No matter how many times you tell your husband not to leave his dirty clothes on the floor and to rinse the dishes out before he puts them in the dishwasher, your requests fall on deaf ears. Unfortunately, when you call him out on his behavior he shrugs and tells you to stop nagging him. His ambivalent attitude in turn simply fuels your frustration with him and his disregard for your feelings.

He says, “What’s the big deal, it’s just dishes?” And while on the surface it may seem like a small issue, you feel if something is important to you - no matter how big or small it is - it should be on his priority list. While you resist the temptation to bang some sense into his thick skull with your frying pan, you’re simply unable to hold back your criticism of his apathetic attitude towards your needs. A few insults are hurled and a fight ensues.

Tone it down

“Thirty five years of marriage counseling and twenty-eight years of a second marriage have convinced me that fights are not necessary in a marriage. Married couples need to have discussions, they need to solve problems, and sometimes they need to disagree, but they don’t need to squabble, argue, bicker or fight, ” says Tina B. Tessina, PhD (aka “Dr. Romance”), psychotherapist and author of Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Fighting about the Three Things That Can Ruin Your Marriage (Adams Media 200. “Fights are dramatic, which is not helpful to a discussion. If you have enough energy to create drama, you have more than enough to tone it down into a discussion.”

Dr. Tessina offers these guidelines to help you overcome negative habit patterns you may have built that lead to arguments or bickering and make your discussions more productive.

5 guidelines for not fighting

1. Don’t participate: Disagreements always require two people. If you don’t participate, your partner can’t argue without you. If the issue arises at an inopportune time, you can just find a temporary resolution (temporarily give in, go home, leave the restaurant) and wait until things calm down to discuss what happened (the squabble may just have been a case of too much alcohol, or being tired and irritable.) Then talk about what you can do instead if it ever happens again.

2. Discuss recurring problems: To resolve recurring problems, discuss related decisions with your spouse and find out what each of you does and does not want before making important decisions. You have a lot of options; so don’t let confusion add to the stress.

3. Seek to understand: Make sure you and your partner understand each other’s point of view before beginning to solve the problem. You should be able to put your mate’s position in your own words, and vice versa. This does not mean that you agree with each other, just that you understand each other.

4. Solve it for the two of you: Come up with a solution that works for just the two of you, ignoring anyone else’s needs. It’s much easier to solve a problem for the two of you than for others you may not understand. After you are clear with each other, discuss the issues with others who may be involved.

5. Talk to others: If extended family members or friends might have problems with your decision, talk about what objections they might have, so you can diffuse them beforehand. Discuss possible ways to handle their objections.

Surviving a fight

Of course, if you feel a fight is unavoidable, try these ideas for finding a win-win resolution:

■Remember the point of the fight is to reach a solution, not to win, be right, or make your partner wrong.
■Don’t bring up all the prior problems that relate to this one. Leave the past in the past; keep this about one recent problem. Solve one thing at a time.
■Don’t talk too much at once. Keep your statements to two or three sentences. Your partner will not be able to grasp more than that.
■State your problem as a request, not a demand. To make it a positive request, use “I messages” and “please”.
■Don’t use power struggle tactics: guilt and obligation, threats and emotional blackmail, courtroom logic: peacekeeping, sacrificing, or hammering away are off limits.
■Know your facts: If you’re going to fight for something, know the facts about the problem: Do research, find out what options are available, and know how you feel and what would solve the problem for you.
■Ask for changes in behavior, don’t criticize character, ethics or morals.
■Don’t fight over who’s right or wrong. Opinions are opinions, and that won’t solve the problem. Instead, focus on what will work.
■Ask your partner if he or she has anything to add to the discussion. “Is there anything else we need to discuss now?”
■Don’t guess what your partner is thinking or feeling. Instead, ask. “What do you think? Or how do you feel about it?”
■Hold hands, look at each other, and remember you’re partners.
■If you’re angry, express it calmly. “I’m angry about ……” There’s no need for drama, and it won’t get you what you want. Anger is satisfied by being acknowledged, and by creating change. Anger is a normal emotion - rage is phony, it’s drama created by not taking care of yourself.
■Acknowledged and honor your partner’s feelings - don’t deflect them, laugh at them or freak out. They’re only feelings, and they subside when respected, heard and honored. *Listen with your whole self. Paraphrase what your partner says; check to see if you understand by repeating what is said. “So you are angry because you think I ignored you. Is that right?”
■If you want to let off steam (vent), ask permission or take a time out. Handle your excess emotion or energy by being active (run, walk, hit a pillow,) writing, or talking to someone who is not part of the problem. Don’t direct it personally at anyone. You can’t vent and solve problems at the same time.
■Don’t try to solve a problem if you’re impaired: tired, hungry, drunk or unstable.
■Surrender to your responsibility. When you become aware that you have made a mistake, admit it and apologize. Use it as an opportunity to learn and grow.