Accept the olive branch.

Research shows that in most arguments or fights, people do tend to make repair attempts. The repair attempt may be in the form of humour, a smile, a touch, a word of apology or some other gesture. Anything with the intention of stopping the conflict from getting worse.

The problem happens when the other does not recognize or refuses to accept the attempt. This escalates the cycle and makes it less likely that the other will continue to turn the argument around.

Accepting repair attempts does not mean that you do not hold the other accountable for continued bad behaviour nor does this mean that you do not discuss significant issues in your relationship.

What it does mean is that you give the other a chance to make amends. To stop an argument or a fight from becoming worse. To allow the person to pull themselves out of the proverbial doghouse, so to speak.

So in your next argument, why not be on the look out for that olive branch, however clumsily offered.

And graciously accept it.

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Extend the ‘olive branch’

It is SO easy to get off track in the middle of an argument. Even when we know better, the desire to say something mean or aggressive can get the better of us when we are triggered.

Speaking for myself, although I do this for a living and know A LOT of theory, living this moment to moment is challenging. Despite my best efforts, words or body language (the eye roll or the frown) that are harsh rather than gentle, mean rather than loving, do slip out from time to time.

Thankfully, each moment in a relationship gives us a fresh opportunity to get back on track.

Dr. Gottman calls what we do to get back on track "repair attempts" and he firmly believes that these are the happy couples' (and families') secret weapon.

Gottman describes a repair attempt as "any statement or action – silly or otherwise – that prevents negativity from escalating out of control."

Next time you find yourself escalating in an argument, try making a repair attempt.

Extend the olive branch, a signal...

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Fight FOR your marriage

Are you scared of conflict? Some of us have been led to believe that conflict is a sign of trouble in a relationship and should be avoided at all costs.

This is a highly unrealistic and sometimes damaging expectation for a long term relationship. Happy couples and families have just as many disagreements and almost as much conflict in their relationships as families who are distressed.

Avoiding conflict may be a good short term strategy. Unless you are a saint (!) it is not a good long term strategy. Unresolved conflict builds up over time and leads to resentment if it is not dealt with.

Learning to fight in a way that does not destroy your relationship is the key to long term relationship health.

Over the next few days, let us talk about some ways that may help in dealing with conflict in the relationship.

For starters, know that not all conflict can be resolved OR solved (this is really bad news for some problem solving experts amongst us!).

It does, however, need to be addressed....

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Small things often

So, how did you celebrate the 'big day' of love? If it was just like any other day, I have some good news for you.

How we celebrate and what we do on major holidays or special days does not have all much bearing on how happy our relationship is over time or for the rest of the year.

Research shows that what matters more than any big holiday or celebration is what you do on a daily basis to nurture your relationship.

The magic mantra for happy relationships, it turns out, is "small things often". Small daily acts of service and kindness are the key to long term relationship happiness.

That is so much more manageable isn't it?

AND it takes us to be intentional daily rather than yearly!

(Have you been reading until the end? I share some links there!)

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Celebrate love

Its here. Valentine's Day.

The day that can lead to feelings of sadness for the single ones and to the stress of high expectations for those who are in romantic relationships.

We hear murmurings of "why do we need a special day?", "we should love each other every day", etc etc.

Yes, we definitely "should". AND it is easy to get distracted by the busyness of life. It sometimes helps to get a gentle nudge to get us to pay attention.

This Valentines Day, how about letting all the consumerism, paganism (!), political madness against the holiday be what it is.

And consider taking a moment to acknowledge, appreciate and celebrate the loved ones in our lives today.

With or without the cheesy cards!

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It takes one

Have you heard the old adage, "it takes two to make a marriage work"? Most times we just accept this saying as true, thinking that unless both people work equally at a relationship, it is doomed to fail.

But here is the thing: if I asked you to fight with your spouse tonight, chances are that you can singlehandedly do that. All of us know which triggers and buttons to push to start a fight.

If we can singlehandedly start a fight or negatively impact our relationship, is it not possible that we can also singlehandedly turn it around for the better?

It may not be as easy as you'd like. After all, it is so much easier to wait for the other person to make the first move, isn't it?

Easy but not very effective! Waiting for the other person to change before we change is how many couples get stuck and distressed.

Relationships are a system of cause and effect. Once we change, the system itself changes.

So, why not make the first move?

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Create conflict free times and zones

Let's face it. If you are in a long term relationship, chances are that is at least some conflict in your relationship. This is normal and even healthy.

The 'masters of relationships' also have many areas of conflict in their lives but they manage to keep conflict in its place.

One way to 'keep conflict in its place' is to declare some times and zones in your life as conflict free. This means you will not let conflict intrude into these times and places.

It is a good idea, for example, to declare the bedroom and the dining table as sacred, conflict free zones. When you and your spouse are there, it is a time of amnesty, so to speak. You leave conflict out of these areas. You focus on things in your life other than conflict talk.

It may also be useful to declare early morning, late night and the first few minutes when you meet after a day apart as conflict free times.

After all, you did not get together with your spouse just to deal with conflict, did you?

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Look for what is right

Sometimes, when we feel underappreciated, we can get into a cycle where we are only focusing on what our spouse is doing wrong.

We can unconsciously start looking for things that they are doing wrong, "scanning the environment" for mistakes that they have made.

And guess what? We will always find what we are looking for!

Happy couples on the other hand, intentionally look for things that their partner is doing right. They get into the habit of catching each other at their best.

And they appreciate each other on a regular basis.

The good news is that focusing on what is right is a habit that can be learnt with intentionality and practice.

So start by intentionally noticing the tiniest thing that your spouse does which is right. If they are helping you or doing something for you, resist the temptation to correct or second guess them.

Instead focus on the intention which they are offering their service, however imperfect it may be according to your own standards.

Voice your...

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Express interest

Rekindling a friendship with your spouse is remarkably simple.

It can begin with expressing interest in their world – internal or external.

To learn what is happening in your partner's world, ask open ended questions that show you are interested in their day-to-day life. We sometimes forget to check in with our partner or fail to respond to their attempts to connect. Over time this can create serious damage to the relationship.

It can be as simple as asking, "How was your day?"

And of course, listening to the answer!

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Assess the domains of your life

A very effective way to look at and evaluate the big picture of your life is to think of the various areas of life as 'domains'.

Here is a list of 10 domains of life. Use the list below to rank how you feel about a particular domain by giving it a score from 1 – 10. 10 is absolute perfection while a score of 1 would be an absolute disaster.

The best way to do this is not to overthink it. Simply go through the list below and write a score for how you feel about this area of your life. This is completely subjective. No one needs to know this score except yourself. (you might want to copy and paste it in a word document OR write it out)

The domains of life:
1) Physical health – sleep, eating, exercise, disease etc

2) Mental wellbeing – stress, negative thoughts, mental illness

3) Interests, hobbies, creativity – have you been yearning to take up knitting but have not?

4) Romance, love life, marriage relationship – are you happy with the way things are at...

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