A couples therapist on how to survive your first argument and fast forward to make-up time.
Sometimes we get lucky. A new relationship moves along swimmingly, without glitch. It's stress-free, guilt-free and conflict-free to boot. We may even start to gloat about the flat, ever calm quality of the relationship waters. But if six months has passed in your relationship without even the slightest hint of a mild tiff you may have to ask yourself: Are you afraid of the first-fight hurdle?
"You're going to have complaints, and you have to air them at some point. Holding back instead of speaking up can hamper your relationship," says Mona Barbera, PhD, a psychologist and couples therapist who wrote, Bring Yourself to Love: How Couples Can Turn Disconnection into Intimacy. "Bringing up tough issues is an important step in a relationship. A couple's growth can be limited and narrow if no one ever brings up the hard, anxiety-provoking issues. Full-on fights happen when couples lose their connection."Relationship Red Flags
The first time a couple tackles a thorny issue together can be nerve-racking. But it need not be. Keep Dr. Barbera's communication tips in mind so you can get the tussle part over and done with, moving right along to your first makeout (er, make-up) session.
1. Abide By The Seven Times More Rule.
She comes home to a sink cluttered with dishes. It's his first dinner with Boss and Boss's wife and she shows up late. He's scrolling through breakfast...again. She's working on vacation. You haven't had that first break-through argument yet (the one that reveals how a partner handles conflict) but you're officially fuming. You sense a blow-up approaching. Stop right there, says Barbera. "Just before you're about to carp, 'You forgot X' or 'You didn't do Y,' for the first time, ask yourself if you've expressed appreciation for the things your partner did right that day. If the answer is no, put off the complaint and focus on the act you valued," says Barbera. "Approach your partner with a show of gratitude and he or she will follow your lead."
2. Connect First, Then Complain.
Communication is up to 85 percent non-verbal, says Barbera, so pay attention to your tone and body language. "No one likes to listen when they feel they're being attacked. Aim to send a message that reads 'We're a team. I like you and I feel connected to you right now.'" We pick up on emotions and register them, so no matter what words you're using, the other person will be able to see your true feelings. If you've checked out, your partner will know. Even if it takes some time, wait until you are calm, clear and connected before saying what's on your mind. You'll have a much better chance of being heard.
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