Being the best partner — 13 July 2013
How to have a low-conflict marriage

Some people respond with awe and disbelief when they encounter long-term happy couples who exhibit low conflict relationships. Some attribute it to luck, unique pairing, one partner’s submissiveness, or a relationship aberration. Actually, a consistently harmonious love relationship is attainable by most couples. So what’s the secret?

Most couples begin their relationship with excitement, awe, infatuation and the belief that their mate is infallible, perfect, unique and precious. Their romantic stage is intoxicating as each partner gives and receives unconditional love and admiration. This phase usually lasts from six months to two years. It is followed by a sobering period that is marred by disappointment as they discover each other’s imperfections. How they handle this phase sets the stage for their future interactions.

Dr. Ellyn Bader and Dr. Peter Pearson of The Couple’s Institute developed a model of couples’ relationship stages with conflict and closeness ratings. In their book, “Tell Me No Lies” they list couples’ evolution from the “honeymoon” to “emerging differences” to “freedom to explore” and to “the resumption of together as two.”

Drs. Bader and Pearson state, “To love your spouse and still love yourself – that’s the goal for your marriage.” So how does one accomplish this goal in a low conflict style?

My recommendation is to recognize your partner’s fallibility not as a disappointing discovery that erases your enthusiasm and love, but as an additional awareness that requires even deeper acceptance and tenderness. Learning to love an imperfect mate requires realistic appreciation rather than false idealization.

When a mate’s imperfections become evident, it is your task to understand that those less-than-ideal traits, behaviors or feelings come from your beloved’s childhood pain, trauma or inherent nature. All of these are best responded to with acceptance and compassion matched by a desire to ease your partner’s pain.

Also understand that your frustrations about your partner’s less than ideal traits are exacerbated by your previously idealized perception of him/her rather than by solely learning of your mate’s shortcomings. You may want to ask yourself what is so disappointing about the discovered trait or conduct that may propel you to reduce your affection for your partner?

To avoid judgment and criticism of your beloved, Dr. Pearson beautifully recommends: “Be curious – not furious.” Wanting to understand your partner’s ways leads to compassion rather than disdain, hurt, or contempt.

Conflict arises when one believes that the spouse intentionally, selfishly, carelessly or inconsiderately acted in a harmful way. Those assumptions are most often incorrect and are damaging to both mates. Being sincerely curious about the partner’s state of mind is a loving and accepting gesture that can lead to authentic discussions and greater comfort for both of you.

To create a low conflict relationship:

  • Remind yourself that your mate is as precious today as he/she was when you fell in love.
  • Avoid derogatory depictions. Use curiosity and compassion to understand and support your mate.
  • Be consistently kind to your precious beloved.





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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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