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No matter how solid your relationship, you’ll never get away from everyday stress. But you can make sure it doesn’t burn the house down. Here’s how to stop fanning the flames.
Friction causes heat, which causes fire, and big explosions. The logistics of living together with another human being make it almost impossible to avoid becoming irritated or arguing. A Pew Research study showed that only 10% of adults admitted to never arguing at all, while most of us do so several times each week.
This is not necessarily a bad thing; allowing the sparks to fly once in a while breathes new life into a relationship and creates room for constructive change. But there are rules, of course – like never make it personal and don’t be mean – but who among us can say he has not sinned and lost it, just a little bit? So how do you keep your conflicts on the right side of constructive? Glad you asked. We’ll tell you.
The sheets are silky, the room’s heating up. We know where this is going, right? Then she says, “Goodnight.” At this point you’re not far away from pointing out how rarely she’s in the mood these days, and being accused right back of only thinking about sex.
DE–ESCALATE Breathe, man! Stay calm, no matter how difficult. Allegations only end up saying, “You’re bad, I’m better.” And no one needs that.
THEN ACT “Nobody likes making a go for it and being turned down, and nobody likes feeling forced into it either. You have to communicate to make it work,” says Rudolph. “But a conversation about her libido not matching yours is not something to have between the sheets in the heat of the moment. Have it over a glass of wine when the hormones and emotions are under control.”
If you feel she’s been a bit distant, ask her why – and if she says she’s really just tired, let her sleep and look forward to a well-rested lady in the morning. It is key to inflect everything with a pinch of humour. “Keep it light, but get help if it keeps causing conflict and you’re not finding solutions.”
Lambie’s just kicked off, and here comes the vacuum cleaner. Yup, housework sucks – and if you hate it, so does she.
DE–ESCALATE Sitting in a simmer gets you nowhere, and blowing up takes you ten steps backwards. Don’t give us that “but I work longer hours” crap; that’s not helping anyone to actually get the housework done. The only thing worse than her having to nag at you is your whining back.
THEN ACT Plot a pre-emptive strike. If you don’t already know – and chances are, you don’t – chat to her about what needs to be cleaned or sorted around the house on a regular basis, and by when, then get it done well ahead of the game. You could go one step further and draw up a roster to divide the labour, but remember to take on twice as many tasks as you assign to her – trust us, she’s doing a hundred things around your home you’ll never have to think about. And if, after all that, you’ve ticked all your boxes and she still needs help, get off your ass and wash those dishes, take out that garbage. It’s not rocket science.
Let us guess: you figured telling her the whole truth would just lead to a long debate, and all of a sudden “I’m working late” became catching the rugger with guys you hardly know in a bar you don’t remember.
DE–ESCALATE Admit to everything. She’s not angry you spent the evening drinking seven shots for every seven-pointer, she’s angry that you lied about it. You see, lying is bad. It hints at a pattern – the easier it is for you to do, the louder the alarm bells in her head. So confess, openly and unapologetically. You can’t move past it until you’re being honest.
THEN ACT Now explain yourself. Describing your reasons for lying, even by omission, will go a long way in establishing a foundation for a constructive conversation. You might even be surprised by your own motivations. “People lie either to gain an advantage or to protect themselves against some kind of negative response,” says Rudolph. “By grilling you she is trying to understand how your mind works, not punish you – so be open with her. Look for the cause together and you’re more likely to find solutions.”
You shared a great dinner, the steak was perfect, that red wine is your new favourite. Nothing spoils a happy occasion quite like quibbling over the bill.
DE–ESCALATE If you really don’t feel you should pay, or at least without her making some kind of effort to grab that bill away from you, fine. But don’t make it the waiter’s problem. Pay up immediately and remind yourself to bring it up later. Fighting in public is a major betrayal that won’t win you any favours.
THEN ACT At some point in every relation- ship, money becomes an issue. Don’t think you’ve somehow cracked the code – give yourselves some time to figure out your different approaches to spending and saving, and how to work together in making all that money work for your shared objectives. (Such time is not while you’re still in the damn restaurant.) Discuss the option of opening a joint account that you both share – an account separate from both yours and hers, that you both contribute towards and you both have access to. That way, you’ll be independent and equal, and learning how each of you thinks about money.
You get home late, your mind still decompressing from a long, stressful day’s work, and you get sandbagged as you walk in the door. “Look honey – I was at the hairdresser today!” Do not ever underestimate the potential of this moment to cause some serious conflict.
DE–ESCALATE Most guys aren’t aware of what they like until they see it. Chances are, you liked her hair just fine the way it was when you first met her, and little tweaks here and there are all good. A radical cut, on the other hand, could go either way. Don’t let it!
THEN ACT Rein in the shock and go with “I love it!” Yes – even if you don’t, and no, it’s not being dishonest. “Avoid criticism – it won’t make her hair grow back any faster,” says Rudolph. “She’s probably a little uncertain, so go easy and don’t go making her feel bad about herself.” In a few days she might mention that she’s not sure it’s really her thing, after all, and that she might go back to what she had before… at that point, and only that point, should you pipe up with, “Well, I don’t want to seem shallow, but I’ve always loved your hair the way it was.”