Does Talking About a Problem Always Solve It?

Jim and Mary (above) have been married for three years. Like all couples, they have numerous issues that they don't seem able to resolve. They label their main problem as "communication," yet the more they talk about some issues the worse things seem to get. That is because most of their communication involves each trying to convince the other of their point of view with the goal of trying to get the other to change theirs.

Their inability to change the other leads to frustation, and then to a long discussion of how incompatible they are. Mary thinks they are more incompatible than Jim does, so this leads to a second wave of arguing and conflict. After several hours, both give up and simply walk away from each other, both with bad feelings and a sense of frustraion and emotional detachment.

Fact is, there are some topcis that couples should probably avoid discussing with each other because they will never see things eye to eye. That is OK. Contrary to popular opinion, partners DO NOT have to be 100% in agreement on all issues in order to have a good marriage. What they DO have to have is a tolerance for how the other thinks, even if it is quite different from how you think or see things.

Once couples reach this level of maturity and understanding, they simply stop bringing up topics that they know will lead to arguments and conflict. Why keep rubbing salt in old wounds? If you must discuss the difficult topic for some reason, it often helps to preface the discussion with ackowledgement that you know your partner sees it differently, but......(then speak your point of view). At least acknowledging the difference of opinion often takes some of the sting out of the difference. 





clock September 8, 2011 00:40 by author Dr Tony Fiore

Can Your Partner Change?

Have you heard the one about a lightbulb changing? 

Question: So, how many psychologists does it take to change a lightbulb?

Answer: Just one, but the lightbulb has to really want to change.

In my experience working with couples, the same is true. You cannot change your partner; he or she must do it themselves. But what you can you do is provide incentive for them to do so. 

Even with incentive, there are some things your partner probably can't change, or can change only a little (like his or her basic character, core personality traits, or hard-wired ways their brain deals with the world). 

But, let' s focus now on three simple things what you can do to get your partner to change something that Is changeable and is bothering you.  

1. Communicate to your partner what is bothering you and what you expect. For instance, " I think it is unfair that I always have to _______"

2. Do not yell, threaten, demand or throw a tantrum. But, clearly state what the consequences will be if their behavior continues. Communicate what your "boundaries" are. Assert yourself and stick to it!  For instance, "I can't deal with your constant criticism. The more you do it, the more I feel resentment toward you and it is causing me to change my feelings toward you." 

3. Follow through with a change in your behavior.  Sometimes you need to change what you do so your partner will "work" harder on the relationship, take you more seriously, or be more motivated to prevent loss of relationship. For instance: say "You can be a couch potato if you wish, but I am bored to death in our realtionship. I am going to join a bridge club so I can have a better social life." Then do it! This may help your partner get the idea that you need more of a social life than you are getting in your relationship. 

Psychologicval research shows that people will change of they are motivated to do so. Without motivation, very little changes. This same principal holds true in relationships. Your partner will change if he or she is capable of the change and the incentive is there.  Fear of loss is usually a stronger motivation than promise of gain. 

Think carefully about what would motivated your partner to change certain behaviors and then start by changing what you do, in order to perhaps motivate him or her to react differently to you (that is to say, to change their behavior). 











clock September 8, 2011 00:37 by author Dr Tony Fiore

Is it normal for couples to fight?




Fighting can be healthy for a relationship or it can be extremely destructive. For example, the young couple pictured above is having a fight about money- one of the main cuases of partner conflict these days. Would you guess this is a healthy or destructive fight? I would guess the latter. Why? For one thing he is rolling his eyes which research shows is bad for a relationship. In addition, she looks like she is being extremely critical, another negative behavior that predicts divorce. Of course, we don't know what they are saying to each other, but it looks like maybe they are arguing over his spending too much money on something or he wants to spend money they don't have. 

Research shows that all couples fight. Fighting is not what separates successful from unsuccessful couples. The specific issue partners fight about is not nearly as important as How they handle conflict, How they communciate with each other, and How they start the argument to begin with. As compared to others, successful couples handle conflict very differently, they complain but don't criticize, and they have developed the art of what is known as the "softer startup."


Arguments over money often have an underlying emotional issue that is not being addressed. In this case, the partners may have different life dreams which collide. He may want to enjoy life and take vacations. She may have a dream of saving money so they can buy their own house one day. Discussing these differences in life dreams often helps to resolve the underlying anger and conflict with each other. Putting the issue on this level, takes it out of the realm of believing that your partner has character defects which account for his or her spending behaviors. 


clock September 8, 2011 00:32 by author Dr Tony Fiore

What Do Couples Fight Over?

 In a famous study called the Framingham study which evaluated nearly 4000 men and women, mena and women differed on what they say they fight about mostly in their marriage. 

Women ranked conflicts as follows:

#1- Children

#2- Sex

#3 - Housework

#4- Money

#5 - Leisure

#6- Alcohol

Men ranked their reasons for fighting as follows:

#1-  Sex

#2 - Money

#3- Lesiure

#4 - Children

#5 - Alcohol

#6- Housework

Obvioulsy, men and women disagree on what they are fighting about while they are fighting! But, agreement on issues, even on what the issues are, is not a necessary requirement for a good marriage. While it is good to try and get along and improve relationship, reaching agreement is not essential to marital happiness.  Marital compatibility comes and goes; rarely is a couple compatible all the time. What is essential is accepting the fact that you and your partner may never agree on certain issues and that does not make one of you superior to the other.

What do you fight over? What mechanisms do you have to resolve differences that can be resolved, or, accept those that cannot? 

It might be helpful for both your and your partner to make a list separately and then compare them. One of the first steps toward solving marital issues is to at least try to agree on what they are!




clock September 7, 2011 02:50 by author Dr Tony Fiore

Does Stress Affect Your Marriage?

Stress and marital troubles go hand and hand. The higher one’s stress level, the easier it is to allow poor relationship habits to get out of control. It is a challenge for most of us to manage our stress levels in a complex world with many demands and expectations. Learning stress management techniques gives us a powerful tool to better deal with both personal stressors (which may spill over into the relationship)  as well as stress that may originate from issues within the relationship itself.

As an example, Gary and Beth are a middle-aged couple married only three years, this being the second marriage for Gary who ha s a 15 year old daughter from his first marriage and an ex-wife who lives off the spousal and child support Gary sends her monthly. Beth is constantly angry and stressed in the relationship because she disag rees with Gary’s very passive approach to parenting his child  and his resistance to deal more assertively with his ex-wife over any number of issues. Gary deals with his stress by staying away from home as much as possible and then withdrawing and claming-up when he is at home.  Beth deals with hers by finding fault with almost everything about Gary, criticizing constantly, eating compulsively, and trying to over-control almost every aspect of their relationship.

Stress in life is normal. And any married person knows that periods of stress in a relationship or marriage are to be expected as partners navigate the turbulent waters of life together. Some couples handle stressors very well and actually grow closer in crisis or adversity, bonding together as a unit to ward off or deal successfully with the threat. These resilient couples are the fortunate ones. Many other partners, such as Gary and Beth, have not learned the secrets of handling stress effectively resulting in extreme personal unhappiness, marital conflict and much emotional distance in their relationship.

Handling personal or marital stress better is a skill which fortunately can be developed and enhanced with dedication and practice over time. It involves finding ways to think differently about the stressor, improving communication with your partner, calming yourself down so you can think more rationally, and getting your needs met more of the time by finding ways to be happier and more fulfilled in your personal life.

Learning to think differently about your stressors:

 In today's blog we will focus on finding new ways to think differently about things that stress you either in the marriage itself stress in other parts of your life that "spill over" into your marriage.

“ Life is a train of moods like a string of beads; and as we pass though them they prove to be many colored lenses, which paint the world their own hue, and each shows us only what lies in its own focus.”

………..Ralph Waldo Emerson, philosopher and writer

Focus in life on what is important and forget the rest. As one author said, “don’t sweat the small stuff….and it is all small stuff.”

Ask yourself how important really is the thing that is stressing you in the grand scheme of things?  Keeping perspective and shifting focus is not easy to do because when stressed we get “caught up in the moment” and tend see things with a laser beam instead of a wide spotlight.   This is why the thoughtless comment made about your clothes by our partner has the potential to ruin your day. Or, why the thought of being 3 minutes late to a hair appointment causes a middle-aged woman to become an aggressive tyrant on the freeway. 

People who are able to shift their focus have clear priorities in life—they know what is important and what is not. Being able to see the bigger picture, they are able to mentally shift so that “small stuff” does not stress them. Other people are not so fortunate. I recall one lady in my practice who couldn' t understand why she couldn't keep a relationship for more than three dates. I asked her what happened with her last one. She said she "dumped" him despite the fact that he was handsome, successful, senstive, and available. His sin? When they went our to dinner, he used his bread to soak up gravy on his plate.

Many people like our gravy-lady and couples like Gary and Beth in our earlier example haven't learned to ask themselves what is really important and what is not. So they react equally to almost everything that bothers them about the other.  Ask yourself, is it really that important? If not. let it go. Take it out of the spotlight. Put it in perspective and watch your stress levels go down. 

To reduce stress in your relationship focus on the things that ae really important to you in terms of your life values and life goals.











clock May 27, 2011 16:40 by author Dr Tony Fiore

Welcome to Marriage Class Online Blog


Welcome to this first entry of the Marriage Class Online Blog. We hope you enjoy it and will give us your opinions and thoughts on the various blog posts that will be coming. This blog is about relationship education, relationship success and development of relationship skills that research has shown characterizes successful relationships versus those that don't success. This blog us sponsored by Marriage Class Online and written by psychologist and marriage therapist Dr Tony Fiore. 

MarriageclassOnline is a marriage education program that you should try before marriage counseling. 

UndecidedDid You Know  that.......

The divorce rate in California for first marriages is 50%

The divorce rate for second marriages is 60% (why don't we learn?)

The divorce rate for people who have affairs and then marry their lover is 70%. 

LaughingRelationship Humor: And that's when the fight started.......

My wife and I were watching WHO WANTS TO Be A Millionaire while we were in bed.

I turned to her and said, "Do you want to have sex?"

"No" she replied. I then said,

"Is that your final answer?"

She didn't even look at me this time, saying simply , "Yes."

So I said, "then, I'd like to phone a friend."

And that's when the fight started. 

SurprisedMarriage Class Online Relationship Tip

According to marital expert, Dr. Brent Atkinson , a hallmark of people who are good at getting their partners to treat them well is that they know that when they get upset with their partners, it doesn't necessarily mean that their partners have done something wrong. They realize that there are many different ways of prioritizing things that can work in relationships. People who are less effective in their relationships don't realize this. When their priorities or preferences are different than their partners, more often they believe theirs is are right and their partners are wrong.

Fact is, there are many different way of doing life and research show that one of the reasons people do life differently is because their way of doing thing calms down their nervous system. According to Dr. Atkinson, and also my personal clinical experience, there appear to be five differences in our nervous systems that most often result in partners becoming critical of each other. In coming blogs we will discuss and give examples of these core differences in doing life based on the wiring of our nervous system. Now, let's read about a common issue among couples who do life differently:

The case of Joe and Marie: How clean should we keep the house? 

Joe is outraged in one of our local anger management classes.  Seems that his wife does not keep the house as clean as he would like. When asked why people should necessarily keep their houses spic and span, he said "because that's the way it SHOULD BE." I then asked for a show of hands of anyone who knew successful married couples who had a messy house. Guess what? Some class members knew very successful couples in this category, as well as successful couples who in fact keep their house spotless. Point is that many of us have different standards for cleanliness and our standard (whatever it is) isn't necessarily the only one or the right one. Realizing this and accepting it instead of assuming that your partner is 100% wrong and you are 100% right is the first step toward opening a dialogue around the issue so perhaps a solution can be reached. 

More on this topic at:

tanking relationship

How to Tank Your relationship - Lesson 1

How To Tank Your Relationship - Lesson 2

How to Tank Your relationship - Lesson 3














clock November 12, 2010 23:05 by author Dr Tony Fiore