5 Keys to Settling Marital Conflict

5 Keys to Settling Marital Conflict

“I’m sick of fighting! Enrico and I love each other, but wow do we argue, especially since having children. Help!”

No doubt about it, marital squabbles and even ugly fights usually increase after children come along. The causes are painfully familiar to us all: sleep deprivation, little time for oneself, feeling let down, vicious cycles of finger-pointing, the in-laws, etc. etc. We certainly fought more frequently and intensely after having kids than ever before.

To solve these problems – and maintain an intact family in which to raise precious children – we’ve found five key methods. They’re not glib, they’re not a TV sound bite, but they’re the real deal. Try them yourself – and see if you can get your spouse to go along.

Here they are:

  • Personal Well-Being – By taking better care of yourself, you’ll be able to take better care of your partner, and have a cooler, clearer head in quarrels. This means really doing the fundamentals: protein with every meal, good vitamin supplements (please see our book if you have any questions), sleep as an extremely high priority, personal stress relief practices, and the support of good friends and family.
  • The 80-20 Rule – Put 80% of your energy into how you can be a better mate, and just 20% on how he/she could be less of a jerk. You have little power to change your partner, but great power to change yourself. Take maximum personal responsibility for whatever is true in your partner’s complaints, and then unilaterally make appropriate changes. That will make you feel good about yourself, give you the best odds of getting better behavior from your mate, and put you on the high moral ground.
  • Empathy – Try to get inside your partner’s skin, sensing the being behind the words – and ask firmly for the same. Isn’t that why you married each other, that you felt deeply known and listened to? Being empathic doesn’t mean you agree or approve or let someone off the hook, just that you understand. And when you understand, you’re more able to address what’s really at stake for the other person. And when you feel understood, you’re more willing to get to the heart of the matter and make peace.
  • Solutions Focus – Go after what would make things better from now on rather than argue about the past. Be honest with yourself: what are you up to, making a case for why you’re right, or making things better in your relationship? Pick a topic and stick with it without jumping around. Then make realistic agreements, keep them, and move on.
  • Loving At Will – Life is hard for all of us, and we all suffer in a variety of ways, so each of us is called to bring compassion and loving kindness to other people – even the person we’re married to! This both makes us quietly happy and helps the world be a better place. While love may not be top of mind in the midst of a nutty day, any one of us can use the will to reach down inside and pull up a little love. Giving it ennobles us, lifts our own heart, brings dignity and self-respect . . . and often kindles a fire of love in return.

We wish you the best!

This is an article adapted from the book Mother Nurture by Rick Hanson, Ph.D., Jan Hanson, M.S. and Ricki Pollycove, M.D.

Dr. Ramani Durvasula is a licensed clinical psychologist, author, and expert on the impact of toxic narcissism. She is a Professor of Psychology at California State University, Los Angeles, and also a Visiting Professor at the University of Johannesburg.

The focus of Dr. Ramani’s clinical, academic, and consultative work is the etiology and impact of narcissism and high-conflict, entitled, antagonistic personality styles on human relationships, mental health, and societal expectations. She has spoken on these issues to clinicians, educators, and researchers around the world.

She is the author of Should I Stay or Should I Go: Surviving a Relationship With a Narcissist, and Don't You Know Who I Am? How to Stay Sane in an Era of Narcissism, Entitlement, and Incivility. Her work has been featured at SxSW, TEDx, and on a wide range of media platforms including Red Table Talk, the Today Show, Oxygen, Investigation Discovery, and Bravo, and she is a featured expert on the digital media mental health platform MedCircle. Dr. Durvasula’s research on personality disorders has been funded by the National Institutes of Health and she is a Consulting Editor of the scientific journal Behavioral Medicine.

Dr. Stephen Porges is a Distinguished University Scientist at Indiana University, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of North Carolina, and Professor Emeritus at both the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Maryland. He is a former president of the Society for Psychophysiological Research and has been president of the Federation of Behavioral, Psychological, and Cognitive Sciences, which represents approximately twenty-thousand biobehavioral scientists. He’s led a number of other organizations and received a wide variety of professional awards.

In 1994 he proposed the Polyvagal Theory, a theory that links the evolution of the mammalian autonomic nervous system to social behavior and emphasizes the importance of physiological states in the expression of behavioral problems and psychiatric disorders. The theory is leading to innovative treatments based on insights into the mechanisms mediating symptoms observed in several behavioral, psychiatric, and physical disorders, and has had a major impact on the field of psychology.

Dr. Porges has published more than 300 peer-reviewed papers across a wide array of disciplines. He’s also the author of several books including The Polyvagal Theory: Neurophysiological foundations of Emotions, Attachment, Communication, and Self-regulation.

Dr. Bruce Perry is the Principal of the Neurosequential Network, Senior Fellow of The ChildTrauma Academy, and a Professor (Adjunct) in the Departments of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago and the School of Allied Health at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia. From 1993 to 2001 he was the Thomas S. Trammell Research Professor of Psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine and chief of psychiatry at Texas Children's Hospital.

He’s one of the world’s leading experts on the impact of trauma in childhood, and his work on the impact of abuse, neglect, and trauma on the developing brain has impacted clinical practice, programs, and policy across the world. His work has been instrumental in describing how traumatic events in childhood change the biology of the brain.

Dr. Perry's most recent book, What Happened to You? Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing, co-authored with Oprah Winfrey, was released earlier this year. Dr. Perry is also the author, with Maia Szalavitz, of The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog, a bestselling book based on his work with maltreated children, and Born For Love: Why Empathy is Essential and Endangered. Additionally, he’s authored more than 300 journal articles and book chapters and has been the recipient of a variety of professional awards.

Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith is a child clinical psychologist who specializes in trauma and issues of race. She earned her undergraduate degree from Harvard and then received her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of California, Berkeley. She performed postdoctoral work at the University of California San Francisco/San Francisco General Hospital. She has combined her love of teaching and advocacy by serving as a professor and by directing mental health programs for children experiencing trauma, homelessness, or foster care.

Dr. Briscoe-Smith is also a senior fellow of Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center and is both a professor and the Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the Wright Institute. She provides consultation and training to nonprofits and schools on how to support trauma-informed practices and cultural accountability.

Sharon Salzberg is a world-renowned teacher and New York Times bestselling author. She is widely considered one of the most influential individuals in bringing mindfulness practices to the West, and co-founded the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts alongside Jack Kornfield and Joseph Goldstein. Sharon has been a student of Dipa Ma, Anagarika Munindra, and Sayadaw U Pandita alongside other masters.

Sharon has authored 10 books, and is the host of the fantastic Metta Hour podcast. She was a contributing editor of Oprah’s O Magazine, had her work featured in Time and on NPR, and contributed to panels alongside the Dalai Lama.

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