You are my partner. You are not my adversary.

The number one predictor for divorce is avoidance of conflict; couples are served much better by doing the difficult work, helping each other trudge through the tension and animosity of their unavoidable conflicts. This tough work becomes an accomplishment; couples become stronger in their collaboration to manage conflict, rather than growing apart as they avoid each other to avoid the stress of disagreement and discord.

Couples can learn new communication skills to help them resolve conflicts, new language to work through misunderstandings. Couples can practice omitting bad habits from their language, like the discrediting ‘but.’ They still struggle to anticipate the established traps where their adrenaline spikes and they react negatively to their partner. When they can head that response off at the pass, they can choose other maneuvers to get through a tough conversation. It’s about working together to identify bad habits and replace them with good habits. Working together happens without animosity or resentment, being open to learning from your partner.

Once couples identify the comments, the tone, the body language that sparks the fighting – the moment their ears feel hot, they avert their eyes – the real work begins. They can go with the ingrained response of offering counter-points and arguing differing views. Or, they can remember to first pursue a compassionate view, asking, “What leads my partner to view the situation that way? What are the pieces I agree with in what my partner’s saying?” One can learn so much by asking explicitly, “Please help me understand your perspective.” If nothing else, an open-ended question gives you a moment to re-consider responding provocatively: “No, you don’t.” “You always say that.” “We never go out with my friends.”

Another great strategy in this moment is to remember that your partner is not your adversary. Say out loud to your partner, “You are my partner. You are not my enemy. I want what is best for both of us.” The adversary is the undesirable outcome. The goal is a mutually beneficial outcome where you each get as much of what you want as possible and end up feeling successful and rewarded in your partnership.

Once you’ve re-established a new pattern where you once jumped right into angry conflict, or fled from conflict altogether, your conversations can be more productive and less contentious. You can treat it as a building block, practice it actively as a team, and slowly build in more new language that is collaborative.