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It is vital for you both to express what is on your minds and hearts freely. Either withholding your input or dominating the conversation will both negatively affect the outcome. If one of you tends to be more dominant in speaking, you will need to use self-discipline to give the other an opportunity to speak. The less dominant of you may also need to practice assertiveness. Free expression happens when you are both willing to listen patiently to one another and not interrupt. It is vital to ensure the purity of your motives and intentions in any discussion. If either of you has a hidden agenda—an unspoken intention or goal—or you want to manipulate one another, the couple consultation is on a weak foundation from the very start.

Be very aware if you have developed the habit of manipulation, particularly toward those of the opposite gender. Consultation is not a method to get your own way. You will be wise to help one another in changing this pattern, or it will have a consistent negative effect on your relationship. Since its purpose is to find a solution, consultation should not be used just to gain sympathy or to dump on someone.

These activities merely rehash the problem, making it worse. Rather than letting the anger out, this sort of dwelling on the unpleasant things of life causes delay, magnifies the hurt, and interferes with long-term healing. Developing Genius , p. While it is normal and healthy for people to have different perspectives, and couples need to learn how to reconcile them, serious and regular conflict is an indicator of a marriage in trouble. How is it done? What does it take to create a long-lasting, satisfying marriage? A volume of research indicates that most successful marriages share some key characteristics.

This guide will explore these in detail. It will also focus on marital conflict and the skills needed to handle it effectively. Finally, the guide will discuss ways that spouses can strengthen their marriages. Consider the positive aspects of your marriage. What are you doing that works well and brings you and your spouse joy and happiness?

If you have a satisfying marriage, chances are that your relationship has high levels of positivity, empathy, commitment, acceptance, love and respect. These are some of the characteristics that researchers have found to be common in successful marriages. Let's look at each of these factors. John Gottman, one of the nation's leading experts on marital relationships, has found that the main difference between stable and unstable marriages is the amount of positive thoughts and actions spouses engage in toward each other.

Through careful observation of hundreds of couples, he has come to the conclusion that successful spouses have far more positive than negative interactions.


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If there is too much negativity — criticizing, demanding, name-calling, holding grudges, etc. However, if there is never any negativity, it probably means that frustrations and grievances are not getting air time and unresolved tension is accumulating inside one or both partners. The key is balance between the two extremes. There are many ways to foster positivity in a marriage. Being affectionate, truly listening to each other, taking joy in each other's achievements and being playful are just a few examples of positive interactions that help make marriages successful.

Another characteristic of happy marriages is empathy. Empathy means understanding a person's perspective by putting oneself in his or her shoes. Many researchers have shown that empathy is important for relationship satisfaction. People are more likely to feel good about their marriage and spouse if their partner expresses empathy towards them. Husbands and wives are more content in their relationships when they perceive that their spouses truly understand their thoughts and feelings.

Successful marriages involve both spouses' commitment to the relationship. When two people are truly dedicated to making their marriage work, despite the unavoidable challenges and obstacles that come, they are much more likely to have a relationship that lasts. In most Western cultures, individualism is highly valued. Individualism focuses on the needs and fulfillment of the self.

Being attentive to one's own needs is important, but if it is not balanced by a concern for the needs of others, it can easily lead to selfishness in marriage. Husbands and wives who only focus on themselves and their own desires are not as likely to find joy and satisfaction in their relationships. However, when spouses are committed to investing in their marriage and are willing to sacrifice some of their own preferences for the good of the relationship, they usually have high-quality marriages.

One of the most basic needs in a relationship is acceptance. Everyone wants to feel valued and respected. When people feel that their spouses truly accept them for who they are, they are usually more secure and confident in their relationships. Often, there is conflict in marriage because partners cannot accept the individual preferences of their spouses and try to demand change from one another. When one person tries to force change from another, he or she is usually met with resistance. However, research has shown that change is much more likely to occur when spouses respect differences and accept each other unconditionally.

Basic acceptance is vital to a happy marriage. Perhaps the most important components of successful marriages are love and respect for each other. This may seem very obvious — why would two people get married who did not love and respect each other? The fact is, as time passes and life becomes increasingly complicated, the marriage often suffers as a result. It is all too easy for spouses to lose touch with each other and neglect the love and romance that once came so easily. It is vital that husbands and wives continue to cultivate love and respect for each other throughout their lives.

If they do, it is highly likely that their relationships will remain happy and satisfying.

Have you ever experienced a disagreement, difference of opinion, or misunderstanding with your spouse? If you answer truthfully, the answer will almost certainly be, "Yes, of course. All marital relationships — even the best ones — will experience at least some conflict from time to time.

However, many people are successful and happy in their marriages, despite the conflicts that arise.


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The key to their success is how they handle their conflicts and disagreements. This section will explore many issues related to conflict, such as common areas of contention in marriage, gender differences in communication styles, and the importance of proper management of conflict. It will also discuss skills for handling conflict and how to solve problems in marriage. Although all relationships are different, spouses frequently experience several common areas of conflict. Here are brief descriptions of some typical issues that spark conflict in marriage.

Money Regardless of the amount of money a couple has, it is often the biggest source of marital conflict. Husbands and wives often have very diverse ideas about how money should be handled because they have experienced different family values and goals regarding money. Potential disagreements about money include how to spend it, how much to save and who should be responsible for paying the bills.

It is important for spouses to discuss their values and feelings about money so each partner can try to understand the other. Constructing a budget and financial planning often require negotiation and compromise, but they are important tasks and aid spouses in identifying their priorities and goals for the future.

In-laws Conflicts over in-laws are usually most problematic in the first years of marriage. A common issue that arises is one partner feeling that his or her in-laws are too critical or intrusive. Husbands and wives may disagree about the length and frequency of their parents' visits. Some people may also feel that their spouse is too dependent upon his or her parents. All of these in-law issues can trigger conflict within the family.

Spouses can deal with in-law problems by sharing their feelings and discussing what kind of relationship they would like with their in-laws. It is important to avoid being accusatory and speaking critically of one's in-laws, especially during such talks. Expressing negativity towards in-laws tends to worsen the situation because it alienates spouses from each other and promotes defensiveness. Sex Sex is an emotion-filled issue and many spouses are afraid of getting hurt or rejected by their partners in this area.

Thus, people frequently avoid discussing their feelings and expectations about sex. Even when partners do talk about sexuality issues, they are often embarrassed and speak indirectly about their feelings. These patterns can lead to conflict in the marital relationship. Difficulties with sex often reflect problems in other areas of the marriage as well. In order for couples to resolve conflicts about sexual matters, it is crucial that they communicate directly and specifically about their needs and desires. Many people feel very vulnerable in this area, so it is important that the discussion be done in a gentle, loving manner.

Children Child rearing is a time-consuming task that requires huge amounts of energy. It's easy for spouses to become frustrated with each other over this issue. Husbands and wives often have conflicting views about how to parent because they were raised differently. Agreement about the best way to raise children may not always be possible, so it is necessary that spouses learn to compromise and negotiate in this area.

Whatever decisions and rules parents make, it is important that they be united in front of their children. Otherwise, the children will learn to play one parent off the other, further contributing to marital disharmony. Gender differences in conflict Due to a combination of social and biological factors, men and women have different styles of interacting and handling conflict. Women raise concerns and problems far more often than men do.

Men are more likely to avoid conflict and downplay the strong emotions that they feel inside. When men close down and suppress their feelings, women often become more insistent that they discuss the issues that have been raised.

Changing Me, Changing My Marriage

At this point, however, men only want to withdraw further. These different ways of interacting can lead to frustration and misunderstandings. In order to overcome frustration with communication styles, it is essential that both husbands and wives improve their methods of dealing with conflict. Wives need to make sure that they bring up issues gently and in a positive, non-confrontational manner. A soft, gentle approach in introducing a topic for discussion usually has a greater chance of leading to a satisfactory solution for both partners.

Husbands need to respond to their wives' concerns and complaints in a respectful manner. They can learn to recognize when their wives need to talk and take a more active role in resolving issues instead of withdrawing.

Arguing Is Good, Too

It is each partner's responsibility to respect and honor his or her spouse and make an effort to communicate as effectively as possible. Although some conflict is unavoidable, it is critical that spouses manage their differences in constructive ways. There are several reasons for this. First, if husbands and wives do not handle conflict effectively, it is likely that negativity will increasingly become part of their relationship. As unresolved conflict and negativity grow in a marriage, the good aspects of the relationship often diminish and partners become disenchanted with each other.

Second, research has shown that, when spouses are unhappy in their marriages, they tend to experience more physical and emotional problems than do happily married couples. People who are satisfied with their marriage even tend to live longer than those in unhappy marriages. This finding leads to a third reason why it is important for spouses to manage their conflict well. A strong and satisfying marriage establishes a firm foundation from which spouses can function. When the quality of marriage is positive and supportive, partners can better attend to their personal responsibilities and obligations.

A strong marriage also provides people with a greater opportunity to develop their personalities and talents than does an unhappy union. Although marriage requires a considerable amount of time and effort, it is crucial that partners care for their own needs and development as well.

They can best do this when the relationship is warm and encouraging and they know how to handle marital conflict effectively. Finally, it is essential that spouses practice good conflict management skills for the sake of their children. Conflict and hostility are extremely harmful to children's well-being. Many studies have shown that marital conflict leads to poor outcomes in children, such as decreased self-esteem, greater stress and anxiety, low achievement at school and behavioral problems.

Conversely, spouses who support each other and have peaceful marriages are more likely to have well-adjusted, competent children. However, an unhappy marriage should not be preserved solely for the children's sake. Children in two-parent families marked by a lot of conflict often fare worse than those in families that have undergone a peaceful divorce.

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Whatever the situation, it is important that spouses learn to manage their disagreements effectively and control the amount of conflict in their relationship. This will help foster the well-being of themselves and their children. Because managing conflict is so important, it is essential that you practice certain skills that will enable you to handle conflict well.

The following sections highlight some of the skills needed for dealing with differences and disagreements effectively. Open communication Good communication can be difficult at times — especially during conflict. People often hear a different message than what the speaker intended. There are several possible reasons for this.


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First, spouses are often preoccupied with their own concerns or are preparing a rebuttal and do not really listen to what their partners are saying. Second, spouses may perceive their partners' messages negatively if they are tired or in a bad mood. Finally, different styles of communicating can also result in misunderstandings. Partners can learn to communicate better by developing more effective ways of speaking and listening.

It is important to take turns in a conversation so each can have the opportunity to express his or her thoughts and ideas. The person talking should focus on his own feelings and not attempt to read his partner's mind. He should also be positive and avoid making accusations or criticizing his spouse. The person listening needs to be aware of her body language.

Eye rolling, negative facial expressions and crossing one's arms may signal disapproval to the person who is speaking. Even if the listener does not agree with what her partner is saying, she needs to make an attempt to understand his viewpoint and be respectful. Showing genuine interest in someone's feelings and refraining from giving unsolicited advice go a long way in creating an atmosphere that is conducive to positive communication.

Controlling negative thoughts The way a person treats others usually reflects the kinds of thoughts he or she has about them. This pattern holds true for spouses, especially during times of conflict. When partners focus on each other's shortcomings and weaknesses, they often fall prey to having negative thoughts about each other. This negative thinking makes it more likely that they will treat each other unkindly.

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Suppose a wife comes home from work at the end of a long, hard day in a bad mood. Her husband is in the kitchen making dinner and calls out, "How was your day? How might the husband react? If he is in the habit of thinking positively about his wife and giving her the benefit of the doubt, he may think, "She must have had a really hard day.

However, if the husband takes offense at his wife's complaint and thinks, "Here I am, cooking dinner, and all she can do is criticize me," he will be more likely to respond negatively to his wife's complaint and further escalate the conflict. Research supports these ideas about the power of one's thoughts. Marriage researchers have determined that stable marriages have more positive than negative interactions, while the opposite is true for unstable unions.

Because negative interactions are often fueled by one's thoughts, negative thinking can have a significant impact upon a relationship. Therefore, because the substance of a person's thoughts is often a powerful determinant of his actions, it is very important for spouses to control the way they think about each other.

Husbands and wives can do this during times of conflict by focusing on the troublesome issue instead of their partner's flaws. By keeping their feelings about the issue and their spouse separate, it is more likely that they will manage conflict better and have a healthier relationship.

Forgiveness Because there will be hurt feelings and conflict from time to time in every marriage, it is very important that spouses forgive each other when arguments and disagreements occur. Forgiveness enables partners to stay emotionally connected and keep their marriage positive. If people want their relationships to grow and become stronger, they must be willing to forgive their spouses whenever necessary.

When spouses do not forgive each other, remain bitter and hold grudges, they often experience physical and emotional problems. Thus, forgiveness is important to the individual health of each partner as well as to the health of the relationship! Problem solving All couples will encounter problems in their marriage that will require problem solving skills. At these times, it is very important that the spouses work together as a team, instead of insisting on their point of view and working against each other.

It is crucial to understand problems before attempting to solve them. Problem solving is a much smoother process when spouses have discussed the issue thoroughly and each partner feels understood. Surprisingly, research has shown that after a good discussion about a troublesome issue, most people are so satisfied that there is no need to come up with a solution to the problem.

Usually, people just want the opportunity to express themselves and feel as if they have really been understood. Of course, many problems still need to be resolved, even after open, productive discussion. Markman, Stanley and Blumberg, a team of prominent marriage researchers, have identified an effective process for solving problems. Not every issue that arises will require such an extensive problem solving process, but these steps can help couples solve their problems in a calm, controlled manner.

It is common for husbands and wives to overlook their own weaknesses and focus instead on the faults of their spouse. In some marriages, one person feels that his or her partner is the cause of their marital problems and the only one who really needs to change in order for the relationship to improve. This may occasionally be true. However, in the vast majority of marriages, both partners make a contribution to the conflict and problems that arise. It is crucial that spouses realize that the only person's behavior they can control is their own. In marriage, it is typical for partners to become annoyed or irritated with what they perceive to be their spouses' personal shortcomings, unusual habits and weaknesses.

For example, a wife may feel upset because her husband arrives home from work late on a regular basis. Or, the husband may resent how his wife cuts him off in the middle of conversations. Frustration over shortcomings such as these often builds over time, motivating people to insist that their partners change.

However, people usually end up discovering that their demands are not granted and their efforts to change their partners have failed. Instead of trying to compel each other to change, it is more effective for partners to honestly assess themselves and think about what they can do to make the relationship better.

Considering the contributions they make to disagreements and trying to overcome their own weaknesses will accomplish far more than dwelling on their spouse's faults. Note When husbands and wives stop trying to change each other and instead shift their attention to improving their own behavior, they will likely be more content, even if their partner continues to do the things that they do not like.

When spouses choose to make changes in themselves first, regardless of what their partner does, they are often surprised to find that the overall quality of their relationship improves dramatically. In an ideal situation, of course, both spouses continually strive to improve themselves and overcome their weaknesses. However, one spouse is often more committed to self-improvement than the other, at least for a while.