The five best ways to improve marriage have been discovered by a 2017 literature review of 35 different psychological studies on over 12,000 people. Meta-analysis literature reviews are important because they are a study of studies. As far as social science studies go, this one’s pretty big… and hot off the press!
I want to remind readers that this research is not about how to have a good marriage. It’s about ways to improve marriage. There’s a subtle difference. These ideas about ways to improve marriage have a distinctly preventative component to them. In other words, many common marital problems lurk behind these five ideas.
Let’s cut to the chase. Here are the five best ways to improve marriage:
Lead researcher Dr. Brian Ogolsky of the H.E.A.R.T. (Heathy Experiences Across Relationship Transitions) Lab at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign feels that the study of the development of romantic relationships is essential.
The reason is clinical research informs couples therapists about the process by which relationships improve or deteriorate. This helps science-based couples therapists to craft interventions which have powerful, lasting benefits.
The central goal of the HEART Lab is to understand how romantic relationships change over time and the developmental processes underlying these changes. The motto of the tireless researchers at the HEART Lab is “love at first cite.”
Within this broad line of research inquiry, the HEART Lab focuses on two specific issues: (1) understanding changes in commitment and relationship maintenance processes in romantic relationships, and (2) understanding the impact of relationship processes on health.
Dr. Ogolsky says of this recent study:
“Relationships are like cars in that you have to do certain things to keep them running, especially when your goal is to strengthen and preserve your bond with your partner.”
This recent research confirms Gottman’s earlier studies which tell us that “small things, done often” are the key to Positive Sentiment Override. And Positive Sentiment Override is the key to increasing your partner’s inclination and capacity to notice your relational efforts. in other words, ways to improve marriage.
As John Gottman points out, this new meta-analysis confirms that it’s not enough for you to do the right things, your partner must notice your actions, or they will have no impact.
EFT’s emphasis on the quality of attachment is also underscored by Ogolsky’s research. Commitment, fairness, and a shared social network address the attachment-oriented questions “will you be there for me? can I count on you? will you put my needs equal to your own?”
Dr. Ogolsky explained the wisdom of applying these five best practices as ways to improve marriage:
“Persons who use any of these maintenance strategies will not only be more satisfied with and committed to their relationship, they are also likely to continue to love and, yes, even like each other throughout its duration.”
As Gottman first discovered, “small things, done often” can have an enormous cumulative impact. Here’s more from Professor Ogolsky:
“Even a small attempt at maintenance, such as asking how your partner’s day was, sending a humorous text to make him laugh, or picking up the phone and calling your mother- or father-in-law, can have a positive impact on your relationship and make you happier.”
Remember. Sweat the small stuff. Small things, done often are the best maintenance plan to improve your marriage. How many of the five best ways to improve marriage can you do today?
Ogolsky, B., Monk, J., Rice, T., Theisen, J., & Maniotes, C. (2017). Relationship maintenance: A review of research on romantic relationships. Family Theory and Review, 9, 275-306. doi: 10.1111/jftr.12205
Daniel is a Marriage and Family Therapist. He currently sees couples at Couples Therapy Inc. using EFT, Gottman Method, and the Developmental Model.