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Northwestern University

The All Or Nothing Marriage

Psychology professor Eli Finkel's research-based "love hacks" can help invigorate unions under stress

Eli Finkel has good news and bad news when it comes to the state of modern marriage.

First the good news:  "The best marriages today are more fulfilling than at any time in human history. They help spouses achieve satisfaction, personal well-being and financial stability,” the Weinberg College psychology professor says.

And now the bad: “The average marriage today is weaker than the average marriage of yore — in terms of both satisfaction and the divorce rate.”

Part of the problem, as Finkel details in his recent book The All or Nothing Marriage (Dutton, 2017), lies in our changing expectations of marriage. Today’s partnerships are focused much less on basic survival and much more on enduring love, support and self-discovery.

At the same time, couples are spending less time with friends and other family members, which means that modern marriages carry an immense amount of responsi­bility for meeting each partner’s emotional and psychological needs.

And even as spouses are asking more of marriage, they are, on average, spending less time together, which can make it even more difficult to meet those expectations. Many marriages are buckling under the strain.

But don’t despair — there are ways for couples to combat what can seem to be the inevitable disappointment of marriage. Those who lack the time (and money) to re-invigorate their marriages by, say, scuba-diving in Belize can try out Finkel’s "love hacks" — small gestures that can help sustain a marriage through challenges, when time is scarce but you want to show you care.

Finkel’s advice is gleaned from studies of thousands of married couples and incorporates research by sociologists, economists and historians. Here are just a few of his ideas to keep a marriage on track.

  1. all-or-nothing-marriage-367x267.jpgHold hands. It sounds ridiculously easy, but studies have shown that when couples touch each other — even when they know it is a condition in the study — they report feeling better about the relationship.
  2. Diversify your "social portfolio." Rather than always relying on your spouse to be cheerleader, constructive critic, celebrator and a shoulder to lean on, reach out to other people in your life to fill some of those needs.
  3. Get some perspective. When you have a fight with your partner, Finkel recommends looking at the disagreement from the perspective of a neutral third party who wants the best for all involved. Adopting that perspective doesn’t necessarily eliminate the conflict, but it does make it more productive.
  4. Show gratitude. Every week, write down a list of things your partner has done "to invest in the relationship," as participants in one recent study were told. Those who did reported that they felt more committed to the marriage and more thankful.
  5. Share in the joy. Express enthusiasm in voice and gesture when your partner comes home with good news. Studies have shown that couples who reinforced each other’s victories, no matter
    how small, felt more connected.
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