Studies have shown that when it comes to marital conflict, there are several consistent categories that are the biggest sources of fighting. Though each marriage is unique, it seems there are some things that are the same across the board. Things such as, religion, social connections, child rearing, sexual intimacy, money management, in-law relationships and communication styles seem to create the greatest problems because they are so closely tied to identity and security.

When couples are forced to come to terms with the differences in each other's world view, it can cause intense feelings of anxiety, disillusionment, disappointment, even anger. As a couple, it is inevitable that you will have different opinions regarding one or more of these topics. The key to successfully navigating these differences is learning to combine your disparate approaches into a new way of doing things that work for both of you. In order to do that, you must, first, be willing to listen to each other and communicate in a way that encourages cooperation. The following suggestions are ways to avoid letting your diversity become a wedge in your relationship.

1. Don't criticize or blame

It is essential to express differences of opinion, but also remember that yours is only an opinion. Just because your spouse doesn't agree with you doesn't necessarily mean that he or she is wrong. Rather than criticizing, explain what you believe the problem to be and make sure you are clear. If you discuss the issue with your partner, without accusation or recrimination, he or she will be more likely to listen without becoming defensive. If your spouse is blaming or criticizing you, try to keep an open mind and your emotions in check. Avoid becoming defensive. Instead, try to see things from your partner's perspective and express willingness to work on solving the problem.

2. Don't be discouraged by communication challenges

Talking about feelings, needs and desires can be difficult. It requires humility and a great deal of trust in your partner. However, in order to have a successful marriage you must learn to communicate openly and effectively. The only way to develop good communication skills is through practice. The more you try to communicate openly and listen carefully to the needs and feelings of your spouse, the more you will improve and the easier it will become.

3. Don't avoid difficult topics

Putting off discussing certain subjects because they are painful, embarrassing or emotionally charged will only perpetuate a cycle of unhappiness, defensiveness and emotional distance. One way to make this situation easier is to agree to certain ground rules before your discussion. Both partners should agree not to interrupt, criticize or argue. This will set the tone for the conversation and help you both to be respectful and understanding.

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