3 "Marriage Hacks" That Will Instantly Improve Your Relationship

Affectionate couple at restaurant
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Marriage therapists call them "interventions." Regular folk simply call them "changes."  Whatever you want to call it, does it really matter when small things work well?  Don't be fooled by the simplicity, as small changes can have a ripple effect.  Try these and you may be surprised by how it makes you feel, and how your partner responds to you.

1. Use Emotional Reappraisal

First, the original "marriage hack," published in a research study that eventually became a popular TED talk.

Scientists used a technique called "emotional reappraisal," in which they had couples re-evaluate their experiences by imagining how a neutral third party (an unbiased person outside of their relationship) would view their behavior.  In the study, couples took 5 - 10 minutes to discuss a source of relationship conflict. They only provided a “fact-based summary of the most significant disagree­ment” they experienced recently, “focusing on behavior, not on thoughts or feelings.”  

One year later, half of the couples were randomly assigned to the intervention (experimental) group, which had them to take another 10 minutes for the emotional reappraisal activity. The other half of the participants were in the "control group," and did not engage in the emotional reappraisal activity.

Here's a summary of what the "intervention" group was told to do: 

“Write about a specific disagreement 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; a person who sees things from a neutral point of view. How might this per­son think about the disagreement and/or find the good that could come from it?” They also asked, "What obstacles do you face in trying to take this third-partner perspective, especially when you’re having a disagreement?” Couples were then asked to try taking this third-party perspective during interac­tions with their partner partner.

Results of this experiment showed that only the control group (with no emotional reappraisal) had an ongoing decline in the health of their relationship. The couples who completed the emotional reappraisal activity had no relationship decline over the next 12 months! Researchers concluded that having couples view their conflict through the eyes of an imaginary, neutral third party had a significant and positive effect on relationship health and that the intervention seemed to prevent further negative effects. This simple reappraisal technique has a powerful impact and can greatly benefit you if you learn to apply it at the right time.

2. Treat Your Partner Like a Stranger

No, not the kind of stranger you flip off in traffic. A stranger as in someone you just met and are enthusiastic to get to know.  Researchers found that when we are around our romantic partners we may get too comfortable. We tend to forego the cheerful, pleasant and jovial tones that we often use when talking to people we do not know so well. In essence, putting on your best face when interacting with strangers gives you a mood boost.  It can help you in your marriage, as well.

In a study, romantic couples were told to interact with their partner the way they "usually would." The other half of the participants were told to "put your best face forward." The social scientists found that when people were instructed to be their "best self," they reported feeling significantly happier.

This has important implications for long- term relationships. The default position, unfortunately, is to not act like your best self around the person you care about the most. Couples enjoy the liberty of being relaxed and having moody days, however, when that becomes the norm, that negatively affects the couple's happiness. 

In conclusion, treat your spouse as well as you would a stranger you are meeting for the first time.  Or, how about taking that to another level? Why not treat your spouse as a person with whom you wish to have an affair?   

3. Put Away Your Phone (Completely!)

Researchers created a relatively simple study with two groups. The control group had their phones "present" and the experimental group had their phones "absent" during interactions with another person. For those assigned to the phone present condition, a nondescript mobile phone rested just outside participants’ direct visual field.

Participants (strangers) were paired up and were told to ‘‘Discuss an interesting event that occurred to you over the past month,’’ for 10 minutes together. Then, in an extension of the experiment, they studied participants who were having casual conversation instead of talking about an important event in their life.

Afterward, participants rated how well they interacted with their study partner. "Evidence from both experiments indicates the mere presence of mobile phones inhibited the development of interpersonal closeness and trust and reduced the extent to which individuals felt empathy and understanding from their partners. Results from the second experiment indicated that these effects were most pronounced if individuals were discussing a personally meaningful topic."

Constant use of technology impairs interpersonal connectedness, closeness, feelings of trust, and the perception of empathy. Those are the very foundations of healthy relationships!  Put away the phone when you are with someone important to you, like your spouse.  The deepening of your  relationship will be worth it...that email or text can wait!

These are straightforward and uncomplicated actions that can have an enormous positive impact on your marriage. They do not require any special skill set or professional intervention. Experiment with these "hacks" today and see what happens!

 

Sources

Web" http://www.scienceofrelationships.com/home/2014/2/24/the-marriage-hack.html

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 Science24(8), 1595-1601. 

Dunn, E. W., Biesanz, J. C., Human, L. J., & Finn, S. (2007). Misunderstanding the affective consequences of everyday social interactions: The hidden benefits of putting one’s best face forward. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92, 990-1005.

Przybylski, A.K. & Weinstein, N. .(2013). Can you connect with me now? How the presence of mobile communication technology influences face-to-face conversation quality. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 30 (3), 237-246.

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