Portland Therapy Blog

Portland Therapy Blog

Local experts share the latest information and resources on all things mental health.

The Marriage Hack

Posted: April 02, 2014 by info@uncommonlovepdx.com

One truth for most long-term couples, is that satisfaction declines over time. Keeping interest, desire, and overall satisfaction alive in a relationship takes work. Couples typically become less and less happy with their relationships the longer they’ve been together. And a large part of my work is helping them rediscover that happiness. Recently, a group of scientists developed an intervention called “The Marriage Hack”, utilizing a specific technique they call emotional reappraisal that has had profound impact on my work with marital satisfaction.

Emotional reappraisal occurs when couples re-evaluate their experiences by imagining how a neutral 3rd party (an unbiased person outside the couple) would view their behavior. Using a group of 120 middle-aged couples, researchers asked about their relationship quality and tracked any changes for two years. The couples took 5-10 minutes per month to discuss their conflict conflict sources with each other.

After one year, half of the couples were randomly assigned an intervention, where they spent ten minutes focusing on the following questions:

1. Reflect on a specific disagreement that you are having with your partner. Think about this disagreement with your partner from the perspective of a neutral third party who wants the best for all involved. How might this person think about the disagreement? How might he or she find the good that could come from it?

2. Almost everybody finds it challenging to take this third-party perspective at all times. In your relationship with your partner, what obstacles do you face in trying to take this third-partner perspective, especially when you’re having a disagreement with your partner?

3. Try your best to take this third-party perspective during interactions with your partner, especially during disagreements over the next four months. How might you be most successful in taking this perspective in your interactions with your partner for that length of time? How might taking this perspective help you make the best of disagreements in your relationship?

Even though most couples declined in satisfaction over the first year of the study, adding a neutral third party’s perspective had a profound effect on the relationship’s health. The decrease in relationship health most couples experience was halted for the group of couples that went through the reappraisal intervention. In the words of the study authors, “the emotional reappraisal activity changed the trajectory of participants’ marriages.”

This is one of the ways that entering into couples counseling or marriage therapy can help relationships. Adding a neutral third party perspective, and causing partners to pause and consider a consultant’s view on their relationship health can improve long term success in marriage and partnerships.

If you are in a long-term romantic partnership, this “Marriage Hack” is an incredibly powerful, simple, brief exercise that can greatly impact your relationship. Even if you choose never to involve a professional’s support, 20 minutes of reflection every few weeks can seriously improve the health of your marriage long-term.

Source: Finkel, E. J., Slotter, E. B., Luchies, L. B., Walton, G. M., & Gross, J. J. (2013). A brief intervention to promote conflict reappraisal preserves marital quality over time. Psychological Science, 24(8), 1595-1601.

Gina Senarighi, MA, MS, MFTI, is a relationship coach, couples counselor, sex educator, and blogger in Portland, OR. You can find out more about her practice by visiting her website or her profile.

Tags: relationship and family