Health & Medicine

Smoothing over the rough

For the most part, my husband and I get along pretty well. We seldom argue. Our relationship tends to be the same day after day.

Even so, certain topics are likely to create conflict. There are areas in which we fail to see eye-to-eye. When discussed they often create hard feelings. If we’re not careful, we can turn a pleasant moment into a spat.

It’s as if our marriage has rough edges, places where our relational cogs fail to mesh. They may be caused by differences in our families of origin or our life’s experiences. They might be the result of innate reactions to our world. Whatever the cause they’re potential weak spots we need to tend to lest we allow our marital machinery to come to a screeching halt.

Our issues aren’t red flags that signal deeper problems. There’s no stealing, jealousy or substance abuse to contend with. Basically, we’re sound, honest people who are deeply committed to our marriage.

And we’re certainly not alone. Every couple I know has its share of rough edges that have the potential to create angst and tension for those involved. Sometimes the differences are successfully managed and the relationship hums like a well-tuned V-8. But once those smoldering embers get ignited, they can erupt into a raging brush fire and burn a swath of psychic carnage in its path.

The key is not to get rid of all your differences. That’s impossible to do. You’re two unique people with skills and viewpoints all your own. In fact, it’s that very diversity that makes you more powerful as a couple than you are on your own. Relationships are most successful when both parties can resolve or downplay areas of conflict while maximizing their strengths.

Sometimes you can do this by actively discussing problem areas, then developing plans for handling things differently. If, for example, a woman is upset by her husband’s failure to do the dishes while she puts the kids to bed, they may hold a marital powwow and agree to reassign evening duties.

Unfortunately, not all disagreements can be solved. They may be too emotionally laden to be calmly addressed. Perhaps they reflect disparities that are too wide to bridge. These become the rough edges that refuse to go away. Wise partners learn to smooth the coarseness so it’s less abrasive over time.

Tips for smoothing out marital trouble spots

Want to manage the rough edges in your marriage? Try these techniques:

Identify your problem areas. Notice which topics in your relationship create conflict. Specifically naming the offending issues lets you direct attention where it’s needed most. It also shows that a relatively small part of your relationship is giving you problems. Things may not be as bad as you thought.

Tread lightly when your rough edges are exposed. Be extra polite. Select your words carefully. Avoid underlying messages that might be misconstrued. You’re already walking through a minefield. Be cautious of every step.

Use kind, gentle humor. A sweet statement, such as, “I think you’re cuckoo but I love you anyway,” can avert potential hurt feelings and put your relationship back on track. It’s doubly effective when paired with a tender peck on the cheek.

Exploit your common interests. Yes, you and your partner have some rough edges. But there’s probably lots of good in your relationship, too. Define where the two of you shine. You’ll spend more time having fun and less time fretting about your problems.

Appreciate your partner’s strengths. There are many reasons you’ve chosen your significant other. Too often those reasons are overlooked. Tell your girlfriend you think she’s terrific. Thank your husband for all his hard work.

Your ongoing support and kindness will help soften the rough spots.

Be willing to back down. Relationships aren’t about winning. They thrive when both partners want what’s best. Put the well-being of your marriage ahead of your own opinions. That may mean compromising or conceding if you need to.

Learn to overlook small imperfections. Every relationship has its flaws. That doesn’t mean it’s a failure. Minimize problem areas while maximizing all that’s good. You’ll be headed in the right direction. Your marriage will flourish from your efforts.

Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her visit