4. Add some zing. The classic advice experts give to singles seeking a perfect match: Be "the one" to attract "the one." Same goes in marriage. The happier you feel, the happier your marriage will be, and the easier it will be to manage conflicts. If 15 minutes of morning yoga, a switch to decaf, or a new hobby gives you a relaxed zing, the good feelings can't help but lead to happier, richer moments together.
Meanwhile, admit it: You used to fuss over your hair and obsess over the sexiest item to wear to bed. Now, it's stained sweats and a ratty Rolling Stones T-shirt. Time to spruce up your look. Comb that mane, brush those teeth and throw on a new robe. Feeling good about the way you look makes your eyes sparkle. You're more likely to make eye contact. That sends a spark to your spouse. You know what to do next!
5. Always fight fair. Conflict is a normal, even healthy, part of any marriage. What's important is how you handle it. In a Florida study of longtime couples, joint problem-solving ability was cited as a key factor for 70 percent of satisfied pairs; just 33 percent of unsatisfied couples had mastered this skill. With the right tools and attitude, conflict becomes a gateway to deeper intimacy—the chance to be seen and loved for who you truly are, to accept your mate's adorable, vulnerable real self, and to build a strong union without caving in or silently seething.
First, steer clear of criticism, confrontation and hostility. They're like gas on a fire. University of California researchers who followed 79 couples for more than a decade found that early divorcers fought long and loud and were always on the attack—or the defensive. Happy couples, on the other hand, avoid verbalizing critical thoughts, keep discussions from escalating, and don't use absolutes like "never" and "always."
If a fight does start, try to change the subject, inject gentle humor, empathize or show your spouse extra appreciation. Too late? Call a truce, walk away and cool off for a while.
6. Pick the right time and place. Don't start potentially tough talks if you're not well rested and well fed. Hunger and fatigue can unleash nasty remarks and dark thoughts. Ban booze for the same reason. Save it for when you've achieved detente. That's worth a toast.
Don't ever try to deal with serious marital issues if you've got one eye on something else. Turn off the TV, the phone, the laptop. Close the catalog.
If you're distracted or going out the door, pick another time to talk. You can't resolve conflicts on the fly.
Remember, too, that how you handle these situations doesn't just affect you. Is the conversation G-rated? Will it end happily? If not, stop and reschedule for when the kids aren't around. When they are, keep things respectful and productive. Research shows that children thrive (and absorb good relationship skills) when parents resolve issues constructively, but develop insecurities and behavior problems when exposed to hopeless shoutfests.