The Pen is Mightier than Divorce

Research from Northwestern University suggests than married couples may save their marriages from discord by critiquing their arguments objectively and in writing.

According to study author Dr. Eli Finkel, a NU professor of social psychology, 120 married couples were split into two groups. Every four months, each spouse completed a questionnaire about his or her marital satisfaction and spent a few minutes writing about the couple’s most recent marital argument.

Sixty couples also completed a re-appraisal writing exercise, which required them to think about the argument from the perspective of a neutral third party who wants the best for all involved.

After two years, surprisingly, the group that completed the additional writing exercise experienced no decline in marriage quality; however, marriage quality slipped roughly 6% annually among couples in the first group.

Dr. Finkel said that other dynamics of the marriages, “love, intimacy, trust, passion and commitment, all remained stable.” Writing required the couples to put “a psychological distance between themselves and the argument that helped to reduce distress.”

According to Dr. Finkel, here are key questions a couple should answer in writing to keep a marriage ”going strong”:

  • “What’s the biggest argument you two have had during the past four months? Focus on your and your partner’s behavior, not on thoughts or feelings.
  • “Write about the disagreement from the perspective of a neutral third party who wants the best for all involved. How might she think about the disagreement? How might she find the good that could come from it?
  • “What obstacles have you faced in trying to take this third partner perspective?
  • “ How has it helped to take this perspective during disagreements? Emphasize the positives of being neutral during arguments, and consider what will help you be most successful in continuing to take it.”

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