21 Minutes to Marital Satisfaction


21 Minutes to Marital Satisfaction


Marital satisfaction generally declines over time. New research has found that a brief writing intervention could help spouses adopt a more objective outlook on marital conflict.

Research in Psychological Science has shown that this writing intervention prevents couples from losing the loving feeling – and it is implemented through just three 7-minute writing exercises online.

“I don’t want it to sound like magic, but you can get pretty impressive results with minimal intervention,” said Eli Finkel, lead author of the study and professor of psychology at Northwestern University.

The study enlisted 120 couples, half of whom were assigned to the reappraisal intervention, and the other not as a control. Every four months for two years, all spouses reported their relationship satisfaction, love, intimacy, trust, passion, and commitment. A summary of the most significant disagreements with their spouse from the preceding four months was also provided.

For the group assigned to the reappraisal writing task, the reappraisal asked them to think about their most recent disagreement with their partner from the perspective of a neutral third party who wants the best for all involved.

Both groups showed declines in marital quality over Year 1. However, for the spouses who completed the writing exercise three times during Year 2, the decline was entirely eliminated. Although couples in both groups fought just as frequently about equally severe topics, the intervention group were less distressed by the fights, therefore helping them to sustain marital satisfaction. This replicates the results of previous research.

 “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,” Finkel said. “And this isn’t a dating sample. These effects emerged whether people were married for one month, 50 years, or anywhere in between.”

Finkel also added that the finding may be especially important considering that low marital quality can have serious health implications. Finkel cites data that among coronary artery bypass patients, those who experienced high marital satisfaction shortly after the surgery were three times more likely to be alive 15 years after the surgery than those with low marital satisfaction.

“Marriage tends to be healthy for people, but the quality of the marriage is much more important than its mere existence,” Finkel said. “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.”


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