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