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3 research-backed tips for boosting productivity through healthy relationships

The authors of The 80/80 Marriage observe that we tend to think of productivity as a “work thing” and the health of our intimate relationships as a “home thing,” but a growing body of research suggests this is not the case.

3 research-backed tips for boosting productivity through healthy relationships
[Photo: Maria Korneeva/iStock]
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When it comes to productivity hacks, most of us think of time-blocking strategies, mindfulness practices, aerobic exercise, or brain-boosting supplements. Rarely, if ever, do we think about the spillover effects of our love life on peak performance and productivity.

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Part of the reason is that love and connection isn’t about maximizing efficiency or getting stuff done. As the intimacy guru Esther Perel puts it, “Eroticism is inefficient. It loves to squander time and resources.” Perhaps that’s why we tend to think of productivity as a “work thing” and the health of our intimate relationships as a “home thing,” as two separate activities, with no real influence on one another.

An emerging body of research, however, suggests that this common-sense view is quite simply false. Research in psychology, for example, suggests that the conflict and stress we experience at home has “spillover effects.”

It’s easy to see how this happens. You have a fight with your partner. You both get so upset that you experience what marriage research John Gottman calls the “flooding response.” Your heart races. Your body releases a cascade of stress hormones. And your nervous system goes into overdrive.

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When you show up a work the next morning, the psychological residue of last night’s fight doesn’t magically disappear. It stays with you. Your mind becomes scattered and distracted. You’re more easily agitated by co-workers. In short, you’re unable to engage with your work with a spirit of explosive productivity and innovation. You’re still stuck in the drama at home.

This spillover effect also works the other way. Research suggests that healthy relationship experiences at home boost productivity. In one study, for instance, researchers studied women in dual-earner couples and found that the quality of their marital and parental roles played a significant role in buffering work-related stress.

How can you use the spillover effect from your relationship to boost productivity? Here are three research-backed tips.

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Create a culture of appreciation

Marriage researcher John Gottman claims to have the uncanny ability to predict with over 90% accuracy whether a couple will get divorced. What’s his secret? He’s reduced it down to a simple ratio of five to one. If a couple experiences five positive interactions (appreciations, acts of service, or compliments) for every one negative interaction (criticism, defensiveness, or contempt), they’re going to make it. If the ratio tilts the other way, with more negative and fewer positive interactions, that’s a recipe for divorce or chronic unhappiness.

The upshot of this research is that the best way to create a thriving relationship is by creating a culture of appreciation. Look closely at your partner’s actions throughout the day. Notice what they did right. Then appreciate them for it. You can even turn this into a daily habit, using a habit-stacking cue like meals or the time before bed as your reminder to express appreciation and optimize the positive-to-negative ratio.

Consciously divide household work

When we interviewed over 100 people for our book The 80/80 Marriage, we noticed that, when it comes to roles and responsibilities around the house, most couples relied on the “wing it” approach. They let historical accident determine who does finances, cooks, goes to the store, or manages the family calendar. This is a recipe for conflict and inefficiency. It creates conflict because often one partner feels they are carrying more of the load. It creates inefficiency because it’s never really clear who’s responsible for which tasks.

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There’s a better way to divide the work around the house. Sit down together create a more conscious and intentional structure of roles. Think about your unique strengths. Think about your interests. Consider how to balance the workload. Then, come up with a new structure of roles. It might be the best thing you can do to feel more connected at home and productive at work.

Have sex at least once a week

We know what you’re thinking, “Really? You’re saying that regular sex leads to peak performance at work?” The short answer is: yes. As we’ve seen, the quality of intimacy at home has a spillover effect on the quality of your attention at work. And when it comes to boosting connection and intimacy, the research of University of Toronto psychologist Amy Muise suggests that there’s a strong association between greater well-being and having sex at least once a week.

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But what happens if you go beyond once a week—if you and your partner strive to become sexual overachievers? Muise’s research suggests that there’s actually no significant increase in overall wellbeing. The frequency of sex, it turns out, has a “curvilinear association” with relationship satisfaction. The wellbeing benefits no longer increase once you hit the once-a-week mark.

There are, of course, all sorts of other tips and tricks for optimizing your marriage. The key is to turn these relationship practices into regular habits. Once these practices become regular rituals, you’re likely to notice a positive shift in your relationship that spills over into your work.


Nate and Kaley Klemp are authors of  The 80/80 Marriage and the creators of The Marriage 3.0 Self-Guided Retreat. Nate is also the coauthor of the New York Times best-seller Start Here: Master the Lifelong Habit of Wellbeing, and Kaley is the coauthor of the leadership best-seller The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership.

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