1. Express daily appreciations. John Gottman, Ph.D discovered those couples who reported happy marriages maintained a ratio of 20:1 positive to negative interactions. That is 20 compliments to each complaint! One way to infuse your relationship with positivity is to express appreciations to each other very frequently. Complimenting your spouse’s admirable traits (“you are so good with the kids -they are lucky to have you as their father”) or simply thanking them for their contributions (“thank you for picking up the dry cleaning – that saved me a lot of time today”) go a long way in strengthening friendship and intimacy. Verbalizing these appreciations add money to the “emotional bank account” of your partnership. This account needs to be as full as it can be when the inevitable happens and the two of you have a conflict.
2. Learn to listen better – especially when our spouse is upset. Most people listen to respond instead of listening to understand. We are quick to be on the defensive when we hear something we don’t agree with or evokes negative feelings. Learn to postpone your agenda while your spouse is venting, complaining, and yes, even nagging. Ask questions and be curious of their point of view. Most people don’t do this for fear that if they do, their partner will misinterpret it as agreeing with the their perspective. Thus, the listener interrupts to share his/her own perspective and to challenge what their spouse is saying. The conversation then becomes about not feeling heard or validated. We’ve all had arguments that are so tangential that we can’t even remember what we were fighting about. This occurs because, in the end, we are really fighting about not feeling heard or understood.
3. Accept that conflict is a part of every relationship. All couples fight. Happy couples fight just as much AND about the same things as unhappy couples. John Gottman’s research on thousands of couples revealed that it isn’t the presence of conflict that determines relationship demise, it’s how a couple fights that matters. If conflict between the couple frequently consists of The Four Horseman – 4 ways that couples escalate negativity (criticism, defensiveness, contempt and stonewalling) – without intervention, the couple is at risk for divorce . Accept that discord is a part of any marriage and learn ways to eliminate the Four Horseman and manage conflict in ways that are not destructive to your marriage.