The best marital investment you can make takes just 21 minutes a year.
A short writing exercise helps couples feel more satisfied with their marriages, research finds.
For the exercise, couples are asked to write about their last disagreement from a neutral perspective.
They try to imagine that this neutral person wants the best for both people in the relationship.
Psychologists call this ‘reappraisal’ and it encourages people to think about a situation in a different way.
The study’s results showed that doing this brief exercise three times a year prevented couples from losing their love for each other.
Professor Eli Finkel, the study’s first author, said:
“I don’t want it to sound like magic, but you can get pretty impressive results with minimal intervention.”
The study included 120 couples who were tracked over two years.
For the first year, the psychologists did nothing but track marital satisfaction.
As expected, everyone’s satisfaction with their marriage dropped in the first year.
Then, in the second year, half of the couples were given the 7-minute writing exercise to do on three occasions.
The results from the second year showed that all the couples still fought just as much as before.
However, the couples who had done the writing intervention did not let these fights affect them as badly.
As a result, they sustained their marital satisfaction through the second year, while the other group experienced another drop.
Professor Finkel said:
“Not only did this effect emerge for marital satisfaction, it also emerged for other relationship processes — like passion and sexual desire — that are especially vulnerable to the ravages of time.
And this isn’t a dating sample.
These effects emerged whether people were married for one month, 50 years, or anywhere in between.”
Marital satisfaction is not just critical to mental well-being, but also to physical health.
Professor Finkel said:
“Marriage tends to be healthy for people, but the quality of the marriage is much more important than its mere existence.
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.”
The study was published in the journal Psychological Science (Finkel et al., 2013).
Hello, and welcome to PsyBlog. Thanks for dropping by.
This site is all about scientific research into how the mind works.
It’s mostly written by psychologist and author, Dr Jeremy Dean.
I try to dig up fascinating studies that tell us something about what it means to be human.