Five Secrets of a Happy Marriage: Essential Marriage Tips from Real Therapists

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Rules for a Fair Fight

Before any couple can even begin to solve their problems, they have to learn how to use their anger constructively. How can anger be constructive? Use it to explore the underlying causes of your disagreements, and you'll find ways to address both of your needs.

If bickering punctuates your days; if arguments escalate quickly until you're both shouting things you later regret; or if you too often smile through gritted teeth while your stomach is roiling like an ocean in a hurricane, the following rules can help you defuse the rage and focus your energies on practical strategies for change. Make a promise to:

1. Remind yourself that it is okay to be angry, and don't feel guilty about having those angry feelings. Women, especially, grow up believing that it is unladylike and bitchy to express any negative feelings. Better to suppress anger, they're taught, than express it. But there are times when anger is legitimate and those occasions must be recognized and addressed. Once you do that, you'll be in a stronger position to say how you honestly feel and find a path for change.

2. Understand that although you disagree, you are not enemies. No matter how much people love each other, differences will eventually trigger conflict. Fighting fair means you will not attack each other -- physically or verbally. Name-calling, cursing, screaming, or blaming are verboten. So, is threatening separation or divorce.

3. Never use something that has been previously told to you in confidence as a weapon in an argument. When you do, you betray the trust your spouse has placed in you, and make it harder for your partner to feel emotionally safe in the marriage.

4. Never walk out of the room until you either both agree that an argument is over or have decided to table the problem and chosen a specific time to bring it up again.

5. Acknowledge each other's feelings and perceptions, without judgment or criticism. There's no "right" way to feel, and there will be times in every marriage that you simply will not agree. But you should always make the effort to unravel what is troubling your partner and show genuine caring for and awareness of his or her emotional experience. Phrases such as "I never thought of that" or "Tell me more about what you're thinking" will help you break out of an anger stalemate.

Excerpted from Seven Secrets of a Happy Marriage: Wisdom from the Annals of "Can This Marriage Be Saved?"

Continued on page 3:  Getting Him to Open Up


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