The 21-Minute Secret to a Happier Marriage

In the time it takes to shower, get a manicure, or run to the post office, you could have a happier marriage. According to the results of an upcoming study in the journal Psychological Science, just three seven-minute writing exercises over a one-year period could drastically improve your bond.

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The two-year study included 120 married couples, ranging from 20-somethings to 70-somethings who had on average been married for 11 years. During  the first year, the couples were asked to sit down every four months and write about their biggest recent conflict such as tiffs about cleaning or sex-related gripes. For the second year, the researchers switched things up: They had one group of couples continue recording their conflicts and a second group write them from the perspective of a third party who wanted the best for them, such as a mutual friend. That way, the couples couldn't write things like, "It made me so angry when he was late" but rather "Chris was two hours late coming home." The results were surprising: Although the second group's arguments were just as frequent and severe as the first group's, the couples who wrote from a neutral perspective felt less angry toward their partners, experienced more sexual attraction for each other, and their happiness levels stabilized rather than declined.

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"Previous research shows that relationship satisfaction decreases over the course of a marriage but these writing exercises act as a buffer for unhappiness," says Eli Finkel, Ph.D., lead author of the study and professor of psychology at Northwestern University. "The trick is to get outside your own head. By processing conflict from a neutral perspective, you better understand where your partner is coming from and are able to let go of grudges." 

Easy, right? Try these other tricks for a happier relationship in 21 minutes or less.

Exercise together: Going for a quick run or walk around the block with your partner will do more than keep you shape; it'll make you feel happier and sexier. Exercise releases feel-good neurotransmitters called endorphins and breaking a sweat increases blood flow straight to your nether regions.

Conjure up a romantic memory: Research published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences found that extraverts owe their happy outlook to their habit of getting nostalgic. So daydream about the first time you met or your wedding day. Bonus points for swapping memories.

Exchange back rubs: No surprise that massage feels luxurious but it can also enhance romantic feelings. That's because physical contact stimulates the production of the happy hormone oxytocin. Ahhh….

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