I read some research a while ago that was not at all surprising. It determined that couples who have little or no conflict in the first year of marriage report being happier. However, if they have not had at least a moderate level of conflict to resolve by year three, the same couples report feeling less connected and less secure in their marriages.

This indicates that conflict is needed to secure a healthy bond with your spouse.

The presence of conflict doesn’t guarantee a healthy marriage. It’s important to learn conflict resolution skills. How conflict begins can determine whether it will be resolved successfully. I encourage you to learn what marriage expert Dr. John Gottman calls the soft start-up using the acronym DEAR.

Describe the situation in a factual and neutral way. “Yesterday when I picked out those sunglasses for you at the store, you immediately turned your back to me, and modeled them for our friends.”

Express your feelings using “I” statements without passing blame. “I was stunned and hurt. I know you didn’t mean anything by it, but you know that I sometimes feel invisible. When you turned away from me, I was surprised how sharp it felt.” If you’re the listener, allow yourself to be curious about what you’re hearing as your spouse moves to the next step.

Assert what you want. “I wish you had shown the glasses to me first, before showing our friends. Can you include me next time?” This sounds obvious, but it’s more difficult than it seems. Communication is goal-oriented. You want something every time you communicate. It may be acknowledgment, an apology, or a hug. It could be something deeper that you’re not aware of until you verbally explore your complaint. When you assert what you want, you have a higher chance of getting what you need.

Repeat as needed. This process can take some practice. You’re asking your spouse to do something that doesn’t come naturally, which requires learning a new skill. Don’t take it personally if your spouse needs a reminder. Use the soft start-up each time, by defining, expressing, asserting and repeating your complaint without blame.

And remember to express gratitude when your spouse gets it right!

You can do this!