Dear Em & Lo,
Lately, my boyfriend and I have been getting into a lot of fights. We’ve just reached the end of our honeymoon phase and we’re starting to get to know each other more and more on everyday terms.
Our last really big fight just happened very recently, and it was instigated by me. I called him out on being a little two-faced with his friends, particularly one of his closest girl friends. I also let him know the reasons why I occasionally felt insecure and even jealous towards them. These feelings had bugged me all night and when I told him, I was really upset. I know that I should’ve been nicer, but all my sympathy flew out the window when he read into my accusations wrongly. Now he thinks that I’m accusing him of just being a sex beast when I didn’t! He also says that he doesn’t want to confide in me anymore because this is what happens and he regrets it. All I told him was that I didn’t want him exaggerating his distatste for his friends because that’s just being dramatic and confuses and hurts me and takes my trust away.
Now we’re not talking, and I don’t think we really trust each other anymore. Is our relationship doomed? Who’s right and who’s wrong? How can I fix this without having either of us grovel in begging for forgiveness?
— On the Rocks
The most important thing for you to realize is that it’s totally healthy to fight in a relationship — in fact, we’d be suspicious of a couple who never fought. But what’s key to the success or failure of your relationship is to learn how to fight fairly. Oh, and the other important thing to realize is that groveling and begging for forgiveness are occasionally necessary for the sake of the relationship. Not a regular basis, but sometimes, you just gotta do it. Sorry.
So, how do you fight fairly? Well, the first thing is to make sure that the thing you are asking/nagging/complaining about is actually the thing you’re mad about. In the case above, it seems like you tried to soft-shoe your way into things by accusing your boyfriend of being two-faced, when what you really wanted to say was that you occasionally feel jealous of his female friends, and when he pretends that he can’t stand them — when you know that he can — it only makes you feel worse. Nobody likes to feel blind-sided in an argument.
The second thing is to — ahem — stay calm and don’t let your emotions fly out of control. Sure, easier said than done, you may think. But your best shot at this is to bring things up as and when they piss you off, rather than saving up a zillion tiny things for a rainy, messy, all-out-screaming-match day. Staying calm will also help you listen to your partner, so you can better understand whether or not they are hearing you. By the way, the staying calm thing applies to both of you. Clearly your partner failed here, too — but that doesn’t necessarily mean your relationship is doomed, just that you’re rookie fighters. As you practice fair fighting, you should both get better at this.
Speaking of, the best way to get your partner to fight fairly is to lead by example. The more fair fighting rules you follow yourself, the harder it will be for your partner to fight dirty.
Another rule? Don’t let the fight escalate to issues that are unrelated. If your partner mentions something that pisses you off, let the fight be about that issue, and that issue alone. Don’t retort with “Oh yeah, you think I’m messy? Well, you smell!” Or something equally mature.
Finally, you don’t have to decide who’s right and who’s wrong in order to end a fight. You just have to agree to compromise — or agree to disagree. And then you have to have really hot make-up sex.
Go! Fight! Compromise!
— Em & Lo