A recent Match.com poll of 11,000 men and women found that dealing with a partner’s family accounts for 45 percent of couples’ fights. (Surprisingly, it was not about who should do the chores, pay for something, or where to go.) Family ties run deep — and sometimes they’re deeper than you think. Before you get involved, determine your partner’s connection to his or her family, and whether you can live with it.
When I first met him, George bragged that — even after seven years of marriage — he and his wife never had one fight. I thought that was pretty strange. Then suddenly, his wife served him with divorce papers. She had been having an affair with the gardener, and was now pregnant with his baby. Blindsided George didn’t know what hit him, and had a meltdown that lasted for years. When we started to unravel his story, I found that he had appointed his two sisters as his best friends and confidantes, leaving his wife in the cold. The couple went through the rituals of marriage, tending to their kids and chores, and George’s wife never expressed her pain over feeling discarded in the process. Many people prefer peace at any cost.
Disagreements help establish mutual respect between partners
Arguments can actually infuse some adrenaline into a couple’s relationship, and they serve three main functions:
1. defining necessary boundaries,
2. overcoming routine boredom, and
3. demonstrating the stake each person has in the partnership.
Aaron Tippin sings, “You’ve got to stand for somethin’ or you’ll fall for anything. You’ve got to be your own man, not a puppet on a string.” When someone stands his or her ground, respect reverberates. As my Gilda-Gram says, “Respect ensures a relationship’s longevity.” George had treated his wife as a footnote, and she passively and aggressively responded!
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When Cara met Tom, she marveled at how alike they were. “Oh, wow!” she effused, “I’ve met my mirror image.” I cautioned her that Tom might not be such a perfect match. But Cara would not listen; she believed she was in love. Over the next two years, Cara discovered that Tom provided little excitement in their relationship. She hadn’t realized the importance of having a partner who could stimulate her with traits that diverged from her own. Quite a change from her “mirror image” theory!
If fights are unavoidable, why not make them as productive as possible?
Since couples with near-identical traits can make boring partners, it’s not surprising that in a subsequent Match.com poll of 12,000 respondents, 58 percent said that fighting was inevitable — as long as fair techniques are used by both parties. Of course, 19 percent agreed that constantly fighting couples won’t stay together. Most people dislike confrontation, and 9 percent of those surveyed admitted to giving in just to restore peace in their relationship. But make-up sex is exciting, and 14 percent of the poll’s respondents said that any fight’s aftermath was actually the best part.
So, how can partners fight with each other and also grow their love? By fighting for a position, not over it! That distinction can determine your make-it-or-break-it future. The following five fights are important because they push each person to, in Tippin’s words, “stand for somethin’” that will build your togetherness. Of course, it’s prudent to discuss your issues before you share a roof. But you can’t really plan for every disagreement. And it’s that uncertainty that promises exhilaration down the road!
Here are the five things worth fighting for in your relationship:
1. Your personal freedom. Money symbolizes this freedom, yet opposites attract. Sara was frugal and typically saved her pennies, while Ben was an over-spender who oozed reckless abandon. Each found the other’s spending habits intolerable. So before they got married, the couple set up a “you” account, a “me” account, and a “we” account for their funds. Each then felt free, yet also bonded together.
Lesson learned: The more compromise a couple enjoys, the more devoted to each other they feel.
2. A healthy lifestyle. Alan promised to stop smoking if Maggie married him. She did, but he didn’t follow through. Maggie fought for their family to embrace healthy eating habits and exercise routines, but Alan refused to participate. Maggie finally left the marriage when Alan almost died of COPD.
Lesson learned: Share your needs and preferences with each other right from the start so you can test your partner’s buy-in on such matters.
3. Emotional and physical safety. Bonnie seemed like an ideal catch when Fred first met her, but after they dated for four months, her short fuse revealed itself; Bonnie was blowing up at the slightest provocation. At my urging, she enrolled in Anger Management classes, and Fred now appreciates their relationship more than ever before.
Lesson learned: Openly communicate your concerns about physical safety. Discover how far you’ll be willing to go for what your partner may call “love.”
4. Your own bathroom comfort. Jim had been dating Violet for several months. He was fastidious, and she was messy. He couldn’t stand her hair in the bathroom sink; she couldn’t fathom falling into the toilet another time after he left the seat up. She put the toilet paper facing one way, which compelled Jim to replace it going in the other direction. Each partner’s bathroom habits annoyed the other, but I advised them to find some humor in their disagreements. When they recognized these arguments were hardly earth-shattering, they chose to change their routines in order to sustain their love for each other.
Lesson learned: Air your complaints with humor, because laughter accelerates and maintains the romance!
5. Togetherness. Unifying as a team bonds you against the big, ugly world. Fight for your mate’s success, self-esteem, and career goals while your honey fights for yours. Crissy supported her new beau when he ran for public office. The pair endured the stress of living in a fishbowl and the unfounded subsequent attacks on both of them as individuals. But together, they kept their eye on their shared goal. When Cliff won the election, he proposed to Crissy. He gushed, “I can’t imagine life without this strong team we’ve formed.”
Lesson learned: Relationships thrive when mates cheer each other on. With each new plan of togetherness, you strengthen your personal bond.
Fight for what you believe in, stand your ground, and express your feelings from the heart. Even if your mate gets peeved, the respect that ensues will sustain your love — even during your disagreements.