June 22, 2016
By: Mercer Hathorn
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People have been writing about love since the beginning of writing. The theme of love can be found throughout forms of writing from Shakespeare’s plays to modern country songs. Writing about love seems to be universal, but are love and writing a two-way street?
This article asks the question: “Can writing actually improve intimate relationships?” Writing is a form of communication, and we’ve all heard that good communication improves relationships; therefore, writing may be an untapped resource for improved summer love!
The First Fight
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A friend recently shared with me a writing strategy that new couples can use to get through their first fight. She said that the couple should each make a list of all the things they love about each other early on in the relationship. Once the lists are complete, the couple should lock both lists in a closet with a bottle of wine. When the couple gets into their first argument, they unlock the closet, share a glass of wine, and read through all of the reasons they love one another. I loved this idea, and it made me wonder how else couples could use writing to strengthen their relationships and better their chances of staying together (A. Leger, personal communication, June 1, 2016).
Saving Your Marriage in 21 Minutes
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According to Erin Migdol (2013) of The Huffington Post, one research study shows that a 21-minute writing task can improve your marriage. Researchers from Northwestern University conducted a two-year study with 120 married couples in which they asked half of the couples to do a 21-minute writing assignment over the course of one year. The couples asked to complete writing assignments were told to spend seven minutes every four months writing about the arguments they had been having with their partners. The trick is that when these couples wrote about their arguments, they were directed to “write about the arguments from a neutral third-party perspective who wanted the best for all involved” (Migdol, 2013, para. 2). The couples who wrote about their arguments from a neutral standpoint for seven minutes three times a year were found to have greater relationship satisfaction than the couples who did not participate in the writing task (Migdol, 2013). Why might this be so? According to Northwestern psychology professor and researcher Eli Finkel:
We know that when people argue they tend to adopt their own perspective, and from your own perspective, it’s really easy to understand what it is your spouse is doing that’s so infuriating and why you are so justified in your anger. From a third-party perspective, it’s much easier to get a sense of the possibility that you might be coming off as kind of a jerk and your partner has a pretty compelling argument on his or her [or their] side as well. (Migdol, 2013, para. 4)
For most couples, relationship quality and passion lessen over time. Among the couples who did this writing assignment, relationship quality and passion stayed the same over time because they had less distress about conflict that arose in the relationship. Conflict in relationships is normal, but how people manage conflict can make or break the relationship. This 21-minute exercise doesn’t try to get rid of conflict in relationships, but rather provides a healthier way of managing it (Migdol, 2013). Migdol writes: “I would encourage you, if you’re in a happy marriage, don’t take it for granted. Take a little bit of time to see what you can do to help sustain that good marriage” (para. 11).
Turn Your Problem Into an “It”
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Dr. Neal Jacobson of Psychology Today recommends “turning your problem into an it” to solve seemingly unsolvable problems in your relationship. His goal is to “shift the couple from blaming each other for problems toward a less emotionally charged experience of problems as something that happens to both of them” (Markway, 2014, para. 5). These are paraphrased steps he recommends for the exercise:
- When you’re in a good place with your partner, decide together on a problem you’d like to address in your relationship.
- Write the problem down on a piece of paper and then take turns writing down your feelings about the problem, for example “The fact that we’ve moved five times in seven years really sucks” or “One of us wants a baby and the other doesn’t.”
- Use this writing time to practice both listening and expressing with your partner, and pay special attention to the feelings you share in common.
- Put the piece of paper in an empty box along with items that represent the problem and put the box in a closet. This lets the problem be “out there” without gnawing away at the love you share.
- Make a vow to each other that you won’t allow this problem to come between you.
- Plan specific times in the future to bring the box back out and discuss it and brainstorm ways to deal with the problem, even if you can’t “solve” it.
This exercise can help you and your partner gain distance from a problem and give you a new sense of perspective (Markway, 2014).
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According to positive psychologist Shawn Achor (2011), writing down three things for which you are grateful each day can improve your happiness and well being. The brain is wired to focus more on the negative than on the positive, which is known as “negativity bias.” Because of this, we must work harder to focus on the positive than on the negative. When you write things down each day that you are grateful for, you train your brain to focus more on the positive. When you are feeling positive, you are more creative, productive, happy, connected, and successful (Achor, 2011). I wanted to include this information in my article about summer love so that you all could try writing three things about your partner for which you are grateful each day. I hope this helps you focus more on what is working in your relationship than on what is not working. Please report back to us to let us know if these tips helped improve your summer love!
Achor, S. (2011, June 30). The Happiness Advantage [Video file]. Ted.com. Retreived from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GXy__kBVq1M
Markway, B. (2014, Jan 23). Stop trying to solve your relationship problems. Psychology Today. Retreived from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/living-the-questions/201401/stop-trying-solve-your-relationship-problems
Migdol, E. (2013, Feb 20). Marriage research: Study shows a 21-minute writing task can improve your marriage. The Huffington Post. Retreived from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/19/marriage-research_n_2719534.html