5 Steps To Getting Over The First-Fight Hurdle

couple argument
Contributor
Love, Heartbreak

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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3. Solve A Moment, Not All Relationship Blips.

Even happy couples have problems, says Barbera, they just have a better time talking about them. He's still a workaholic but instead of having a big fight about it each time he whips out his laptop, some couples are able to laugh it off. "Certain things may not change in your relationship. This is important to know. When you're deciding whether to commit to someone, make sure you like them and accept them as is, faults and all," says Barbera.

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4. Call First Dibs On The Apology.

Truth be told, you may have to cough up some pride in order to get past the first-fight roadblock. Now you know (if you didn't before). "Forget the notion about sharing blame 50/50. Take 100 percent of the blame for your part in what went wrong," Barbera says. "Say you're sorry for losing your cool, without mentioning your partner's role in the matter. Then allow the other person to calm down and evaluate." When you're in argument mode, the heated situation makes you into the enemy. At that point, you have no influence and won't be heard if you try to explain, teach or show anything. "The only thing you can do at that point is to accept responsibility for your part in the disagreement and to apologize. A good partner will melt right then and there," says Barbera.

5. Bite Your Tongue And Give Back Better.
Stay compassionate. You may find that when you really stay connected you like the other person more, says Barbera, or maybe you'll find that you are losing interest. If you are wondering if this person is really right for you don't let yourself be part of the problem. Give your best in tricky situations or discussions. "Look inside yourself and even when you feel you're not getting a lot, give back better. Pay attention to your partner. What matters is not that you had a break but how you repair the break and reconnect. They're going to happen. Take the blame and the shame out of it and demand the same from your partner. Then you'll get to see what kind of person your partner really is and you'll be able to make the best decision about your future."