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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 2: Uncover the Subtext continued...

Speak with a calm, inquisitive tone, as if you have no idea what the answer is. Work hard (and it is hard) to keep the anger, frustration, and impatience out of your voice. In most sparring situations, each partner can speak very convincingly about his or her motives, and the "What on earth was he thinking?!" question winds up going away.

Put the plan into action: Rosie Behr, 53, of Baltimore, used this technique to tackle her ongoing argument with her husband about how he gives her directions when she's driving. "We have a simple division of labor: When I'm at the wheel, he navigates," Rosie explains, "and I want to know what the next direction is in advance. That way, I have plenty of time to switch lanes before making a turn. I also want him to give me just one direction at a time, or my brain gets overloaded. So I'll ask my husband to tell me the next turn, and he'll say, 'I'll tell you when we're closer.' To which I say, 'But I need to know now!' It seems like a simple enough request, but then he'll respond, 'Why don't you just trust me?' and I'll yell, 'Why don't you just tell me?' This argument drives me crazy."

Though the couple had been fighting about directions for years, it wasn't until they tried the mediation techniques that they actually understood each other's behavior. By playing detective, Rosie discovered that when she asked her husband for directions well in advance of a turn, he thought she was questioning his judgment about where to go — and that really bothered him. He viewed the whole direction situation as a trust issue. "I was genuinely shocked when he told me that; I had no idea he felt that way," admits Rosie. "From my perspective, all I was doing was asking for some information — and he was withholding it." Once they really understood each other's viewpoints, they were able to stop getting angry and start resolving their direction dilemma.

A closer look: Sometimes, admittedly, there will be cases in which your spouse's motivation is exactly what you suspect it to be — and it's completely infuriating. Consider the case of the couple in which the wife makes dinner and the husband is supposed to clean up the dishes but often doesn't do so, saying, "Oh, I guess I got caught up watching TV" or "Sorry, I had a really rough day and was too tired." Tempted as the wife may be to start shouting, "What do I need to do to get some help around here?" thereby escalating the situation to something approaching SmackDown, here's what needs to happen instead: The husband's explanation must be acknowledged and then used as leverage to work out a compromise. For instance, the wife could say, "I understand that you were too tired, but I didn't know that when we finished dinner. I thought the table would get cleared tonight, but now I'm seeing the dirty dishes and am feeling upset. Can you understand that?"

This tactic sets the stage for the next step in the mediation process. And the point gets underscored that if you're not going to do something you said you would, you must let your spouse know in advance.

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