The Challenge: Keeping a relationship blissful over the long run is hard!
The Science: Deeply understanding your partner’s perspective is the secret.
The Solution: Three 7-minute exercises could significantly improve your relationship forever!
Reappraisal or How to Increase Marital Satisfaction in 21 Minutes a Year
When we listen to a friend tell us about their relationship problems, it is easy for us to see the situation from a neutral standpoint and to adopt a balanced perspective. It seems more difficult to do so within our own relationship. However, a new study led by Eli Finkel of Northwestern University, James Gross of Stanford University and colleagues shows that learning reappraisal can actually be a quick and a powerful way to protect a relationship.
In this study, a very brief (21 minute) reappraisal intervention (described below) successfully prevented this decline. Reappraisal is the ability to observe a phenomenon as if from a distance or neutral perspective. Stanford University’s popular psychology professor James Gross has conducted hundreds of studies showing that reappraisal is an effective way to change how we feel. In this study 120 participants reported on their marital satisfaction (love, intimacy, trust, passion and commitment) every 4 months. During the first year of participation, the researchers did not apply any intervention and, as predicted, marital satisfaction decreased for everyone. During the second year, half of the participants participated in a 7-minute reappraisal exercise 3 times, while the other half did not.
What exactly does reappraisal involve?
Participants were asked to think about the biggest disagreement they had experienced with their spouse in the last 4 months. They were then asked to write about it from three different angles:
1. First, they wrote about it from the perspective of a neutral and objective third-party who wishes to bring out the best out in the situation.
2. Second, they wrote about any obstacles they foresee coming up when attempting to take a neutral, third-party stance in disagreements with their partners.
3. Third, they wrote about how they might best go about adopting this neutral, third-party perspective in future disagreements and how this kind of perspective could help them transform disagreements into more positive experiences.
As expected, the couples who did not go through the intervention kept experiencing a decline in marital satisfaction. However, those who went through the (very short!) reappraisal intervention appear to have been protected from this decline: they did not show this decrease. The researchers found that the protective effect of the reappraisal exercise was due in part to lower levels of conflict distress in participants.
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