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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.
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Step 1: Take a Seat continued...

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?"

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."

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