10 Tips to Simplify Conflict Resolution

You and your partner are becoming seasoned experts at sniping, bickering, and arguing. And yet all too often, you're no closer to resolving your differences even after hours of butting heads.

It's possible to resolve things in a less stressful way, experts say, when both partners are willing to work things out - and to learn the art of compromise.

"The ideal situation is for both people to learn how to come together on issues," says Irina Firstein, LCSW. Here's how to start making conflict resolution go more smoothly at your house.

1. Train yourself to use "I" statements, says Lisa Rene Reynolds, Ph.D., author of Still a Family: A Guide to Good Parenting Through Divorce. For instance, she suggests, say, "I would like it if you could....It makes me feel.....when you say that" in discussions and arguments. "Beginning a sentence with 'I' ensures that you are always correct, and who doesn't like to always be right," Reynolds says. Since you're speaking only from your own feelings, there are no interpretations or assumptions about your spouse, she says.

2. Always let the other person be heard, Reynolds says. "Listening is hard to do when you are angry with someone, but proven to be an important part of a healthy exchange," she explains.

3. To make sure that your partner knows that you have been listening to him, "feed" what he said back to him. For example, Reynolds says, you might say, "Okay, so you're pissed off because I don't seem to show you I love you in the ways you ask for."

4. Take a timeout when you are feeling really furious with your partner, and you can defuse a heated argument, Firstein says. "Take some time to sit with your anger and let it subside a little," she advises.

5. Make a date with your partner to do something fun. Hire a sitter and go out to dinner, or send the kids to stay overnight at the grandparents' house so the two of you will have the house to yourselves. Relationship conflict, Firstein says, often has to do with sex, and this is one area worth focusing on since it's also about power and control. "There are very few couples where sex is perfect for each partner, but that need is important to fill," she says. "Sex is what makes your relationship different from any other relationship, so it's worth working on your sex life together."

6. Keep in mind that venting or fuming isn't effective if that's all that happening. "It needs to end up with some sort of discussion toward resolving things," Reynolds says. Hopefully, your arguments with your partner will conclude with the two of you saying, "Okay, so now what do we do? Ideas?"

7. Choose one very small issue or minor disagreement to work on together just for some practice at working through an argument. "Let it be tiny to start off so the chances of succeeding at the task are high," Reynolds says. Success with a small effort builds hopefulness that the couple can work through a more difficult argument, she explains.

8. If a difficult conversation is going nowhere, abandon it before it gets hurtful. "Everybody knows that certain teetering point where an argument is no longer about an exchange but a futile attempt at just saying stupid, meaningless, hurtful stuff," Reynolds says.

9. Agree to have a "Grown Up Time Out" for both of you when things are getting difficult but at the same time, resolve to pick a time and place to resume the discussion when both partners have cooled off.

10. Remember, words can be misinterpreted. "Words are really quite limited and much meaning is assigned by the listener so the risk of assuming or reading into what the other person says is huge," Reynolds says. If you think your partner is saying something hurtful or disturbing, repeat it back to him. Say, "Are you saying that you...." This gives your partner the chance to clarify his statement.