Why You Should Diversify Your Relationship Portfolio

You probably know about the importance of diversifying when it comes to your finances. You understand, for example, that it’s unwise to have all of your money invested in the stock of one company.

But diversification is also important to keep in mind for your marriage. I was reminded of this truth while listening to a recent NPR Hidden Brain segment with Shankar Vedantam. He spoke with Eli Finkel, a social psychologist at Northwestern University, about how our rising expectations of marriage can create problems in our relationships.

Here’s how Finkel explains it. Before you got married, you likely turned to a wider circle of people to fill your different needs as a person. For example, you had fun nights out with your neighbors, you talked about your goals with your favorite colleagues, you kept fit with your yoga class and you confided in your best friend from college. If you still have that variety of people in your life, pat yourself on the back. What tends to happen when we marry, though, is that our circles shrink. The perception has built up in our culture that your spouse should be able to be everything to you since he’s your “soul mate.”

We haven’t always thought about marriage in such exalted terms. If you read my blog post about psychotherapist and author Esther Perel, Finkel’s ideas might remind you of hers. Perel writes:

We still want everything the traditional family was meant to provide—security, respectability, property, and children—but now we also want our partner to love us, to desire us, to be interested in us. We should be best friends and trusted confidants, and passionate lovers to boot.

We want our chosen one to offer stability, safety, predictability, and dependability. And we want that very same person to supply awe, mystery, adventure, and risk. We expect comfort and edge, familiarity and novelty, continuity and surprise. We have conjured up a new Olympus, where love will remain unconditional, intimacy enthralling, and sex oh so exciting, with one person, for the long haul. And the long haul keeps getting longer.

This all puts a lot of pressure on our marriages. And, sadly, it can even set you up for added heartbreak if you lose a spouse to divorce or death. Kristi Williams, an Ohio State University sociologist and editor of The Journal of Marriage and Family, believes that many of the problems divorced or widowed people suffer are because they over-relied on their spouse.

You will be happier and your marriage will be healthier if you can diversify your relationship portfolio. Here are a couple of ideas to try.

It’s easy to forget one of the most important relationships — the one you have with yourself. If you feel that you’ve lost some of who you are since you’ve been married, start making it a priority to be yourself and value yourself. Do your own thing sometimes. Take a class in something you’re interested in, even if it’s not his thing and he doesn’t want to join you. Revisit the dreams and interests you’ve been neglecting. You’ll feel more engaged and alive, which — bonus! — makes you more attractive to your husband.

You can also start rekindling some of the relationships you’ve let slide to the back burner. Elaine Cheung of Northwestern University has found that having a larger array of relationships to help you manage all the emotions of life makes you happier. And when you have additional emotional support sources besides your husband, you’re more likely to appreciate the unique role he does play in your life.

For more ideas like these, pick up a copy of my book Strong Women, Strong Love. It’s a comprehensive guide to caring for your marriage and yourself.

The Simple Resolution That Transforms Your Marriage

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.


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!