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FOR COUPLES: One Simple Thing That Can Save Your Marriage

o-MARRIAGE-facebookAll intimate relationships have conflict. The tricky part is learning how to fight like a champ. Because conflict has that sneaky way of piling up and either exploding or leaking out into all the happy areas of your life. But there’s one specific thing that you can do today to bullet proof your relationship. Replace stonewalling with an intention to understand.

If your home life is beginning to sound like the Bickersons and you’re best strategy is to duck or pass, then know this: The very worst way to deal with conflict is something that psychologists call “stonewalling.” Stonewalling happens when one partner feels overloaded by the other’s expressions of discord. These expressions may include, nagging, complaining, bickering and all–out-yelling. Unable to find a way to negotiate a peace treaty, the overwhelmed partner (often, but not always, the man) puts a complete embargo on communication. He (or she) either stares at the TV, gives one-word answers, changes the subject, or walks out the door. But withdrawing from communication is a sure fire ticket to divorce court. Eventually, the dismissed partner will find someone who will gladly listen, and that person may be a lover or a divorce attorney.

Of course, when someone is feeling engulfed and attacked, it can be very hard to suddenly counter with loving, rational communication. For some stonewalling is a natural fight or flight response. The first thing to do is acknowledge your feelings and explain them to your partner. Then make a plan with some ground rules and conflict strategies long before the next fight. Your rules might include, setting out specific times and places when you will be more open to uncomfortable communication — say, after the kids are in bed and never during the morning rush to get out the door. Then become aware of which words trigger your withdrawal. For instance, you might ask your partner not to blame or name call.

Finally, when you are in a situation where you want to check out as a defensive strategy, think like a champion boxer who understands his sparring partner. No boxer won a round by cowering. So, take a deep breath. Try not to react impulsively. And instead, think about why you fell in love with the person who is attacking. Remember that you are in the ring with a teammate, not an opponent. And instead of mounting a crazy defense, simply say, “I love you and I want to understand you.” That sentence alone can have a powerful, transformational effect on this bout.