London - If you find yourself getting more and more irritated with your beloved, then common sense would suggest that it’s best to hold your tongue.
But in this case, at least, it appears common sense might be wrong. Because according to researchers, it’s much better for your marriage to speak up rather than let your problems fester.
Dr Hannah Fry, a mathematician at University College London, reviewed scientific studies about relationships for her book The Mathematics Of Love.
She claims that maths can help find answers to common love-life dilemmas. For example, according to her research, women who tend to approach men are more likely to get a husband or boyfriend who they get on with – compared to those who simply sit and wait to get asked out.
And crucially, she found that couples who have a “low negativity threshold” – or in other words complain about things that annoy them readilyare less likely to trouble the divorce courts.
Speaking at the Cheltenham Science Festival, Dr Fry said: “I thought that a high threshold of negativity, where you let things go on and let your partner ‘be themselves’, would be more successful.
“But the exact opposite is true. The couples who end up doing best have a really low negativity threshold. When things bother them they speak up immediately and don’t let small things spill out of control.”
She based her view on research led by Dr John Gottman in Seattle. His team measured everything from facial expressions to heart rate and blood pressure – and then rated comments made by each spouse for joy, humour, affection and interest.
The experiment was carried out on newlywed couples and lasted for several years. The team found that a key point was the “negativity threshold” – or the point when the other partner feels compelled to speak up. The scientists found that when a partner reacted to a negative comment without a great deal of provocation, the relationship tended to be very successful.
And looking at the negativity threshold helped the researchers predict which couples would get divorced with an impressive 90 percent accuracy. The researchers compared “repairing” problems in a marriage to treating a small scratch early, which is better for your health than dealing with it when it has become badly infected.
The team said it was less damaging to have a minor argument rather than give each other days of the silent treatment – which only made the problem worse.
Dr Fry said that couples who had a lower risk of divorce also had a “deep-seated positive view” of their partner and would view any annoying behaviour as temporary rather than permanent.
She went on to say: “But high-risk couples were exactly the opposite, they have a deep-seated negative view of their partner and any bad behaviour reinforces that idea.”
However Dr Fry also warned couples that they should do their best to resist the temptation to let rip.
She said it was extremely important that when you bring up something that you find irritating about your partner, you make the comments gently and supportively rather than aggressively.