The Worm Sweat of Our Marriage, Scientifically in a 5-1 Ratio

Subtitle — I’m sorry but we are too immature to attend your lecture series.

Several friends and advisors have recommended the book Why Marriages Succeed or Fail by John Gottman. We’ve even been invited to attend the lecture he’s giving on his theories of marriage in Seattle later this month. He’s supposed to be a great speaker and quite an expert in the field. Besides, if so many people are recommending that we read “improve your marriage” books, maybe they all know something we don’t. Maybe the universe is conspiring to keep us together or something.

So we thought, “What the hay? Let’s save our marriage.” We decided to read the book first and then decide if we wanted to spend the $70+ it would cost to buy lecture tickets and pay a babysitter.

To start out, I should say that this book does not contain theories. Theories are contained in much less scientific books, books written by other psychologists and therapists who are relying only on their anecdotal evidence of what makes marriage last.

This is not the case with John “5 to 1” Gottman, as Dan has lovingly nicknamed him. No, John Gottman has spent 20 years researching couples scientifically to determine what makes a marriage last. He is like a surgeon or, if you will, a medical doctor. He’s sort of like a scientist or someone who conducts experiments in a laboratory. It’s like he relies on evidence scientifically rather than guess-work. He’s groundbreaking, like someone covering new territory that’s never yet been explored, like an explorer, embarking on new terrain scientifically. He is ecdotal, rather than those other people, who are anecdotal.

The preceding paragraph is a paraphrase of the first 30 pages of the book, scientifically. I have come to be a firm believer that psychology books should never be read aloud, especially by two people with warped senses of humor who analyze form neurotically.

Like most parenting, marriage, weight-loss, or other psychology or self-help books I’ve read, this one is extremely repetitively, redundant. In this case, the dude goes out of his way to the point of insanity to lay a foundation that his work is done scientifically.

WE GET THE POINT. We appreciate the point. We are comforted by the point. Dan is so convinced of the importance of the point that he begins sprinkling the reading with the word “scientifically” every few sentences. The funny part is, I can never quite tell when he has added “scientifically” or when John “5 to 1” Gottman has thrown it in to sound…well…scientific.

Moving on.

He then explains a major premise of the book. There are three types of marriages that can be successful. He explains how they work. He gives examples of how they work. The couples in the marriages work through their problems by saying things like “I see” and “hmmmm” and “but I really feel…” There are many examples given of each style of conflict resolution. You should read it yourself. We did and we are most definitely not getting divorced. We’ve decided to cleave, multiply and replenish. Thank you John.

Our favorite part of the book, the part that had us literally rolling on the floor laughing, came when he started to talk about the fact, scientifically, that marriages will only succeed if the couple maintains a ratio of 5 positive interactions for every 1 negative interaction. “5 to 1”. Okay. Got it. I am sure that this is true. I trust the scientific method that produced these findings.

But there’s more. It’s like if there were 5 good things in the marriage, there could only be one bad. To look at it from another angle, if you had 5 bad interactions with your spouse, you would need to fabricate 25 positive ones to make up for it. If you buy a bunch of grapes at the store and 10 of the grapes are rotten but only 48 are fresh, you can pretty much expect the entire bunch to self-implode in a matter of days.

Every time the guy would come up with yet another “5 to 1” analogy, we would both lose it. Tears, streaming down our faces.

We kept thinking he was done with that topic but then he’d give ANOTHER analogy. When he got to the analogy about the nutrients found in soil, scientifically in a “5 to 1” ratio, we couldn’t take it any more. Laughing so hard I could barely speak, I told Dan that it seemed to me the whole thing was kind of like worm sweat. If you have 5 particles of water in a droplet of worm sweat, you can only have one particle of salt or somebody’s gonna find that worm and run it over with their BMX. Dan fell to the floor on his face and began crying like a small child, scientifically.

Then we did some marital self tests. These are the kind of tests that use multiple negatives so by the end of reading a question, you’re not sure what “yes” actually means. They are the kind of scientific questions that you probably shouldn’t answer together, questions like:

-Is your spouse understanding and compassionate?
-Is love not important in your marriage?
-Do you think it is important for a married couple to care about each other’s feelings?
-Would it be not okay with you if your spouse did not find separate living quarters?
-Do you not think spice (spouse plural?) should not interact in any way or not throughout their marriages?

We didn’t not pass the tests and we found enough truth and were sufficiently thought-provoked that we are going to continue reading the book.

I actually think it’s a great book scientifically. We’re just too immature to attend a lecture where the dude may quote from his book, say “5 to 1”, use a double-negative or the word “scientific.” We’re like 14 year old boys with a penchant for flatulence who can’t get over the fact that their 7th grade science teacher’s name is mister McFar(t)land.

As we were kissing goodnight a couple of days ago, in a sincere attempt to incorporate what we’re learning, Dan asked, “If we kiss 5 times, can we slap each other?” Then the laughing and the snorting. We figured if we laughed 5 times, we should probably only snort once.

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32 Responses to The Worm Sweat of Our Marriage, Scientifically in a 5-1 Ratio

  1. Grammy says:

    If I say 5 positive things to you here, can I then allude to the fact that you are a total nut job?

    I’m pretty sure that we can prove scientifically that nut-jobativity is what keeps all marriages alive and thriving.

  2. Susan says:

    That slap comment is totally something my husband would say. Go Dan!

    I read (okay, SKIMMED) Blink, which included a chapter on Dr. Gottman. And we laughed and laughed, because the way the Blink guy boiled it down was that a sucessful marriage was one in which the partners were NOT treating each other with contempt.

    I looked at Wade and said, ‘Well, DUH.’

    And he said, ‘Are you being contemptuous?’

    And we laughed until we fell down.

    (See, we could totally hang with you all because we are also 12-year-old boys inside.)

  3. elliespen says:

    Well, after reading your post, my husband and I decided that we should probably also not attend any lectures by this guy. That book sounds like a humorous read, though. We may have to check it out. (I need reassurance about our 5 to 1 ratios here. Obviously a 4.8 to 1 ratio spells doom and grape juice splattered on the walls, but what happens if you have 5.2 to 1? Do I have to go slap my husband with one finger to restore the balance? Six to one, of course, being right out.)

    And Grammy, I think nut-jobativity is a great scientific-type term. I need to use it more often in my life…

  4. Tigersue says:

    Maybe I should get the book for my License Professional Therapist Husband, he just might find the humor in it also!
    Maybe just being able to laugh at something that is supposed to be serious is good enough, after all if one of you were not laughing maybe there is a problem?
    Oh, yes I figured out you grew up in Calgary, we moved to Utah when I was 9. We lived in the Varsity Acres area, NW Calgary, and at the time we were in the 8th Ward, attending church near the stadium and pool.
    Oh don’t let my picture fool you, I’m much bigger than it lets on, I have been enjoying the carbs way too much since I’ve had Kendra. YUCK.

  5. Caryn says:

    Scientifically speaking, if a couple laughs together they’re so much better off than those serious couples. I’m certain there are stats to back this up, but I have no idea where they are.

    My husband and I read together, too. And we laugh together as well.

  6. Heth says:

    5-1? What happens if you feel like it’s a 4-1 day or a 6-1? Would that send the earth off of it’s axis?

  7. Lou says:

    This is killing me! I am laughing so hard.

    What if one of your postives are SO HUGELY POSITIVE, like orgasmically positive- can you sqweeze an extra negative in there then? Or if something is really, really negative, do you have to do double positives?

    You know, Chris and I read The Davinci Code together. It actually did a lot for our marriage; not the book so much as the reading together. Good times 🙂

  8. Adam says:

    What a great and scientific analysis. From experience I can state that the first tenth of every psychology book is usually consumed with

    A: Psychology REALLY IS a science (whiney voice; like that of a five year old asserting that there really is a Santa clause)

    B: The content of the book is the most important information to ever be discovered…..scientifically.

  9. Woo-hoo, she’s BACK!

    You two lovebirds don’t need a marriage lecture. Any couple that can have that much fun together is doing just great.

  10. Michelle says:

    Sounds like this book has done wonders for your marriage. Scientifically. I’ll have to look it up if ever my husband-to-be and I find ourselves taking life too seriously. Or scientifically.

  11. Ginger says:

    Okay, I’m hooked on the DYD book reviews. Could ya do them on a regular basis?

  12. Sarah says:

    Ha! I love it. I’ve read Blink too, and you made me laugh out loud, Susan. I need to get back to reading with my honey-pie, if only for moments like this.

    Maybe books like these (scientifically) make marriages better just because they remind us to laugh together?

  13. Kristen says:

    Nothing wrong with sleeping in separate beds – and seriously, what successful marriage doesn’t have separate living quarters. I’m planning to hold up in Hawaii once my kid(s) are in college.

    And my ratio? — about 70-1 that I’ll be buying that book.

  14. andrea says:

    5 to 1 your marriage will work if you find the same things funny. But don’t quote me as my observation is entirely unscientific.

  15. Heidi says:

    Attend a lecture on successful marriage? Sounds like the two of you be CONDUCTING them!

  16. Jeana says:

    Hey, can you review a book on Irritable Bowel Syndrome next time? “If you haven’t pooped since the new millenium, you MAY have a problem…” No?

  17. HolyMama! says:

    i’m going to be doing math, for like the rest of our LIVES now, counting up 1, 2, 3, oh that’s 1 for the Negative Category, where was i… 4… 5 Yea! Start over…

    i hoooope it goest that way…

  18. Addie says:

    You are both to funny!!! The visual of Dan rolling on the floor from your worm sweat analogy is priceless!

    Hee Hee!

  19. irene says:

    So funny, and I love it that you & your husband laugh at the same things!

  20. It is clear, you and your husband need my seminar badly.

    At the Gottman Institute we believe that in order to know what works, it is wise to conduct research, and apply what has been learned to the development of services and the delivery of help to couples and families.

    Since you apparently do not respect this research and development, I give your marriage about three more months. It is VITAL you enroll now.

  21. Dr John Gottman commenter, I love you. That is all.

    The rest of you, thanks for getting my sense of humor. This is actually one of the better marriage books I’ve read, but like Adam said, they all follow a certain formula, one that is very difficult to take seriously while being read aloud.

  22. smartmama says:

    All i can say is from taking a doctoral level grad school class in mate selection (oh you think i jest- this is what i paid money to study!)let me just tell you– it takes some mind numbing freakishly intense statistics, and buckets of grad student sweat to churn out that simple scientic result of 5:1 ratio!LOL!

  23. Lena says:

    Do you think John “5 to 1” Gottman is reminded of this by his agent when his book gets 1 out of 5 stars on Amazon?

  24. Jenna says:

    I’ve been trying to comment on this post all day, and I could not think of ONE DANG FUNNY THING to say. My hat is off to you, DYM. You are flipping hilarious.

  25. Stephanie says:

    Can’t stop laughing. Tears down my face. Can’t hold it in…

  26. bon says:

    K, so for as much as I sorted and snerked (tail end of a cold), how much do I have to LAUGH at that post before I’m off the hook?… or am I supposed to laugh at my spouse and one snort for every five Ha’s?
    Oh, I’m a SO headed for a divorce.

  27. ha ha ha ha ha! I love it. 🙂

  28. Margaret says:

    Ok, not married, but SOOO looking forward to doing this kind of scientific analysis with my spouse some day in the future.

    Tears running down my face. LOVE IT!

    (Can I join others in requesting that you do book reviews more often? How about Dr. Phil’s dating book next…? I would LOVE a happily married person’s perspective on THAT.)

  29. Goslyn says:

    ROFL. Love it. My MIL recently loaned me a copy of a “Staying Engaged in your Marriage” CD. I had no idea I had become disengaged from my marriage. And here I thought Super-Hubby and I were doing just fine on our 5 to 1 ratios. Ha ha.

  30. Bobita says:


    I refer to Gottman in some of my classes and have a friend who is attending the upcoming lecture thing…and I am sending her to read this immediately!! She will LOVE it!

    Whoever thought to do the Gottman comment…genius!


  31. Pam in Utah says:

    You’re pretty much fun to read all the time, but this one was ESPECIAlly funny!

  32. Michael says:

    This Tigersue’s hubby, I find many therories valid to a point, then when the want to repeat themselves just to make a $. The goid idea starts to be humorous or insultive, depending on the frame of mind one is reading it. I have found one rule that I like and use it in my couples sessions: “in a true intimate relationship there is no win/lose, either both win intimacy or lose it.” I better be careful or I can become the next “scientific” to encourage harmony via analiyzing a ratio. Glad to visit your blog. Michael

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