A pad of paper and a pen might very well save your marriage. According to new research from Northwestern University, a few minutes spent writing about marital strife can protect your union from discord.
The NU study team recruited 120 married couples--ranging from newlyweds to longterm partners--and split them into two groups. Every four months, each person completed a questionnaire about their marital satisfaction and spent a few minutes writing about their most recent marital argument. One of the groups also completed a separate writing exercise related to that spat.
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After two years, the results of the study were surprising: While marriage quality dropped roughly 6 percent annually among couples in the first group, those who completed the additional writing exercise experienced no declines in marriage quality. Key relationship features, including love, intimacy, trust, passion, and commitment, all remained stable, says study author Eli Finkel, PhD, a professor of social psychology at Northwestern.
Why? That extra writing exercise asked each spouse to think about his or her recent argument from a neutral third party's point of view, Finkel explains. By doing that, participants put psychological distance between themselves and the argument, and started to contemplate the spat in the context of what would be best for everyone involved. Finkel says both of these benefits reduce the amount of distress individuals feel about both past and future arguments. "These benefits held whether the couple had been together for five months or 50 years."
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To keep your marriage going strong--in good times and in bad--answer these key questions in writing every four months (and get your partner to do so, too). Ask yourself...
1. What's the biggest argument you two have had during the past four months? Focus on the behavior of you and your partner, not on thoughts or feelings.
2. Write about the disagreement from the perspective of a neutral third party who wants the best for all involved. How might she think about the disagreement? How might she find the good that could come from it?
3. What obstacles have you faced in trying to take this third partner perspective, especially when you're having a disagreement with your partner? Write it out to remind yourself. While some people find it helpful to assume this third party perspective during interactions with their partner, most find it challenging to take this perspective at all times.
4. How has it helped to take this perspective during disagreements? Emphasize the positives of being neutral during arguments, and consider what will help you be most successful in continuing to take it.
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