7 Get started with the end in mind.
Conversations usually end the way they begin. Even if a flare-up ends peacefully, it might be peace at the price of unfinished business. John Gottman urges couples to soften the start-up. A start-up is the way you approach a topic or conflict. A soft start-up is like an invitation you send by mail without demand or urgency. An effective invitation gives someone space to RSVP rather than trapping them in the heat of the moment.
Inviting someone into potential conflict may seem strange, but the alternative is to let emotion trigger and drive disagreements. Robust relationships include conflict, so be proactive. Anticipate the heat and start cool. Healthy couples do not tip-toe around the shards of broken feelings. Set a winning tone for conflict in your relationship by giving a direct invitation to a friend rather than a challenge to an adversary. “A gentle word turns away wrath.” – Proverbs 15:1
8 Get your fix.
A “fix” describes some effort to lighten the mood when a conversation takes a negative turn. Examples depend upon personality. A playful person might cross her eyes; a witty personality might exaggerate his point on purpose to break the tension. I know someone who sticks out her tongue at her husband as if to say, “I’m not buying it; but I won’t make a federal case out of it.” “Getting a fix” takes two: someone to give and someone to receive in the spirit it’s offered. This practice is one way to soothe each other, giving you a better chance to work things all the way through.
9 Get polished.
If you dump rocks into a cylinder and roll them around with water and grit, the process eventually brings out their best. Even a dull, jagged rock can become gem-like. Relationships are like rock tumblers. Whether you get shined-up or ground down depends on what you’re made of.
The marriage tumbler can make you shine when you willing receive influence. Unhappy couples focus on changing the other person, which can turn a spouse into one of the children. Receiving influence well requires humility and emotional intelligence. Healthy couples have expectations for their marriage to bring greater shape to their character. As wise, old King Solomon said, true friendship includes moments when “iron sharpens iron” (Prov. 27:17).
10 Make Peace
There’s a profound difference between making peace and just keeping it. Keeping peace can be wise if you’re trying to keep small things small or if you’re giving grace by overlooking something. But sometimes keeping peace is just plain old avoidance. It’s wimping out in the name of a twisted sense of courtesy. What usually happens then is some next incident triggers enough emotion to finally get the truth out, but it comes out ugly.
Instead, be proactive. Use your words. Put what is bothering you into English. For example, the next time he stays late but fails to call or the next time she uses a passive aggressive tone, let it go but only for an hour or a day. Then, go make peace. While it’s still fresh on everyone’s mind, it is still fair to discuss. Revisit intentionally once emotion no longer is the driving force.