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Pro Tips: 5 Ways to Handle Conflict Better in a Marriage, According to the Experts

Pro Tips: 5 Ways to Handle Conflict Better in a Marriage, According to the Experts

Relationships and marriages are far from a walk in the park. We don’t need a genius to tell us that much. No matter what kind of relationship or marriage you are in, you will experience an ebb and flow of ups and downs—that’s life. However, if you find yourself filled with contempt or disdain quite often, you may be heading to divorce court.

Dr. John Gottman, Ph.D, author of The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work and researcher at The Gottman Institute, revealed the number one predictor of divorce is contempt. Contempt is defined as the feeling that a person or a thing is beneath consideration, worthless, or deserving scorn. Does that felling ring a bell?

In an interview with Marie Claire, Gottman Institute expert Mike McNulty, PhD, LCSW, shared ways to ensure the ill feeling doesn't prompt you to file for divorce. Below are five pro tips from McNulty.

  1. Be on the lookout for common no-nos, like rolling your eyes, sneering, or making passive-aggressive comments.
  2. Give your expectations a reality check. "Partners often idealize one another, and then expect so much," explains McNulty. He suggests you remind yourself that your partner is a different person with different opinions and a different set of fundamental needs. You will not agree on everything, and you have to learn to be okay with that in order to maintain harmony. Why? "With most couples, 69 percent of the problems in any marriage are perpetual or ongoing issues, and only about 31 percent of problems are solved in a straightforward manner," McNulty explains. In other words, the majority of your problems will not go away or be solved—you'll just have to learn to compromise.
  3. Turn the issue around on yourself.  When something really ticks you off, "Think, 'Why does the behavior bother me so much? Can I learn to live with it?'" If not, you can seek counseling to learn some coping mechanisms, but as McNulty points out that "in marriage, we have to learn to pick and chose our battles."
  4. Instead of feeling anger as your partner is speaking his mind, challenge yourself to listen more deeply to your partner's point of view. "This helps partners be more patient when they dialogue," says McNulty.
  5. When it's time to voice your feelings, remember to "complain gently without blaming the other person," says McNulty. Talk about your feelings, and how you feel, versus blaming or criticizing their actions. "These shifts in behavior are fairly simple but really do make a difference," McNulty says.

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