5 Tips For A Marriage Makeover
Updated: Mar 16
Resolving relationship conflicts doesn’t have to require a Ph.D in neuroscience.
Here are five steps that will help ensure a successful outcome during conflict resolution. Best of all, most of us already have these five skills, we just get out of the habit of using them.
1. Soften your startup. Bringing up issues in your marriage isn’t a bad thing, but there’s a dramatic difference in the outcome of a disagreement based on how an issue is brought up. Discussions tend to end on the same note they began. If you start an argument harshly – meaning you attack your spouse verbally – you’ll end with as much (or more) tension than when you started with.
Make statements that start with “I” not “you.” Describe how you feel not what the other person is doing. Be clear and polite. You can complain but steer clear of criticizing. Here's the difference between the two:
A complaint is geared toward solving a specific problem. Criticism is global, and adds negative words about your spouse’s character. Here’s an example:
Complaint: “I’m really angry you didn’t take out the trash. I thought we talked about this and agreed it would be your chore.”
Criticism: “I swear, you forget everything. I can’t believe you didn’t take out the trash. You’re so irresponsible.”
2. Learn to make and receive repair attempts. A repair attempt is an attempt to fix something. In unhappy marriages, even the most carefully crafted repair attempt can fall on deaf ears. Why? Because negativity causes defensiveness and people have a great deal of difficulty 'tuning in' to what's really being said when they're being defensive. The best strategy is to make your attempts obvious and formal, this emphasizes their importance. Here's several examples of repair attempts:
“That really hurt my feelings.” “I don’t feel like you understand me right now.” “I need your support.” “Can I take that back?” “So, what you’re saying is…” “Can we start over again?” “You’re right, I see your point.” “I think my part of this problem is…” “I’m sorry, please forgive me.”
3. Actively manage your emotions. If you feel like your emotions are getting the best of you the first step is to stop the discussion.
If you keep going, you’ll become overwhelmed and say something stupid. Let your spouse know that you need to take a break but that the conversation is important and you will let them know when you're able to continue. Usually breaks last between 20-minutes and 2 hours. During your break spend time calming down by doing something relaxing or unrelated. Avoid thoughts of how righteous or innocent you are.
4. Compromise. Like it or not, finding a compromise is the only way to move forward in the relationship. Talk out your differences in a calm and systematic way, not in a helter-skelter, here-there-and-everywhere kind of way.
Accepting a compromise is built upon the willingness to accept your spouse’s influence. In other words, for a compromise to be successful you can’t have a closed mind to your spouse’s opinions and ideas. Once you’re able to listen you'll be well on your way to finding a solution you can both live with.
5. Be tolerant of each other’s faults. This boils down to having good manners.
It means treating your spouse with the same respect you’d offer to friends. Sometimes marriages get bogged down in “if only” or, “but you.”
If only your spouse were taller, smarter, more emotionally intelligent, or a better communicator all your problems would be solved.
As long as this attitude prevails conflicts will be very difficult to solve. However, once you get past the barriers that have prevented clear communication, difficulties are much easier to solve.
As with any new habit or change, it will take practice and feel awkward at first. Push through the uncomfortable feelings so that you can realize the benefits in your relationships. These tools not only work in marriage relationships, but in any other area of life that include people.
Best of luck!
Gottman, J. M., & Silver, N. (2015). The seven principles for making marriage work (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Harmony Books.