How to Fight
By Sanjiv Bhattacharya
There’s nothing like the beginning of a relationship. That giddy, soft-focus feeling, when every mushy pop song out there seems to be written just for you. But what about the day the music stops? The first time a couple fights is like Cupid’s arrow in reverse; just like that, all the gooey love turns into yelling and name-calling. It’s a shock, especially after that glorious honeymoon period. Both sides end up wounded and wondering, “What could have gone so wrong?”
Not to worry -- good news is at hand. Not only is nothing wrong, but there are all kinds of ways it can get better.
Learn the Ground Rules
The key is to fight fair, and that means obeying a few simple ground rules. For instance, stay on topic. “Don’t say ‘Oh and another thing … ’ and drag in all kinds of different issues,” says Tublin. “Stick to the subject.” Another important rule: If things start to get out of hand, remove yourself from the situation. “If there’s name-calling and shouting, just say, ‘This conversation isn’t productive anymore. Let’s revisit this at another time.’”
Equally important is understanding that there’s no such thing as winning. “If you win,” says Bowman, “then the other half loses, so in the end you both lose. Your relationship is in worse shape than it was before.” What’s more, the “loser” may harbor resentment, which may in turn fuel the next fight. And so the cycle continues.
There’s nothing easy about Jedi mind-tricks, of course, especially in the heat of battle. But you can practice without having lots of fights. “Everyone knows someone who talks too much or who’s angry and bitter,” says Bowman. “They’re the ones you practice on. Just practice listening.”
Digging into one’s childhood to process a blowup over tardiness may sound a bit extreme, but the very act of asking these questions and looking beyond the fight is itself helpful. “No one knows what is going to trigger your girlfriend into feeling upset until it has happened,” explains Rivkin. “But once you learn what that trigger is, you gain empathy and compassion for her. It will bring you closer.”
So when that first fight starts, embrace it. The honeymoon period may have ended, but your real relationship is just beginning.
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Sanjiv Bhattacharya writes for multiple publications, including GQ, Details and LA Weekly. He is also the author of Secrets & Wives: The Hidden World of Mormon Polygamy.
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