At a difficult time in my marriage, my wife and I had fights that would last for days. Both of us would dish out the silent treatment, long after we had forgotten the reason for the fight in the first place. Of course, I always thought I was right and Carolyne always thought she was right. Not a very good way to resolve an argument.

We sought the help of a psychiatrist to help us work through this issue. He walked us through the entire argument process and explained why neither of us was prepared to back down or surrender (it was a power struggle) even though the ongoing fights were making us both unhappy. Then he taught us a technique to stop conflict from escalating. It was surprisingly simple but the results were miraculous. I have since tried to use this approach in all areas of my life, not just at home.

The key is that one party needs to apologize first and fast-- even if they do not believe they are the one in the 'wrong'. Now this can be tough to do, but believe me it gets easier the more often you do it. So each time Carolyne and I had an argument we took it in turns to be the first one to apologize. Importantly, we usually apologized within minutes of the argument starting. We could then actually talk about the issue in a calm and loving way, rather than letting the anger build and then blurting out hurtful things at each other.

The same principle applies to any kind of relationship, not just intimate relationships. If we let things stew and build, we tend to explode rather than explain. It is much better to raise an issue early, as soon as it appears. Try not to assign blame-- put the issue out there first and then work together for ways to resolve it. It really does work.

A lot of stress and angst results from a sense of not being able to express how you are feeling because you are afraid of having an argument that could get out of control. Open and honest dialogue is essential, and this can  only happen when you act quickly and unemotionally. A much better option than going on a tirade after a few drinks at the Christmas party because you have reached boiling point.  

In business there will always be conflicts. There will always be a need to have hard conversations. You might not need a system like we adopted, but you do need a system, or at least a philosophy for dealing with conflict that prevents the breakdown of good business relationships.

While my marriage didn't last, Carolyne and I are very close friends to this day and talk often about this defusing process and the way it continues to make our lives and our relationships better.

Are issues building between you and someone close to you? Does this stress you out and add to an overall sense of dissatisfaction with life? Defuse the situation today before it gets any worse. Sit down with the person and talk about the issues as you see them, and try to work through a way to resolve them and move on with your life.

Sounds simple right? Surely everyone already does this? From my experience they don't. Most people hold things in till they burst and then things are said that can never be unsaid and relationships break down.