Smiling the Arguments Away (Maybe Not Away…)

Yesterday Ben and I got into an argument.  Right as things started getting heated, I felt the urge.  I tried to bite it back, not wanting Ben to feel patronized, but it came:  my goofy grin.

Naturally, it ticked Ben off.  He went to the kitchen to cool off while I went to our bedroom to get rid of that dang smile.  Within a few minutes we were sitting on the couch having a more civil discussion.  Later that evening, we giggled over the whole event.

I am happy to admit that I am not the only one who does this.  Ben also smiles when things get tense.  When I see him smile, I start to smile and then we both end up in fits of laughter on the couch.

Really, the worst time to smile is right in the middle of an argument, right? I don’t think so.  That is, I don’t think Gottman thinks so.

Disclaimer: If you didn’t know this already, I am a big fan of Gottman.  When I think about marriage relationships, his research is generally at the forefront of my mind.  He is like my shoulder angel (in marriage, that is).

In his research, Gottman was able to quantify his observations and turn them into a mathematical model.  One of the fascinating results he found was the magical 5 to 1 ratio.   Happily married couples generally have five positive interactions to one negative interaction.  When a couple consistently dips below that magical number (meaning more negative than positive interactions) they are in danger.

Keeping this in mind reminds me that Ben and I have a built-in safety monitor in our relationship.  Neither of us enjoys conflict–especially with each other; thus, when our arguments are getting out of hand, we turn to our safety net: humor.

Ben’s responsibilities plus my responsibilities are very overwhelming.  What keeps our relationship strong is our ability to laugh.  This doesn’t mean we don’t tackle the tough issues, it means that we can approach those issues without either of us becoming too defensive.  At least most of the time.

I think next time, though, I will try to hold my goofy grin in until after the serious part is over.


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15 responses to “Smiling the Arguments Away (Maybe Not Away…)

  1. We don’t argue really. And when we do, it’s minor and dumb. I am a silent treatment-er, and it’s something I need to work on.

  2. Oh I do the same exact thing. Even when I’m super angry I end up smiling or laughing at my husband but that’s usually because he’s intentionally trying to make me laugh to avoid the confrontation. I guess it works well because we hardly ever argue, lol. Not familiar with Gottman but I like that theory!

  3. Now I’m the one with a goofy grin because, until a few hours ago, I had never heard of Dr. Gottman, but I included a mention of him in my post for tomorrow. I’m glad you and Ben are living up to his 5-for-1 model. 🙂

  4. Humor will be a magic potion in your marriage. We have our own share of passionate discussions (nice euphemism, huh?), but love laughing with each other.

  5. I think its good that you smile! Although, I could see how it might tick off my husband too. 😀
    I use to be a major silent-treater. But my husband has forced me to change that.
    At least we’ve never yelled at each other! That’s good, right?

  6. I sometimes think that if my husband wasn’t the “food police” (yes, policing the food being wasted in our household) we wouldn’t fight at all. Can I tame the Food Police Officer with a goofy grin? I don’t know, but I’ll try, Amber.

  7. My husband will sometimes tease me in a pretty cute way when we are in an argument. Usually, it does make me laugh…or at least, smile. But when I’m really, really mad, it sometimes makes me even madder!

    Sounds like you guys have a good relationship. I’ve read about that 5 to 1 ratio, and it makes great sense to me. I think I’m going to pay attention for a week or so and see how we’re doing on that.


  8. Enjoyed this. I admit, though I’m the complete opposite. I cry…a lot. It’s a bit ridiculous. I think my husband would be delighted if I were only a bit more like you. He’s totally that type. 🙂

    But that number and some of the rest of his researched referred to in Raising Happiness has really stuck with me. Not in relation to my personal or married experienes, but in relation to my professional experiences. It’s totally relevant, the weeks that I find the most difficult are the ones where the positive experiences are few and far between. Those are the times that I find it difficult to thrive professionally. I’d love to know if some of his research is related to professional environments.

  9. Sometimes we can use humor to ease the tension, other times it makes it worse. I like the 5 to 1 ratio idea. Makes a lot of sense. I’ve never heard of researcher, but just heard him referenced twice today. Maybe I’ll look him up.

  10. I am definitely guilty of smiling. I just feel awkward when things get intense, so I smile. I’m glad you introduced me to the 5 to 1 ratio. I think I’ll remember that in the back of my mind now. I think we’re around there. 🙂

  11. ck

    Reading this made me laugh because I was imagining the look on my husband’s face if I smiled during an argument!

  12. I don’t smile and often want to rip my husband (who becomes my opponent) apart. When that feeling rushes in, I get to where he is and just put my arms around him. It pisses him off sometimes, but he’s learning that by touching him, I ward off that intense anger. I think that’s a good thing. We still hash out the argument, just without the anger and hostility. Perhaps your smile is the same thing?

  13. Melanie J

    That’s interesting research and an equation that makes perfect sense. I think I’m going to shoot for 10 to 1!

  14. Love this post! I think the Gottmans are the ones who also found that couples who yell and fight actually do better in the long term than those who don’t interact at all or who show silent contempt. Great reminder about the ratio. Thanks!