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

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

Step by Step to Resolving Issues continued...

Also, pick your battles. "You can't have a conflict over everything. We call it 'kitchen sinking' -- bringing up things that happened five, 10 years ago," says Orbuch.

For a happy marriage, here's how to deal with conflict:

 

  • Bring it up in a nonthreatening way. "Be nice. No name calling," she advises.
  • Bring up specific issues or behaviors, rather than personality qualities. In a happy marriage, there's no attacking the person. "Bring up the specific time, how you felt about it, then people can change the behavior," Orbuch tells WebMD. "Otherwise, they don't know what to do about it, they're boxed in."
  • Use "I" statements. Instead of "you're a very messy person' say 'I'm really bothered when you put clothes on the floor." Such statements show how you feel about a specific behavior, and that's important in a happy marriage, she says.
  • Try to stay calm. Studies show that the calmer you are, the more you will be taken seriously, she says. "Take a breath, count to 10, breathe. Try to be nonthreatening."
  • Take a break. "If you're going back and forth, if you find blood pressure going up, take minutes or seconds," she says. "Don't take hours. If you take too long, it festers in the other person, they've had time analyze it; you're dismissing their feelings opinions, dismissing them."
  • Don't bring it up at night. Choose the right time -- not when people are tired, hungry, when the kids are all around, when you've got a deadline at work. Those are not best times."
  • Consider your spouse's point of view, if you want a truly happy marriage. "I'm a true believer in this," says Orbuch. "Studies show that every single action has a different meaning depending on if you are male, female, your race, your background. That is important to remember in conflict resolution."

 

Her research "has shown, time and time again, that conflict is not important, that how you manage conflict, how you handle it over the long haul, really is important to a happy marriage," Orbuch tells WebMD. "I'm a big believer in direct, meaningful communication -- but you have to choose the right time."

Also, compromise is necessary in long-term relationships, she adds. "But each partner has to feel that it's reciprocal. One can't feel that they're making all the compromises." When one spouse makes all the compromises, it's uncomfortable for both -- not just the one giving in.

"You have to remember there are ebbs and flows in relationships," Orbuch says. "There will be times when you're making the compromises. But there will be other times when your partner is making them. As long as in the long-term things are reciprocal, that's what is important."

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Reviewed on May 30, 2006

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