You’ve probably heard the saying, “Happy wife, happy life” or “Happy husband, happy home.” But are these popular sayings really backed by research?
The short answer is likely, yes. Several studies relate the quality of a couple’s marriage to individual happiness. In fact, psychologist Eli Finkel shared survey results showing that 57 percent of people who say they are “very happy” in their marriage also say they are very happy with their life in general. While only 10 percent of people who say they’re just “fairly happy” in their marriage say they’re very happy with their life overall.
Studies also suggest that being happily married can be good for your health. Researchers Kathleen King and Harry Reis followed the recovery of patients who had undergone coronary artery bypass grafting. They found that patients who were married, rather than single, were 2.5 times more likely to be alive 15 years after surgery. And patients who said they were happily married were 3.2 times more likely to be alive 15 years after surgery.
The quality of one’s marriage is related to being happy and healthy. However, the bad news is that the quality of marriage tends to decline over time.
Some couples may stay as happy as they were on their wedding day or even get happier over time. But, on average, the quality of marriage tends to decline throughout the marriage. Many large-scale longitudinal studies, following married couples for years, show a clear and consistent downward trend in marital quality over time.
But before you give up on marriage or give the most depressing wedding speech of all time, a research study by Eli Finkel, Erica Slotter, Laura Luchies, Gregory Walton, and James Gross has revealed a way to preserve the quality of marriage. relationship. When couples argue or experience conflict, as they inevitably will, they can stop downward spirals by thinking about the conflict from someone else’s perspective.
How to think differently about conflict
One of the reasons relationship quality declines over time is negative affect reciprocity—when one partner is upset or in a bad mood, their partner tends to respond in an equally bad mood. , or even worse, intensifying the conflict. Responding to a partner’s accusation with criticism or contempt, for example, triggers a downward spiral of negativity that can be difficult for couples to break.
A tip to stop the decline in relationship quality is for couples to use it emotional reappraisal, or reinterpret the conflict in a way that makes them feel less angry and distressed. Instead of thinking about the conflict from a first-person perspective, emotional reappraisal requires couples to view the conflict from the perspective of a third party, as a stranger would. How was I wronged by my partner?
To determine whether emotional reappraisal can preserve relationship quality over time, researchers Eli Finkel and colleagues followed 120 married heterosexual couples for two years. Every four months, the researchers measured a couple’s relationship quality by asking about their relationship satisfaction and feelings of love, intimacy, trust, passion and commitment.
After one year, married couples on average experienced a sharp decline in relationship quality. Thus, it replicates previous research that showed declines in satisfaction for married couples over time.
The researchers then implemented an emotional reappraisal intervention. Over the next year, half of the couples were asked to write about any conflict they experienced in their marriage from the perspective of a neutral third party who wants the best for everyone involved. Specifically, they wrote how this person might think about the disagreement and how he or she might find something good to come out of it. Participants in this condition were also asked to do their best over the next year to always adopt this third-party perspective, especially when experiencing conflict with their partner.
The other half of the participants were in the control condition. They received regular check-ins from the researchers, but they were not asked to think differently about the conflict they experienced in their marriage.
After the second year, married couples in the control condition continued to show the same significant declines in relationship quality over time. However, married couples in the emotional reappraisal condition stopped declining in relationship quality. Thinking about the conflict from a third party’s perspective did not make them happier in their relationship, but it did stop the normative declines in relationship quality that most married couples experience.
These findings are promising because an emotional reappraisal intervention is relatively easy for couples to implement. Simply thinking about the conflict from the perspective of a neutral third party seems to make a significant difference in couples’ marriages. It may not increase the quality of their relationship, but if couples reassess conflict early and often, their marital bliss can continue long after the honeymoon.