Before you begin, ask yourself why you feel upset – Are you truly angry because the ketchup was left on the counter? Or are you upset because you feel like you’re doing an uneven share of the housework and this is just one more piece of evidence? Take time to think about your own feelings before starting an argument.
Discuss one issue at a time – “You shouldn’t be spending so much money without talking to me” can quickly turn into “You don’t care about our family.” Now you need to resolve two problems instead of one. Plus, when an argument starts to get off topic, it can easily become about everything a person has ever done wrong. We’ve all done a lot wrong, so this can be especially cumbersome.
Use “I” statements – When sharing a concern, begin your sentence with an “I” statement. This technique will help you share your true feelings about the situation instead of spewing blame which will often cause defensiveness.
“I feel ____________ when you ____________ because ____________.”
Use reflective listening – Oftentimes we focus on getting our own point across rather than listening. When reflecting, you will repeat back what someone has said to you, but in your own words. This shows that you didn’t just hear the other person, but you are trying to understand them. For example, you can say, “I think this is what you’re telling me, but correct me if I’m wrong.”
“I hear you saying that…”
“It sounds like you feel…”
“You’re telling me that…”
Focus on the problem, not the person – When a disagreement turns to personal insults, raised voices, or mocking tones, the conversation is no longer productive. Be careful to focus on the problem without placing blame on the other person. No put-downs, swearing, or name-calling. Degrading language is an attempt to make your partner feel bad.
Know when to take a time-out – When the conversation is becoming argumentative, insulting, aggressive, or is a repetitive pattern, it’s a clue for a time-out. The person who called for the time-out is the person who will call for a time-in when he or she feels calm and relaxed enough to continue the conversation. Spend some time doing something alone that you find relaxing. Focus on how you can make this a more productive conversation.
Work toward a resolution – Disagreement is a normal part of a relationship. If it becomes clear that you and your partner will not agree, focus on a resolution instead. Attempt to find a compromise that benefits both individuals. Ask yourself if this disagreement really matters to your relationship and let yourself move on, if not.
Dawn Schroeder is a professional counselor who enjoys helping people of all ages overcome life’s struggles. She also has a special place in her heart for working with children and teenagers. To learn more about Dawn, or to set up an appointment click here.
Our oldest granddaughter is getting married this summer which gave me cause to consider giving advice to her and other newlyweds from my years of providing marriage counseling. The decision to marry is one of the most important ones that you will ever make. Be prepared for the journey of a lifetime which can be incredibly rewarding, neutral, or devastating. Hopefully you entered into this event with the firm decision committed to the age old vows, “…to have and to hold, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health until death do us part.” As with all good intentions, there is also a need for preparation, coaching and action. No couple is fully prepared for marriage, but there are things that you can do to insure a positive couple relationship and to provide a strong example for your children.
GET MARRIED–You have already committed to the first step. Research shows that the very act of sharing your marriage vows is predictive of success as a couple. 1 Couples who live together without that commitment are much more likely to separate.
BE COMMITTED—the commitment to your marriage needs to be more than a commitment to stay in the marriage, it must be a commitment to support one another and grow in the relationship. Gary Thomas, author of Sacred Marriage, suggests that growth when he asks the question “What if God designed Marriage to make us holy, not to make us happy”. 2 It’s easy to be committed when things are going well but in times of difficulty cling to one another and see them as times of growth. Those incidents and disagreements always point to areas where you and your marriage can grow.
BE PREPARED—Good pre-marriage coaching is an important aspect of marriage preparation. It is an opportunity to “read the manual before exploring the repair.” This should be more than simply wedding planning and is a wonderful preventive measure. This is an opportunity provided by many good counselors and should include written pre-marriage assessment such as Prepare/Enrich* or the more recent offering from Les and Leslie Parrott, SYMBIS. Research also shows that marital satisfaction and success are correlated with pre-marriage coaching. 3
TAKE TIME-OUTS—every couple develops a script, a pattern that they follow during disagreements. When tempers rise and you feel hurt these patterns are predictable. Once started, it has a life of its own regardless of the issue or issues that triggered it. Agree in advance that when either of you recognize you are in that script, that you will call time out. As with any time out, take time to sort out what is happening, figure out what your partner may need at that time and what is going on in your thoughts and emotions. Praying for direction can be helpful, “it is like going to the coach”. THEN call time in to talk about what you have discovered and LISTEN to your partner before talking.
COMMUNCATE, COMMUNICATE, COMMUICATE—don’t ignore issues but learn to problem solve them. Start by renewing your commitment to growth in your marriage and to your partner. Then, LISTEN closely being sensitive to the needs, emotions and thoughts being expressed. The areas of finances and sexual expression are often particularly sensitive. The temptation is to avoid difficult subjects, but that only results in the buildup of frustration or distancing which is harmful to the relationship. On the other hand, working through issues builds intimacy.
COOPERATE, DON’T COMPETE— Competition in sports requires a winner and a loser. Two become one in marriage” and you can’t win a fight against yourself. Men and women are very different in many ways including the ways they think and communicate (our brains are actually quite different). In addition, we all have real personality differences. These provide for the opportunity to succeed, or can become barriers in the relationship. Strive to understand these differences and celebrate the contribution each of you can make as you grow together. After all, that is what attracted you to your spouse in the first place.
DATE YOUR PARTNER—during the courtship the relationship is usually based on sharing and having fun together. The responsibilities that take over and pressures of married life often result in couples forgetting romance in their relationship. This is especially true with the responsibility of raising children and all the pressures put on parents. It is easy to grow apart, so set regular date times (I suggest weekly and a regular get away together at least twice a year).
DEVELOP POSITIVE RITUALS—Take time to do the little things that tell your spouse you love them. Regular kisses and hugs, little notes, asking how their day went, taking time for meals together, pray together. Little things are the things that cement a relationship together and are often the things that will be cherished memories for your children. My wife and I like to take time to read a novel to each other, a few pages on a regular basis. And don’t forget a good long hug when leaving one another!
MAKE FAITH THE CENTER OF YOUR RELATIONSHIP—Values are supported and relationships encouraged in a good faith community. There are few institutions left in our culture today that support marriage and the Church is one of the few remaining. In addition, it provides a wonderful place to transmit your values to your children. Don’t forget to pray regularly for your spouse and your relationship.
SEEK HELP—In every relationship there are times when problems don’t seem to get resolved. Recognize when you are in “over your head” and commit in advance to seek professional guidance. Too often, divorces take place after people have “stuffed their feelings” and avoided dealing with issues for weeks, months, or even years. As with most problems “a stitch in time saves nine.” Perhaps the person or agency who provided your pre-marriage coaching is a good place to start.
We wish you and our granddaughter a long, happy and prosperous marriage as you embark on this journey called marriage. May your bond of love and your relationship become stronger each day.
1 Waite, Linda J., The Negative Effects of Cohabitation, George Washington University, Institute for Communitarian and Policy Studies, Volume 10, Issue 1, Winter 1999/2000,
2Thomas, Gary Thomas, Sacred Marriage, 2000
3Saleh, Alexandra D., Premarital Counseling & Marital Satisfaction Alexandra D. Saleh, University of Massachusetts Amherst
Lee Webster is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who has over 40 years of counseling experience. He is also the founder and clinical director of the Center for Human Development. To learn more about Lee click here.
Barb Webster is a Licensed Clinical Social worker with over 30 years of counseling experience. She enjoys working with clients of all ages, individuals, and couples. To learn more about Barb click here.
A “marital toolbox” can provide a couple with an arsenal of tools to assist them with problem-solving and the decision making process. Used effectively, this strategy can form the foundation for a healthy marriage. Couples that prepare themselves for difficult situations in advance, often handle these situations better.
Here is an example that will help you in understanding this– the “carpenter toolbox.” Years ago many carpenters built large boxes out of wood to store their tools in. Whether at the workshop, or at the worksite, these toolboxes went with the carpenter. Every tool of importance was placed in this box. No matter what situation came up, the carpenter had what was needed to handle any job or situation.
Like the old carpenter toolbox, the marital toolbox prepares a couple to address many situations. Being in a healthy and thriving marriage requires time, commitment and communication. Married couples need to decide which specific tools should go into their marital toolboxes. Listed below are some ground rules which can assist couples with the tool selection process.
Respecting your spouse- he/she will have good ideas or insights.
Willing to hear your spouse’s perspective without interrupting them.
Entering a discussion without having a pre-determined solution in mind.
Speaking one at a time when discussing things.
Taking time-outs from discussions to cool-off, process information, or seek counsel.
Writing notes when your spouse is speaking so you will not forget what was said.
A marital toolbox consists of husband and wife working together to select the appropriate tools. Participation in such a process assists greatly with future difficult situations. Like the carpenter, a husband and wife need to be able to handle any job or situation they face.
Dave Tice is a licensed professional counselor at the Center with over 6 years of counseling experience. To learn more about Dave, or to set up an appointment click here.