As the glow of the holidays begins to fade, people in struggling marriages begin to lose their strength to combat marital problems. Divorce begins to look like the best solution. In January, divorce inquiries increase and filings begin to spike. If you’re not careful, your marriage could fall victim to the dreaded “January Curse.” Luckily, there are well-proven ways to avoid an emotionally and financially taxing divorce and reignite the spark in your marriage.
There are countless characteristics you love about your partner. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be with them. But let’s face it -they aren’t perfect. Nobody is. Sometimes the way they act is frustrating and other times the very traits that attracted you to your partner in the first place start to drive you crazy. You don’t want to end the relationship, but you’re starting to resent some of their characteristics. So how do you deal with traits you don’t like in your partner?
For a start, you should show appreciation for the things you do like about your significant other. According to Marriage and Family Therapist Benjamin Caldwell, “One of the things that can destroy a relationship is when you have small resentments that build up over time, and even small expressions of gratitude can make a significant difference.” One of the benefits of showing appreciation is that it softens your negative feelings about your partner. Another is that it makes it easier for the person to accept negative feedback. You realize all the positive characteristics about them, you just wish a few things were different.
When you do discuss traits you don’t like about your partner, be specific. “You’re always messy” is less useful than “It makes me uncomfortable when people come over and there are dirty dishes in the sink.” Saying, “You’re always messy” causes several problems. Try to avoid the words “always” and “never.” Using those words causes the person to think of situations that contradict your statement. Suddenly the conversation becomes them listing times they weren’t messy, rather than addressing the problem at hand. The statement is also blatantly blaming them, whereas saying how it makes you feel when there are dirty dishes is more of a joint problem. Using appreciation and mentioning a problem without being accusatory takes you towards a constructive conversation.
It can also help to find similarities with your partner. Psychologist Suzanne Phillips explains, “Realizing that you are having difficulty because you are “similar” can actually change the perspective and enhance the power of the “We” in decision making.” Let’s say that you both dislike cleaning. There is often tension over who should clean what. Instead of fighting each other, you realize it’s a joint problem, and decide to hire somebody to help keep the house in order. Knowing that you both dislike cleaning will also make you appreciate it more when one of you takes the effort make your place more organized.
Perhaps one of the most valuable activities you can do to deal with traits you dislike in your partner is to take an objective perspective. In the study, “A Brief Intervention to Promote Conflict Reappraisal Preserves Marital Quality Over Time,” researchers aimed to find out the impact of taking an objective perspective on relationship struggles. They had couples write down a specific disagreement they had with each other. Then they imagined they were a neutral third party looking to help their relationship. Partners who did this exercise three times a year, for twenty minutes each time, had higher relationship satisfaction levels than couples that didn’t partake in the exercise.
The saying, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound a cure” holds true for relationships. Prevent problems by showing appreciation for the traits you like in your partner and realizing you might also be exhibiting the very characteristics you dislike about them. When issues still manage to arise from their traits, speak about them with specificity and without being accusatory. Try to look at things from an outside perspective. Don’t let a few frustrating traits make you forget all of the wonderful ones your partner possesses.
 Finkel, E. J., Slotter, E. B., Luchies, L. B., Walton, G. M., & Gross, J. J. (2013). A Brief Intervention to Promote Conflict Reappraisal Preserves Marital Quality Over Time. Psychological Science, 24(8), 1595-1601. doi:10.1177/0956797612474938
Carlos Todd, PhD
Your most recent relationship just ended. While you’re upset, you’re not very surprised. Honestly, you could tell from the beginning that it was going to fail. Does this sound familiar? Do you believe that attachments lead to expectations and expectations lead to disappointment? When you start to feel too close in a relationship, do you pull back?
It is likely you’ve experienced similar thoughts to these, or you’ve been in a relationship with somebody who has. These attachment issues go by several names, such as “relationship anxiety” or “commitment phobia.” This struggle often stems from previous poor romantic relationships or negative relationships observed at a young age. However, there are endless other causes that can result in fearing commitment. Stereotypically, people tend to think of men as dominating in commitment issues, but anybody can develop these.
When you have relationship anxiety, you try to keep your partner at a distance. You believe that if you keep yourself from getting too close, it’ll hurt less when the relationship inevitably ends. Unfortunately, that anxiety can be the cause of a failed relationship that may have otherwise survived. A recent study in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships sought to understand how attachment security (or lack thereof) affected relationships. Researcher Ashley Cooper and her colleagues discovered that people with relationship fears were more likely to have erratic feelings about their partnerships. Additionally, when women exhibited relationship anxiety, it triggered the men in their relationships to experience similar feelings.
The study found that when one person in a relationship had commitment phobia, both partners began to feel anxious and distrustful, and there were low levels of relationship satisfaction. Researchers determined, “Our findings highlight the importance of being aware of attachment insecurities for both partners, how they manifest, and the different ways in which they impact relationship quality.” You shouldn’t be ashamed of having relationship anxiety, but it’s important to be aware of how it can affect relationships.
According to the study “Rejection Sensitivity and Relationship Satisfaction in Dating Relationships: The Mediating Role of Differentiation of Self”, commitment anxiety can cause several problems in relationships. For example, someone fearing rejection might become emotionally distant with their partner, which “might result in fewer opportunities for engaging in shared activities or other intimate acts, further leading the individual to find his or her relationship unsatisfactory.” This emotional distance might also cause the individual to “engage in self-silencing behaviors, whereby they purposely withhold expressing their needs or desires in order to preserve their relationship.” Meanwhile, the person interprets their partner’s ambiguous actions to be negative towards them.
Put more simply, fearing rejection can cause it. Imagine you are in a new relationship and it’s going well. Suddenly, your partner becomes more distant, without any explanation. You can tell that they need something from you, but they aren’t telling you what. As you try to help, they interpret your concern as criticism. Communication is key here. It’s important that both partners in a relationship feel they can be open with each other. When we fear something, our body’s natural response is to shut down, but this is the very time we need to open up. Don’t try to love from a distance. If you’re feeling anxious in a relationship, let your partner know. You can better fight it as a team.
By Carlos Todd, PhD
 Ashley N. Cooper et al. Volatility in daily relationship quality, Journal of Social and Personal Relationships (2017).
 Norona, J. C., & Welsh, D. P. (2016). Rejection sensitivity and relationship satisfaction in dating relationships: The mediating role of differentiation of self. Couple and Family Psychology: Research and Practice
How to Fight Less and Love More in 4 Steps
Love isn’t always easy. Even the strongest of relationships fall victim to fighting. Luckily, there are proven steps you can take to reduce fighting and increase love.
Introspection prevents outbursts
Anger is easy to misdirect. When we’re upset, and want to let those emotions out, we aren’t always careful who we take those emotions out on. Imagine that you had a terrible day at work. Your boss screamed at you without good reason. While you wanted to shout back, it wasn’t worth risking your job. On the way home, traffic is terrible and it seems like everybody is purposefully trying to make your drive last too long. Finally, you get home and decide to watch some television to unwind. The remote is nowhere to be found and you shriek at your significant other. Why do they always lose the remote? Reacting to your outburst, he tells you to stop being overdramatic. The fighting continues.
Philosopher Marcus Aurelius once wrote, “How much more harmful are the consequences of anger and grief than the circumstances that aroused them in us!” You were angry about your boss and the traffic. Although it may have felt like it in the moment, you weren’t that concerned about the remote. It was simply the cherry on top of a terrible day. But that caused an avalanche and all the frustration from the day landed on your undeserving boyfriend. Introspection, examining your inner emotions and thoughts, is the first step in preventing unnecessary fights. You are in charge of identifying your problems and the proper reactions. Before starting a fight with another person, ask yourself if the real conflict is inside you.
Talk meaningfully and more
Speaking frequently with someone has endless benefits and we’ll concentrate on two here. The best part of conversations is that they give you the opportunity to get to know each other more deeply and better understand each other. In the remote fight, your partner called you overdramatic. Had he known your abusive father always called your mother that, he would have known to avoid that phrasing. Another advantage of your increased talking is that you can catch small problems before they grow into larger ones. As Seneca stated in Moral Letters, “Every emotion is at first weak. Later it rouses itself and gathers strength as it moves along -it’s easier to slow it down than to supplant it.” Catch issues when they first arise.
Determine the purpose of the conversation
Conversations happen for a variety of reasons. Sometimes we’re just making small talk, but other times there is something specific we want out of a conversation. According to Relationship Expert Dr. Terri Orbuch, males tend to enjoy giving “instrumental support,” while females like providing “emotional support.” It can be important to know what the other person wants out of a conversation. If your significant other is looking for advice, and you aren’t supplying any, it can leave him frustrated. He was seeking “instrumental support.” Similarly, if you are looking to vent, and your partner is giving advice without acknowledging your emotions, you end up feeling misunderstood. Something as simple as warning your partner that you want to vent, or specifically asking for advice, can guide conversations and prevent fights.
Fight the right way
Sorry to break it to you, but fights aren’t completely avoidable. The good news is that there are ways to make them go smoother. In arguments, try to quickly move away from “what happened” to “how did it make you feel and why?” Semantics will prolong fights without accomplishing much. It’s more important to focus on emotions. In Difficult Conversations: How to discuss what matters most, the authors explain, “Engaging in a difficult conversation without talking about feelings is like staging an opera without the music. You’ll get the plot, but you’ll miss the point.” Concentrate on why an event is important, rather than recreating every detail. If you fight the right way, you can have that fight once, rather than having the same argument over and over again.
Following these steps will take effort, but in the long run they will prevent endless fights. Life is too busy to spend precious time arguing with people you care about. Let’s eliminate time spent fighting and focus on the love.
Enroll in our Fight less. Love More Program to learn more important steps.
By Carlos Todd, PhD
“When I fight with you, I’m really fighting for us. If I didn’t care, I wouldn’t bother.” -Carson Kolhoff
The word “conflict” has a bad reputation. If you hear that two people in a relationship are always disagreeing (the core of conflict), you might jump to the conclusion they have a poor partnership. In reality, they may have a very healthy relationship and be better off than couples who are constantly in agreement and never raise concerns with each other. It’s time we look at the benefits of conflict.
Imagine your significant other has the magical power to make the entire house dirty in minutes. At first, you don’t mention that it bothers you because you don’t want to upset him. Over the last few months, your place has gotten progressively messier. If you’re planning to break up with him, you may decide not to mention how much you hate the mess. The problem won’t matter soon enough.
However, if this is a serious relationship that you want to last, it’s a good idea to bring the issue up. If you simply call your boyfriend a slob, you’re likely to hurt his feelings and make him feel as if you don’t care about your partnership. But if you explain how you see a future with him and would enjoy working together to figure out a way both of you can have the house at a comfortable level of cleanliness, now you’ve shown your dedication to your relationship. When conflicts are discussed properly, the conversations reinforce your commitment to each other and strengthen your problem-solving skills.
Making sure both parties feel understood is the key to discussing a conflict. In 2016, researchers Amie M. Gordon and Serena Chen conducted various studies at the University of California about conflicts in relationships. According to Gordon, “People who reported fighting frequently in their relationship but reported feeling understood by their partners were no less satisfied with their relationships than people who rarely fight.” Even more interestingly, she discovered that couples who felt the other could see from their perspective, “felt more satisfied after discussing a source of conflict in their relationship than when they’d first arrived in the lab.” Sometimes, it can seem as if our significant other doesn’t understand our point of view, or worse, is purposely trying to upset us. Diving into the problem is the only way to discover each other’s real motivations. If there were no conflict in our relationships, we would miss out on valuable insights about how our partners think.
Relationships without conflict aren’t very close relationships. Conflict shows that you care and resolving problems together shows that you understand each other and have the skills to find a solution. Rather than letting tensions build and hoping disagreements will solve themselves (hint, they won’t!), it’s better to embrace the conflict in your relationships. Perhaps psychologist Michael Batshaw summed it up best when he declared, “Engaging in conflict isn’t going to end the relationship, it’s avoiding the conflict [that might].”
Gordon, A. M. (2016, September 15). 7 Ways to Make Conflict Healthy. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/between-you-and-me/201609/7-ways-make-conflict-healthy
Carlos Todd, PhD