What’s the Secret to a Happy Marriage?

Editor’s note: This is a guest post on conflict resolution from Stephanie Baffone.  I love the perspective that she brings as a trained professional therapist, talented writer and Aunt to 38!

Secret to a Happy MarriageFirst, let me say a big THANK YOU to Dustin for the opportunity to guest post here at Engaged Marriage! It’s a thrill to be a part of such a valuable blog and share some wisdom on effective conflict resolution, a topic near and dear to my heart. Thank you, Dustin!

For my husband and high school sweetheart, this past Valentine’s Day marked twenty-five years since our first date, and in August we will celebrate twenty years together passionately married.

Sometimes when we tell people we’ve been together for so long-and happy-we get looks like we are creatures from another planet.  Once people process our success, the next question we get asked is, “So, what’s the secret to a happy marriage?

Classified Information

My husband and I don’t possess some highly guarded classified information, but if there is one thing I could point to that has contributed significantly to our harmonious existence, it would be that we learned early in our marriage how to resolve conflict effectively.

A few months back, Dustin wrote a post titled, Fight Fair! 6 Simple Conflict Resolution Skills for Your Marriage. It had surefire tips on how to fight fairly, and I’d encourage you to check it out if you haven’t already.  It’s an invaluable template.

But what if I told you that within 96% accuracy a group of psychologists has been able to scientifically predict, by simple observation, which couples will succeed and which ones are headed for trouble?

Hard to believe?

Well, it’s true.

Howard Markman, Scott Stanley and Susan Blumberg, in their ground breaking book, “Fighting For Your Marriage” share the results of their longitudinal study on what factors have the most predictive value in determining if a couple is headed for wedded bliss or deep trouble.  The “secret” is how couples resolve conflict.

Patterns to Avoid

By observing couples discussing an issue that is a bone of contention, Markman, et al, discovered that couples who engage in the following four patterns are destined for marital discord and quite often divorce:

  • Invalidation

A perfect example of invalidation is the old stand by, “You shouldn’t feel that way.” or “That’s ridiculous.” When you tell someone how they feel is ridiculous, it is the equivalent of issuing a stop work order on your relationship.  Sure, it might not make sense to you or might even seem silly TO YOU, but to say that directly to someone else in a tone that invalidates their experience shuts them down. It’s much better to offer something like, “I understand that’s how you feel, but it doesn’t quite make sense to me. Help me understand.”

  • Escalation

This is an oldie but goodie too. Example: “Your just like your mother/father!” We all fall into these traps, but the trick is not to keep them as a regular part of our conflict resolution rotations.

  • Withdrawal and Avoidance

Two examples of this are:

1. The proverbial cold shoulder – eye-rolling, heavy-sigh, walk away in utter disgust move

2. “Yes, Dear” – the stay in the room but patronize and placate approach

Both of these examples communicate the message,” I am cutting you off.” Sometimes a timeout is necessary and even appropriate, but it’s better to say so.  The cold shoulder, placating and patronizing systematically break down intimacy.

  • Negative Interpretations

Negative interpretations occur when one partner consistently believes that the motives of the other are more negative than they are in reality.

In the heat of the moment, the aforementioned pitfalls are easy to fall into. Grasping at what makes US feel good in the short-term and engaging in self-righteous behaviors might make us feel “right,” but remember the goal is not necessarily to be right but to live peacefully together.

When the temptation to fall into these traps intoxicates you, think of how intoxicating it is when you and your partner are connected and feel supported.  Allow yourself to be seduced by the delight that will follow when you use more effective tools to communicate. The payoff could very well be twenty-five or more years of wedded bliss.

Trust me, I know. (wink)

Readers: Do you have any conflict resolution “secrets” or strategies that you have found work well in your own marriage?

Photo by Changing World Photography


Stephanie “Aunt Steph” Baffone, LPCMH, NCC is a licensed, board certified mental health therapist and writer whose guiding principle is if you have wisdom from which others might benefit you are obligated to pass it on.  She is in private practice and specializes in grief and loss, couples counseling and issues related to infertility.

By relation, thirty-eight nieces and nephews call Stephanie “Aunt Steph,” a role in which she takes pure delight. She writes a bi-monthly column at Savvy Auntie and blogs about love, loss and life at Aunt Steph’s Stoop. The consummate Italian hostess, she loves to have visitors on the stoop, so stop by and say, “Hello!”

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Dustin Riechmann created Engaged Marriage to help other married couples live a life they love (especially) when they feel too busy to make it happen. He has many passions, including sharing ways to enjoy an awesome marriage in 15 minutes a day, but his heart belongs with his wife Bethany and their three young kids.


  1. Well, I’m sure lots of people are going to say “communication”, but I think that’s pretty self explanatory. Gary and I try to set the romance aside when we’re talking. No magic, no mind reading, no soul bonding. Just words, questions and answers – followed by an apology or two.

    I was not always good at conflict with a husband, but Gary taught me to feel safe enough to say what I needed to say because he always gave me a consistent response. No judgments, no big reactions, no threats. Now, it comes so easily!

    So for us, the biggest tip is to be consistent and predictable in your approach and reactions. Even if you’re always crazy, it’s easier to plan for than wondering whether you’re trying to resolve something with Jekyll or Hyde that day.
    .-= Newlywed & Unemployed´s last blog ..Sifting Dirt =-.

    • Excellent suggestion, Kate! I often site consistency when talking about parenting, but you are so right about the need to be “predictable” when resolving conflict with your spouse.

  2. Stephanie Baffone says:

    Hi Kate,
    Feeling safe in a relationship is critical to good and effective communication. So glad your husband does a good job of that :-)
    Thanks for the lovely comment.
    .-= Stephanie Baffone´s last blog .. =-.

  3. Thanks for this great post Stephanie!

    I need to grab the book you mentioned! These sound similar to the “4 horsemen” that John Gottman talks about in his writing…and the one I have to watch for myself is #4.

    My wife and I believe strongly that we are on the same team, and that has helped in so many situations, but then I start thinking (poorly) that she is out to get me!! And I know for certain that she’s not. Well, most times 😉
    .-= stu@themarryblogger´s last blog ..Al Green’s Marriage Advice: Let’s Stay Together =-.

    • Watch your back, Stu! :)

      Just kidding, of course. It seems silly when things are going well, but I concur that it can be tough to step back and remember that we’re on the same team in the heat of an argument. As Stephanie so wisely said in the post,”Remember the goal is not necessarily to be right but to live peacefully together.”

  4. Hi Stephanie and Dustin,

    My sister just got engaged and is to be married this summer. My wife and I have only been married just under two years so we still had lots of “fresh” advice to give to my sister before she enters into marriage. One of the most important things I told her resonate in this post. You have to learn how to handle conflict. Before my wife and I got married, we never fought. We saw a few things differently, but we never really had an argument. After the wedding we quickly realized how different we were. We both approached conflict differently and it was a tough process in figuring how to get resolution without hurting our relationship. Now with only 2 years under our belts, I know we still have a long way to go, but learning quickly how we both handle conflict, and then learning how to handle that conflict together, has been one of the biggest areas of growth in our marriage. I would also strongly recommend an intense pre-marital counseling session. We sat down with our pastor and we walked us through conflict resolution and communication techniques that have been invaluable to us after the wedding!
    .-= DJ Wetzel´s last blog ..Saving For Your Goals with ING Direct =-.

    • Excellent advice, DJ! I am also a huge advocate of marriage preparation, and my wife and I actually teach at pre-marriage workshops through our church.

      On the topic of marriage preparation, look for a great post and a special giveaway from one of the leaders in that area coming up later this week! :)

  5. I think my conflict weakness is Negative interpretations. I’m very gifted at being able to make anything seem negative, but its not a good thing. I think my husband is a withdrawer. He’d much rather pretend the arguement is not happening than say something he might end up regretting. Especially with my interpretting it in a negative way. I now try to make an effort to give him some space when we argue and then come back and discuss it more rationally later. Except that he forgets that we are fighting about something and comes back as though nothing has happened and that really annoys me. Because the whole time i’ve been giving him space i’ve been quietly fuming away at him. I guess we should just be grateful that our arguements are so minor that he can quickly forget they even happened. I think we are getting more productive with our conflict resolution every day.
    .-= Mary´s last blog ..Felicia is Red! =-.

    • Thanks for leaving such an insightful comment, Mary. It’s great that you guys can recognize where you individually struggle with conflict resolution. It sounds like you are improving in this area with experience, which is really the key!

  6. Shannon O | Confessions of a Loving Wife says:

    One of the most difficult things for my husband and I to learn in our first year of marriage was how to resolve conflict. Because our marriage is a priority, over time we have learned how to validate, deescalate, how to be engaged and have an open mind.

    Of course like any marriage ours is a work in progress, a never ending evolution.

    These are all excellent tips, thanks for the reminders and advice I so appreciate it.
    .-= Shannon O | Confessions of a Loving Wife´s last blog ..Sometimes The Bachelor does find marriage, at least Jason Mesnick did =-.

    • It’s our pleasure, Shannon! Stephanie really did a wonderful job outlining the constraints we face and giving great examples. I learned a lot from this post. :)

  7. Stephanie Baffone says:

    Hi Shannon, Mary & DJ,
    So glad my guest post was helpful and gave you some valuable insight. It was a pleasure!
    .-= Stephanie Baffone´s last blog .. =-.

  8. Linda @ Intimacy in Relationships says:

    Thank you for posting this, Dustin. And thank you Stephanie for such a wonderful post! I would just like to add in addition to these wonderful suggestions that a happy relationship is all about putting one’s own judgments and opinions aside and really listening to what his partner has to say. I think it’s easy to miss important clues if a person is clouded by his own feelings and desires. If a person gives the gift of his presence, then he can show how much he truly cares about making a deep and lasting connection.
    .-= Linda @ Intimacy in Relationships´s last blog ..Make Your Relationship Stronger to Improve Intimacy in your Relationship =-.

    • Thank you so much, Linda! I totally agree with your addition. I know from experience how easy it is to be distracted, and there is amazing value in really *listening* to my wife when she’s speaking about her feelings and desires.

  9. anonymous says:


    I have problem with resolving a conflict in my marriage and would like you to throw some light on this.

    My husband always has a preformed idea about everything and isn’t flxible enough.Even if I try to say something he cuts me off and ends the discussion saying there is nothing to talk about unless and untill i do what he wants me to do..My approach s to convince him about what needs to be done from his side and as well as mine and get the thing done.He cuts himself off from me and doesn’t call/talk to me.
    Currently I am staying at my parents house as i am between jobs and he is at onsite .Please help!

  10. Hi. Stephanie . I got a big prob. Right now me and my wife have been together 17 years and married 13 for the last 10 years I’ve been a drinker and she don’t now she didn’t won’t me to anymore and I did . I now don’t drink but I’ve done some damage . She split up with me a few weeks ago . We at this point are living together . She wants space right now and wants me to move out for awhile to see if the feeling come back . I love her so dearly and want her back . I know it’ll take time . We’ve got four buitiful kides and want to keep our family together . I’m a new man and Lots have changed in me . I’m doing every thing the right ways to make her feel special and she still giving me the cold shoulder . What can I do to get her love back . Thanks

    • Hi. Stephanie . I got a big prob. Right now me and my wife have been together 17 years and married 13 for the last 10 years I’ve been a drinker and she don’t now she didn’t won’t me to anymore and I did . I now don’t drink but I’ve done some damage . She split up with me a few weeks ago . We at this point are living together . She wants space right now and wants me to move out for awhile to see if the feeling come back . I love her so dearly and want her back . I know it’ll take time . We’ve got four buitiful kides and want to keep our family together . I’m a new man and Lots have changed in me . I’m doing every thing the right ways to make her feel special and she still giving me the cold shoulder . What can I do to get her love back . Thanks


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