2 minute read


Expressions Of Affection, Sex Differences And Expressions Of Affection, Marital Satisfaction

In the hit 1978 song, "You Don't Bring Me Flowers," Neil Diamond and Barbra Streisand sing of two lovers' sadness over their dying relationship.

The two lovers in this song notice that doing such things as bringing flowers, touching each other, and even chatting about the day's events, do not appear to be the priorities that they had once been. These expressions of affection (various means by which love is communicated to another person) contribute to the overall atmosphere of love in a given relationship. In fact, research suggests that the informed and deliberate use of expressions of affection has a profound impact on marital satisfaction. In the song above, the couple could, as a result of a failure to express affection, feel the relationship falling apart. Many people, particularly married couples, relate to this song because they have experienced this tragic loss of relational satisfaction on some level.

John Gottman has researched this phenomenon of relationship dissolution for over twenty years. He has predicted (1994), with 94 percent accuracy, whether or not a couple will stay together. According to Gottman, the main indicator of whether or not a couple will stay together is what he calls a 5:1 ratio between positive moments and negative moments. Positive moments are those subjective feelings of love experienced by one spouse that are directly due to the actions of the other spouse. Negative moments are those occasions when one of the partners feels unloved due to the actions (or inactions) of their spouse.

Gottman suggests that the people who are dissatisfied with their relationships and wish to dissolve them do so because they find that the negative moments in the relationship have more impact than the positive moments. Even if there are more positive than negative moments, if the ratio is not great enough, the relationship will be strained. This is primarily the result of the greater impact that unexpected negative moments have on a spouse as opposed to expected positive moments. After all, who marries anticipating feeling unloved? People expect the positive moments and relish the expressions of affection that they receive from their partners, and reel from the negative moments that appear to come, seemingly, out of nowhere. Therefore, according to Gottman, each person needs to experience a larger percentage of positive moments to negative moments in order to feel a sense of satisfaction in the relationship and a desire to maintain it. This is exemplified in the song quoted above.

Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaRelationships