MU Extension MU Extension       University of Missouri    ●    Columbia    ●    Kansas City       Missouri S&T     ●    St. Louis


Feature Article


Marriage and Conflict:

How to Discuss Difficult Issues 2

Amanda Kowal, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Human Development & Family Studies, Human Environmental Sciences, University of Missouri

Howard Markman’s work on marital relationships has helped thousands of couples have healthy, long-lasting marriages. General information about Markman’s rules for fighting can be found in Marriage and Conflict: How to Discuss Difficult Issues 1.

When couples agree to sit down and discuss a problem, Markman’s guidelines suggest ways to make sure that the discussion is successful. It is important that discussions are resolved successfully because repeating the same argument over and over again can harm a marriage. When you keep fighting about the same issue it can chip away at, or erode, all the positive things that happen between you and your partner.

Markman’s Speaker/Listener Rules:

  1. Agree about which person will begin speaking. This person is the Speaker. The other person is the Listener. It’s a good idea for the Speaker to hold something (it can be anything – a cup, a book, a bit of paper) as a clear reminder of who the Speaker is. When the Speaker is done, he or she hands the reminder to the other person who then becomes the Speaker.
  2. The Speaker should break up what he or she is saying into short bits. Using short, clear sentences helps the listener understand and remember what is being said.
  3. The Speaker should talk only about his or her own feelings and views. For example, the Speaker shouldn’t say “I know you think that....” Talking about another person’s thoughts is called “mind-reading” and should be avoided.
  4. The Listener should repeat back to the Speaker what he or she is hearing. For example, if the Speaker says “I feel hurt when you forget to call and tell me you can’t make dinner”. Then the Listener can say “It hurts your feelings when I don’t warn you that I’ll be working through dinner”. Repeating what you think someone is saying let’s them know that you are really listening. It’s also a good way to make sure you really understand what is being said.
  5. The Listener should not disagree, with their words or in their thoughts, with the Speaker. If you are disagreeing with someone you can’t be fully listening to what they are saying.
  6. Don’t immediately try to solve the problem. It’s a good idea to talk about thoughts and feelings first so that each person understands the other’s point of view.

The goal of the Speaker/Listener rules is to make sure that each person is able to share his or her thoughts and feelings. It’s not easy to listen to someone who you disagree with, or who you are angry at. However, really listening to somebody, and being listened to, is an important step to successfully solving problems in a loving relationship.



Markman, H. J., Renick, M. J., Floyd, F. J., Stanley, S. M. (1993), Preventing marital distress through communication and conflict management training: A 4- and 5-year follow-up. Journal of Consulting & Clinical Psychology, 61(1), 70-77.

Renick, M. J., Blumberg, S. L., Markman, H. J. (1992). The prevention and relationship enhancement (PREP): An empirically based preventive intervention program for couples. Family Relations, 41(2), 141-147.



Last Updated 05/12/2009


University of Missouri logo links to

Site Administrator:
Copyright  ADA  Equal Opportunity

MissouriFamilies is produced by the College of Human Environmental Sciences,
Extension Division, University of Missouri