You can take all sorts of surveys and assessments to better understand the strength of your relationship. But we want to propose that a single question—what we call "The Brag Test"—can tell you everything you need to know about the strength of your marriage.
We know what you're thinking. "What is the Brag Test and what can it tell me about my marriage?"
It’s basically this.
When you're talking about your partner in front of other people—friends, work colleagues, or family members—do you most often complain, criticize, or insult them or do you mostly brag about them, praising their accomplishments, best qualities, and strengths?
If you answered "yes" to the second part of the question, you passed. In fact, you get an A+ on The Brag Test. It's a sign that you and your partner have built your relationship on a foundation of mutual respect and appreciation.
If you didn't—if you find yourself criticizing, complaining, and insulting your partner when talking about them to others—that’s a pretty good sign that you may be sitting on a time bomb of uncleared issues, disappointments, and resentment. It’s a sign that it’s time to invest in improving the health of your marriage.
If you’re like most couples, you may find that you land somewhere in between these two extremes. You may notice that, in some instances, you brag about your partner, while, in others, you can’t seem to resist the urge to criticize and complain about them.
A large body of empirical evidence supports this simple idea that you can assess the strength of your marriage based on whether you brag or complain about your partner. Marriage researcher John Gottman, for instance, has identified what he calls the "magic ratio" of marriage. It's the ratio of positive to negative interactions.
His research shows that happy couples experience at least five or more positive interactions for every one negative interaction. Couples that struggle do the opposite. They fall into the trap of complaints, criticism, and other forms of negative emotional interaction.
In our interviews with over one hundred people for our book The 80/80 Marriage, we arrived at a similar conclusion. The couples who appreciated, respected, and bragged about each other reported feeling connected and in-sync. Those that didn't reported the opposite—a background sense of irritation and resentment.
This is why, in our view, The Brag Test works as a short-hand assessment of marriage. It's a quick and easy way to see your interactive tendencies, whether you see the world of your marriage and your partner through a mostly positive, mixed, or negative lens.
How about you? How would you score yourself on The Brag Test? Do you talk about your partner with admiration in front of others? Do you mostly criticize them? Or do you land somewhere in between these two extremes?
Wherever you fall on the spectrum, the real question is: how can you begin to pass the Brag Test with flying colors? Here are two tips.
1. Reveal the hard truths to your partner.
Gossiping about how your partner drives you crazy is a pretty good indicator that you haven’t revealed these issues directly to your partner. So instead of complaining about their nonexistent dishwashing technique to friends, have a direct conversation with your partner.
Reveal your frustration to them in a kind way. You may find that by revealing your issues from a place of generosity and compassion, you end up having less to complain about—and more to brag about.
2. Build a culture of appreciation.
Your partner is a lot like a half-filled glass of water. You can consistently view them as half empty, a habit most of us fall into. You can scan their every action as an opportunity to find their faults, weaknesses, or subtle failures in life. Or, you can view them as half full. You can scan their actions for all the things they did right and for those microscopic gifts they may be giving to the marriage.
This second, more constructive, habit of mind leads to a culture of appreciation. You see your partner doing something right, you appreciate them for it, and soon you both experience an upward spiral of connection. The research on this shows that the more we appreciate our partner, the more we work toward building this culture of appreciation in marriage, the more we can begin to finally pass The Brag Test and experience deeper connection in marriage.
Gottman, John Mordechai, and Nan Silver. The seven principles for making marriage work: A practical guide from the country's foremost relationship expert. Harmony, 2015.
Kayabol, Nazlı Büşra Akçabozan, and Zeynep Hatipoğlu Sümer. "How to maintain a marriage: Maintenance behaviors, equity, and appreciation in understanding marital satisfaction+." Current Psychology (2020): 1-14.