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11 Conflict Resolution Tips for a Healthy Marriage

Successful marriage conflict resolution is about fighting fair in marriage, which is what these tips are all about. Resolving conflict involves disagreeing and discussing in healthy, constructive ways.

These conflict resolution tips in this article are from marriage and family therapist Heather McKechnie.

“All married couples should learn the art of battle as they should learn the art of making love. Good battle is objective and honest–never vicious or cruel,” said Ann Landers. “Good battle is healthy and constructive, and brings to a marriage the principle of equal partnership.”

And that’s what McKechnie’s conflict resolution tips are about: communicating clearly and honestly. And, learning how to build a better marriage together — such as by watching DVDs such as Boundaries in Marriage: An 8-Session Focus on Understanding the Boundaries That Make or Break a Marriage.

Here are this family therapist’s tips for resolving conflict in love…

11 Conflict Resolution Tips for a Healthy Marriage

1. Take responsibility for yourself and your behaviour. Take time to think before you speak or act, and admit it if you make a mistake. Don’t blame your spouse for everything. If your marriage problems involve infidelity, read Tips for Surviving an Emotional Affair or Why Men Cheat on Their Wives.

2. Be honest about yourself and what you have done, and let your spouse do the same. Sharing honest thoughts and feelings is difficult, but it’s key to fighting fair in marriage. Successful conflict resolution is about communicating your real self, which makes you vulnerable. Being vulnerable in marriage is scary — but without vulnerability, you can’t resolve your conflict.

3. Say, “I feel sad, angry, hurt, etc.” Don’t say, “It feels like…” Own your feelings, rather than trying to shift blame or guilt onto your spouse for the feelings he triggers. Avoid blaming. Instead, focus on expressing how you feel. Avoid telling your spouse what he needs to change about his personality.

4. Don’t assume you know what your spouse thinks. This marriage and family therapist encourages couples to resolve conflict” by letting each other ask questions. If you don’t understand your spouse, ask him questions so you understand him better. Don’t try to guess what he thinks; ask for clarification. This isn’t just a tip for fighting fair in marriage, it works in all aspects of life!

5. Distinguish between thoughts and feelings. Our feelings come from within ourselves, not from other people. When we attribute our feelings to other people, we lose our right to own them, change them, or grow from them. Successful marriage conflict resolution is about putting your emotions in their place.

6. Avoid calling your spouse names – it doesn’t increase conflict resolution. Calling names reflects your frustration in feeling misunderstood and serves only to make your spouse defensive. When conversations turn to name calling, no one wins – and it doesn’t help you fight fair in marriage.

7. Don’t bring up issues from the past. When you bring up old hurts or disappointments, you’re not resolving conflict in marriage or fighting fair. Old issues are overwhelming and distracting; they increase frustration and decrease hope.

8. Do not hit, scream, spit, throw or abuse in any way. There is no benefit to any conversation that has deteriorated to this level.  To fight fair in marriage, stay in touch with yourself and your feelings. Learn to recognize when your patience ends and anger builds.

9. Don’t badmouth your partner to your children or anyone else. We all need outlets to vent our frustrations — but filling a friend, child or relative’s ear with criticisms benefits no one. It is not fair to burden a child with adult issues that they have no control over. If you can’t resolve conflict in your marriage, get family therapy or couples counseling. Or, read marriage books together, like Boundaries in Marriage.

10. Recognize your limits. If you feel yourself losing it, call a time-out. This is an important tip for fighting fair in marriage — and it needs to be accepted before discussions begin. It is amazing how a 5-minute break can diffuse a heated conversation! It’s also important to recognize that your limit is likely to be different than your partner’s.

11. Remember to breathe and stay calm. This seems like such a simple tip for fighting fair in marriage, but breathing works wonders! When concentrating, most people tend to hold their breath. This forces the body to move into a survivor mode, which decreases the ability to listen.  By focusing on our breath, we can maintain a calm and detached discussion that increases the likelihood of both partners feeling honored, cherished and understood.

“Learning to fight fair in marriage is an ongoing process,” McKechnie says. “No one is able to keep these simple rules in mind all of the time. However, with practice and compassion, they can become an integral part of an enriching and committed relationship.”

If you have any questions or thoughts on marriage conflict resolution — or these tips for fighting fair — please comment below.

And, don’t forget that learning your spouse’s love language is one of the best ways to build a happy, healthy marriage.

Heather McKechnie is a registered marriage and family therapist and certified hypnotherapist in Ontario, Canada. For more info about her and her services, visit McKechnie Counseling Services.

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6 thoughts on “11 Conflict Resolution Tips for a Healthy Marriage”

  1. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    Hello Narinder,

    Thanks for your thoughts on marriage! But I think that no matter how much you love each other, you have to compromise. There will be conflict in marriage even if you’re soul mates, have been married for 75 years, or know all the tips for fighting fair. Conflict is part of life, love, and relationships. And it’s not necessarily a bad thing.

  2. How does one define a marriage of hearts? One way of saying would be, that both the partners are very emotionally attached to each other. They care for their partner. Their thoughts become one, their views become one and they live with each other in all the senses. There are no compromises.

  3. I agree. There needs to be healthy disputes for growth in my mind.

    Glad you enjoyed the article. I have stumbled upon their blog like I did yours and have really enjoyed their insights.

  4. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    Thanks for your comment, Mike.

    It’s interesting that some couples believe that NOT fighting in marriage is a sign of a healthy relationship. But, that’s not true…a healthy marriage is one that involves “good” arguments.

  5. Great post. I find the difficulties and choices made by couples in how they resolve disputes to be fascinating. Learning “how” to fight is an important skill for any couple. I’d love to read more on this topic.

    Click my name to read a recent article I particularly enjoyed on couples’ fighting fair.

    I’d love to see more like it. Thanks!

  6. Here’s another reason we need to learn to fight fair in marriage: a good relationship or strong marriage can act as a buffer for those exposed to work-related stress.

    “A good marriage reduces the negative effects of work stress on our health. But poor relationships will amplify the negative effects,” say Ann-Christine Andersson Arntén in a new doctoral dissertation from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden.

    In her survey, people who felt they had a good relationship experienced better health than those who had a more problematic relationship. Women with a poorly-functioning or unhealthy relationship experienced more anxiety, mental stress and sleeping difficulties than women in good relationships or marriages.

    Men who had a mediocre relationship had a higher incidence of depression, anxiety, psychological and somatic stress reactions than men with worse or better relationships.

    One explanation can be that people living with a mediocre relationship take more responsibility to improve the relationship, while those with poor relationships just admit it, and don’t feel they can do anything about it.

    Source: ScienceDaily, “Partner Relationship as a Buffer Against Stress.” (June 29, 2009)