We're Fighting—Are We Doomed?
Peter Pearson, PhD, and Ellyn Bader, PhD, are the founders of the Couples Institute in Menlo Park, California.
Peter: When I see couples who have been together 20 years without a cross word, I think, "Can this marriage be saved?" The people who grow in relationships are willing to test each other.
Ellyn: When you learn how to repair your partner's hurt feelings, to give when it isn't convenient—that's when you're building the emotional muscle you need for a truly intimate partnership.
Peter: You have to ask each other questions and listen to the answers without personalizing too quickly. Not "Why are you doing this to me?" but "Let me understand why you believe this or want that."
Ellyn: One of my favorite lines is "Can you be curious instead of furious?" Pretend you're a reporter doing an interview.
Peter: Ask your partner, "What does this really mean for you?" Relationship conflicts can trigger painful memories from the past—of rejection or abandonment—and that's when a person gives you a 50-cent response to a 10-cent stimulus. If you're really stuck, there are three words that might be more important than "I love you": "Maybe you're right."
Next: 7 things your partner needs to hear every day