Resolving conflict in marriage

Table of Contents

How Successful Couples Resolve Conflicts

It’s normal for a couple to quarrel from time to time—just part of what it means to be together. Conflicts and arguments won’t necessarily jeopardize a relationship. In fact, there are times when disagreements can actually bring a couple closer together. The key is in how you and your partner decide to handle the conflict.

Couples with poor conflict resolution skills typically engage in Fight, Flight, or Freeze behaviors. They fight and stay mad, sometimes holding grudges for years. They flee and avoid important issues by sweeping them under the rug. Or, after endless arguments with no resolution in sight, they freeze emotionally and shut down. Someone who freezes in a relationship typically goes through the motions on the outside but has stopped caring on the inside.

Successful couples have the ability to solve problems and let it go. They focus on taking care of the issue rather than attacking the person. Even when angry, they find ways to be upset and stay close at the same time. Once the matter is resolved, they forgive and forget. Most importantly, successful couples have the ability to learn and grow through their interpersonal difficulties. Like fine wine, their relationship improves with age and gets better over time.

I was sitting at a coffee shop once when I witnessed a brilliant example of an elderly couple’s conflict resolution. They were sitting next to me when the husband accidentally knocked a cup of water over the table and onto his wife. As he got up to get some napkins, his wife announced to everyone: “He’s been doing this to me for twenty-three years!” And as the husband gently cleaned off the spill on his wife, he turned to us and said: “She deserves it!” His wife laughed. He laughed. We all laughed.

“The group with whom I’ve always been most fascinated is the one I call ‘marital masters’—folks who are so good at handling conflict that they make marital squabbles look like fun. It’s not that these couples don’t get mad and disagree. It’s that when they disagree, they’re able to stay connected and engaged with each other. Rather than becoming defensive and hurtful, they pepper their disputes with flashes of affection, intense interest, and mutual respect.”

— John Gottman

“Let the little things go. People who struggle often fight over little things. We obsess over things that don’t really matter. We create resistance instead of letting things glide off us. Let the little things go, breathe, and move on to the important things.”

— Leo Babauta

“…and at the end, so much of it turns out not to matter.”

— from “Evening”

Photo Credit: Taylor McCutchan

When my husband and I got engaged, we breezed through our pre-marriage days in perfect harmony. Besides a few lighthearted skirmishes, due in part to the difficulties of navigating a long-distance relationship, we got along like two birds of a feather. It was easy to think it would always be that way.

But, far from naive about the struggles of marriage, I did what any self-respecting English major would do and read all the books I could find on how to have the best marriage ever. All my reading left me fairly confident that my husband and I could avoid a lot of the typical pitfalls with the proper strategies in place.

But just like many of the stories of old, pride did indeed goeth before the fall. Our first year of marriage coincided with our first jobs, first pregnancy, and first real taste of adulthood. The sharp winds of reality and my own flaws quickly bowled over my unrealistic expectations about a conflict-free marriage.

Caralee Frederic, certified therapist for the Gottman Institute and licensed clinical social worker, says that striving to avoid disagreements should not necessarily be the goal. “We aren’t aiming for the perfect marriage,” Frederic explains. “Even stable couples have arguments.” According to Frederic and the research at the Gottman Institute, the most important indicator of marital happiness lies in how a couple handles disagreements and how they repair after a fight. “How often and how well a couple repairs their relationship is a big indicator of the long-term health of the marriage,” Frederic says.

Sometimes you’re both tired, and you get a bit snappy with each other. Sometimes you can’t figure out how to balance both your families during the holidays. No life, no marriage, and no person is perfect. The struggle is real. And more importantly, the struggle is normal. But that doesn’t mean you can’t use a few strategies to help navigate conflicts in a productive way.

01. Fight fair.

Rather than trying to create a conflict-free marriage, my husband and I focus on improving how we disagree and argue (or even fight) while also working on apologizing, compromising, and moving on. “The Gottman Institute warns couples to avoid the ‘four horsemen of the relationship apocalypse’: criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling,” Frederic explains. It’s important to vent anger and frustration constructively without falling into the trap of these relationship breakers.

Our efforts to fight fair are now also motivated by our desire to be a good example to our kids. We want our kids to know that our love for each other (and for them!) is unconditional. This is our marriage in action, and I hope our kids will learn from watching our struggle to resolve conflict in a loving and healthy way.

02. If at first you don’t succeed . . . apologize quickly.

Sometimes we can’t help our initial reaction, and we snap, but we can always smooth things over in our second reaction. Pride and defensiveness can cause us to give an excuse for our behavior rather than just apologizing first.

My husband and I learned that two ivory towers do not a happy marriage make. “I’m sorry” is oftentimes a more powerful phrase than “I love you” when repairing your relationship.

03. Table it.

Time-outs aren’t just for kids. In my own marriage, we have discovered that if you can’t talk civilly about a subject, don’t. Go for a run, watch a funny show, or wait until the morning to discuss an issue that needs a resolution.

Honestly, I think that tabling a conversation is one of the hardest things to do, but it pays to schedule a difficult discussion for a later time. Your marriage will forego a lot of heartache if you can hold off until everyone’s had their coffee or a glass of wine to hash out an issue.

04. Externalize the problem.

When my husband and I hit a point of frustration, we try to articulate the frustration with care. Don’t let your partner feel that he or she is the problem; instead phrase your concern as if you are both outside the problem working together. Frederic points out that “each person sees the same set of facts with their own unique point of view that is valid.” Frederic encourages couples to “externalize the problem.”

Instead of making emotionally charged and critical statements such as “You always forget to take out the trash,” try to identify the issue, and say, “The trash wasn’t taken out yesterday. How can we remember this next week?” The former statement puts your spouse on the defensive, and the latter externalizes the problem and opens the dialogue to begin finding a solution with your spouse.

05. Make ‘I’—not ‘you’—statements.

This one takes forethought, but for us it means the difference between an unproductive fight and a constructive conversation. Perhaps this seems like a minor detail, but this small change when airing a frustration can make all the difference in how your spouse reacts.

Gottman’s research shows that complain without blame is the antidote to criticism. Rather than accuse with statements such as “You really frustrate me with your mess,” turn the statement on its head, and begin with a more personal approach: “I feel frustrated when the house is a mess.” Again, the “I” statement invites dialogue, whereas the “you” statement would incite blame and criticism. Criticism can eat away at a marriage, but compassion strengthens the bond by softening the heart.

06. Break the touch barrier.

“Physical touch is a powerful tool in a relationship,” Frederic explains. “But you have to be smart about when you use it.” Thanks to the bonding hormone oxytocin, which is produced by physical affection, touch helps foster intimacy in a relationship. Holding hands or sitting close while discussing a problem can help ease tension during an argument for some couples.

In one of my favorite romantic comedies, Hitch, Alex Hitchens advises one of his mentees, Albert Brennaman, on how to break the touch barrier with a woman he loves in a non-sleazy way—that is, using small gestures of physical touch to increase intimacy. While others might need to cool off before reconnecting, it’s important to break that touch barrier at some point when a couple has experienced conflict to avoid stonewalling and coldness in a relationship.

True love in a marriage—and in any relationship, for that matter—means loving each other through the imperfections, disagreements, and challenges, no matter what. We can’t be surprised or discouraged by the inevitable tensions that arise in our daily lives, but just as a good coach never shows up to the game without a playbook, couples should have a few strategies in place to help resolve and repair those conflicts swiftly and compassionately.

7 Steps to Conflict Resolution in a Marriage

Some marriage conflicts never seem to be resolved. This situation leaves couples arguing about the same thing over and over again. But things do not have to be this way. Most conflicts can be resolved if a consistent process is followed.

While these steps may seem time consuming at first, in the end they are saving countless hours of exhausting arguing and avoiding. In addition, allowing an issue to go unaddressed causes it to eventually grow into something unmanageable.

  1. Environment, rules & boundaries – Begin the discussion in a neutral territory such as a restaurant. Set a time limit, focus on one problem, remain calm and agree to disagree if needed. Decide on no name calling, belittling of ideas or manipulative behavior.
  2. Agree on the problem – Each should describe the problem as they see it. Then look for a larger issue and any underlying fears and needs. Pick one battle at a time.
  3. Gather information – Use SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats). What strengths / weaknesses does the other person have that will help in this situation? Is there an opportunity for growth? Who or what might threaten success?
  4. Brainstorm solutions – Initially focus on keeping it positive, being creative and staying in the present. Be careful to withhold criticism and instead welcome unusual solutions. Next, focus on turning problems into possibilities, improving on ideas and combining concepts.
  5. Negotiate – Work towards a collaborative solution by being hard on the problem and soft on the person. Then emphasize common ground and make clear agreements on small things. If necessary, be willing to forgive or ask for forgiveness. This is the time to let go of inconsequential things. Most importantly, allow time for each party to speak and listen.
  6. Take action – Pick one idea and set a target date to start. Then, establish evaluation times and an end date.
  7. Evaluate – On the end date, ask these questions. What worked? How can it be improved? Where is help needed?

Resolving conflicts strengthens a marriage and binds two people closer together. This process is very time consuming in the beginning but well worth the investment.

7 Steps to Conflict Resolution in a Marriage

How To Solve Relationship Problems: 5 Secrets From Research

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Before we commence with the festivities, I wanted to thank everyone for helping my first book become a Wall Street Journal bestseller. To check it out, click here.

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Every relationship has problems. And they lead to arguments — which often don’t go anywhere and just make things worse.

One solution is couples therapy. It’s a very good solution, especially if you want to solve things by getting divorced.

From The Science of Trust: Emotional Attunement for Couples:

In fact, we asked the people who participated in our research if they were getting therapy, and we discovered that there was a reasonably high correlation between getting therapy and getting a divorce. It was more likely that couples would get a divorce if they had therapy than if they had no therapy. This was especially true for individual therapy, but it was also true of couple therapy.

That’s John Gottman, the data driven cupid of academia. He’s renowned as the relationship expert who can listen to a couple talk for just a few minutes and predict whether they’ll split up with an eerie 90+% degree of accuracy.

For decades he’s brought couples into his lab, studied how they interacted and followed up to see whether that worked. And he’s learned a lot. John’s book is The Science of Trust: Emotional Attunement for Couples.

All couples have arguments. There is no magic, conflict-free relationship. (Sorry.) So how do you fight right? That’s what we’re gonna learn. Where should we start?

How about at the beginning? Because as it turns out, beginnings are critical…

Start Discussions Gently

As you may have suspected, starting a conversation with “YOU MORON!” is never a good idea.

Seriously, if you don’t want your partner to get defensive and angry then, quite simply, don’t begin a discussion in a way that would make any person defensive and angry.

Sounds obvious but we all do it. And women do it a lot more than men. (Don’t worry; we’ll get to the mistakes men make soon enough.)

From The Science of Trust: Emotional Attunement for Couples:

The woman’s role here is usually critical, as in heterosexual relationships (in most Western culture) it is the woman who brings up the issues 80% of the time, according to research by Philip and Carolyn Cowan at Berkeley. Again, the findings suggest that starting with attack is less likely to result in nondefensive or empathic listening.

The critical distinction here is between “complaining” and “criticizing.”

Complaining about a specific problem or behavior is totally okay. (“When you’re late, it makes me feel like I’m not important to you.”) But criticizing is when you present the issue as a defect in your partner. (“You’re just so selfish!”)

Telling someone you don’t like their behavior is appropriate and necessary. Accusing them of being a demonspawn succubus forged from an unholy pact in the darkest pits of the netherworld is, shall we say, less-than-constructive.

From The Science of Trust: Emotional Attunement for Couples:

Happy couples presented issues as joint problems, and specific to one situation. Unhappy couples, on the other hand, presented issues as if they were symptoms of global defects in the partner’s personality.

But some people will respond, “You don’t understand. They always make this mistake and I’m just trying to fix them.”

Overruled, counselor. You’re still doing it, but with a shinier rationalization. Trying to “fix” your partner means you see them as defective. This is the perspective that couples on their way to Splitsville take.

From The Science of Trust: Emotional Attunement for Couples:

Partners in unhappy relationships saw it as their responsibility to help their partners become better people. They acted as if they believed that the problem in relationships is that we pair with people who aren’t as perfect as we are. Then it becomes our responsibility to point out to our partners how they can become better human beings. They need us to point out their mistakes. We expect them to be grateful to us for our great wisdom. In miserable relationships our habit of mind is to focus on our own irritability and disappointment, and to explain to our partners how they are responsible for these miserable feelings we have.

Don’t raise issues in a way that could be summed up as “Everything would be wonderful if you just get your act together and do exactly as I tell you because you’re the screw-up and I’m the long-suffering victim here.”

Focus on the problem, not the person. And be gentle. Even if you are right, being self-righteous doesn’t help.

(To learn more about the science of a successful life, check out my bestselling book here.)

Okay, so you’ve got your head on straight about how to approach things. But your head isn’t the only part of you that’s important here. Your body plays a big part…

Stay Calm

I know, easier said than done. But this is huge. The ability to stay physically calm during conflict showed the biggest correlation with relationship happiness of anything Gottman tested.

From The Science of Trust: Emotional Attunement for Couples:

I recall a landmark phone call in my life from Bob asking me if I had ever obtained high correlations (in the .90s), and him reporting that we had obtained such high correlations in our first 3-year follow-up study, using only physiological data in predicting relationship happiness, controlling for initial levels.

Did you notice the wording there? “Physiological.” As in, your body. So suppressing rage, keeping your mouth shut and appearing chill doesn’t qualify as calm.

When things get emotional, your heart starts racing, the cortisol and adrenalin start pumping and this leads to a cascade of negative effects you can’t control. You have trouble listening, empathizing and problem solving. Gottman calls it “diffuse physiological arousal.”

You and I call it “wigging out.”

From The Science of Trust: Emotional Attunement for Couples:

In the context of relationship conflict, DPA has big psychological effects. It decreases one’s ability to take in information (reducing hearing and peripheral vision and making it difficult to shift attention away from a defensive posture). It can also create increased defensiveness and what we call the “summarizing yourself syndrome,” which is repeating one’s own position in the hope that one’s partner will suddenly “get it” and become loving again. DPA can reduce the ability to be creative in problem solving, it eliminates access to one’s sense of humor and to affection, and it reduces the ability to listen to one’s partner and empathize.

And this is a bigger problem for men. When put in an emotional situation, men get “flooded” more quickly than women. And once physiologically worked up, it takes them longer to return to baseline.

From The Science of Trust: Emotional Attunement for Couples:

…there were decreases in blood pressure only for women. Noradrenaline is a stress hormone that operates in the brain and is the equivalent of adrenaline in the periphery. Oxytocin, in her study, decreased noradrenaline levels for women, but not for men. Hence, this research would suggest that men are more vulnerable to DPA…

Ever get into a heated argument and realize it’s going nowhere? Once the stress hormones are hitting the bloodstream at firehose speed, Gottman says constructive, empathetic discussion is impossible. So what do you do?

Well, kids aren’t the only ones that can benefit from a time-out. You can’t “insist” that your body relax. So Gottman recommends taking a 20-minute break. And distract yourself during that time. (Bitterly mumbling to yourself for 20 minutes isn’t going to make Round 2 any easier.)

When you’re both calmer, try again.

(To learn the two-word morning ritual that will make you happy all day, click here.)

So maybe you manage to stay all Zen. Great. But now you’re in the thick of the conversation. What should you be saying to make sure it doesn’t go off the rails?

Stay Positive

Yeah, sounds obvious. But this isn’t some silly little truism — it’s a powerful insight from real data. You want a ratio of five positive comments for every negative one.

From The Science of Trust: Emotional Attunement for Couples:

The ratio of positive to negative affect during conflict in stable relationships is 5:1; in couples headed for divorce, it is 0.8:1 or less.

Even in the midst of arguments, the successful couples Gottman studied frequently sprinkled in positive statements like: “Good point”, “Say more about how you feel and what you need”, and “If that’s so important to you let’s find a way to make that happen.”

You want to avoid negative comments that aren’t constructive like: “That is so stupid”, “You’re so selfish” and, “I’d love to hit you with a tire iron and bury you in the crawlspace.”

But don’t forget — the ratio was five to one, not five to zero. Negativity isn’t evil. In fact, a little bit is necessary. Getting angry didn’t cause breakups…

It was escalation of negativity that landed people in divorce court. You yell and then they yell louder and then you yell even louder until the windows are vibrating and the pets are cowering beneath the couch. If this sounds like your fights, may I suggest you don’t get a 30-year mortgage? Because your marriage will likely be over in 6.

From The Science of Trust: Emotional Attunement for Couples:

It is the escalation of negativity, marked particularly by criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling, that predicts divorce. We found that couples who escalated conflict divorced an average of about 5.6 years after their wedding.

When things get heated, use humor. Calling your partner a joke is not a good idea but making a joke during a fight can help deescalate conflict.

From The Science of Trust: Emotional Attunement for Couples:

(Positive affect) was the only variable that predicted both couple stability and happiness in our newlywed study. Furthermore, the positive affect was not distributed evenly or randomly during the conflict conversation—rather, it was used precisely—it was in the service of conflict deescalation. Positive affect and deescalation were used in the service of physiological soothing, particularly of the male in heterosexual relationships. That’s why even small amounts of positive affect during conflict predicted positive outcomes in the relationship. Bob Levenson’s lab has also found that humor is effective at reducing physiological arousal.

(To learn 3 secrets from neuroscience that will help you quit bad habits without willpower, click here.)

Maybe you’re doing good so far. But there’s a point when you just want it to end. You can’t handle any more talking or any more feelings. Like you’ve been through thirty days of Guantanamo Bay waterboarding and you’re all I’ll-tell-you-whatever-you-want-to-know-just-make-this-stop.

Yes, men, I’m looking at you…

Accept Influence

Don’t deny your partner’s feelings and try to shut them up. Hear them out. That doesn’t mean “just continue nodding until the words finally stop coming out of their face.” It means actually pay attention to and consider what they’re saying.

Guys have a big problem with this one — and it can kill a relationship.

From The Science of Trust: Emotional Attunement for Couples:

Men’s acceptance of influence from their female partner was critical for well-functioning heterosexual relationships. The inability to accept influence from women was a stable predictor of relationship meltdown.

When women complain, men often emotionally disengage or get defensive and this just escalates things. The point isn’t that you have to fold and give in, you just have to listen and make it clear you’re listening.

From The Science of Trust: Emotional Attunement for Couples:

This is manifested in one of two patterns of rejecting influence: (1) male emotional disengagement (which eventually becomes mutual emotional disengagement), or (2) male escalation (belligerence, contempt, defensiveness) in response to their wives’ low-intensity negative affect (complaining). The (happily married) men don’t reject influence from their women as often. They tend to say things like “okay,” or “good point,” or “you’re making perfect sense, really,” or “you’re starting to convince me.” This is not compliance; it is lively give and take. To be powerful in a relationship we must be capable of accepting influence on some things our partner wants.

(To learn how to have a happy marriage, click here.)

But what about those arguments you have over and over and over again? Will they ever get resolved?

Actually, uh, no…

Often, Nobody Wins. So Play Nice.

Almost 70% of recurring relationship disagreements never get resolved.

From The Science of Trust: Emotional Attunement for Couples:

…we learned that only 31% of couples’ major area of continuing disagreement was about a resolvable issue. Much more frequently—69% of the time—it was about an unresolvable perpetual problem.

Unless it’s a true dealbreaker (“You really need to stop sleeping with the UPS guy”), let it go. You have to accept your partner “as-is.”

Nobody is perfect. You’re not perfect. When you get involved with anyone, you’re accepting a set of problems. You just want to make sure you’re with someone whose problems you can handle.

From The Science of Trust: Emotional Attunement for Couples:

We found that what mattered most was not resolution of these perpetual problems but the affect that occurred around discussion of them. The goal of happily married couples seemed to be establish a “dialogue” around the perpetual problem—one that included shared humor and affection and communicated acceptance of the partner and even amusement.

Discuss the issue, but don’t expect that it’ll ever get resolved to everyone’s complete satisfaction. It’s more about how you discuss it. Be accepting, affectionate and laugh about it.

(To learn how to deal with passive aggressive people, click here.)

Okay, we’ve covered a lot. Time to round it all up and learn the final (and much more pleasant) thing that can help smooth romantic difficulties…

Sum Up

This is how to solve relationship problems:

  • Start gently: Complain but don’t criticize. Focus on the problem, not the person.
  • Stay calm: When your pulse goes up, happiness goes down.
  • Stay positive: “Five To One” isn’t just a song by The Doors; it’s also the key to a happy relationship.
  • Accept influence: Really listening to your partner’s needs can make sure I never see a true crime documentary on Dateline NBC about the end of your relationship.
  • Often, nobody wins. So play nice: If your attitude is “my way or the highway” then I hope you like traffic jams. As Aristotle never said, “you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you get what you need.”

So what else should you do in order to make a relationship work and get past problems? It’s not all about arguing the right way…

You need to have fun. Keep making an effort, keep having adventures, keep acting like you did when you first started dating.

From The Science of Trust: Emotional Attunement for Couples:

In relationships that were happy, people continued courtship and intimacy and nurtured emotional connection, friendship, fun, adventure, and playfulness.

Even in the middle of a fight, it’s important to remember the person in front of you is the person you love. Love isn’t just a noun; it’s also a verb. Love’s not just something you have, it’s something you do.

And if you can continue to do it in the midst of an argument, then you can be happy after it ends.

And isn’t that what we all want? Happily ever after?

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Marriage Problems will arise from time to time in your marriage. How you respond will result in a stronger marriage or a breakup.

According to recently released statistics, nearly 60% percent of all marriages with marriage problems eventually end in breakup or divorce.

Couples who are on this edge are constantly looking for ways to avoid being part of that overwhelming statistic. Regrettably, some marriages have gone beyond the stages of being fixed, but there are still so many that can be fixed or repaired no matter the current state of things.

However, it takes parties, the husband and wife to ceaselessly work together to solve and fix these marriage problems, regardless of the underlying or present situation, or who was at fault.

Related posts on How to Fix Your Marriage Problems Without Counseling :

  • 15 Ways To Get Pass Your Marriage Problems
  • 21 Ways To Avoid Divorce and Save Your Marriage
  • 15 Reasons Why Marriage Counseling Does Not Work
  • 50 Things that Will Save Your Marriage from Divorce
  • 31 Daily Habits That Will Make Your Marriage Stronger
  • 21 Benefits Of Having Sex Frequently With Your Spouse

This article right before your eyes contains important information about relationship and marriage problems and how you can fix them.

Endeavor to read to the end of this article clearly through to get some new ideas on how you may be able to fix your marriage problems and reclaim your spouse again.

Table of Contents

#1: Take a Good Look at Yourself.

It may be true that you have done something that has harmed the relationship, or that you have to stop treating your partner as if he/she were the most important thing in your life. Whatever might be the case; you can still make amends and get things up and running again.

Have a very good at yourself and determine to take a self -inventory by trying to figure out what you need to do to make things better in your marriage.

If indeed you want to really fix your marriage problems, go back and reconsider treating your spouse as if he/she were the most beautiful things in your life, and you will be astonished by the result of your action and a new character.

#2: Remember Your Vows.

Can you still remember the vow you made to each other the first day you happened to be with him/her? A very good exercise is to sit down and write down your marriage vows as you reflect upon them. This act should provide you with some clues on what you should do to rescue and fix back your relationship.

Let’s take for instance, did you vow to always respect, love and honor your partner? And are you still doing this? In your life right now, are there reasons why you feel you can no longer trust or honor your partner? If so, what can you do to start fixing your trust towards your spouse?

#3: Form A Picture Of What You Want Your Marriage To Be.

Sit down and take a mental picture of what you want to see in your marriage. You can do this by visualizing the qualities you want to see manifested and activated in your marriage or relationship.

Then, discover in yourself what you can do to create these qualities so that you can fix your marriage problems.

photo by https://www.Pexels.com

#4: Make Solving Your Marriage Problems Priority.

Sit down with your spouse and share your desire to spend more time with them. Make a review on your calendar and determine how you may use your time effectively. Can you consolidate errands so you are not running out each night?

How about agreeing to have a TV or computer-free day that is focused on the family?

What about volunteer activities that may take away from time with your spouse? Make sure you go out together – without the kids! At least once or twice a month to give you an opportunity to focus on one another and reconnect and get your marriage back on track.

#5: Cultivate New Interest.

Many couples usually experience troubles in their marriage, when they become preoccupied with themselves and forget about their spouse’s feelings. Always do the right thing and learn to show an interest in the things that your spouse does. Learn to ask questions and be supportive even if it is not your thing.

#6: Restore Intimacy.

For any healthy marital relationship, physical contact is very important. At the very least, ensure you give your spouse a meaningful hug and kiss each day.

And I don’t mean one of that barely-brushing-your-cheek pecks on the way out the door either! Sexual intimacy is also important. Even when you don’t feel up to it, make an effort to be open to intimate encounters as often as possible.

#7: Spend Quality Time with Each Other.

Marriage problems arise because married couples fail to spend quality time with each other. If you really want to fix the bugs in your marriage and get your happiness back on track, always have some good time with your spouse.

Find something that you both love doing and make sure that you can talk to each other while doing so.

#8: Communicate Your Needs with Your Partner.

Most couples too often assume that their partners just don’t care about their needs and wants failing to understand that their partners cannot read their mind, therefore cannot know what it is that they are thinking. Always try to let your spouse know what is in your mind and your desire concerning your marriage.

#9: Talk and Touch Are Important In Marriage.

According to Mort Fertel, a relationship coach, he said: “Everyone wants to renew their marriage, but very few have a clue on how to go about it”. You need action to get things fixed in your marriage. This is because you can never talk your way out of a situation you behaved yourself into.

You must act if you sincerely desire a change. Failed marriages eventually succeed because at least one spouse commits to doing “SMALL THINGS” in great ways over an extended period of time. Use this key to fix your marriage problems, then establish the RIGHT HABITS by doing them consistently. Talk and touch every day.

#10: Give.

What type of gift could you give your spouse that would make them glow and look at you with intense appreciation? Check to see what gift would tickle the soul of your spouse towards you? Think about what could you buy or make for your spouse that would show how much of YOU went into the gift? If you want to fix that problem in your marriage, stick with this for a minute.

It requires some deep thought anyway, but I promise you that if you make a habit of this kind of giving, it will transform your marriage for the better.

#11: Be the Change You Want To See.

In the mission of fixing your marriage problems, be sure to encounter resistance by your spouse. Your spouse may be emotionally “checked out” of the marriage and not care about your efforts to improve the situation or be willing to extend any effort of their own.

You can’t force your spouse to change their attitude concerning the problem you both are currently facing, this is because a change that is imposed will yield nothing, but a change that is self-initiated is what really makes the whole difference in fixing your marriage problems.

#12: Get Involved.

There is this phrase that says: “you are what you eat” when we narrow it down to marriage, I would say, you are what you do. In other words, how you and your spouse “SPEND YOUR TIME” determines the strength of your marriage. Spend time together with your partner and you’ll feel connected.

Can you remember when you used to visit each other in the workplace? Meet each other’s family and friends? Help to solve each other’s problems? Ask each other’s opinions? Learn about each other’s interests? That’s the ticket! Right now all this may not sound interesting to you if your marriage is gravitating towards the rocks.

#13: Don’t Talk To Family or Friends about Your Situation.

“One of the most important values in a marriage is privacy; therefore, it’s a mistake to talk about your marriage or your spouse to family or friends. It’s a violation of your spouse’s privacy and it’s wrong.”

#14: Introspection.

Another solution for fixing your marriage problems is to focus on yourself instead of putting all the blame on your spouse. Take the time to examine yourself and how you have contributed to the problem at hand. You should remember that you have your faults as well.

Reflect on the specific reason why your romance has ended. It is also advisable for you to determine the specific things that you find pleasurable about your relationship and the specific things that make you unsatisfied and unhappy.

Carefully weigh and consider all these things so you can know if your marriage is worth fixing.

#15: Fixing Your Marriage Problems Is a “Two-Way Street.”

Communication is what they say is the lifeblood of any successful marriage. Therefore for you to fix problems you need to build more open communication with your spouse, after at least one or two months of not being together.

You can start to do a few steps that will let you reach out to your spouse. One way is to call him/her so you will know if he/she is still willing to talk to you and meet you in an environment that is neutral and convenient for the two of you.

When discussing the issues in your marriage, you have to make sure that you avoid using bitter or harsh words. You should also be willing to listen since this is very critical in restoring your relationship.

#16: Go It Alone.

“Most people think, ‘I need my spouse to work with me to fix our marriage problems.’ But it does not take two to tango. One person’s effort can change the momentum of a marriage, and very often, it’s that effort that motivates the obstinate spouse to join in the process of saving and fixing that relationship again.”

#17: Stop Asking Yourself the Wrong Question.

“Many people wonder and think if they got married to the wrong person, but unfortunately that’s not the issue. According to Mort Fertel, the marriage Fitness expert, he said: The key to succeeding in marriage is not finding the right person; “it’s learning to love the person you found.”

Love is not a mystery. Just as there are physical laws of the universe, like gravity, which governs flight, there are also relationship laws that, depending on your behavior, dictate the outcome of your marriage. You don’t have to be ‘lucky in love.’ It’s not luck; it’s a choice.”

#18: Know That Absence Does Not Make the Heart Grow Fonder.

“This point might have been true during your junior high school when you went away for the summer. But particularly in a broken marriage that needs some fixes, absence separates people. It creates distance, and that’s the opposite of what we’re trying to achieve, which is closeness.”

#19: Don’t Talk About Your Marriage Problems.

“Talking about the problems in your marriage will not resolve them; it makes them worse. It leads to arguments and bad will. Besides, you’ll never talk yourself out of a problem that you got yourself into. Marriages change because people change.

Learn to say little! and so much. Speak in the vocabulary of your actions. New choices that people make always help to fix marriage problems; discussions don’t.”

#20: Don’t Think Marriage Counseling Is the Answer.

Marriage counseling does not work in most situations. The success rate is miserable. Most couples report being worse off after counseling.

There are so many couples in their quest for fixing their marriage problems, spent months in counseling classes, but got nowhere at the end. They talked and talked, but never received tangible and practical advice that was simple to understand and easy to implement.”

#21: Rinse and Repeat.

You can’t fix your marriage problems overnight. Often, you have to take two steps forward and one step backward. It is not going to be rosy all the way, so be prepared for both laughter and tears.

In conclusion, fixing the issues in your marriage is just all about applying the tips and strategies you have been thought.

According to Dr. Charles H. Browning, Ph.D. (Browning Therapy Group, Inc.), in his personal review of the ‘MARRIAGE FITNESS’ guide by Mort Fertel, the marriage fitness coach, he said that: “Applying the simple tips and strategies in Mort Fertel’s program can quickly transform your relationship into a beauty-from-ashes story with a very happy ending, even better than it was in the courtship days”.

Additionally, we can boldly say that contrary to the way relationships are portrayed in the movies, they are not all sunsets and roses. A better analogy is that of an ever-changing, complicated dance.

When two people come together with different life histories, sensitivities, and current stresses, you are bound to bump up against each other or get blown off track over the course of a many-year relationship.

Strive to Repair and fix your marriage problems by actively reaching for your partner and letting them know that they matter and you care. This should create “HEALING” energy to move your relationship back to health.

Ways To Fix Your Marriage Problems Without Counseling

  1. Take a Good Look at Yourself.
  2. .Remember Your Vows.
  3. Form A Picture Of What You Want Your Marriage To Be.
  4. Make Solving Your Marriage Problems Priority.
  5. Cultivate New Interest.
  6. Restore Intimacy.
  7. Spend Quality Time with Each Other.
  8. Communicate Your Needs with Your Partner.
  9. Talk and Touch Are Important In Marriage.
  10. Give.
  11. Be the Change You Want To See.
  12. Get Involved.
  13. Don’t Talk To Family or Friends about Your Situation.
  14. Introspection.
  15. Fixing Your Marriage Problems Is a “Two-Way Street.”
  16. Go It Alone.
  17. Stop Asking Yourself the Wrong Question.
  18. Know That Absence Does Not Make the Heart Grow Fonder.
  19. Don’t Talk About Your Marriage Problems.
  20. Don’t Think Marriage Counseling Is the Answer.
  21. Rinse and Repeat.

Image courtesy of nuttakit at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Images courtesy of photo stock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Fix Marriage Problems Without Counseling | Relationship Advice

Philip Friedman/Studio D

All the problems with Jim and Carrie’s 14-year marriage were distilled into their daily dispute: They fought about how to get their three children out the door. First, they’d argue about how to rouse the kids. Jim felt they should learn responsibility by setting their own alarm clocks; Carrie insisted on waking each child herself. Then came the battle over breakfast: Jim thought grabbing fruit to eat on the way to school was fine; Carrie wanted a sit-down meal. Rattled by their parents’ bickering, the kids — two girls, 12 and 10, and an 8-year-old boy — would create distractions, refuse to listen, dawdle, and nearly always miss the school bus. Then Jim would shout that they needed to understand consequences and should walk. Carrie would overrule him and drive the kids so they wouldn’t be late for class. What might have been just an ordinary set of complications in other households became an intractable conflict.

When Carrie and Jim first consulted me about the chronic unhappiness in their marriage, I saw something familiar from my 35 years as a family therapist — a couple whose relationship careened from explosive, recurring arguments to silence and distance. Jim thought things never went his way; Carrie felt her husband always prevailed. Problems went unsolved, sometimes for years. The children suffered because of their parents’ frequent arguments over seemingly petty matters — not just the morning routine, but also homework, chores, bedtime, and more.

Toward the end of our first session, I asked Jim and Carrie,* “Have you ever taken turns on an issue?” Both looked interested but confused. “How would we do that?” Jim asked.

I explained Turn-Taking, one of two relatively simple and remarkably effective methods that any couple can use at home to resolve stubborn, repetitious conflicts. It involves, I told them, allowing your spouse to be temporarily in charge of handling a contentious matter in whatever way he or she sees fit. The job of the other spouse would be to observe without comment, saving discussion for our next meeting.

We set up a two-week experiment — but the couple was so locked in conflict, we had to flip a coin to see who would go first. Jim won. For the first week, he was to decide how to wake the children, what they ate for breakfast, and what to do if they missed the bus. Carrie was to watch and not criticize. During the second week, Carrie would handle the children in her way, while Jim observed without criticism. “You’ll each have a new opportunity to learn more about what makes the other one tick,” I said.

When they returned two weeks later, they began by telling me how astounded the children had been. “They kept trying to get us to fight,” Jim said. He laughed. “When that didn’t work, they actually got ready for school!” The number of missed-bus days diminished rapidly, and if the kids did run late, the parent whose week it was implemented his or her preferred solution. Both had trouble at first with the observer role. “I had to bite my tongue in the beginning,” Jim said, “but, honestly, I realized that Carrie’s method of getting them out of bed does move them along more easily.” Carrie told me, “I got it that on my days, when they knew I would drive them, they behaved in ways that made them miss the bus. It’s hard for me to say this, but Jim is right on this one.” She added, “We have a lot of other areas we need to address now.” Jim agreed — and both felt hopeful for the first time in ages.

The Turn-Taking experiment broke years of deadlock for Jim and Carrie, offering a clear, fair, and mutually satisfying way to negotiate the differences that pop up in the lives of every couple.

In my experience, marriages work well when partners negotiate so that each person gets some, but not all, of what he or she wants. Too many couples habitually choose the “meet-in-the-middle” method of problem- solving, thinking that it’s less messy and somehow more just. But it isn’t: If he loves the mountains and she loves the shore and they spend every vacation in a big city, they may not argue, but each will feel secretly unfulfilled. Meet-in-the-middle solutions lead to less and less genuine conversation about what each one truly wants. Each time spouses fail to express a clear position or listen to the desires of their mate, the invisible pile of unspoken yearnings separating them grows higher and wider.

* The names and identifying details of this couple, and of the other couples in this article, have been changed to protect their privacy.

Next:

Happy couples know how to negotiate — out loud. Learning to do that requires that people dig deep and figure out what’s truly important to them, convey it fully to their spouse, and listen carefully when he or she does the same. The Turn-Taking technique allows that to happen. For Dena and Henry, a couple who fought over when to have dinner, the starting point in their Turn-Taking experiment was looking closely at the meaning of their preferences. Dena realized that dinner at 6 was the way things had been done in her parents’ home; eating early felt cozy to her. Dinner at 8, Henry’s choice, seemed exhaustingly late to Dena — but to Henry, it was a way of assuring private time with her after the children were in bed. Once Henry understood that early dinner meant comfort to Dena, and Dena understood that late dinner reflected Henry’s desire to be alone with her, they saw that turn-taking would allow them to meet these needs — and definitely beat dining at 7 with cranky kids, which made neither of them happy. There were other areas of disagreement in their marriage, but turn-taking worked for those, too, providing crucial space for different preferences in the relationship. Negotiated solutions gave each partner some of what he or she wanted — and a lot of unexpected intimacy.

Jim and Carrie used a variation on the Turn-Taking technique — a strategy I call Switching Leadership — to sort out another issue in their marriage. “Every Saturday night, I want to go out, have dinner, see a movie,” Carrie said. “And Jim wants to eat at home and read a book. We argue, and then we don’t feel like being together — so he gets his way.” Jim explained his point of view: “I have no time to read during the week. I just want some quiet time.” I asked them whether they were up for another experiment, and told them about Switching Leadership. “This Saturday,” I told Jim, “you’re fully in charge of plans for the two of you. Choose something you feel will give both of you pleasure, and keep it a surprise.” To Carrie, I said, “This is your opportunity to fully put yourself in Jim’s hands, to learn what’s important to him, and to experience your relationship in a new way.” Carrie would be the leader the following Saturday.

Two weeks later, Jim and Carrie walked into my office arm-in-arm and smiling. Jim described his turn as leader: “I got a babysitter, and I took Carrie to a park we both love — we haven’t been there alone in years. I bought a new book I knew Carrie wanted, and I read to her. Then we went for dinner.” Carrie chose a film she knew Jim would like and cooked him his favorite meal. The exercise had allowed both of them to do something they enjoyed — and to realize that they still had each other’s best interests at heart. The Saturday-night battle was over.

I often work with couples who have become completely polarized over a major life decision such as whether to have or adopt a baby, where to live, whether to change careers, how to relate to in-laws, or how to spend money. With these issues, meeting in the middle is not only undesirable, but impossible — you can’t have half a baby, and Nebraska’s no solution when a woman has a great job in Pennsylvania and her husband gets a great offer in Oregon. In these situations, I find, people dig in their heels so strenuously, they lose track of what they really believe; neither spouse is able to acknowledge his or her own doubts or areas of agreement. This is when I implement the Two-Part Conversation.

When Amy and Alan consulted me, they were feeling quite hopeless about their three-year marriage. They sat far apart on the couch and didn’t look at each other. Both had been married before, and Alan had a child from his first marriage. “When we met and fell in love, we talked about having a baby together,” Amy said, weeping. “But after we married, Alan changed his mind. I wouldn’t have married Alan if I’d known a baby was off the table. All we do now is argue about this. I don’t know if we can stay together.”

Each piled on the reasons that his or her point of view was the right one. Anger and tears punctuated the exchange. Neither was willing or able to express the smallest doubt about his or her entrenched position; any hint of ambivalence was attacked by the other, and both immediately retreated into rock-solid inflexibility. Was this, I wondered, a true irreconcilable difference, a marriage deal-breaker?

I asked Amy and Alan if they were willing to try something different; they nodded. “I want you to have two conversations, spaced a couple of nights apart,” I said. “Find a place in your home where you’re both comfortable. Have a glass of wine or a cup of tea.

“In the first conversation, I want you both to talk about all of the reasons why having a baby is a good idea. Alan, this means you’ll have to drop your usual stance and express positive thoughts. Then, in the second conversation, I want you both to talk over all the reasons why having a baby isn’t a good idea. Amy, this means you’ll have to put all of your usual arguments out of your mind and express what might be positive for you and Alan if you didn’t have a baby. Next week, you’ll talk about your experience.”

When Amy and Alan came back, I immediately sensed a difference. They walked in holding hands and sat close to one another. The mood was serious, but lighter. “What you asked us to do put an end to our stalemate,” Alan began. “We spoke more honestly than we ever have.” They went on to describe how they were able to dig beneath the surface of their own frozen positions. “We could really hear each other and put ourselves in one another’s shoes. I felt empathy from Alan that I hadn’t known he had for me.” Each had expressed vulnerabilities and longings he or she hadn’t shared before. Now there was a genuine platform from which to begin making their decision.

The Two-Part Conversation may not immediately resolve a couple’s dilemma. But it puts an end to polarization and renews the compassion and responsiveness so necessary to making a serious decision.

Good couples don’t always agree. Both Turn-Taking and the Two-Part Conversation require the willingness to make room in your relationship for opposing views and allow the other person the chance to say what he or she wants clearly and nondefensively, without being criticized or attacked. The benefit is huge — loving and being loved not because you’ve papered over your differences, but because you’ve both respectfully and thoughtfully expressed them.

6 Steps for Resolving Conflict in Marriage

Go Back To All Resolving Conflict Articles

There is no way to avoid conflict in your marriage. The question is: How will you deal with it?

By Dennis Rainey

Few couples like to admit it, but conflict is common to all marriages. We have had our share of conflict and some of our disagreements have not been pretty. We could probably write a book on what not to do!

Start with two selfish people with different backgrounds and personalities. Now add some bad habits and interesting idiosyncrasies, throw in a bunch of expectations, and then turn up the heat a little with the daily trials of life. Guess what? You are bound to have conflict. It’s unavoidable.

Since every marriage has its tensions, it isn’t a question of avoiding them but of how you deal with them. Conflict can lead to a process that develops oneness or isolation. You and your spouse must choose how you will act when conflict occurs.

Step One: Resolving conflict requires knowing, accepting, and adjusting to your differences.

One reason we have conflict in marriage is that opposites attract. Usually a task-oriented individual marries someone who is more people-oriented. People who move through life at breakneck speed seem to end up with spouses who are slower-paced. It’s strange, but that’s part of the reason why you married who you did. Your spouse added a variety, spice, and difference to your life that it didn’t have before.

But after being married for a while (sometimes a short while), the attractions become repellents. You may argue over small irritations—such as how to properly squeeze a tube of toothpaste—or over major philosophical differences in handling finances or raising children. You may find that your backgrounds and your personalities are so different that you wonder how and why God placed you together in the first place.

It’s important to understand these differences, and then to accept and adjust to them. Just as Adam accepted God’s gift of Eve, you are called to accept His gift to you. God gave you a spouse who completes you in ways you haven’t even learned yet.

We were no exception. Perhaps the biggest adjustment we faced early in our marriage grew out of our differing backgrounds. I grew up in Ozark, Missouri, a tiny town in the southwestern corner of the “Show-Me” state. Barbara grew up in a country club setting near Chicago and later in Baytown, Texas. Barbara came into our marriage a refined young lady. I was a genuine hillbilly.

It was as though we came from two different countries with totally different traditions, heritages, habits, and values. The differences became apparent early in our marriage. Take furniture, for example. Barbara had an Ethan Allen dream book and she was always looking at it. It was full of things made of solid cherry, solid walnut, solid mahogany. It was nothing for chairs to cost $189.95—per leg.

I didn’t understand why she wanted to go buy this kind of stuff when, in southwest Missouri, you could go to K-Mart and get a formica table with chrome legs and six chairs! And for a lot less than $189.95. You can eat off that kind of table for years and it will never show any wear.

So, how did we compromise? We bought an antique and I was expected to refinish it—which created an opportunity for another major difference in our backgrounds to surface. Barbara’s father was an engineer. He is mechanically gifted, can fix anything, and actually enjoys it. I’m convinced he could fix a nuclear reactor.

My dad had a background in sales. Fixing things was not his idea of fun. If bailing wire or a little duct tape wouldn’t work, he usually called the plumber or whatever repairman was necessary.

And so there we were, just married, with an antique table that needed refinishing. I went at it reluctantly, but I got it done. In some ways it saved our marriage in the early going.

Step Two: Resolving conflict requires defeating selfishness.

All of our differences are magnified in marriage because they feed what is undoubtedly the biggest source of our conflict—our selfish, sinful nature.

Maintaining harmony in marriage has been difficult since Adam and Eve. Two people beginning their marriage together and trying to go their own selfish, separate ways can never hope to experience the oneness of marriage as God intended. The prophet Isaiah portrayed the problem accurately more than 2,500 years ago when he described basic human selfishness like this: “All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way” (Isaiah 53:6). We are all self-centered; we all instinctively look out for number one, and this leads directly to conflict.

Marriage offers a tremendous opportunity to do something about selfishness. We have seen the Bible’s plan work in our lives, and we’re still seeing it work daily. We have not changed each other; God has changed both of us. The answer for ending selfishness is found in Jesus and His teachings. He showed us that instead of wanting to be first, we must be willing to be last. Instead of wanting to be served, we must serve. Instead of trying to save our lives, we must lose them. We must love our neighbors (our spouses) as much as we love ourselves. In short, if we want to defeat selfishness, we must give up, give in, and give all. As Philippians 2:1-8 tells us:

Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

To experience oneness, you must give up your will for the will of another. But to do this, you must first give up your will to Christ, and then you will find it possible to give up your will for that of your spouse.

Step Three: Resolving conflict requires pursuing the other person.

Romans 12:18 says, “If it is possible, as much as it depends on you, live peaceably with all men.” The longer I live the more I realize how difficult those words are for many couples. Living peaceably means pursuing peace. It means taking the initiative to resolve a difficult conflict rather than waiting for the other person to take the first step.

To pursue the resolution of a conflict means setting aside your own hurt, anger, and bitterness. It means not losing heart. My challenge to you is to “keep your relationships current.” In other words, resolve that you will remain in solid fellowship daily with your spouse—as well as with your children, parents, coworkers, and friends. Don’t allow Satan to gain a victory by isolating you from someone you care about.

Step Four: Resolving conflict requires loving confrontation.

Wordsworth said, “He who has a good friend needs no mirror.” Blessed is the marriage where both spouses feel the other is a good friend who will listen, understand, and work through any problem or conflict. To do this well takes loving confrontation.

Confronting your spouse with grace and tactfulness requires wisdom, patience, and humility. Here are a few other tips we’ve found useful:

  • Check your motivation. Will your words help or hurt? Will bringing this up cause healing, wholeness, and oneness, or further isolation?
  • Check your attitude. Loving confrontation says, “I care about you. I respect you and I want you to respect me. I want to know how you feel.” Don’t hop on your bulldozer and run your spouse down. Approach your spouse lovingly.
  • Check the circumstances. This includes timing, location, and setting. Don’t confront your spouse, for example, when he is tired from a hard day’s work, or in the middle of settling a squabble between the children. Also, never criticize, make fun of, or argue with your spouse in public.
  • Check to see what other pressures may be present. Be sensitive to where your spouse is coming from. What’s the context of your spouse’s life right now?
  • Listen to your spouse. Seek to understand his or her view, and ask questions to clarify viewpoints.
  • Be sure you are ready to take it as well as dish it out. You may start to give your spouse some “friendly advice” and soon learn that what you are saying is not really his problem, but yours!
  • During the discussion, stick to one issue at a time. Don’t bring up several. Don’t save up a series of complaints and let your spouse have them all at once.
  • Focus on the problem, rather than the person. For example, you need a budget and your spouse is something of a spendthrift. Work through the plans for finances and make the lack of budget the enemy, not your spouse.
  • Focus on behavior rather than character. This is the “you” message versus the “I” message again. You can assassinate your spouse’s character and stab him right to the heart with “you” messages like, “You’re always late—you don’t care about me at all; you don’t care about anyone but yourself.” The “I” message would say, “I feel frustrated when you don’t let me know you’ll be late. I would appreciate if you would call so we can make other plans.”
  • Focus on the facts rather than judging motives. If your spouse forgets to make an important call, deal with the consequences of what you both have to do next rather than say, “You’re so careless; you just do things to irritate me.”
  • Above all, focus on understanding your spouse rather than on who is winning or losing. When your spouse confronts you, listen carefully to what is said and what isn’t said. For example, it may be that he is upset about something that happened at work and you’re getting nothing more than the brunt of that pressure.

Step Five: Resolving conflict requires forgiveness.

No matter how hard two people try to love and please each other, they will fail. With failure comes hurt. And the only ultimate relief for hurt is the soothing salve of forgiveness.

The key to maintaining an open, intimate, and happy marriage is to ask for and grant forgiveness quickly. And the ability to do that is tied to each individual’s relationship with God.

About the process of forgiveness, Jesus said, “For if you forgive men for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions” (Matthew 6:14–15). The instruction is clear: God insists that we are to be forgivers, and marriage—probably more than any other relationship—presents frequent opportunities to practice.

Forgiving means giving up resentment and the desire to punish. By an act of your will, you let the other person off the hook. And as a Christian you do not do this under duress, scratching and screaming in protest. Rather, you do it with a gentle spirit and love, as Paul urged: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32).

Step Six: Resolving conflict requires returning a blessing for an insult.

First Peter 3:8-9 says, “To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing.”

Every marriage operates on either the “Insult for Insult” or the “Blessing for Insult” relationship. Husbands and wives can become extremely proficient at trading insults—about the way he looks, the way she cooks, or the way he drives and the way she cleans house. Many couples don’t seem to know any other way to relate to each other.

What does it mean to return a blessing for an insult? Chapter three of 1 Peter goes on to say “For, ‘the one who desires life, to love and see good days, must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit. He must turn away from evil and do good; he must seek peace and pursue it’” (verses 10-11).

To give a blessing first means stepping aside or simply refusing to retaliate if your spouse gets angry. Changing your natural tendency to lash out, fight back, or tell your spouse off is just about as easy as changing the course of the Mississippi River. You can’t do it without God’s help, without yielding to the power of the Holy Spirit.

It also means doing good. Sometimes doing good simply takes a few words spoken gently and kindly, or perhaps a touch, a hug, or a pat on the shoulder. It might mean making a special effort to please your spouse by performing a special act of kindness.

Finally, being a blessing means seeking peace, actually pursuing it. When you eagerly seek to forgive, you are pursuing oneness, not isolation.

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Our hope

As difficult as it is to work through conflict in marriage, we can claim God’s promises as we do so. Not only does God bless our efforts based on His Word, but He also tells us He has an ultimate purpose for our trials. First Peter 1:6-7 tells us,

In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

God’s purpose in our conflicts is to test our faith, to produce endurance, to refine us, and to bring glory to Himself. This is the hope He gives us—that we can actually approach our conflicts as an opportunity to strengthen our faith and to glorify God.

It’s normal for a couple to quarrel from time to time—just part of what it means to be together. Conflicts and arguments won’t necessarily jeopardize a relationship. In fact, there are times when disagreements can actually bring a couple closer together. The key is in how you and your partner decide to handle the conflict.

Couples with poor conflict resolution skills typically engage in Fight, Flight, or Freeze behaviors. They fight and stay mad, sometimes holding grudges for years. They flee and avoid important issues by sweeping them under the rug. Or, after endless arguments with no resolution in sight, they freeze emotionally and shut down. Someone who freezes in a relationship typically goes through the motions on the outside but has stopped caring on the inside.

Successful couples have the ability to solve problems and let it go. They focus on taking care of the issue rather than attacking the person. Even when angry, they find ways to be upset and stay close at the same time. Once the matter is resolved, they forgive and forget. Most importantly, successful couples have the ability to learn and grow through their interpersonal difficulties. Like fine wine, their relationship improves with age and gets better over time.

I was sitting at a coffee shop once when I witnessed a brilliant example of an elderly couple’s conflict resolution. They were sitting next to me when the husband accidentally knocked a cup of water over the table and onto his wife. As he got up to get some napkins, his wife announced to everyone: “He’s been doing this to me for twenty-three years!” And as the husband gently cleaned off the spill on his wife, he turned to us and said: “She deserves it!” His wife laughed. He laughed. We all laughed.

“The group with whom I’ve always been most fascinated is the one I call ‘marital masters’—folks who are so good at handling conflict that they make marital squabbles look like fun. It’s not that these couples don’t get mad and disagree. It’s that when they disagree, they’re able to stay connected and engaged with each other. Rather than becoming defensive and hurtful, they pepper their disputes with flashes of affection, intense interest, and mutual respect.”

— John Gottman

“Let the little things go. People who struggle often fight over little things. We obsess over things that don’t really matter. We create resistance instead of letting things glide off us. Let the little things go, breathe, and move on to the important things.”

— Leo Babauta

“…and at the end, so much of it turns out not to matter.”

— from “Evening”

Many married couples are unable to resolve their conflicts because of one primary factor: they don’t understand the difference between complaining and criticizing. This is such a crucial distinction to understand when we are trying to work through problems.

All of us need the freedom to complain to our spouse. We also need to make sure our spouse knows they have the right to complain to us. In a healthy marriage, there is a freedom of expression that allows us to talk openly without fear of retribution or shame.

All of us need the freedom to complain to our spouse. We also need to make sure our spouse knows they have the right to complain to us.

When we complain, we must remember that it isn’t about our spouse, it is about us. Even though we may be complaining about something they have done that bothers us, the focus is on how we feel. In other words, if Karen has done something that bothers me and I confront her about it I would say something like, “Karen, you were short tempered with me this morning and it bothered me. I don’t know what was wrong, you could have been mad at me or it might have been something else, but I don’t like it when you respond to me that way. If I’ve done something to make you mad then I want you to tell me.”

Notice that I didn’t begin by accusing or attacking her. I began by talking about how I felt and my desire to understand what happened. I also said that if I had done something wrong, then I wanted to know it and take responsibility for it. Complaining gets everything out on the table without demeaning our spouse or putting them on the defensive.

Criticizing is different.
Criticizing focuses on the other person as it accuses them and immediately puts them on the defensive. If I were going to say the same thing I said before to Karen, but I did it in a critical manner here is what I would say: “Karen, you were short tempered with me this morning and I don’t appreciate it. There is something wrong with you and I want you to figure out what it is and stop it. I don’t deserve to be treated like that. I’ve done nothing wrong and you’re just a hot head. The next time you do that I’m going to let you have it.”

Notice the difference in complaining and criticizing? Complaining explains the problem, but gives our spouse a gracious way to respond and explain their side. Since it focuses on how I feel and doesn’t try to interpret their actions, it keeps the conversation civil and constructive.

Criticizing immediately puts you in a battle mode. The confronter becomes the judge and jury and the confronted spouse becomes the criminal trying to prove their innocence in a hostile environment. Bottom line — criticizing doesn’t work.

You must be careful to begin your confrontations with affirmation and respect for your spouse. Research has proven that a conversation will seldom rise above the tone of the first three minutes. Also, complain but don’t criticize. Get your emotions under control before you confront and keep your mouth in check. Focus on how you feel and allow your spouse the right to complain back to you and explain what is going on inside of them.

If you will do this, you will see a lot of fruit from it. Your confrontations will be much more pleasant and productive. You will also be able to talk more freely with each other without the risk of hurting each other. This creates intimacy and friendship. That is the end result of successful conflict resolution. It let’s you work through problems as you preserve and enhance the good will between you.

The Four Stages of Marital Conflict

Understand the four stages of marital conflict and save your marriage relationship.

According to authors Tim and Joy Downs in their book, The Seven Conflicts, couples who never learn how to effectively manage their conflicts begin a series of stages in their relationship that can ultimately destroy it.

What is marital conflict?

Marital conflict is not just a difference of opinion. Rather, it is a series of events that have been poorly handled so as to deeply damage the marriage relationship. Marriage issues have festered to the point that stubbornness, pride, anger, hurt and bitterness prevent effective marriage communication.

The root of almost all serious marital discord is selfishness on the part of one or both parties. Saving a marriage means rejecting selfishness, giving up pride, forgiving hurt and setting aside bitterness; these steps grow more difficult, so it’s best to avoid the downward spiral of marital conflict.

The best approach to making marriage work is to prevent marital conflict. Preparing for marriage is aided by pre-marital counseling. If this doesn’t take place, then marriage relationship counseling soon after the wedding can give couples basic marital conflict resolution strategies that can be used before marriage problems get out of hand.

Marriage is a relationship where trust is built over time as committed couples set aside their own interests for the good of their partner and develop skills for keeping the relationship positive and open.

What causes marital conflict?

As stated above, selfishness is the main cause of marriage conflicts. Another way of saying this is that marital issues occur when one party insists upon having his or her way. While everyone has personal preferences, demanding that one’s self interest prevails is a choice that always affects the marriage. Can any partnership succeed when one party gets his or her way all the time? Of course not.

If the marriage relationship is to succeed, then giving up self interest is something couples need to get used to. Eventually, sacrifice becomes a joy, not a chore.

But the answer is not to always give in and never have your way. The marriage relationship grows stronger as couples lovingly share and discuss their interests, always showing a willingness to sacrifice, but honestly working together to jointly own the best solution for the marriage.

How marital conflict affects marriage relationships

When husbands and wives are unable to navigate their disagreements, they fall into fairly predictable patterns of behavior, as suggested by the four stages of marital conflict. It’s important to recognize that all of these stages are dysfunctional. The stage of negotiating and compromising can appear to be positive, but it will fall apart without commitment and a mature understanding of the difficulties and distractions that must be overcome.

When marriage communication breaks down, feelings are hurt, emotions run high, and solutions seem out of reach. When marital conflict and children live in the same home, the damage is multiplied.

Four stages of marital conflict that increase marital discord:

1. Have It Your Way.

Couples who are newly married and haven’t learned how to successfully resolve their differences tend to try to settle things by avoiding confrontation. They give in to each other without ever discussing the heart of the problem. If you find yourself giving in whenever you have an argument with your husband, eventually you will find that you are tired of this pattern and will begin shifting your attitude toward the next stage.

2. Have It My Way.

After couples have exhausted themselves by ignoring their own needs, they often turn the opposite way and begin demanding that their needs are now met. A wife who has kept her opinions to herself may suddenly realize that this has contributed to her misery and may start voicing her thoughts and attitudes at every opportunity. But unfortunately, this stage doesn’t work either as husband and wife begin butting heads.

3. Have It Our Way.

The third phase involves compromising and negotiating with each other. At first, the couple may be enthusiastic at their newfound communication style, but eventually the eagerness fades. About this time in a marriage, couples are facing more time demands and stresses from their parenting responsibilities, financial concerns and hectic schedules. Between an ineffective conflict resolution style and the growing pressures of life, couples may start to doubt their compatibility during this stage.

4. Have It Any Way You Want.

This stage marks a sense of resignation. Couples in this stage are exhausted over the unending conflicts and might even feel hopeless that all the unresolved issues will ever be worked out. If you find yourself in this stage, you need expert marriage guidance.

Effective Marital Communication

Marriages don’t have to end up this way because of conflict. With effective communication and conflict resolution skills, couples can work through their problems, rather than avoiding or forcing the issues. If you recognize any of these negative stages in your own marriage, start learning better ways to communicate with your husband. If you’re unsure of where to start, check out a few books at the library, read articles online or talk with successful couples you know. If conflict continues to go unresolved, consider visiting a marriage therapist to help teach you effective strategies.

Some of this article is based on the book The Seven Conflicts by Tim and Joy Downs.

How Do You and Your Spouse Handle Conflict?

Disagreements are common for married couples, including very happy ones. But conflicts can be approached in a variety of ways, and how couples handle disagreements may well influence their long-term happiness.

That is what a study released this fall by the University of Michigan shows. Commenting on it, Kira Birditt, the study report’s lead author, said the likelihood of divorce declines for couples when both a husband and wife approach conflicts constructively. However, when both spouses handle disagreements in destructive ways, their likelihood of divorcing appears to increase.

But what are “constructive” and “destructive” approaches to marital conflicts? What I found fascinating was the study’s detailed description of these approaches, as well as a third approach that involves one or both spouses withdrawing from conflicts.

Birditt is an assistant research professor at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research. She and a team of researchers published a report this October titled “Marital Conflict Behaviors and Implications for Divorce Over 16 Years” in the Journal of Marriage and Family. This major study followed 373 couples for a period of 16 years; 46 percent had divorced by the 16th year, 2002.

It was certainly not this complex, scientific study’s intent to come up with a set of steps for getting couples onto the same, positive page when problems arise. But after reading the report, I couldn’t help feeling that husbands and wives would be well advised to make themselves as aware as possible of their usual manner of handling disagreements.

And I couldn’t imagine the marriage educator who, learning of the study, wouldn’t want to challenge couples to improve their communication skills and nurture the ability to disagree agreeably.

Couples Can Evaluate Their Fighting Style

Accompanying the University of Michigan’s news release on the study was a study questionnaire that asked couples to evaluate their “marital fight style” during a recent argument. Spouses responded to 21 statements, marking each one “not at all true,” “not very true,” “somewhat true” or “very true.” Here are just a few of the statements:

“My spouse yelled or shouted at me.” “I yelled or shouted at my spouse.” “My spouse tried hard to find out what I was feeling.” “I brought up things that happened long ago.” “My spouse had to have the last word.” “I tried to make my spouse laugh.”

The questionnaire illustrates rather well the patterns husbands and wives often follow during conflicts. It enables them at the same time to see whether they are on the same page in handling disagreements. Does one listen, though one does not? Does one shout, while the other withdraws?

Discussing the three approaches to conflict that are a key focus of their study, the researchers explain that:

1. Destructive approaches include yelling, insulting one’s spouse, bringing up things that happened long ago or demanding to have the last word. Belligerence, contempt and criticism often are said to characterize a destructive approach.

2. Constructive approaches include listening to the other’s point of view, attempting to find out what one’s spouse is feeling, attempting to say kind things or trying to make the other person laugh.

3. Withdrawal approaches involve disengaging from the conflict by becoming quiet and pulling away or leaving the discussion.

Birditt said marriages seem to be harmed when one spouse tends to deal with conflict constructively and the other withdraws. It is possible, she commented, that the spouse whose approach is constructive views the partner’s “habit of withdrawing as a lack of investment in the relationship rather than an attempt to cool down.”

Perhaps surprisingly, husbands in the study reported using more constructive behaviors and fewer destructive behaviors than wives. However, the study reported that wives who early on employed destructive strategies or withdrew when conflicts arose became less likely to do so over time, though husbands who employed such strategies continued doing so over the years.

The study speculates that problems that once led wives to withdraw from conflicts or to approach them in destructive ways may get resolved over time. Or, it says, “relationships and the quality of relationships may be more central to women’s lives than they are to men.” Possibly these wives also gained “more effective conflict skills” and became better at expressing negative feelings.

As a result, Birditt commented, “over the course of marriage, women may be more likely to recognize that withdrawing from conflict or using destructive strategies is neither effective nor beneficial to the overall well-being and stability of their marriages.”

Communication Can Improve Over Time

So, are couples fated for life to handle conflicts poorly if they handle them that way early on? Sadly, it seems many couples do not grow beyond negative habits they develop. Yet, when it comes to long-term marriages, the researchers say their study is consistent with what some others have found, namely that over time these marriages become “more enjoyable and tolerant, and have improved communication.”

It is noteworthy, Birditt suggested to me, that “couples appear to become better able to deal with conflict over time.” She said the point to take away from this study is that while problems are “a normal part of marriage,” it is “how we deal with those problems that is important for” a marriage’s longevity.

It is particularly important, she told me, “that both spouses use constructive strategies together” when conflicts arise.

About the author
David Gibson served for 37 years on the editorial staff at Catholic News Service, where he was the founding and long-time editor of Origins, CNS Documentary Service. David received a bachelor’s degree from St. John’s University in Minnesota and an M.A. in religious education from The Catholic University of America. Married for 38 years, he and his wife have three adult daughters and six grandchildren.

It’s not surprising that many married couples would love to stop arguing in their marriages. As the owner of Foundations Coaching in Cary, I help my clients communicate better in order to avoid arguments. To that end, I have found that there are a few strategic ways all couples can master so they can avoid conflict and prevent arguments.

4 effective ways to avoid unnecessary conflict in marriage are:

  1. Communicate Early: Is there a topic coming up soon that there needs to be agreement on? Maybe it is a relative coming into town or extra hours at work? Start talking about it ahead of time before the decision needs to be made. This takes the time stressor out of the equation and allows time to think calmly before making a decision.
  2. Identify Areas of Agreement: In the heat of the moment, it can be hard to find areas where you the two of you actually agree. But, before things get heated, get clear about what you’re trying to resolve and then brainstorm the possible solutions. More than likely, you will find at least one you both agree on.
  3. Manage Emotions: Many times, emotions spike and this leads to arguments. Take a time out from the conversation to identify your emotions and what triggered them. Knowing what gets you spun out can help both of you understand the situation better and lead to a more productive way of talking so you can finally reach a resolution you both can live with.
  4. Remove the ‘You’: A conversation can get heated quickly when a spouse feels backed into a corner. So, instead of making ‘you’ statements, try ‘I’ statements. For example, instead of ‘you made me mad’ try using ‘I get mad when this happen’, (not “when you do this”).

Are you ready to implement these simple tips in your marriage? If you found the tips above of value, you may get a lot more out of marriage coaching. I would love to be your marriage coach, give me a call at 919-924-0463 and let’s set up your free marriage consultation.

Lessons from a Couples Therapist: Conflict Avoidance Can Destroy Your Marriage

Conflict avoidance is one of the biggest topics that keep coming in couples counseling sessions. Holding off conflicts happens when one partner avoids conflicts in order to protect the relationship against another escalation. Sometimes withdrawing or distancing yourself in order to avoid conflicts makes so much sense.

However, this pattern erodes the relationship foundation because if you keep withdrawing from communication, your partner does not feel safe anymore. Moreover, if you keep avoiding conflicts to save the peace in your relationship, you inevitably start a war inside yourself.

How Does Conflict Avoidance Affect Your Marriage?

There is a problem in your marriage and your spouse wants to discuss it with you. His feelings are hurt and he wants to talk about that. However, your partner’s attempts to communicate his feelings over the situation are met with silence on your end. You simply withdraw, refusing to participate in the conversation, saying something like “Oh…whatever…”, “Just leave me alone”, and similar.

When this conflict avoidance becomes a repetitive pattern, it is inevitable for resentment and dissatisfaction to start building up in a relationship.

Stonewalling

A communication style where you simply withdraw from communication and stop responding is called stonewalling, according to Dr. John Gottman who’s has researched divorce prediction and marital stability for the last 40 years. This communication style is different from an occasional time out to calm down — stonewalling is total refusal to consider your partner’s perspective.

Dr. Gottman considers stonewalling to be one of the four most harmful behaviors to marriage (the other three include criticism, contempt, and defensiveness): according to his research, stonewalling is the second behavior that predicts divorce with over 90 percent accuracy.

This communication style usually occurs as a response to contempt (a moment in conflict when you, your partner, or both become truly mean and start treating each other with disrespect): you tune out, disconnect from communication and stop responding to your partner.

Stonewalling is a form of emotional suppression that usually happens as a result of feeling emotionally flooded in a situation of distress: the state in which you cannot discuss things or act rationally, so you simply decide to tune out.

We often feel overwhelmed in a situation where our partner wants to talk about feelings. Although you might think that stonewalling more often occurs in men, who are wired to withdraw and avoid talking about a problem, this avoidance tactic happens in women too.

Research shows that stonewalling can not only damage your marriage but also cause health problems with the heart and the autonomic nervous system. In addition, the level of stress one spouse feels when the other one uses stonewalling as avoidance tactic can trigger anxiety disorders and depression.

How to Reduce Stonewalling in a Relationship?

The best way to reduce stonewalling is learning to communicate without accusing and judging each other. You see, when you use contempt and start accusing your partner, it is most likely that he/she will start feeling defensive and decide to shut down and withdraw from communication. So learning to communicate without putting your spouse on the defensive is a huge step towards removing stonewalling from your relationship dynamics.

Conflicts Are Not as Bad as You May Think

Anyone who’s ever been in a relationship knows that conflicts are simply unavoidable. People often wrongly believe that if they are in love, arguments and conflicts should not exist in their relationship. Most of us were taught since childhood that conflicts are something bad that should, by all means, be avoided if we want to live happily. However, arguments can actually be good for a relationship.

Therefore, don’t try to avoid conflicts — they can actually benefit your relationship if you know how to restore after an argument.

Studies show that most of couples who learn communication skills fail to use them in real-life situations because those skills simply don’t last. Sooner or later, we return to old communication patterns, particularly when we are in the middle of an argument.

Conflicts allow you to explore your deepest emotions and to talk about them with your partner. If you constantly avoid reflecting on your feelings, you will inescapably become emotionally distant and detached.

Furthermore, conflicts can help you get to know each other’s personality better. Better understanding of one another will allow you to adapt to each other’s communication style and personality and cherish your differences.

Arguments can also boost your empathy, allowing you to understand your partner’s perspective, to “put yourself in their shoes” and experience their feelings. In addition, conflicts enhance honesty. They enable you to be vulnerable and tell your partner what you think or how you feel honestly and openly.

Summary

We all know that conflicts are unavoidable part of our relationships. We sometimes have a tendency to avoid conflicts and withdraw from communication, believing this is the best way to protect the relationship in those moments when we feel emotionally flooded. However, avoiding conflicts can destroy your marriage.

Stonewalling as a conflict avoidance tactic is a complete refusal to consider your partner’s perspective that usually leads to emotional disconnection and divorce. The best way to cut down stonewalling in a relationship is learning to show vulnerability and communicate your feelings openly and honestly. Conflicts are not necessarily bad. If you learn how to repair after an argument, conflicts can actually help improve your relationship and strengthen the bond with your partner.

Lessons from a Couples Therapist: Conflict Avoidance Can Destroy Your Marriage

It’s Unfair Not to Fight

Remember June and Ward Cleaver – that oh-so-happy couple that chuckled through life’s lessons with nary a care? The couple that never seemed to have any conflict? Never seemed to fight? Gee, Beav, weren’t they happy?

June and Ward were my parents. They never seemed to disagree, to argue or to have any conflict whatsoever. I remember hearing my parents have a serious disagreement only one or two times during my formative years. If you grew up in a family where fighting was the norm and days of peace were something only the neighbors experienced, you may be jealous.

There are two sides to this coin, however. I came out of adolescence and into adulthood fearing conflict. I detested conflict. I didn’t have a clue how to handle it. Conflict brought up emotions I didn’t know how to handle. I had no backbone in my personal relationships – all because I didn’t want any conflict. I ran scared.

Fast forward to marriage. God placed a wonderful woman in my life who was much less noticeably afflicted with conflict-aphobia. True to past form, I spent the first years of our marriage trying to avoid conflict and fighting. I hated the emotions dredged up by conflict, and I didn’t know what to do when my wife brought up issues that were difficult for me to deal with. I wasted huge amounts of time avoiding conflict, hiding from it and trying to sweep it under the rug without dealing with it. I was doing all this while thinking it was best for me, best for my wife and best for our marriage.

However, instead of having less and less conflict (my inherent goal in avoiding it), my wife and I started having more frequent, more intense and more completely unsolvable conflicts. The very conflict I was running away from kept coming right back at me. I was running down a mountain away from an avalanche that wasn’t slowing down.

I didn’t allow my wife to have any negative emotions – or at least not to let me know about them. Through my words and actions, she understood I couldn’t be bothered – or wouldn’t be bothered – with conflict.

I was communicating to her, “If you have a problem with something in our relationship, don’t tell me about it. It’s your issue. You figure it out, and then tell me about it with a big fake smile on your face. Don’t tell me about your pain. I don’t want to know that you’re feeling pushed out of my life because of my utter lack of willingness to deal with reality.”

Our marriage arrived at a tipping point. Something had to give. The “my way or the highway” approach wasn’t working. My wife couldn’t go on with not being able to express herself to me. I couldn’t go on hiding and avoiding the conflict gurgling right under the surface. I was destroying my marriage in my short-sighted efforts to make it my version of “better.”

There Is Still Hope for Your Marriage

You may feel that there is no hope for your marriage and the hurt is too deep to restore the relationship and love that you once had. The truth is, your life and marriage can be better and stronger than it was before. In fact, thousands of marriages, situations as complex and painful as yours, have been transformed with the help of professionals who understand where you are right now and care deeply about you and your spouse’s future. You can restore and rebuild your marriage through a personalized, faith-based, intimate program called, Hope Restored.

It was at this point of hurt that a series of events and connections with godly people led me to a life-changing revelation. I realized it was unfair not to fight. How selfish and arrogant of me to think that marriage had to be my way or the highway – especially when my way wasn’t God’s way.

For too many years I had been cheating my wife out of the chance to be heard. I was squashing vitality and life out of her and our marriage without even knowing it.

So I began to change. I began to accept that conflict done right is a wonderful thing. It’s a crucible through which we take our relationship to a deeper level. We learn something about each other that lets us love deeper. When we accept our own shortcomings and the faults of our spouse and we work through them honestly, we get an incredible opportunity to extend God’s grace to another person.

I soon realized I had also been cheating myself out of a huge part of marriage. I had not allowed myself to experience the emotions I was so scared of. When I paused and felt – really felt – the emotions that previously terrified me, I grew in ways I didn’t imagine possible. Taking off my emotional sunglasses led me to see the world, my wife and my marriage in a full spectrum of new clarity. Life wasn’t so one-sided anymore.

Maybe you find yourself in a marriage where your spouse “can’t do” conflict. Or maybe it’s you that can’t do conflict. It’s not fair to continue on this path.

Remember a few key principles to guide you through the process of fighting fair:

  • Emotions are nothing to avoid or be afraid of. Emotions just are. God gave them to us. Let’s celebrate them in all their messiness, complexity, joy and pain.
  • Emotions are signposts that help you navigate the journey of marriage. Embrace the emotional expressions of your spouse and look for the message behind the words. What does your spouse’s anger mean about their current experience and satisfaction in marriage? Learn from these emotions.
  • You make a better marriage when you work through conflict and honestly confront emotions. It may not sound macho, but my ability to cry with my wife and to better understand her pain led to increased intimacy in other areas of our relationship.

I’m not trying to be Ward Cleaver in marriage anymore. My wife and I no longer avoid conflict in our marriage. We see conflict as a chance to find the deep and rich rewards that come from living examined lives. We’ve learned to fight for our marriage – which is only fair.

Couples are 31% less likely to get divorced if they get some sort of premarital training. Your gift helps families thrive.