1. Be hard on the problem, not the people. For example, "Whether or not to sell our house is a tough decision and I would like to work together to figure this out" works much better than "If you'd only earned more money while we were married, we wouldn't have to think about selling our house."
2. Understand that acknowledging and listening are not the same as obeying. Example: "Let me make sure I understand......and now that I get what you're saying, can I have some time to think about it before I respond?" Nobody will change their mind until they feel they've been heard.
3. Use I-statements. "I feel sentimental about keeping my grandmother's pots and pans" makes a much better case for keeping them than "You can't take all our kitchen stuff."
4. Give the benefit of the doubt. For example: Your spouse is late for a meeting with the bank. Your first inclination is to take it personally. But there are also thousands of other plausible explanations which have nothing to do with you: the line at the grocery store was long, the hamster got out of the cage; an important phone call came. Not everything's about you.
5. Have awkward conversations in real time. Imagine your spouse telling you "I missed the mortgage payment that was due two weeks ago" instead of "I think I am going to miss the mortgage payment that is due in two weeks. What do you think we should do?"
6. Keep the conversation going. Life is a dialogue. Stonewalling will get you nowhere.
7. Ask yourself "Would I rather be happy or right?" Choose your battles.
8. Be easy to talk to. If you fly off the handle every time your spouse comes to you with a problem, eventually they will stop coming to you. Make it easy for someone to tell you something that you don't want to hear: "Wow, that is really disappointing, but I'm really glad you told me. I really appreciate that you were straight with me."
Diana Mercer is the co-author of Making Divorce Work: 8 Essential Keys to Resolving Conflict and Rebuilding Your Life (Perigee 2010).