1. Begin your concern or complaint in a positive way. This may involve saying things like “I really liked it when you helped me with the housework yesterday. I would love it if we could do more of our chores as a team.” or “I felt very hurt when you talked badly about me to your parents and I need you to only say good or neutral things about me.”
2. Be clear, specific, and, if possible, make a request for a change that you would like.
3. Try to understand what is important to your partner in this disagreement. It is easy to quickly become defensive. Try to stay calm and ask enough questions of your partner to understand what is being asked or what their opinion is about the subject at hand. Ask him/her to express the main issues. It can be hard to address a problem if you do not know what the issue really is, and why it is a problem for someone. Find a way to pursue the concern and understand the other perspective while trying not to be thinking inside your head about your own side to the discussion.
4. Above all, address your partner in respectful terms and with a respectful tone. Refrain from any verbal or non-verbal (rolling your eyes, smirking, etc.) actions that will convey disrespect for the other person. You do not have to agree with your spouse, you just have to respect that they are a person with a thought or idea that is different than your own.
5. If you or your partner starts to get upset, take a break and come back to the concern. When people begin to get upset, they become emotionally flooded and then generally cannot talk in productive ways. It is better to take a break at that point … a time out … and later revisit the concern, if it is important, and try to talk about it then.
6. Find ways to repair and damage that occurs while disagreeing. The health of the relationship is more important than winning the argument. Gestures like kisses, hand-holding, love pats, humor, brief distractions, statements like “I love you” and “I know we disagree, but I do not want this to come between us” can make the discussion much easier on the relationship. If the relationship is suffering during the discussion, take a time out. If the issue is an important one, make sure to find a way to connect later to talk further.
7. Look for lots of opportunities to make deposits into the positive feelings in the relationship so that a disagreement does not spoil the day and there are so many good feelings about each other and your life together, you get through this easily.