Everyone Takes Personal Responsibility - easily my single greatest pet peeve in counseling, when people refuse to look at their own responsibility but rather blame their spouse, and justify themselves. God gives us our job descriptions as husbands and wives not our spouses, so when we fail to be what God has called us to be we have no one to blame but ourselves. Too often couples want to go back and forth justifying their poor choices by comparing the other's transgressions, or excusing their own refusal to meet their spouses needs by listing what needs they haven't received. That's like saying, "Yeah I failed Math but another kid in my class didn't do his homework so I decided not to. And you think my grade is bad, my 60 is way better than their 45" - you both failed. Everyone is responsible for their own decisions, good or bad, and justification and blame just assure that one will ever become who they are called to be. We often compare our own excellent job of biting our tongue fifty times to our spouse's five mean statements and don't realize they bit their tongue eighty times. When we compare our internal achievements to our spouse's external failures we always win and we feel justified in treating them like crap, when we compare our hearts to the hearts God has designed us for we allow ourselves to be molded into His image. With this perspective there is no room for defensiveness, as anything our spouse brings to us can be seen as an opportunity to grow rather than an attack that needs to be countered with something they do even worse.
Become aware of the core wounds and accompanying fears of your spouse and avoid them. If they came from a family that always made them feel they were wrong then they may fight a little harder than necessary to make sure they don't always lose in the marriage. If they had an overprotective mother that smothered them they might fight a little harder to have their autonomy and not feel controlled by you. If they had a critical father that always compared them to someone else who they could never live up to you may want to avoid telling them they aren't as good of a wife as friend's wife. If your spouse has an ex-husband who verbally and emotionally abused her it may be that you can never raise your voice at all without signaling to her that you are attacking her. Whatever the wound and wherever it came from you have the opportunity to help heal it or to keep ripping it open and pouring salt in it, and that is a tremendous power. Usually during conflict there is the topic that the fight is about and then there are the real underlying issues that aren't being spoken. You can grumble about how you have to clean up someone else's mess or you can recognize you have your own core fears that get triggered as well and need extra grace in certain areas.
Create a culture of appreciation and acceptance rather than contempt - One of the keys inside and outside of conflict to make sure you are able to resolve conflict well is create a culture of acceptance, appreciation, and love rather than judgement, criticism, and blame. Research shows you need at least five times as many positive interactions for every negative one just to balance things out. Deep at the base of your brain is a part called the amygdala that is the emotional center that basically sees people in black and white, good and bad ways, people are either your allies, on your team and there to make your life better or people are enemies, attacking you and need to be protected from. Its like a giant scale that tips one way or the other and it takes five experiences of acceptance, respect, and positivity to balance out each one incident of anger, frustration, judgement, or negativity. Whichever side the scale is on, that is how everything will be interpreted, neutral comments like "Oh those look like new jeans", get automatically interpreted either as a compliment - "Oh thanks, I'm excited about them" - or a criticism - "They aren't new, I've had them for two weeks, and before you complain about money they were on sale and I had nothing else that fits." If you want your spouse to hear what you say as you intend it rather than with automatic defensiveness you can help by working hard to show tons more appreciation, respect, acknowledgement, and praise, rather than always being critical.
Stay Engaged - the last rule for effective conflict is no matter what, try your best to always stay engaged, or to reconnect as quick as possible afterwards. Often in the middle of conflict one partner will go into an icy cool stance where they respond like a robot without emotions. It's called stonewalling and it is usually a defense mechanism to keep themselves from becoming overwhelmed and flooded with emotions, and often as a way of protecting the relationship. The idea is that if I were to open up and express how I feel I will say something I regret and then lose this important relationship, but what the other person sees is somebody who doesn't care about the relationship or them. Both partners have racing heart rates and blood pressures, but only one looks like they give a crap. This is where it becomes important to learn how to reschedule or just sooth the other person or yourself in the moment, to talk yourself back into being present and engaged. Sometimes this carries over into an overall approach to the relationship where the partner is no longer angry, just numb. The way our emotions work is that we either feel them all or none of them and if someone feels to painful for too long they often have a firewall that comes crashing down that cuts off all emotions. To feel love means to also feel all the pain so they both get thrown out. This is where you need to stop playing around and get in to see a counselor, because your marriage is flat lining. Most couples wait 6-7 years after they notice major problems before they go for help which is like waiting a few weeks to see if you are having a heart attack - tons of damage has already been done.