New Study Reveals “Downregulation” Key to Marital Happiness

September 16, 2015 by

A 13-year study from Stanford University has turned up some interesting results regarding the secrets of long-term success in relationships. The happiest couples, according to the researchers, were the ones who were able to effectively manage negative emotions through the process of “downregulating.”

What the heck is downregulating? It’s the practice of managing your emotions through efforts to make yourself feel better. Couples who faced relationship strife with humor and other pleasant, relationship-enforcing activities showed lower levels of physiological stress and were better able to calm their own emotions.

The study examined middle-aged and elderly couples and how well downregulation predicted marital satisfaction, as well the couple’s ability to manage difficult patches in their relationship.

During each testing session over the years, married couples were brought into the lab and spent 15 minutes discussing daily events, topics of continued disagreement, and a pleasant topic or something they enjoyed doing together.

The physiological reactions were measured, and participants rated their emotions during the lab visit and discussion. The couples also assessed their own ability to resolve conflicts, and whether they felt their approach to conflict was constructive or destructive.

Researchers from Berkeley evaluated the same couples, and reached the conclusion that the couples who experienced positive emotions together through sharing laughter and joy were better able to control their own physiological reactions and the emotional atmosphere of the relationship.

Downregulation and Emotion Management for Marital Happiness


How can this information benefit your relationship? Well, one of the key qualities of emotion regulation noted by researchers was the couple’s ability to enjoy happy moments together.

While this may seem obvious, but the more couples laugh and enjoy life together, however, the more they begin to associate each other with positive emotions. This in turn naturally leads to the individuals wanting to spend time with each other, and work as team to overcome difficulty.

Perhaps during arguments or times of relationship-related stress, you and your partner can attempt to take a step back from the situation to downregulate. Set aside time to laugh and experience happiness as a couple, and you may find that your previous tension dissolves, and long term sources of conflict become something you can tackle as a team.

Downregulation on an Individual Level


Practicing downregulation is important as a team, but it is equally valuable for individuals to practice on their own. When we experience negative emotions in relationships and marriage, we tend to place the blame on our partner for making us feel this way. We may rationalize our painful emotions, citing their behavior or the things they say for our emotional distress.

When you focus too much on the external factors affecting your mood, however, you begin to feel like you no longer have any internal control over your emotions. You may begin to become resentful towards your partner for their control over your emotions. Suddenly, every argument becomes a personal attack instead of a healthy, collaborative effort to address the problem as a unified couple.

Downregulation and other relationship-saving tactics can be facilitated with the help of a marriage counselor. Over my 30 years as a Portland relationship counselor, I have helped thousands of couples overcome marital and relationship troubles. Reach out to me today.