Open Gently

Musings on the introspective life.

How to Have a Better Marriage--in 7 Minutes!

The trick: write an account of your fights, as if you were a neutral observer

A happy marriage will help keep you happy and healthy and wise--an unhappy one won't.

But sadly, research shows that people generally become less satisfied with their marriages over time.

One reason may be that they aren't viewing their problems with enough objectivity. And it turns out a simple writing exercise could help.

That finding emerges from research led by Eli Finkel, a professor of psychology at Northwestern, with 120 couples who had been married for  as little as a month to 50 years. The results seemed to hold for newlyweds to longtimers. (see citation below)

In the study, the spouses each reported on various measures of marital happiness and gave a factual summary of their most significant disagreement in the previous four months.

Then members of sixty of the couples spent 7 minutes writing up an account of their disagreement from the perspective of a neutral third party. The other sixty--the control group--didn't do the neutral-thinking exercise.

This arrangement was repeated every four months over two years.

Although couples in both groups fought just as frequently about equally severe topics, the couples who did the neutral-thinking exercise were less upset by their fights and reported more satisfaction, passion and desire.

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 “Having a high-quality marriage is one of the strongest predictors of happiness and health. From that perspective, participating in a seven-minute writing exercise three times a year has to be one of the best investments married people can make,” Finkel says.

 No kidding! Why not ask your spouse if the two of you could routinely write up a neutral account whenever the two of you have a bad fight?

For editing or writing coaching, contact me at expertediting.org.  

 “A Brief Intervention to Promote Conflict Reappraisal Preserves Marital Quality Over Time” will be published in Psychological Science later this year. In addition to Finkel, co-authors include Erica B. Slotter of Villanova University; Laura B. Luchies of Redeemer University College; and Gregory M. Walton and James J. Gross of Stanford University.

 

Temma Ehrenfeld is a New York-based science writer, and former assistant editor at Newsweek.

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