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Marriage Advice: Stop Having the Same Fight

If you two keep having the same fight, break the habit and have a much happier marriage.

Step 1: Take a Seat

At the start of your next tiff, you'll probably feel the urge to wag your finger at your husband and remind him that you've told him a hundred — or even a thousand — times that what he just did ticks you off. But rather than pressing the point, literally keep your hands at your sides and say something like this: "Honey, can you please sit down with me now, because I want to talk to you about something?" Not only will this give you a few seconds to calm down and think before you start speaking, it will also let your partner know that the issue at hand is serious and needs to be resolved.

Put the plan into action: Margot, 42, of New York City, had for years been stymied about how to resolve her husband's habit of partially opening the mail when he came home from work and then leaving it on the dining table, intending to deal with it at a later time. Since that later time never seemed to arrive, bills went unpaid, invitations went without RSVPs, and their life was a lot messier around the edges than Margot could tolerate. Usually, when Margot learned that the mail situation had led to, say, a late fee, she'd erupt and blame her husband, loudly enough for the neighbors to hear.

When Margot was learning the three-step mediation strategy, she said, "The first step — sitting down and collecting my thoughts — was the hardest because when I feel angry, I just start mouthing off. I've told him many, many times how much his procrastination with the mail bothers me, and yet he does it anyway. And that, in turn, makes me feel totally ignored and unimportant, so it seemed like lashing out at him was my only option."

Margot moved past these blowups by recognizing that her husband's behavior was simply an annoying habit, and as such, it could be changed. "My husband is a good person. He's not the problem; it's his mail-handling habit that's the problem, and habits can be broken. By taking the time to sit down and catch my breath, I was able to convince myself of that fact, stay calm, and work at solving the problem."

Step 2: Uncover the Subtext

Once you're sitting down, no matter what the conflict is, fight that impulse to blame your husband and spell out in excruciating detail where he has gone wrong. While you're at it, don't indulge that desire to say, "How many times do I have to tell you this?" either. Instead, act like a detective. Your goal is to figure out what your partner was thinking. You may think you know, and you may be right — or you could be completely wrong. By not making assumptions, you leave room for uncovering his actual thoughts and feelings. Ask neutral questions like, "What happened?" "Why do you do that?" and "Is there a reason why you weren't able to take care of it today?"

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