Count yourself lucky if you have a good marriage. More than half of people who are “very happy” in their marriages are very happy in general. They’re also healthier. One study found that happily married heart patients were 3.2 times more likely to live 15 years or more after surgery than those with less satisfactory marriages. Sadly, however, marriage quality often declines over time. Main reason: A cycle of negativity (“It’s not my fault, it’s your fault”).

Good news: You can improve the quality of your marriage with a simple exercise called third-party perspective-taking. It takes only about seven minutes and helps curb fault-finding, says psychologist Eli J. Finkel, PhD, of Northwestern University. Each spouse writes brief responses to these questions…

1. What would an observer notice about the arguments you have with your spouse—and how might these observations help? Example: “The observer would say that we’ve been fighting about housework for a long time and that we should finally resolve the problem.”

2. Why is it difficult to view conflicts from a third-party perspective? You or your spouse might write, “I have trouble thinking that way because I’m too busy trying to keep track of my own feelings.”

3. How can you use a third-party perspective in the future? Example: “I would have to ask my spouse more questions instead of just talking about myself.”

Do the exercise once every four months. A new study of 120 couples whose marriages were suffering found that the exercise virtually eliminated the decline in marital satisfaction over a one-year period.

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