Preventative Maintenance: 4 things to do when you aren’t fighting

This post is part of a series called “Fighting Fair” is an adaption of a presentation I gave tat a women’s summit held at Harvard University in 2018. I’ve kept it easy to scan with resources to dive into at the end if you want more info. Resources and references linked at the end of material. 


Fighting Fair 

part 1


As I’ve put together the information from my slides for this presentation into a blog post, I’m leaving out a lot of the commentary. I hope this means you can skim through it, picking up more information and applying principles quickly.  

Why do couples fight?

  1. money
  2. free time
  3. in-laws
  4. housework
  5. sex

Did you know the biggest indicator of divorce is not IF you fight but HOW you fight? 

One of the biggest problems in fighting? Problems in communication.

Psychologist David H. Olson of the University of Minnesota and his associate Amy K. Olson found poor communication to be among the top 10 stumbling blocks to marital satisfaction. The study revealed “satisfying communication” as the top predictor of happy marriage.

Out of 21,501 couples, 82% wished their partners would share feelings more and 75% had trouble asking for what they want. 

Sound familiar? Clearly you aren’t alone. 

Preventative Maintenance: 4 things to do when you aren’t fighting: 

  • understand emotional bids
  • encourage and use positive communication
  • establish and practice connection rituals
  • learn and read non-verbal communication cues 

Emotional Bids: 

A bid for connection can come in many forms. It can be a question, a touch, a comment, a gesture… Any expressions with which someone wants to feel connect with you. Make it a priority to notice and respond to emotional bids. 

How people respond to bids as a huge effect on relationships.

The stats:

Husbands heading for divorce miss (or disregard) bids for connections 82% of the times, while husbands in stable relationships only miss it 19% of the time. 

For women it’s 50% and 14%, which also tells us men miss more bids for connection. 

Increase positive communication: the magic ratio 

“The magic ratio is 5 to 1,” said Gottman. When positive feelings and interactions occurred five times more often than negative interactions and feelings “the marriage was likely to be stable.” In one of his studies, Gottman found that contented, happy couples were much more positive toward each other. 

Here are a few ways to increase positive communication so that when you have conflict, you’ve built up a store for that 5 to 1 ratio. 

  • Showing interest in what your spouse had to say. 
  • Being affectionate through acts of tenderness, holding hands, and expressing love. 
  • Showing you care through small acts of thoughtfulness, occasional gifts, and telephone calls. 
  • Showing appreciation by expressing thanks, giving compliments, and expressing pride in your partner. 
  • Showing concern when your spouse is troubled. 
  • Being empathic, showing you understand and feel what your spouse is feeling. 
  • Being accepting, letting your spouse know that you accept and respect what she or he said, even when you disagreed with it. 
  • Joking around and having fun together without being offensive. 
  • Sharing joy when excited or delighted.

Try it activity: estimate your ratio of positive-to-negative interactions and then ask your partner what their estimate would be. Discuss what each of you would consider a typical positive interaction. 


Connection Rituals

In his book The Intentional Family, Bill Doherty discusses “rituals of connection” as an important tool for successful relationships. A ritual of connection is a way of regularly turning towards your partner that can be counted on.

Here are some examples: 

  • Goodbye or goodnight kiss
  • Evening gratitude list together
  • Couples prayer
  • Long hugs
  • Eating a meal together each day without screens (maybe this is breakfast – maybe this is dinner – right now with so many working from home, it could be lunch)
  • Sharing highs and lows at the end of the day
  • Texting to checkin each day about how a partner is doing 

Non Verbal Communication 

  • Become an expert on your partner’s facial expressions. 
  • Look for signs of tension in their body
  • Pay attention to their mood, gestures, and movements. 
  • Get up close and personal
    • eye contact
    • leaning forward
    • nodding
    • tilting your head
    • smiling 
    • mirroring 

4 patterns of communication that destroy marriages:

In more than 20 years of studying interactions between couples, psychologist John Gottman identified four patterns of communication that often destroy marriages: 

  • Criticism: “Attacking someone’s personality or character . . . usually with blame.” 
  • Contempt: Insulting or demeaning the spouse; indicating by words or actions that one believes the spouse to be “stupid, disgusting, incompetent, a fool.”
  • Defensiveness: Responding defensively to complaints, criticism, or contempt by making excuses, denying, arguing, whining, or counter-blaming rather than trying to solve the problem. 
  • Stonewalling: Withdrawing physically or emotionally from the relationship when disagreements occur, becoming like a stone wall.


4 things to do to prevent an argument with your partner. #relationshipadvice #fightingfair #marriage #spouse

4 things to do to prevent an argument with your partner. #relationshipadvice #fightingfair #marriage #spouse

Click here for Fight Fair Part 2: 9 Rules for Better Arguments

Resources and further reading: 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

One Comment

  1. Pingback: 9 Rules for Fighting Fair: How to have better arguments in your relationship | Elisabeth McKnight