Save Your Marriage, One Argument at a Time
People usually become less satisfied with their marriages over time. And the unhappier the marriage, the unhealthier the spouses.
When spouses imagine what a neutral third party would think during their fights, they protect their love and commitment.
Several times over the course of two years, social psychologist Eli Finkel and his colleagues asked 120 heterosexual married couples to describe their marriages and marital disagreements. After the first year, researchers randomly assigned half of the couples to the treatment condition, where each spouse learned to write about the couple’s conflicts from an outsider’s perspective. These couples also practiced adopting a third-party perspective during their arguments.
The other half of couples – the control condition – did not receive training in outside-perspective-taking.
Spouses in the treatment condition maintained their, love, intimacy, trust, passion, and commitment over time, while couples in the control condition showed the usual decline in nuptial bliss.
Why This Works
During marital spats, each spouse’s anger feeds the other’s. This cycle of negativity slowly erodes marital satisfaction. By stopping in the middle of a fight and imagining how a neutral person would view the conflict – a process known as reappraisal – spouses can stop the negativity from consuming the positive parts of their marriage.
When This Works Best
Adopting a third-party perspective helps spouses preserve the love and passion they already feel for each other. It will not reignite love that has already been extinguished. And so this intervention works best for relationships that are not already in serious trouble.
Finkel, E. J., Slotter, E. B., Luchies, L. L., 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.