10 Ways to Resolve Marital Conflict

IMG_0270Who doesn’t love a wedding? But with months and months of planning, it only lasts a short while – and then there’s the marriage. If history is prologue, neither former first daughter, Chelsea Clinton, nor longtime boyfriend, Marc Mezvinsky, had great role models for marital bliss. And that’s even without the religious issues – she was raised Christian and he’s Jewish.

This much publicized union is affirmation of America’s shifting religious landscape. There has been a gradual increase in interfaith marriages over the past two decades and more than 30% U.S. households now are mixed-faith. Despite changing attitudes, it’s still not easy to make marriage work.

If you or a loved one has recently tied the knot, you know that marriage constitutes a major change. Emotional reactions at times of transition are common and normal. And in making the necessary adjustments, some conflict is inevitable – all couples get angry and have arguments. Whether a marriage will last depends, in part, on how you prepare for the challenges. You’ll find that some of these tips may serve you well:

1. Keep your communication open and honest.Talk out misunderstandings before they become arguments. Don’t resort to low blows or get side-tracked by pointing out questionable character traits. Practice active listening skills and sending I-focused messages to clarify that what you’re saying is your own opinion.

2. Use cooperation and compromise. Be direct yet flexible as you make your way through disagreements. Look at the issue from your partner’s perspective and practice empathy. Ask yourself if being right and winning the fight is more important than the success of your relationship.

3. Minimize emotional overload. Flooding is a physiological arousal that is activated when tensions are high and communication stalls. If you’re quarreling, state a desired outcome and stick to the subject at hand. Try not to blame your partner or get defensive, and take some responsibility for what’s going on.

4. Practice non-threatening behavior. Monitor any negative comments and be slow to criticize. Try to control your emotions because your body language and tone of voice make a difference. Count to 10 before reacting – if it looks like the conversation is escalating, walk away.

5. Agree to a time-out strategy. Before you say something you may later regret, decide to put some distance between yourselves and the problem. Plan to return to the conversation later and work out a solution. And then take a break until you’re less upset and settled down enough to listen without planning a rebuttal.

6. Find a comfortable position, close your eyes and breathe deeply. Hold your breath for several seconds and release it slowly through your mouth. Repeat this several times, brushing away any distractions. Notice how focusing only on each breath can make you feel more calm.

7. Pay attention to constructive thoughts. You can turn the negatives into more positives.  For example, his anger isn’t all about me; we really do love each other; she’s under a lot of pressure at work; this too shall pass; I’m upset now but I know we’re right for each other.

8. Choose your words. In the midst of an argument, any one of these phrases would be welcomed by a partner feeling misunderstood: I might be wrong; stay with me and don’t withdraw; I see my part in all of this; let’s find common ground; I love you and we’ll work this out.

9. Stay engaged. A gentle touch, eye contact or a quick hug can release oxytocin, a hormone that facilitates bonding as well as reduces blood pressure and stress levels. When you’re feeling tense, an affectionate moment can help you feel closer, loved and even more relaxed.

10. Build emotional dividends. If you characteristically turn toward rather than away from each other, the goodwill you accumulate can provide an emotional cushion. Maintain a reserve of shared positive feelings and you will be able to draw from this supply of affection in times of conflict.

No matter who you marry, there are bound to be all sorts of differences – family values, cultural backgrounds, socioeconomic status, religious traditions. But if you work toward understanding, each can complement and enrich the other.

Chelsea and Marc have attended family holidays together so they may have already started a discussion that includes Christmas trees and Hanukah menorahs. It is often rituals and family relationships that give faith meaning. The Clintons have raised Chelsea well and she has stood by her parents through tough times. And Chelsea is a survivor – resilient, transcendent, private, well balanced – all qualities that can only enhance a marriage that seems off to a very good start.

This blog post was contributed by Phyllis Goldberg, PhD © HerMentorCenter, 2012. All rights reserved. The above material may not be copied to another web site without the express permission of HerMentorCenter.com.