Research News

An Intervention That Could Save Marriages

IPR associate Eli Finkel examines ways to improve marital quality


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Existing research has shown that a good marriage can have profound impacts on mental and physical health—from promoting happiness to improving life expectancy after a major surgery. Yet evidence also suggests that, on the whole, marital quality declines over time. Noting the demonstrated importance of a successful marriage, social psychologist and IPR associate Eli Finkel and his colleagues launched a two-year experiment that aimed to preserve marital quality.

The researchers studied 120 married couples over the course of two years. During the first year, all 120 couples were asked to complete a questionnaire about the quality of their marriage, and later, were asked to summarize “the most significant disagreement” they recently had with one another. In the second year, however, half of the couples were directed to write about the same argument—but this time, from the perspective of a neutral third-party who wants the best for everybody involved.  While all couples experienced a decline in marital happiness over the first year of the study, the couples who adopted this third-party perspective in the study’s second year experienced improvements in the quality of their marriage, compared with those in the control condition. Similar reappraisal interventions, the researchers note, could work in other family relationships, too.

Eli Finkel is a professor in psychology and in the Kellogg School of Management, and an IPR associate. The article, “A Brief Intervention to Promote Conflict Reappraisal Preserves Marital Quality Over Time,” was published in the journal Psychological Science.