How to Sideline Conflict Before it Starts

  • Say what you mean. Don’t say, “I hate football” if what you really mean is, “I wish we could spend some quality time together on Saturday afternoons, but the game always takes precedence.” Before you speak, think carefully about what really upsets you.
  • Use “I” messages. “I sometimes feel ignored and lonely” goes down a lot easier than, “You never pay any attention to me.”
  • Don’t use generalizations – or words such as always and never. Avoid statements such as “You never take out the garbage like you’re supposed to” and “You are always talking to your mother on the phone.” They are usually exaggerations, and they are certainly not helpful. Begin your statements with “I feel [left out] when I can’t spend time with you”; “There are times I feel…”; “Sometimes I feel…”; or “Occasionally I feel…”
  • Avoid statements that assign blame. “I” statements encourage discussion; “you” statements shut it down. Start your sentences with “I feel…” or “I think…” rather than “You are…” or “You should…” Avoid “you” statements that shame or blame your spouse.
  • Focus on your thoughts and feelings rather than on your spouse’s failures. Invariably generalizations will lead to a defensive response from your spouse because he or she will feel the need to set the record straight.
  • Be willing to say, “I’m sorry.” Admitting you were wrong is very important, but you also need to express your sorrow over the hurt your wrong behavior caused: “I was wrong, and I’m so sorry that I hurt you.” By expressing your sorrow, you demonstrate empathy for your hurting spouse.


Excerpted from Dr. Gary and Barbara Rosberg, The Great Marriage Q&A Book (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2006): 49.