Repairing Relationships-Part II
In my capacity as an outpatient psychologist for twenty-five
years, I deal with the same eight conditions over and over.
One of the most common complaints I hear about is relationships.
(The other seven are mood problems, children's behaviors,
ADHD or learning disorders, anxiety, low self-esteem, poor
assertiveness and addictions). This is Part II of a five part
series of articles that describe the five most essential elements
of keeping longer-term relationships alive. (It so happens that
these same techniques work in all relationships.) Please read
Part I before reading this article.
The first technique of keeping relation ships "working" is
Structured Communication, of which there are two parts, covered
in the first article in this series. The second technique is
what I call the "Four-to-One" Rule. This is a relatively simple
idea that has profound implications for relationships, long or
short-term ones, personal or otherwise.
In short, the 4:1 rule states that for every five
communications that take place between people, four of the five
will be positive. The "one" of the five communications that
takes place can be negative, but try to make it as close to neutral
as possible. Regardless of whether the "one" is neutral or just
plain negative, there has to be four positive ones, overall, to
counterbalance the negative effect of the "one."
The first objection I hear to this rule is that nobody is
counting how many positive vs. how many negative communications
take place. That's OK. The goal is to average four positive
things said to every other thing said. Nobody is sitting on the
sidelines with a clicker, counting how many of each kind of
communication is uttered. If you can do this seventy percent
of the time, you will achieve the desired result.
The second objection I hear is that the magnitude of the
communications is not the same, so the ratio makes no difference.
For example, if I say four positive things, but each of those
is a little thing, then follow those with one, very big negative
communication, then I have lost the effect. If you look at
just one example, this would be a good point. But, don't.
This is a broad, overview, so the differences in magnitude of
any one communication averages out, even disappears....
Another objection I hear is that there are not enough
positive things to say about someone on a consistent basis.
If you really think this way, this is the problem in your
relationship. In my view, there are an infinite number of
positive things to say about someone. Even bad people exude
positive qualities. I can find at least four good things to
say about death row inmates. (They might be very small things,
like "they are listening" or "paying attention," but they are
there, despite all their other negatives...) We have to be
creative and actually look for these good qualities. And, isn't
this what positively relating to your partner is all about?
Doesn't this require some effort? And, isn't the effect good
and the effort worth it?
The 4:1 principle especially works well with kids, who are
less constrained and more immediate in their response to praise.
I describe this process at length in one of my ebooks on changing
children's behavior (quickly). The 4:1 rule is one of two main
behavioral engines that rapidly change children's behavior, often
much to the delight of the kids. Kids, like adults, love to be
complimented, and the changes in behavior are immediate, positive
and obvious. Additionally, with kids, parents can choose which
of the many positive behaviors they want to reinforce, thus
training children to behave in ways that are increasingly
positive and adaptive. While this also works with adults, the
delivery of the "4" in the equation has to be genuine and a
little more subtle.
For the next technique on how to improve relationships, read