How to Fight

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
“Some people believe that happy couples don’t fight,” says psychotherapist and relationship expert Dr. Patty Ann Tublin. “Not true. The difference between happy and unhappy couples is how they fight -- constructively or destructively.”

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.’”

Check Your Expectations

Even before the argument begins, it helps to recognize what’s normal. According to Alisa Bowman, author of Project Happily Ever After, not every dispute needs resolution. Relationships have limits. “Your significant other is not going to be your everything,” explains Bowman. “You won’t always agree, and you won’t always be able to convert the other side to your view -- sometimes you have to agree to disagree. And that’s OK.”

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.

Step Back

In Bowman’s experience, many fights boil down to a feeling of not being heard, but we react to this feeling dysfunctionally. “We raise our voices, and that just escalates the fight. It causes people to shut down. Paradoxically, the louder you yell, the less you are heard.” The solution, she says, is to say less and listen more. “If your girlfriend’s yelling at you, don’t fight back. Listen and ask questions. If you know how to do it, you feel really powerful. You can say to yourself: ‘I know I’m a good person, you know I’m a good person, you’re just forgetting it right now.’ It's like a Jedi mind-trick.”

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.”

Understand the Triggers

Couples tend to fight over relatively trivial matters, but beneath that complaint, there often lies a more profound emotional issue. “It’s usually a core issue from childhood that’s triggered when we fight,” says marriage counselor Sharon Rivkin, author of Breaking The Argument Cycle: How to Stop Fighting Without Therapy. “And in order to really fight fair, we need to know what we’re actually fighting about. So I ask people: ‘Why did it make you so mad when he arrived late? Have you ever felt this way before?’”

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.”

Act Early
Finally, don’t wait for your 15th fight to start putting this advice into action. “Your first fights are precious, because at the start of a relationship, you’re more likely to be kind,” says Rivkin. “Once you let resentment build, then that can change -- some couples actually try to trigger each other into fights, and it becomes all about blame and shame.”

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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The MLT Girl Panel: Measures of Manliness

If you’re like most guys, you’re getting increasingly comfortable wearing pastel-colored clothing, futzing around in the kitchen and investing in grooming products. Times are a-changin’, and there’s science to support it: A 2008 study published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine found that men’s perceptions of masculinity differed substantially from what are considered stereotypical masculine traits.

But have you ever stopped to wonder what women think about all this? And even if they approve of the trend in theory, are they sexually attracted to men who embrace traditionally feminine behaviors that society has suddenly deemed not-so-girly? We turned to the Men’s Life Today Girl Panel to find out.

Erica

25

Natalia

26

Colleen

28

Samantha

22

Jaye

23


IT’S A-OK FOR GUYS TO …

… make dinner.


“Cooking is definitely becoming more manly. I think it can be really sexy.” -- Jaye

“My boyfriend is so proud when he makes an omelet. I just wish he knew how to cook more!” -- Colleen

“Guys who can cook turn me on. When a guy cooks for me, he makes me feel like he wants to take care of me.” -- Erica

IT’S OK -- WITHIN LIMITS -- FOR GUYS TO …

… remove body hair.

“A guy who manscapes is a) probably sexually active, b) probably somewhat hairy and c) hygienic, which are definitely pluses. I like a man with some hair, though.” -- Erica

“My boyfriend (thankfully!) doesn’t really have enough body hair to manscape. I wonder what that says about his masculinity.” -- Colleen

“I think male grooming is a good thing, but it becomes too much when the guy spends more time on his grooming than I do.” -- Jaye

… care about what they wear.

“I don’t have an issue with guys spending time picking out outfits as long as they don’t spend as much time on it as I do, and as long as they have other interests too.” -- Jaye

“When a guy subscribes to a fashion deal site, it says he’s trying to watch how much he spends and stay up on the latest trends, which is cute. It’s not cute when a guy has nicer clothes than I do.” -- Erica

It’s DEFINITELY NOT OK FOR GUYS TO …

… hit the beauty salon.

“I don’t want to see my man at my nail salon.” -- Erica

“While well-manicured nails are nice, seeing a guy get them done is a definite turn-off. I will not be turned on after picking you up at the nail salon.” -- Samantha

THE JURY’S STILL OUT ON GUYS WHO …

… wear pink.

“Wearing pink is totally acceptable if done right. It shows me he’s confident and comfortable with his sexuality.” -- Erica

“Wearing pink is iffy. It can make a guy come off as feminine or too preppy. I prefer more masculine colors.” -- Samantha

… cry during a movie.

“Shedding a few tears at a movie is cute; it shows that the guy is human and in touch with his emotions.” -- Natalia

“I want someone to comfort me during a sad movie, not the other way around. Huge turn-off.” -- Jaye

… bake.

“While cooking is very sexy, a man with a cake … not so much.” -- Samantha

“I don’t have a problem with baking, especially if it’s for me! It would show me that the guy thought I looked great and could actually eat the sweets.” -- Jaye

… wear a bag.

“Man bags are OK. Guys have computers and books and other stuff they have to lug around. Why shouldn’t they be practical?” -- Natalia

“A backpack is the only acceptable man bag.” -- Samantha

How to Get the Girl

Does this sound familiar? You’ve finally worked up the guts to ask an attractive woman you’ve started hanging out with on a date, and she replies with a sympathetic smile and a cliche: “You’re a great guy. But I would hate to ruin our friendship.”

If that’s you, you’ve probably wondered why it is that the guys who treat women like afterthoughts -- rather than the amazing catches they are -- always seem to get the girl. We asked relationship experts this very question, and here is what they said: They don’t.

“It’s a myth that nice guys finish last,” says advice columnist, on-air host and author Andrea Syrtash. “Kindness is consistently ranked as one of the top attributes both men and women are seeking.” If you’re batting zero, say our experts, you don’t need to take a crash course in cruelty; you just need to change your strategy.

Learn the difference between nice and too nice.
Women appreciate kindness, but when a man is so overly accommodating that he no longer presents a challenge, he becomes a doormat, and that’s not a major turn-on. Next time the object of your desire reaches out on a Friday night after her other plans have fallen through, say no. And don’t be too eager to help her assemble furniture or to take her to the airport. “You can still be a support, but you don’t have to be available all of the time,” says Syrtash. “You’re not leaving any intrigue, any element of surprise … and those are all essential elements in a courtship.”

Exude self-confidence.
Self-described “dateologist” Tracey Steinberg agrees that nice guys do not finish last, but insecure guys do. “Women want a man who knows what he’s doing,” says Steinberg. She suggests prepping yourself mentally by telling yourself, “I’m on top of my game. I treat women well, and any woman I choose to spend time with is lucky.” It may take a while before your new attitude takes hold, but Steinberg promises: “When you have that mindset, you get much different results.”

Make your intentions clear.
You may be trying to create the impression that you’re the perfect gentleman by always being on your best behavior. According to Jordan Harbinger, co-founder of The Art of Charm -- a program that teaches men how to meet and attract women -- this is a perfect way to signal that you’re not interested. If you want to send the opposite message, you’ve got to generate some sexual tension. “Flirt and banter,” says Harbinger. “When there’s playful teasing, that brings in a little bit of mystery.” He also suggests acting sooner rather than later. “Many guys wait a year before they finally make a move. By then they’ve missed the window by 364 days.”

Protect yourself.
Harbinger calls the secret hope that one day your crush is going to wake up and fall madly in love with you “the friendship fallacy.” His modus operandi? “I’m not friends with any girls I secretly want to date. I either date her or we become friends with benefits or -- if she’s not interested and I am -- I don’t have a friendship with her.”

It’s also true that some women really are attracted to bad boys. Your object should be to avoid them at all cost. “A woman who’s only interested in jerks will be a nightmare to date,” says Syrtash. “The jerk might land her, but he will have his hands full soon enough.” Says Steinberg: “Don’t waste your time.”

And you can take heart in the fact that you will be vindicated eventually. “Sooner or later, a woman who dates a string of jerks is going to get sick of it,” says Syrtash. “If she’s healthy and intelligent, she will come to realize that kindness ranks very high in terms of what’s great in a man.”

By the time she reaches her senses, however, you’ll long since have moved on to a woman who values and loves your kindness and confidence -- proof positive that yes, indeed, nice guys can finish first.

Photo: @iStockphoto.com/Yuri_Arcurs

My Best Date Ever

If your girl rolls her eyes whenever you suggest dinner and a movie (i.e., every night you go out), it’s time to step up your dating game. We asked the girls of the Men’s Life Today Girl Panel™ to describe the best dates they’ve ever had, in hopes that their stories will lead to a story or two starring your girl and you.

Stella
25
Arielle
25
Natalia
26
Michelle
27
Stacey
25
Lauren
25
Colleen
28


A high-altitude hike:
One of the very first dates I went on with my boyfriend was a hiking trip in the Pocono Mountains, which are near his house. It was a perfect opportunity to get to know each other and create some memorable inside jokes. To this day, we still laugh about a fellow hiker who veered off the trail and nearly went somersaulting down a cliff. Plus, the bird’s-eye view of the mountains, forests and rivers was romantic and gave us a breathtaking backdrop for our first pictures together. -- Stella

A sunset cruise:
One of my most unique dates was a simple walk in New York City. We went downtown and boarded the Staten Island Ferry (a commuter ferry) for a “sunset cruise” of the Statue of Liberty. Once we arrived on Staten Island, we had dinner and drinks near the ferry. It wasn’t the most glamorous date, but it was unlike anything I’d ever done before. -- Arielle

An impromptu road trip:
 My date invited me to get coffee at his favorite coffee shop. He picked me up and drove to a tiny town about an hour away. It was a beautiful spring day that was perfect for a ride, and the town itself was charming. We walked around and checked out the antique shops, took in the river views and, of course, had that cup of coffee. -- Natalia

A “Dinosaur Day”:
We started at the Museum of Natural History and spent the afternoon checking out the fossils. Then we went uptown to my favorite BBQ place, Dinosaur Bar-B-Que. Picking a theme made it more fun. -- Michelle

A day off:
My boyfriend and I both called in sick to work. We walked around a park, got pastries, played Ping-Pong at a pool hall and then got dinner -- all while the rest of the city was working away! -- Hayley

A surprise picnic:
My boyfriend surprised me with a packed picnic basket (salads, cheeses and drinks) all ready to go when I got home from work, and he took me to a romantic place in a nearby park to enjoy it. -- Stacey

A seaside exodus:
My boyfriend and I decided to check out a seaside town on the countryside that we’d heard was beautiful. We hit a ton of traffic, and it took us almost seven hours to get there; we still felt really lucky to have that time together. We arrived just before the sun set and we sat on the sand to soak in the last rays. Afterward, we went to a lounge and played a low-key game of Scrabble. -- Lauren

A better-than-a-movie date:
My boyfriend and I are both big movie buffs, so for the Oscars he took me to a viewing party hosted by a comedian who told jokes during the commercial breaks. -- Michelle

A medieval battlefield:
We went to a park that’s part medieval museum. The topic didn’t really interest us, but the snow-covered architecture was gorgeous. We threw snowballs and watched the sun set. Something about finding a new place to explore together was fun and romantic. -- Colleen

10 Things You Should Never, Ever Say to a Woman

There are few guarantees in life, but this much we can say with certainty: The sun rises in the east, death comes to us all, and you will -- at one time or another -- suddenly find yourself in the midst of a blazing fight with your girlfriend without even realizing it.

Many of us have been there. One minute you’re having a conversation, maybe a minor argument, but that’s OK; it’s all under control. Then you say something -- a word or passing comment, something relatively harmless, or so you think -- and it sets her off. As soon as it leaves your lips, the air changes, and there’s no easy way back.

There are some things men should never say to their women -- conversational land mines that appear insignificant on the face of it, but are anything but. The good news is that we know, for the most part, what they are. Many men have suffered before you. It would be wise to heed their counsel.

1. “Are you really going to eat all that?”
Your girlfriend is, by definition, as light as a feather and nimble as a ballerina. To so much as whisper a hint of the notion that she might be, you know, otherwise, is to risk paying a price as heavy as you suspect her to be. In fact, avoid the topic of food altogether if you can. Eating is an emotional, often obsessive business for women, and occasionally it’s an actual disorder. It’s tied up with their identity, their self-image, their fantasies. So the answer is, yes, she’s really going to eat all that. All that ballet must have given her an appetite.

2. “B*tch”
The B word is like the N word: Unless you’ve been appropriately oppressed, you don’t get to use it. You might be able to pull off an ironic Snoop Dogg-style “beeeyatch,” so long as you’re smiling as you say it. But to say “b*tch” with any kind of intent is to pull the pin out of a grenade.

3. “My ex used to … ”
Anything you say with the words “my ex” in it will be held against you in a court of law, as it should. Of course it’s natural to compare your girlfriends, but keep it to yourself. There are inside thoughts and outside thoughts. This belongs firmly to the former category.

4. “You always do that.”
One sure way to escalate a minor tiff into a nuclear showdown is to use words like “never” and “always.” They’re too sweeping to be true, so you’ll not only upset her, but also give her the opportunity to prove you wrong and seize the higher ground. And it tends to drag every other argument you’ve had into your present one, which is like rehashing all the worst parts of your relationship all at once.

5. “You sound just like your mother.”
Don’t compare her to her mother. Or her sister, for that matter. You don’t know those people like she does, and you don’t know the full complexity of their relationships. And anyway, everyone wants an independent identity, separate and distinct from their family members.

6. “Yeah, she’s hot.”
Chances are she lured you in with an innocent question, like, “Do you think she’s cute?” shrugging her shoulders like it wouldn’t matter either way. But don’t be fooled. You must lie quickly and reflexively. Whether it’s a girl in a magazine, a Facebook friend, a waitress -- whoever -- the answer is always no. In fact, you win extra points for casually finding fault in her the closer you look. Watch your girlfriend light up as you say, “Is it me, or is her nose a bit weird?”

7. “What’s up with your hair?”
Her hair looks great and it suits her perfectly. She’s allowed to have a bad hair day, but you’re not allowed to notice. For girls, hair isn’t just hair.

8. “Relax.”
The thing about “relax” is it dramatically reduces the chances of her relaxing. The same goes for “chill” and “calm down.” Here’s an alternative: “I can see how you would feel that way.” It takes a Zen master to actually use it in the heat of combat, but it’s there if you need it.

9. “Is this your time of the month?”
Even if it is, you’re not to mention it. Your role is to pretend that her menstrual cycle has no effect on her tendency to shriek and stamp and then burst into tears for no reason whatsoever. In this matter, you must occupy the high ground and show pity. Indulge her delusion that she is not in fact deranged by hormones and that she’s making a valid point. The moment will pass.

10. “I love you.”
I know what you’re thinking. This is supposed to be the magic pill, the cure-all, the instant fix. But the thing about the L word is that it sends women into a heightened sense of awareness. As soon as they hear it, they can tell whether or not you mean it. Misuse the force and it may destroy you. Or as the saying goes, if you play with fire, you might get slapped in the middle of a restaurant.