All couples have differences and disagreements; conflict is part of life.  However, many couples have difficulties listening and understanding each other, leading to many arguments, fights and even separation. Many studies show the amounts of disagreements are not related to marital happiness as much as how they are handled. The truth is that happy couples do not avoid disagreements; they resolve them while remaining respectful of each other, thereby strengthening their relationship.

Many conflicts between partners become heated as levels of anger and frustration rise. And instead of them speaking assertively, couples begin to accuse, criticize, or yell. Rather than listening actively, they interrupt, belittle, and ignore. When we are in a state of escalation, we usually say or do things we later regret. Additionally, it is almost impossible to have a productive conversation leading to a mutually agreed upon resolution when partners are angry and frustrated. In instances such as this, a time-out plan can be beneficial. A time-out will give couples the opportunity to cool down, recognize their feelings and needs, and begin to think productively again about how to approach the issues they face.  Once you had the opportunity to calm down you can use these ten steps that are simple and effective to solve conflicts. These steps will help you avoid the destructive patterns of the past.

  1. Set a time and place for discussion. Once you have requested a time-out for yourself, communicate to your partner how important this issue is for both of you and set a time and place to have the discussion.
  2. Define the problem, be specific. Analyze the current issue and stay on topic.
  3. List the ways you contribute to the problem. Think about how you might be affecting the problem in a negative way.
  4. List past attempts to resolve this current problem that were not successful. Look back and identify the different strategies that you may have used in order to resolve this problem.
  5. Brainstorm ideas with your partner. Together, brainstorm  a list of ten possible solutions to the problem.  Remember to not judge or criticize any of the suggestions your partner might be making.
  6. Discuss and evaluate each of these possible solutions. Talk about how these ideas might be useful in solving the problem.
  7. As a couple, agree on one solution to give it a try.
  8. Agree how both of you will work toward this solution. Let your partner know how you will be working on applying this solution.
  9. Set up another meeting to discuss progress. On this second meeting, discuss how this solution is helping both of you solve the problem.
  10. Compliment each other for the progress. If you notice your partner making a positive contribution toward the solution, praise and encourage your partner for his/her effort.


Reference:  Prepare-Enrich, Couples Workbook, Conflict Resolution.


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Marta Rocha

About the Author: Marta Rocha is a Mental Health Counselor. Marta is fluent in Portuguese, Spanish and English. Marta Rocha is specialized in the areas of Marriage Counseling, Family Issues, Stress Management, Leadership Training, Anxiety, Depression, Sports Psychology, Grief, and Substance Abuse & Addictions. Marta Rocha has 12 years of experience in sales & marketing, advertising, promotions, management, and professional development. Her professional affiliations are with the American Counseling Association, and the American Association of Christian Counselors.

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