The Math Behind Successful Relationships
Nearly 30 years ago, a mathematician and a psychologist teamed up to explore one of life’s enduring mysteries: What makes some marriages happy and some miserable?
The psychologist, John Gottman, wanted to craft a tool to help him better counsel troubled couples. The mathematician, James Murray, specialized in modeling biological processes. It was a match made in heaven.
The pair decided to create a mathematical model to quantify how couples interact and influence each other during an argument. The results helped Dr Gottman visualize the dynamics of a marriage and measure the impact of therapy.
The approach also proved to be shockingly accurate at predicting which couples would divorce. “We got actual numbers we could compute,” Dr Gottman said. “We could see how the partners influence each other.”
Their subjects initially included 130 couples who had applied for marriage licenses in King County, where, at the time, the professors taught at the University of Washington in Seattle. Some of the couples were newlyweds, others were about to be married, and each pair was videotaped for three 15-minute conversations.
In one exchange, the couples were instructed to talk about their day. In another they were told to talk about something positive. And in the third, they were asked to talk about something contentious. The topic didn’t matter—it could be about money, sex, food, in-laws or anything else—as long as they disagreed.
The contentious exchange proved to be the most predictive. The couple’s interactions were scored by two independent observers who rated every emotion in the exchange.
Altogether, 16 different emotions were coded. At one end of the spectrum, contempt, the most corrosive emotion, according to Dr Gottman, was scored -4. At the other end, shared humor, one of the best ways to defuse tension, he said, was scored +4.
“They both have to be laughing together,” Dr Gottman said. “A lot of contempt happens with one person laughing and the other person looking stunned. That’s a minus 4.”
miserable adj. 悲惨的；痛苦的；卑鄙的
specialize vi. 专门从事；详细说明；特化 vt. 使专门化；使适应特殊情况；详细说明
dynamics n. 动力学，力学
instruct vt. 指导；通知；命令；教授
contempt n. 轻视，蔑视；耻辱
corrosive adj. 腐蚀的；侵蚀性的 n. 腐蚀物
defuse vt. 平息；去掉…的雷管；使除去危险性