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Marriage Hack

If you’ve made the resolution to strengthen your relationship this year, I have some good news. There’s a way to improve your marriage that’s confirmed by research.

And it’s extremely simple.

And it takes only a few minutes per year.

Really!

Researcher Eli J. Finkel of Northwestern University and his colleagues discovered “The Marriage Hack” when they were studying marital satisfaction. Finkel talked about the magic of the Marriage Hack at TEDxUChicago. (You can watch his talk in the video above.)

Couples in the study conducted by Finkel and his colleagues filled out questionnaires about their marriages every four months for two years. In the second year of the study, half of the couples did The Marriage Hack. Their questionnaires included these additional writing exercises:

  • Participants wrote about the most recent conflict in their marriage from the viewpoint of an objective third party who wants the best for everyone.
  • They were then asked to write about any obstacles they might face in trying to take on this outside perspective.
  • Finally, they wrote about ways they could overcome those obstacles.

The exercise took just seven minutes, and couples did the exercise three times over the course of the year.

Those 21 minutes had a pretty amazing payoff.

Normally, Finkel says in his TEDx Talk, marital satisfaction declines over time. That’s what happened to all the couples in the study during the first year.And, sadly, it’s what continued to happen to the couples who didn’t do the seven-minute writing exercise in the second year, But for the couples who did the writing exercise, the decline in marital satisfaction stopped.

That’s not because they reduced the number of conflicts in their marriage. What made the difference is that the Marriage Hack writing exercise helped them handle those conflicts more constructively. The payoff happened in every aspect of their marriages —trust, intimacy, even sexual passion. And study participants who practiced the Marriage Hack writing exercise reported feeling less stressed and depressed, and happier overall.

So why is this?

When we fight with our spouses, we get caught up in our own perspective, Finkel says. We focus on all the things we are doing right and even start to feel self-righteous. Chances are, if you’re feeling totally correct and vindicated, and your spouse is feeling the same way about his viewpoint, that’s the recipe for a destructive conflict.

The Marriage Hack writing exercise reminds us of the bigger picture. When we make it a habit to get off our high horse and look at conflict through a different lens, we can defuse anger and build understanding and empathy.

So do you have 21 minutes to strengthen your marriage this year? Happy 2016 and happy Marriage Hacking!