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.

 “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.

Recent Posts in Open Gently

Alcohol Does More Harm Than Heroin or Crack

Let's talk about "secondhand alcohol abuse" along with secondhand smoke.

Is Addiction Really a Medical Problem? It's Complicated

As with all health issues, your social network and self-discipline count, too.

8 Ways to Boost Your Self-Control

Some self-discipline strategies, like gargling sugar-water, aren't obvious.

Common Anti-Depressants Do Cause Weight Gain

But Wellbutrin beats the pack

When Someone You Love Is Dying

Now is the time to listen.

Is Crying Really Good for You?

Weeping episodes seem to look more helpful in hindsight.