5. Beware of ice. A University of Wisconsin study that followed 97 newlywed couples into their third year of marriage found that spouses who give their mates the cold shoulder cause as much marital distress as those who dish out scathing sarcasm and caustic criticism. Icy behavior included pouting, stomping out of the room, showing a lack of interest in a partner’s emotional revelations, and more subtle brush-offs such as changing the subject, joking, or even buttering up a spouse to avoid discussing a sticky subject.
6. Learn from successful wives and husbands. Dr. Gottman says wives can improve the odds for a fruitful problem-solving session by starting conversations without confrontation. Try a “soft start-up” by talking about how you feel and asking for your mate’s input, instead of criticizing, blaming, or turning anger up to top volume. In contrast, husbands contributed to better conflict resolution when they accepted their wife’s influence. That means taking her opinions, ideas, and plans into consideration and developing a joint solution instead of a unilateral plan.
7. Seize the small opportunities. Practice problem-solving skills when tiny issues arise. “Moments with little bits of tension are perfect opportunities to work on your skills and experience success,” Dr. Heitler says. “Talk about each of your concerns; look for solutions. The more you do this, the more the whole tone of your relationship changes. Problems become a chance to come closer together and show each other how much we care, instead of danger zones full of irritation and hurt feelings.”
8. Be patient with yourself — and your mate. Learning problem-solving skills takes time. It’s a big job. You’re attempting to rewrite lessons about conflict resolution that you learned in childhood, and to practice new ways of communicating in highly emotional situations. Give yourself and your spouse credit for even the smallest steps forward — each improvement will propel you toward the next.