5 Reliable Steps to Resolving Conflicts in Marriage | SoundVision.com

5 Reliable Steps to Resolving Conflicts in Marriage

Finding yourself stuck in a rut with your spouse? Can’t seem to get past obstacles in your relationship no matter how much you communicate? Well, there may be some snags in your relationship that can be ironed out by identifying the type of problem you are having and learning how to address it in a productive manner. Let me introduce you to one of the leading research scientists in marriage and family, Dr. John Gottman.

Who is John Gottman?

Perhaps you may have heard his name on social media, television, or through friends. Gottman  is a psychologist with more than 50 years of experience conducting research on marriage stability and giving advice, and co-founded The Gottman Institute and Affective Software, Inc., with his wife Dr. Julia Schwartz  Gottman. Much of his research has a fresh new take on marriage. He is one of the few researchers who analyze biofeedback or the physiological responses of his research participants during arguments or even everyday conversations in their marriages.  

He also records these interactions in his lab and watches them repeatedly to pinpoint the  interaction bids that sustain or break a marriage – what he calls the “The Magic Ratio” of 5 positive interaction bids to 1 negative interaction bid for a successful relationship. If there is more negative feedback or responses from your partner than positive, then your relationship is at risk.

Gottman mentions that establishing certain preventative principles in marriage before anything goes awry is the crux of his research. These principles are presented in his book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. This article will touch upon the 5 reliable steps that are needed to resolve solvable problems. You are encouraged to read the actual book with your spouse for its revelatory exercises, for questions to contemplate that can help analyze and repair your relationship, and for more information on other case studies of successful and unsuccessful marriages. 

Two Kinds of Marital Conflict 

According to Gottman, the two types of marital conflict are perpetual and solvable. A perpetual problem is an issue that spouses revisit repeatedly where they never really come to an agreement and never seem to resolve it. A solvable problem is often about a specific situation or conflict. There is usually no deeper meaning behind it and it is not something a couple argues about repeatedly. Identifying and defining your disagreements will help to “customize your coping strategies.” 

Unfortunately, 69 percent of marital conflicts are perpetual. Examples of perpetual problems can be as follows: 

  • The husband is lazy about cleaning up after himself, which annoys the wife.
  • One partner usually wants to engage in intimacy far more than the other.
  • The wife may have a less conservative approach to practicing their religion than the husband.
  • The husband feels that the wife is too hard on the kids and should discipline them in a gentler manner.

“Despite what many therapists tell you, you don’t have to resolve your major marital conflicts for your marriage to thrive,” says Gottman. Most married couples who have these issues still manage to have a satisfying marriage despite these ongoing problems because they understand that some difficulties are inevitable. This is just like chronic physical ailments are unavoidable as you get older. They develop strategies and routines that help them cope with these problems so as to avoid worsening them. 

Differences between Solvable and Perpetual Problems 

Differentiating between solvable problems and gridlocked ones can be difficult. Here is a chart to help you identify the differences between the two types: 

Solvable Problems

Perpetual Problems

  • Situational-based
  •  Less pain physiologically – your focus is on a particular dilemma
  • Sense of ease after the disagreement has been dealt with
  • Partners feel less defined in their positions and come to a compromise or solution


  • Based on bigger Issues such as trust, security, fidelity, character and personality, or unfulfilled personal dreams 
  • Intense feelings, gut-wrenching – there is an underlying conflict that’s fueling the dispute
  • More frustrated after the surfacing disagreement is over
  • Partners feel more entrenched in their positions
  • Become more resentful of each other than before

The book contains numerous case studies that can provide more details about these types of conflicts.

5 Steps to Resolution of Solvable Problems 

When emotionally intelligent couples handle a disagreement, they employ certain techniques that help solve it without putting the marriage in peril. They can follow these 5 steps:

1. Soften your start-up. 

According to Gottman, men’s bodies are more likely to react to emotional stress than their wives. Moreover, women are more likely to bring up touchy issues in order to resolve it with their husbands. Therefore, softening our approach to resolving an issue is the best way to start. 

Here are some suggestions to keep in mind:

Complain but don’t blame. Remember to start your sentences with “I feel…about what?” “I need…” Example: “Hey, the garbage is full and it’s stinking up the apartment. We agreed that you’d take it out after dinner every night. I am really upset about this. Would you please take it out?” 

Make statements that start with “I” instead of “You.”  Can you see a difference between the two statements? 

“You are not listening to me” vs. “I would like it if you’d listen to me.” 

“You just don’t care about me” vs. “I feel neglected.”

Describe what is happening. Don’t evaluate or judge. Instead of, “You never watch our child” you could say “I seem to be the only one chasing after our child today.” Your spouse won’t feel attacked and want to bring up a defense; rather he/she would consider your point instead. 

Be clear about your positive needs. Instead of “You left the kitchen a total mess,” say “I’d appreciate it if you would clean your stuff off the kitchen table.”

Be polite. “Please” “I’d appreciate it if…”

Be appreciative. Think of things your partner did in the past and show gratitude for it. Instead of “You never have time for me anymore,” say “Remember how we used to go out every Saturday night? I loved spending so much time alone with you. Let’s start doing that again.”

Don’t store things up. It’s hard to be gentle when you’re ready to burst with accusations. Don’t wait too long before bringing up an issue. Otherwise, it will build up in your mind.  

2.  Learn to make and receive repair attempts.  

Sometimes you can avoid a disastrous argument by stopping discussions that have started on the wrong foot. You can use “repair attempts” to de-escalate tension and encourage the other to be more receptive to compromise. 

Repair attempts can sound like: 

  • “I just need this to be calmer right now.” 
  • “Can we take a break?”
  • “I know that this isn’t your fault.”

Having a list of phrases handy to use as a reminder – put it on your fridge - when going through a disagreement with your spouse will help by using the type of words that work well for putting on the brakes. With this practice, these phrases will act like megaphones that make you pay attention to a repair attempt when it’s being used by your spouse. You will recognize when either of you is trying to de-escalate the tension. 

Here are some examples of effective repair attempts you can use during your disagreements: 

  • "I feel blamed/defensive/criticized. Can you rephrase that?"
  • "Please say that more gently."
  • "My reactions were too extreme. Sorry."
  • "Let me try again." Or "Let's try that over again."
  • When you're trying to compromise: "I agree with part of what you're saying." or "Let's agree to include both our views in a solution."
  • When you need to calm down, you can say: "I need things to be calmer right now." Or "Can we take a break?"
  • When you need the disagreement to stop: "Please let's stop for a while." Or "Let's agree to disagree here." Or "I'm feeling flooded with (insert emotion you're feeling here). I need some time to calm down."
  • Show appreciation: "thank you for…" or "I understand" or "I love you…"

3.    Soothe yourself and each other. 

As we touched upon how it is harder for a man’s body to calm down after an argument than a woman’s, it is important to continue using a soothing approach to a disagreement. Sometimes, in less stable relationships, the other partner might not hear the repair attempt because he/she is flooded by emotions – their heart is pounding, they’re sweating, and holding their breath. In this situation, the best thing to do is to end the discussion immediately. If you’re feeling flooded, let your partner know how you’re feeling and do the following:

  • Let the break last at least 20 minutes because that is how long it usually takes for one to physiologically calm down. 
  • Avoid righteous indignation or innocent victimhood. 
  • Engage in soothing activities like taking a walk, reading, exercising, gardening, etc. Anything that you enjoy and puts you at ease.
  • Avoid talking about the topic of disagreement.

After you have calmed down, soothe your partner as well. Otherwise, soothe each other on a regular basis and pinpoint with your partner what makes them feel flooded. Massage each other, counter flood the partner by using an oximeter on him/her – this biofeedback gives the other an immediate indication that they need to calm down, or take them to engage in a soothing activity. Then try to have the discussion again. 

4.   Compromise. 

Realistically, no one will get their way completely in a marriage even if one is convinced they are right. The marriage would suffer as a result. After following the first three steps in creating a positive atmosphere, the two of you are ready to take the path of negotiation and find ways to accommodate each other. 

Decide together which solvable problem you want to discuss, then sit separately to think about the problem. Draw two circles – a smaller one within a larger one – and write a list of things you can’t give up on in the smaller one and a list of things you can compromise over in the larger one. 

Then come back and share your inner and outer circles with each other and look for bases of agreement. Remember to use the first four steps above to start the topic of discussion. Try to concede more than be staunch on your position when it comes to the outer circle. This should help to develop a common way of thinking about the issue so that you can construct a real plan, inshaAllah, God willing. Then try out the solution for an agreed-upon time before coming back to it and deciding if it’s working. If not, begin the process again and try to resolve it together.

5.   Deal with emotional injuries. 

You may get past the issue after compromising where you are both satisfied, however, arguments can still leave scars. These are called “emotional injuries.” Emotional injuries can become constant irritants if they are not carefully addressed. An emotional distance can build over time because one partner might keep thinking about the incidents or arguments over and over. To avoid this, you and your partner can process these emotional injuries together through an exercise designed by Gottman. 

Here is the handy manual to help couples process the emotional injury in the aftermath of an unforgettable conflict: 

Aftermath of a Fight or Regrettable Incident

These are five reliable steps one can use for the myriad of problems married couples face. If you find that you both are stuck in gridlock, then it is best to seek counseling. Moreover, this book has a section on dealing with perpetual problems. I would recommend getting a copy to keep for when hard times strike between you two. 

In the end, we must remember that our beloved Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, was the best to his wives from his ummah. Aishah, may Allah be pleased with her, narrated that the Messenger of Allah said: 

"The best of you is the best to his wives, and I am the best of you to my wives, and when your companion dies, leave him alone."

(Jami` at-Tirmidhi #3895)

If our husbands can remind themselves through the study of our Prophet’s life on how he treated his wives, it would no doubt be beneficial. Moreover, if the wives can remember that Allah will grant them paradise by being good to their husbands. InshaAllah.

For further information on Gottman’s research and resources, visit https://gottmanconnect.com/.

Sumayya Khan is a homeschooling mother of two and a teacher. She has worked with several Islamic schools and organizations in the last 10 years. She is currently teaching Literature online with Dawanet and studying the Qur’an through Al-Huda Institute. In her free time, she loves to spend time with her family and friends, play sports, enjoy nature, and read books. She currently resides with her family in Toronto, Canada. 


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