Quelling Quibbles

No time for couples therapy? How to stop a spat before it starts.

By Camille Chatterjee, published on March 1, 1999 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

Most couples could use some help in preventing little marital misunderstandings, but few want to go through formal therapy. Why not try a weekend-long program that can quell quibbles between partners before they start.

"It works best for couples who are not too distressed and are motivated for improvement," says psychologist Kurt Hahlweg, of Germany's Technische Universitat Braunschweig, who created the marital intervention program when he noted a lack of options for couples concerned about their relationships but not troubled enough to seek time-consuming therapy.

The seminar lasts just 16 hours and is designed to improve couples' communication skills. Spouses practice expressing their feelings, coping with negative emotions, problem-solving, setting realistic expectations for their relationship and being open about their sexual needs.

When Hahlweg tracked 88 couples participating in his program, he found that, eight months later, they used positive verbal skills—such as directly expressing their desires and giving positive feedback—much more frequently than control pairs. A year later, their rapport was even smoother. And, says Hahlweg, the intervention seems to work magic on non-married cohabiting couples, as well.