Polly Campbell

Polly Campbell

Imperfect Spirituality

Writing May Help Preserve That Loving Feeling

A short exercise can help curb marital dissatisfaction

Posted Feb 13, 2013

I was travelling last week. Gone for eight days. And, a crazy thing happened: I really missed my husband. When I was tired and worn and returning to an empty hotel room at night, I thought of how good it would have been to have him there.

Okay, maybe not on the first night. I mean that night was awesome. No dinner to cook, nothing to discuss or figure out. No one stealing the remote from my hot little hand. Just me, there in the quiet hotel room, glass of wine in hand. Alone. It did feel good to be on my own.

That feeling lasted about a day -- but I started thinking about him 15 minutes into the trip. Then I began missing him. By the fourth day, my husband had gained mythic status as the perfect male who pretty much solves all my problems and tells me I look good even when I’m wearing those old sweats and that gray t-shirt with the holes near the hem. Forgotten were the quirks that bug me, the disagreements we have about parenting and the roommate issues that you can only have when you live with someone who doesn’t always put the toothpaste away. The more time away, the more blissful my 10-year marriage became – in my own mind.

I couldn’t wait to get home to my family. While I'd eagerly choose to be with my husband rather than without him, I  was in the door less than six hours (I got home in the middle of the night, so that bought me some time) when those little relationship irritations began to perk up again.

Marital Satisfaction – or Not

The longer the relationship lasts, the more dissatisfied we become, according to research. Romantic, passionate love seems to ebb within two years and the little routines and rituals that used to make us feel good become er, mundane. Boring.

But, there is plenty you can do to revive or enhance a faltering marriage, say psychologists. And, for those who do, there are perks.

Even if you feel like your spouse is making you crazy, several studies including one published by the National Council on Family Relations say a healthy marriage can lower your risk of depression and alcohol addiction. The Framingham Heart Study, and other research indicate a happy marriage is also good for our cardiovascular health, while a hostile or stressful marriage can actually contribute to heart disease and hypertension.

A good marriage may even lower our risk of care accidents and other scary mishaps, according to research from The Netherlands.

Plus, when you feel the vibe and you’re working together, there’s nothing more fun and meaningful than a deep connection shared with the one you’re building a life with.

Writing the Story

The question, then, is how can we get more of that? How can we share more of those feel-good-I’ve-got-your-back moments that solidify a marriage and make the annoyances easier to manage?

A simple writing exercise may help.

In a study led by Eli Finkel, professor of psychology at Northwestern University, 120 couples were evaluated over two years. One half of the group was instructed to participate in a “reappraisal intervention” which asked couples to write about a recent disagreement from the perspective of a neutral third party.

In the second year of the study, those couples who did the exercise three times a year for seven minutes at a time experienced no decline in marital satisfaction. They argued just as much as ever, but those who wrote neutrally about the experience, didn’t get as stressed out by the fights, says the report soon to be released in the journal Psychological Science.

This is worth trying.

Set aside time (separate from your partner) for three, writing sessions – one during each quarter of the year. Then, write about an emotionally charged event you had with your spouse from the perspective of an objective, neutral, third party. Write for seven minutes – that’s the length of time those in the study were instructed to spend -- then finish it up.

At the end of the exercise, and the year, chances are you'll end up feeling better -- or at least not worse -- and that's a good thing for any marriage.

Portions of this post ran originally on www.imperfectspirituality.com

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