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Want a Happy Marriage? Be Nice, Don't Nitpick

True Compatibility Doesn't Exist, so Shrug off Little Conflicts

A Happy Marriage Means Respecting Spouse

It's true, research has shown that couples in satisfying, happy marriages have more positive emotions in their interactions -- including discussions of problems, says Shae Graham Kosch, PhD, director of the behavioral medicine program in community health and family at the University of Florida at Gainesville.

Kosch has been married (to the same man) for 32 years. She has counseled unhappy couples just as long.

"Most marital conflicts don't ever get resolved," she tells WebMD. "There are always issues around in-laws, children. Solving the problems doesn't really matter. What's crucial is keeping things positive. You have to accept the other person's perspective, have an appropriate discussion without getting critical or blaming."

Other tips from Kosch: Men in good relationships don't react emotionally during conflicts. Men in bad relationships are more likely to withdraw from the discussion. They might actually leave the room, look at the ceiling, or tune out the conversation. Wives in negative relationships also get entrenched in their particular viewpoint and ultimately feel greater anger and contempt.

Your attitude toward your spouse plays out over the long haul, she adds. "Couples that have good marriages retain their mutual respect and understanding of each other -- even during discussions of their differences -- will stay together much longer."

The Myers-Briggs personality test has helped many couples tune into their own psyches -- whether they're a thinking or feeling type, decisive or perceiving, or flexible. Those insights into themselves help their relationships. "It's a nonjudgmental measurement. It doesn't say that anyone is too rational or overly emotional. We all have these characteristics; in some people they are more dominant."

Most importantly, for a happy marriage, be committed to seeing your partner's perspective, she tells WebMD. "Have a willingness to understand, make changes in yourself, and find some method to get out of negative communication patterns -- negativity that just escalates. Sometimes that couple just can't move forward. They develop what I call 'manure-colored glasses.'"

One trick that works: Discussing conflicts while talking on the phone, rather than face to face. "That removes all nonverbal cues. She won't see him looking at the ceiling; he won't see her rolling her eyes. It keeps things more positive."

Step by Step to Resolving Issues

"Conflict is common, and a healthy dose of conflict is OK," says Terri Orbuch, PhD, a research scientist with the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. She's also a family therapist and the "Love Doctor" on a Detroit radio station.

In her research, Orbuch has studied one group of couples for the past 16 years. "How you deal with it, that's what matters in a happy marriage," she tells WebMD. "You have to fight fair. Stay calm. You cannot be at problem-solving best when you're angry. Come back to the situation when you're not, and you can have a whole new perspective."

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