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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 3: Offer Solutions

This final step is the one that most couples skip when they argue without mediation techniques, and that's a key reason why they remain stuck on the bickering merry-go-round for years. Here's the agenda: You must each come up with a few possible solutions. Try saying something like, "I think I understand your point of view a lot better now. Can we talk about how we can prevent this problem from cropping up again?" Then suggest a specific idea and ask your partner to offer up another suggestion. Getting your partner involved in the solution is a key step; research shows that people are more likely to follow through on a plan if they feel as if they participated in creating it.

Put the plan into action: Whenever Elizabeth, 34, of Dallas, and her mate argued about who would empty the dishwasher, they ended up having one of those pointless "scorecard" battles over who did the task more often. As is often the case with chore-centric fights, both of them would usually end up feeling as if they didn't get any credit for what they did.

This time, however, Elizabeth was determined to end the argument once and for all with the three-step mediation strategy. During the final step, her husband suggested that they should take turns putting away the dishes, switching off nightly. Elizabeth suggested they swap roles every two days and post a check-off chart on the fridge. "Neither option struck me as a perfect solution," she said, "but then my husband came up with a nice compromise--we would each be responsible for clearing the table and emptying the dishwasher for a full week, changing roles every Monday. That felt like a much less complicated plan, one we could easily live with. We've been following it for three months now and haven't had a single fight over it, which has made married life a lot sweeter. And the bonus is, we feel that if a new 'here it comes again' argument crops up, we now know how to solve it."

The last word: Recurring quarrels about apparently trivial matters can sometimes mean there are deeper issues swirling that are too big or scary to tackle head-on. The fight about dirty plates left on the table might really reflect, say, a power struggle in the marriage. Regardless of the real issue, the three-step mediation process gives you a technique to handle the conflict and start chipping away at the problem. If you try this technique in good faith and it doesn't take the quarreling down a notch or two, it's probably time to seek professional counseling.

Family lawyer and mediator Laurie Puhn is author of Instant Persuasion: How to Change Your Words to Change Your Life.

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