every miracle to last only for 3 days. And – as I told Mark – in marriage, I think, this is the big challenge to disprove this axiom. That’s why I like whenever Mark is coming with some ‘ratio’ or with a theory or study… because they lead to these most pragmatic conclusions that can be and that have to be applied for the sake of a thriving relation and life.

    I wonder if these are natural (and obligatory)notions to happen in one’s life: burning out, transformation, get accustomed to sg, get used to sg, loosing interest, becoming perfunctory etc.

  3. Thanks for you thoughts Jason! I love the verses, both of which have also deeply impacted me over the years. Hearing your intention and discipline to serve Amanda really spurs me on. Thanks for that! Laura is definitely the love of my life and the crown on my head (Proverbs 12:4 :)), and if there is anything worth putting energy into it would be my marriage. As I took the boys to the park this morning, I was thinking that, if there’s anything a mother of a 5,3, & 2 year old needs it would be quiet/alone time. She deserves it!

    Kristof, I’ve also been spurred on by you and A. I admire how, even in the midst of very busy lives, you guys take the time to really talk…that you place a high value on conversation and quality time together. Plus she buys you really cool pens! 🙂 I guess the pragmatic approaches help direct my discipline and effort at times in this concrete world of ours. But they have limits.

    In case some of you aren’t familiar with the Hungarian saying to which Kristof referred, here it is: “All miracles only last for 3 days.” Basically, I think this is saying that there is a limit to the good which any of us are capable of doing.

    I’m with you. The challenge is to disprove this axiom! Man, this is what gets me excited. But, when it comes to disproving/breaking this axiom, I would say that we just don’t possess the power to do it, and we ultimately end up with a sense of need. It isn’t hard to see that humanity has some “genetically encoded behavior” that disables them from living out the goodness that they desire (and for which they were made). And this is the infinite difference between us and God.

    This is why Jesus (not institutional Christianity) plays the central role in my life, because everything he has to do with is about breaking this axiom. Human will power and discipline can be quite impressive at times, but when it comes down to it, what I ultimately need is transformation or metamorphosis through which I can grow wings. What excites me isn’t a goodness that I can wear like new shirt (which just gets smelly by the end of the day) but an authentic goodness that continually overflows from something new on the inside….like pouring too much water into a cup.

    I’m really interested in your last statement/question, and I can sort of see those items you listed in a cyclical relationship. Can you expound?

  4. Kristof — it definitely needs to be somewhat artificial for me. Left to my own devices, I would slip back into the life I had as a bachelor. I’m not sure how it is in Hungary, but here in the States that is what most men do. Most men are mostly concerned with watching the latest game on TV or playing golf than spending time with their families. They tend to see their families as a hindrance to what they really want to do. I must admit that there are times when I think that way as well. But I know that I must serve them. It’s similar to my daily exercise. I often don’t want to go running or lift weights, but it’s what I committed to do and I’m going to see it through.

    Mark — I quite agree with you about Jesus as opposed to institutional Christianity. And I want to thank you for giving me that copy of _The Holiness of God_. That book really helped to crystalize much of what had been bouncing around in my heart. Basically, it forces me to conclude that there is never a spot where I can stop and say, “that’s enough”. This forces me to yearn to be more like Christ. This then forces me to spend more time in the Word. And so on.

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