What’s the Secret to a Happy Marriage?

By Dustin | Communication

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!”


About the Author

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.

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