(NaturalNews) A simple seven-minute writing exercise performed three times a year prevented married couples from losing affection for each other over time, researchers from Northwestern University found in a study published in the journal Psychological Science.
"I don't want it to sound like magic, but you can get pretty impressive results with minimal intervention," lead author said Eli Finkel.
Prior studies have shown that in the average marriage, affection between spouses gradually declines over time. In the current study, researchers monitored 120 couples who were taking part in a larger study that involved attending workshops and answering questions every four months (three times per year) about their intimacy, love, trust and recent fights with each other. Over the course of that year, marital happiness declined in every couple.
During the study's second year, the researchers added three extra questions into the surveys completed by half the participants. Immediately after describing their most recent fight, participants were asked to try and think about the argument from the perspective of "a neutral third party who wants the best for all involved." They were asked to write about how this perspective might look, what obstacles they experienced in adopting that perspective, and what they might do to bring such a perspective to fights in the next four months.
The exercise took about seven minutes to complete.
Better conflict resolution
After another year, marital happiness declined even further among participants who had not participated in the "reappraisal intervention." No such decrease was seen among participants in the writing group, however.
"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 noted that no change was seen in the frequency or severity of the couples' fights, or in the importance of the topics that they fought about. The main difference seemed to be in how they dealt with those fights, and in the fact that people who had undergone the reappraisal intervention found the fights less emotionally distressing.
"Spending 21 minutes a year reappraising conflict appears to yield a spectacular return on investment," the researchers wrote.
Married couples that adopt a similar practice may actually improve their physical health as well, Finkel said. Numerous studies have linked happier marriages to better health, including one finding that people with higher marital satisfaction are three times more likely to still be alive 15 years after coronary bypass surgery than those with low 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."