14 Ways to Resolve Conflicts and Solve Relationship Problems

Work through inevitable problems calmly with your partner.

By Sarì Harrar and Rita DeMaria | Ph.D. from The 7 Stages of Marriage

Step 3: Craft a Win-Win Strategy
Look for steps you can take to resolve the issue for both of you. This is crucial: Don’t tell your partner what he or she can do, but instead say what you can do. The best solutions usually aren’t your first ideas at all but may occur to you after looking at your concerns and figuring out what matters most to each of you.

You: “Maybe I could stay at home on Friday night and Saturday morning and get the tax stuff organized. Then I’d join you for the rest of the weekend without any worries hanging over me.”

Your spouse: “I would be willing to tell my parents you have to catch up with the taxes and can’t come for the whole weekend. I’m also willing to postpone our night out with the neighbors during the week and help you get the tax information together.”

10 More Tips to Help Avoid a Fight

Decide if you’ve got a problem or just a difference. If an issue isn’t threatening your health, safety, or financial security, doesn’t work against your shared vision for your marriage, and doesn’t put an unfair burden on you, then it may simply be a sign that the two of you are two different people. Perhaps you’re an extrovert and love parties, while your partner’s introvert personality makes him or her crave quiet nights at home. Perhaps you’re great at starting projects, while your partner’s terrific at sticking with it until every last detail is finished. Or maybe one of you is a morning person, the other a night owl. In that case, the solution is acceptance, not trying to change your partner. Look for the ways that your differences are marriage-strengthening assets.

1. Pick the right time. Problem solving is least likely to work when you’re tired, hungry, overloaded, stressed, distracted, or trying to do something else at the same time, such as making dinner, catching up on work from the office, or relaxing in front of the TV. Save big talks for a better time.

2. Practice loving acceptance. Learning the art of accepting and valuing your partner for who he or she is — instead of grousing about shortcomings — may actually help the two of you find better solutions to problems, experts say. This loving accommodation melts defenses and motivates us to want to please each other.

3. Banish the deal-breakers. University of Washington relationship expert John Gottman, Ph.D., advises couples to do all they can to avoid these lethal habits: personal criticism, sneering contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling.

4. Give your mate the benefit of the doubt. The next time you’re feeling disappointed, hurt, or angry with your spouse, pause before jumping to conclusions. Maybe your spouse is tired, hungry, or preoccupied — or doesn’t see the impact of his or her actions. Search for a benevolent explanation that will allow you to treat your mate with love and respect.

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