Recovering From Marital Spats

Marital satisfaction stopped declining in couples that did writing exercises after fights

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Even after making up, arguments can chip away at a relationship. Working out the distress from the fight with a quick writing exercise may help both partners let it go.

A recent study tested whether a writing exercise after a couple has a disagreement could reduce relationship dissatisfaction over time. The study’s results showed that during the second year of using the writing exercise after disagreements, relationship satisfaction no longer declined.

The authors suggested that the writing task helped reduce distress from those conflicts that can interfere with overall relationship satisfaction.

"Try the “reappraisal writing task” after your next disagreement."

Eli J. Finkel, PhD, professor in social psychology at Northwestern University in Illinois, led a study on a simple way to improve marital satisfaction with a short writing task.

“Marriage tends to be healthy for people, but the quality of marriage is much more important than its mere existence. Having a high-quality marriage is one of the strongest predictors of happiness and health,” said Dr. Finkel.

For the study, 120 heterosexual couples were split into two groups and then asked to fill out a relationship satisfaction report every four months for two years. Each report included a brief summary of the biggest fight between the couple during that four month interval. Reports rated overall relationship satisfaction, love, intimacy, trust, passion and commitment.

The first group was given a short “reappraisal writing task” to perform after disagreements. The writing task required both members of the couple to sit down and write about their most recent disagreement from a neutral third-party perspective who had both partners' interests in mind. The second group did not do the writing task.

Both groups reported declines in marital satisfaction during the first year of the experiment. But during the second year, the writing group reported no decline in marital satisfaction. No increase in marital satisfaction was found either. Couples in both groups had equal levels of disagreements on equally serious topics.

“Not only did this effect emerge for marital satisfaction, it also emerged for other relationship processes—like passion and sexual desire—that are especially vulnerable to the ravages of time,” said Dr. Finkel.

The authors suggested the lack of decline in relationship quality came from a reduction in conflict-related distress over time.

This study was published in February in Psychological Sciences. No outside funding was provided for this study. No conflicts of interest were reported.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
February 11, 2013
Last Updated:
February 14, 2013