Guidelines for Resolving Marital Conflicts



These are not my guidelines.  They are the ones most frequently presented in the many books I have read to help couples work through their disagreements and misunderstandings.  They are also the ones I have been taught in my training, and the ones I have seen to work best in my office.   I invite couples to print this out, make a copy for each, and then I ask each partner to take some time rewording these ground rules, to reflect what they think would work best in their marriage.  Then they can exchange papers to discuss the additions, subtractions, and re-wordings they propose, and combine them into one new set of ground rules that they print out for themselves, not Paul Schmidt's guidelines, but "Our Ground Rules."

1.  Set aside a place as a "workshop" for practicing these ground rules.  Use it only to settle disagreements, so avoid using the sanctuaries of the kitchen, bedroom, eating area, or the TV room where you relax.  Perhaps use the living room or deck.  If your kids won't give you privacy, you might lock yourselves into your car in the garage.

2.  You may set aside a certain time of the week to do this on a regular basis, for practice, and to keep stress levels low by avoiding the build-up of anger.

3.  Discuss threatening subjects by appointment only. (“I need to talk with you about . . . . When would be a good time?”)

4.  Use the same data pool – anything that concerns one of you must be an active concern for the other.

5.  No physical violence, or threats of violence.  Keep your voices at a moderate volume.  This means no words could be heard through a closed door in the hall outside, and no one's voice could be heard through two closed doors in a room right across the hall.

6.  Stay on the subject.  Discuss only one issue at a time.  Use hand signals like these:

a.  “Emergency Brake” – Raise one hand.  This tells your partner to wait a few seconds and then proceed with caution.  You have heard about as much as you can stand right now, and you need to take a moment and calm yourself before hearing more.

     b.  “Below the Belt” – Raise both hands.  This tells your partner that you are being hurt so badly that you would have trouble forgiving.  Going any further would hurt your relationship.  This is a polite way to ask for an apology, or a gentler way to get the same point across.

     c.  “You’re boring me” – Put your hands over your ears for a second.  This tells your partner that he or she is going on too long, or is getting out of bounds.  You just can't hear anymore, so time to listen or both take time out to decompress.

7.  No interrupting.  Waiting your turn gets better results.

8.  Stay in the present tense – avoid discussing the past.  (“I am afraid that you will . . .” works better than “Of course there was the time when you . . . .”)

9.  Avoid the absolute usage of “always” and “never.”  Use “almost always” or “hardly ever.”

10.  Be both honest and kind.  Speak to the point, but positively.  “I love it when you . . .” works way better than “I need you to . . .” or worse still, “You need to . . . .”

11.  Use “I statements” instead of “you statements.” “I feel/I think you are lying . . .” is more honest, humble, and kind than “You are lying.”

12.  Be proactive, not reactive.  Look for win-win solutions that benefit both parties.

13.  Feelings are okay – it's what we do with them that counts.  Don't accuse your partner of feeling something.  This is no crime anyway, and besides, this can never be proved or disproved.

14.  Accept each other's different styles of expressing feelings.  Some may cry and some may raise their voices.  When you express yourself, try to express your emotions as calmly and clearly as you can.

15.  Have you considered the benefits of talking this out in front of another friend or couple to serve as a referee?

16.  If the discussion seems especially important or tense, observe the outline below.



You can write this out, speak it out, or best of all, do both.

If your partner objects to something, looks away, or starts fidgeting,

you can ask them to say what they are hearing, to make sure you're being understood.

You don't have to hear them or discuss anything yet, as that comes later in the outline.

State the problem (15 words or less, worded neutrally). For example, “We disagree on how we see and handle our son's defiance, disrespect, and disobedience."

In this matter I want:

In this I believe you want:

Deep down I need:

Deep down I believe you need:

In this our marriage needs:

Deep down I fear:

Deep down I believe you fear:

To resolve all this we could both:

In addition I could:

And you could:

Now I will listen to you.   How do you see each item above?

After you have heard each other out, you are. usually able to discuss better ways of understanding and solving this problem in the future.

Dr. Paul Schmidt is a psychologist life coach you can reach at [email protected], (502) 633-2860.


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Dr. Paul F. Schmidt