The best way to deal with conflict in a marriage

Psychologist Joshua Coleman, PhD describes ways couples can resolve conflict and be kinder to each other
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The best way to deal with conflict in a marriage

So a lot of couples really need to learn how to fight. In general, you don't necessarily want to avoid conflict. The research shows that some of the happiest marriages are those where there actually is open conflict, it's just the ratio between how much you fight and how much affection you have has to be significant. This is John Gottman's research. He found the most significant ration is a 5 to 1 ratio that for every negative interaction you have, there's 5 positive interactions. So you have a big, nasty fight but then maybe a couple makes love or they apologize. They voice an appreciation. They go out for a date night or that kind of thing. So the ratio is usually important. The second most important thing, if you're a couple that fights a lot, is to have the time out. That is an agreement that whoever wants to call a time-out can call a timeout. A timeout should last no more than 24 hours. A person can just basically say, "Timeout," and the conflict should end there. Typically the other person will want to say one more thing. You want to give them that but then you basically separate any where from 4 hours to 24 hours. And the purpose of the timeout isn't to get your argument in order. The goal is not to prove the other person wrong. If that's your goal you're going to just perpetuate conflict. Your goal is to calm down, soothe yourself, try to figure out what your partner's saying, listen for the kernel of truth and come bath with a more empathic response to what your partner's saying. In general, the research show that when couples really work on understanding each other and do understand each other, there's 70% of the time that's all they need to do. They don't need to do any problem solving. They don't have to do anything beyond that. If they could really get to, "Oh, I see. When I criticize you like that, you're nothing like your mother. It makes you feel like you're not really a free man in the relationship and that you're just being kind of hand-picked by me. I could see why that would be really difficult. So you really just empathize with the other person, that's usually important. And, in general, empathy is usually important. The next most important thing is to be appreciative. In general, I feel like most marriages today, there's a poverty of gratitude. I think it's in part because people are so overworked, stressed out; if they have kids they're worried about, how the kids are going to do, the world that they're going to inherit. All these things and they don't spend enough time just doing the basic, daily, "Gee, you look nice. Thank you for dinner. Thanks for paying that bill. You're a good dad. You're a good mother. You look hot in that. I love your sense of humor. You are so funny the other night. I love your mind." I mean, doing these things on a daily basis, simple, basic appreciations, compliments can make a huge difference in any relationship.

Psychologist Joshua Coleman, PhD describes ways couples can resolve conflict and be kinder to each other


Expert Bio

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Joshua Coleman, PhD

Author & Psychologist

Dr. Coleman is a psychologist in private practice in the San Francisco Bay Area and Co-Chair of the Council on Contemporary Families, a non-partisan organization composed of leading sociologists, historians, psychologists and demographers dedicated to providing the press and public with the latest research and best-practice findings about American families. He has lectured at Harvard University and The University of California at Berkeley and blogs on parent-adult child relationships for the U.C. Berkeley publication, Greater Good Magazine, the Huffington Post and Psychology Today.

Dr. Coleman is frequently contacted by the media for opinions and commentary about changes in the American family. He has been a frequent guest on the Today Show, NPR, and The BBC, and has also been featured on Sesame Street, 20/20, Good Morning America, PBS, AARP,  America Online Coaches,  and numerous news programs for FOX, ABC, CNN, and NBC television. His advice appears often in The New York Times, The Times of London, Fortune, Newsweek, The Chicago Tribune, Slate, Psychology Today, U.S. World and News Report, Parenting Magazine, The Baltimore Sun and many others.

He has served on the clinical faculties of The University of California at San Francisco, The Wright Institute Graduate School of Psychology, and the San Francisco Psychotherapy Research Group. He is the author of numerous articles and chapters and has written four books:  When Parents Hurt: Compassionate Strategies When You and Your Grown Child Don't Get Along (HarperCollins) The Marriage Makeover: Finding Happiness in Imperfect Harmony (St. Martin's Press); The Lazy Husband: How to Get Men to Do More Parenting and Housework (St. Martin's Press); and Married with Twins: Life, Love and the Pursuit of Marital Harmony. His books have been translated into Chinese, Croatian, and Korean, and are also available in the U.K., Canada, and Australia. He is formerly a contributing editor to Twins Magazine.

 Dr. Coleman is a sought-after public speaker on topics related to the family. He is also co-editor, along with historian Stephanie Coontz of the yearly online volume, Unconventional Wisdom: News You Can Use, a compendium of noteworthy research on the contemporary family, gender, sexuality, poverty, and work-family issues.  He runs a popular webinar series for estranged parents and a free newsletter for parents, The Coleman Report.

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