Marriage Counseling Relationships

Marriage Counseling: The 6 to 1 Ratio

One thing that often comes up in marriage counseling is the idea of having a successful argument where you give your spouse constructive criticism. When living together, problems will arise but how do you talk about it without your partner shutting down?

In my experience providing marriage counseling to various couples, the shutting down often comes from the viewpoint that “You never notice anything I do for you but you sure make a point to let me know every time I make a mistake”. Its often the case that you neglect to tell your spouse what you appreciate about them, but when something bothers you, you might feel it has to be addressed. As a result, you tend to talk about the negatives while not acknowledging the positives enough. Not many of us are good at taking constructive criticism. It needs to be preceded by acknowledgment of our good deeds. To be able to have a successful argument or disagreement with a loved one, you need to let them know they are doing more things right than wrong.

A better Way to Give Constructive Criticism

Research suggests you should aim for a ratio of six “good job!”s for every “What did you do that for?”. In other words, it only takes one moment of criticizing someone to cancel out five compliments. So in order to have the best effect, aim for a ratio of 6 to 1 or higher.

Aother benefit is that when your spouse feel sappreciated, they may do things you want without it becoming a conflict in the first place. Compliments should also be given on a regular basis, not given all at once right before a criticism. For example, “Hey, you did a great job on this thing here, but….”

When you give constructive criticism, try couching it in a more useful way to make it more palatable. You might start with, “I know you’ve been really busy lately, but….”, or “I know you have a good reason for (fill in the blank), but would you mind…..”

Gary Watson is a Solution Focused Therapist in Grand Rapids Michigan.  He provides counseling for couples, teenagers, and adults.  He provides counseling for anxiety, depression, stress, college and work stress, and relationship problems.  For more information, please visit the website at