• Learn how your spouse reacts to change. Figure out whether your spouse is resistant to change or accepting of change. A person who is resistant to change says, "Let's keep things the way they are." He or she is stable, loyal, a team player, and methodical. Under stress, he or she becomes slow-paced and inflexible. In conflict, he or she becomes stubborn and sullen.

A person who is accepting of change says, "Let's try something new." He or she is energetic, progressive, spontaneous, and flexible. But under stress, he or she becomes intense and restless. In conflict, he or she becomes distracted and impulsive. Use this information to negotiate change more successfully with your spouse.

• Study how your spouse makes decisions. Is your spouse cautious or spontaneous? A cautious decision maker says, "I'm not sure yet." He or she is conscientious, has high standards, and is accurate. But under stress, he or she becomes an exacting perfectionist. In conflict, he or she becomes indecisive and unyielding.

A spontaneous decision maker says, "Let's go for it." He or she is bold, decisive, and independent. But under stress, he or she becomes controversial and insensitive. And in conflict, he or she becomes reckless and overconfident.

• Empathize with your spouse. Ask God to help you see the world as your partner sees it. Try to imagine yourself experiencing life as your spouse does. Try to understand why your partner feels the way he or she does. Know that empathizing with your spouse will help create a strong connection with him or her.

• Understand gender differences. Remember that, in conversations, men tend to analyze the information and women tend to sympathize with the speaker. Generally, men are concerned with getting results, achieving goals, and getting to the bottom line efficiently. Women are concerned with harmony and sharing to improve relationships. No matter what your gender, try to use both your head and your heart when talking and listening to your spouse.

• Listen with your "third ear." Give your full attention to what your spouse says and how he or she says it. Ponder your spouse's message so you can hear the message beneath the words. Take the time to acknowledge and show appreciation for your partner's thoughts and feelings.

• Know when to stop talking. Understand that there are certain times when being silent is more effective than talking. Stop talking when one of you isn't ready to discuss the topic at hand; wait for a better time. Stop talking when you've already said it many times and your partner just isn't responding; you may have to agree to disagree. Stop talking when you need more time to think about a question your spouse asks you; this will give you time to come up with a thoughtful response. Stop talking when one of you is being unreasonable; this allows time and space to relax and revisit the discussion later. Stop talking when you've forgotten the problem you were talking about; cool down, remember, then get back on track. Stop talking when you're spewing unsolicited advice or criticism; your spouse probably won't listen to that. Stop talking when you're talking about something so you can avoid doing it; stop procrastinating and start acting.

• Monitor and improve your self-talk. Be aware of the thoughts that run through your mind on a regular basis. Know that they cut physical grooves into your brain and influence you in powerful ways. Think about what you say to yourself, and ask God to correct inaccurate thoughts in your internal dialogue. Decide to think thoughts that respect yourself and your spouse. Think positive thoughts frequently, and after a while, those positive thoughts will cut new grooves in your brain and help you overcome an unhealthy habit of negative thoughts.