Resolution, Not Conflict

The guide to problem-solving.

Marriage Problems? Here's an 8-Step Rescue Plan

If your marriage is hitting bumps, and even if it feels hopeless, this self-help version of couples counseling can put you on smoother and more solid ground. Read More

Point 4

On point 4 you wrote "I feel...(use a one word adjective)". I would add: use a one word feeling!

Often, conflicts cannot be resolved, because people use interpretations instead of feelings to describe what is happening to them. The difference is that feelings describe an emotion while an interpretation describes how you see your relationship at a point in time.

Some examples:
Feelings: I feel sad, angry, afraid, disgusted, pissed, insecure, guilty, shame, etc.
Interpretation: I feel betrayed, used, controlled, mistrusted, deceived, etc.

The problem with the latter is, that these actually not describe what is going on within the person. You can always pose the question: "How does it feel to be betrayed, used, controlled, etc.?" to come back to the actual emotions.


Yes , feeling is a better word than adjective. I will make that change on the article.

Your point about "interpretations", i.e, accusatory adjectives, is interesting. I think in general that you are right. At the same time, some people do seem to find those words useful, probably if they are self-confident folks who are open to hearing all kinds of feedback. In these cases the potentially accusatory-sounding word becomes a jumping off point for mutual exploration from both parties....

For folks who have trouble finding a feeling word, the old TA (Transactional Analysis) options are useful. Try: mad, sad, scared or glad.

Thanks Patrick for this addition!

what if you already practice the positives to negatives etc

...and what you have is still a superficially good relationship in which nothing ever gets resolved, that feels like a lot of work to maintain, and the only thing you have found that works to keep it from devolving into the kind of angry mess you both had in first marriages (and saw in your parents) is to be away from them as much as possible, and hire coaches to listen and encourage me?

I know I can't change him, but his way of being leaves me feeling defeated before I even start to address any of the problems. I taught him the tools to communicate where he's coming from, and he uses them. He even (mostly) remembers to ask how I'm doing, and stay quiet during the answer, which is more than some of my friends have. But I can't teach him to actually LISTEN, much less understand, when I talk to him about what is going on with me. I feel... dismissed, ignored, taken for granted, unsupported in my daily efforts to keep going, much less to rebuild my career, in the face of almost overwhelming health challenges.

Skills that could help you to move forward...

On the one hand, some folks are natural communicators like some folks are natural athletes. At the same time, almost every kid eventually does learn to ride a bike. They just take longer to learn the skills.

It sounds like your husband wants to learn to communicate more effectively. Your being his teacher as well as his wife is a dual role though and can lead to his feeling depressed and your feeling frustrated.

I'd recommend instead you do shared self-study. There's several articles from my blog that might be a good next step. They could be helpful for both of you to read.

I'm impressed that both of you really do want this marriage to become a good one. Here's what, from your self-description, I think might be most helpful:

1. LIstening skills:

2. "Nothing ever gets resolved": Solve tough dilemmas with the Win-Win-WAltz:

3. "I feel...unsupported.." in my book The Power of Two, there's a chapter on how to be helpful when your partner has a problem. Men tend to find this chapter especially eye-opening. "Just listen" is what many people advise, and it's bad advice. This chapter explains a constructive role for them that enables them to give their wife genuine support.

4. Lastly, I'd recommend also the website-based program that's based on my book The Power of Two. For a monthly cost that's less than the cost of a dinner out, the program gives the two of you a coach along with web-based exercises: See

Most importantly, "once-and-future-commuter" thank you so much for writing in about your situation. I'm certain that many folks face a similar dilemma, so your Comment is likely to help lots of people.


thanks for the reply

Thanks for the detailed reply.

I found the listening skills blog a good reminder for me, although I was conscious that, like any self-report questionnaire, its accuracy depends on the person's self-awareness. A person can score quite well simply because they really believe they do all those good-listening things. Ask their spouse or children to evaluate them and you might get quite a different picture. My spouse fits the pattern of the non-responder quite well, but I doubt he's interested enough to read that blog, or self-aware enough to recognize himself in that section.

He thinks everything is 'okay'. I don't want to nuke him with all the things (at the same time) that are not working for me. But what I see ahead, even if he woke up tomorrow and started being able to really HEAR ME, is a really long road of me teaching and him following (the same as what's behind us) and I'm not sure I have the stomach for that any more. I have multiple health issues and a likely quite limited number of productive years left to live my life the best I can (another thing he refuses to acknowledge beyond lip service).

Basically, I need him to take responsibility for his own growth and development as a person. I hoped that would happen while we spent the winter apart but it hasn't. In significant ways he continues to over-rely on me to 'teach' instead of developing his own judgment. Another futile conversation tonight, that ended with me calming him and giving him positive messages while my own issues were again not able to be heard, has only increased my doubts that it's worth investing my energy in the relationship instead of in an exit strategy.

But thanks for the reply. I will look at your book and see if there's any point trying to share a new learning journey with him.

Letting go of fixing the other person...

The hardest part of launching a different kind of relationship is letting go of monitoring the other person's mistakes. When you see ahead "a really long road of me teaching and him following...), I hear that you might truly benefit from resigning from that job. Another tip off is your phrase "I need him to..." While I agree with you that it would be a big help if he were to take responsiblity for his growth and development as a person," that is unlikely to happen until you let go altogether of that role

An easier and more gratifying role for wife is to be the one who is your huband's cheerleader. Focus only on him to see what he is and does that you can appreciate, agree with, and enjoy. The rest of the time, keep your focus on you, what you can do to feel better healthwise, where you can get help from others sources (which you would need to do in any case if you were to leave him). ....

Wishing you, and your loved one, all the very best.

For the marriage problems, i

For the marriage problems, i think u should buy this book. Have a look at it. This is the link. Thank u very much...

Couples should be acquainted

Couples should be acquainted that problems on marriage are just normal occurrences on the relationship. With this concern, there will always be solutions on how you can cope up with your dilemmas.

I love this perspective...

I love this perspective, that all couples run into challenging situations where one wants x and the other prefers y. The key is, as you say, to look for solutions. I would add, the couples that do best look for solutions that work for both partners. In my books, blogposts, and on I call that process "the win-win waltz."

I really screwed up today. I

I really screwed up today. I am a 36 year old happily married man of almost five years. My wife and I have two beautiful children (3) and (1 month). We have a healthy sexual relationship and I have no desire to stray. Today, an old girlfriend hit me up on Facebook. We started a light conversation in which she confessed to me she often thought about what could have been. I said that I had thought about it as well in the past, but that I was happy. Later in the conversation, she sent me a pic. It wasn't nude, but was quite suggestive. I told her that her husband was crazy for not wanting her. My next comment to her was going to be that we had crossed the line of appropriate, (which I clearly allowed and even egged on) but my phone rang. It was my wife. Apparently I had left my Facebook open on my laptop at home.

I take full blame for this situation. The problem is, I don't know how to fix it, or get my wife to want to fix it. She is absolutely furious with me, and justifiably so. I screwed up, but now she says she doesn't believe anything I say, including that I love her and that I'm sorry. I don't know what to do, and wouldn't normally resort to something like this, but I'm desperate. Please help.

The dangers of connecting with old flames, and how to recover

Facebook presents unprecedented challenges to couples. Old flames and business associates are the two main sources of affairs. Alas, you've learned this lesson the hard way. Thank you though for writing about your experience. Hopefully it will help others to avoid the same mistake.

As to recovery, most couples do recover after affairs. Most of the time the initial reaction of the betrayed spouse is like that of your wife: shock, anger, hurt.... Over time though as the initial shock passes most spouses gradually can engage in helpful dialogue. The wounds heal and, ideally, both of you will learn and grow from this experience.

It helps also that you did not have a full affair. Initial flirtations are not a full affair, and all the more so in that you realized that you were getting out of line and were aiming to pull back.

Wishing you and your wife all the very best---

Marriage Problems

Excellent plan. Marriage problems can surely be resolved as long as couples communicate. Communication is not merely saying what you feel but it is choosing the best words (in fact, the kind words)so that your spouse will better understand your feelings and your thoughts. Communication also is not merely words, it is action too.

Here's to more happiness in marriage!


I love your description of communication. The one further factor I'd add is that half of communication is listening.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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Susan Heitler, Ph.D., is the author of many books, including From Conflict to Resolution and The Power of Two. She is a graduate of Harvard University and New York University.


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