Top Marriage Advice for Newlyweds (and Everyone Else) About Conflict – Part 1

Top Marriage Advice for Newlyweds (and Everyone Else) About Conflict – Part 1 January 10, 2023

This is a new entry in our series to equip engaged and newlywed couples and anyone else trying to create a great marriage. Based on more than 18 years of research and 12 nationally representative studies with more than 40,000 men and women, these articles identify simple (but essential) habits for highly happy marriages. And this research is newly recovered from the vaults! Share it with those getting married!  * 

 I recently combed through research files from almost ten years ago – our study of what makes the happiest couples so happy, for the book The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages. Due to space constraints we couldn’t include everything we found, so we covered just 12 surprises in the book.  

 But, there was a 13th finding, one that I’m sharing here for the first time. Perhaps now more than ever before, this secret is vital to creating a great relationship. My hope is that it will help many newlyweds – and everyone else! – avoid a common conflict trap and build connection instead.  

But first, some background: I noticed a recurring dynamic when we first started interviewing and surveying the couples in the happiest marriages (in the book we call these the “highly happy” couples, and contrast them to the “mostly happy” couples and “so-so or struggling” couples). Originally, this dynamic just amused me. But then I started to realize: no wait… this is important.   

 The happiest couples, like everyone else, have conflict. So I would ask them, “take me through your last disagreement.” I wanted to know how they handled a conflict, hurt feelings, and so on. Listen in on one rather representative answer to that question: 

 Him: Our last big disagreement? Sure … let me think for a second. 

 Her: Oh gosh, we’ve got plenty. We just had a big brouhaha not that long ago. Um … what was that?   

 Him: I’m trying to remember. What was it about? Was it the kids … ?   

 Her: (Pause) Well, there are plenty of examples. What about the thing with your folks’ party? 

 Him: Yes!  Well … that wasn’t really a conflict, though. At least not in the end.  

 Her: You’re right. (Pause) I’m trying to think of something! 

 (They look at each other. Both laugh.) 

 Him: I’m still struggling to find an example. I can’t even right now ballpark what our major disagreements have been over. 

 Me: You mean you don’t have issues … ? 

 Him: Oh yes. We sure do. 

 Her: But I guess we don’t remember them.  

 This dynamic didn’t occur with all the happy couples I interviewed and surveyed, but it was extremely common. And it turns out that this little interchange holds a clue to a larger, vitally important truth. 

 You see, although the happiest couples all had issues of legitimate concern (the couple above eventually did remember substantial areas of disagreement), they were in the habit of letting things go. This “13th secret” has vast implications for anyone who wants a happy marriage, especially in the hyper-polarized world we live in. 

 There seem to be two major ways this habit plays out in practice. 

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