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The 7 Steps to Happily Ever After

Step 4: Learn how to fight right.

I'm embarrassed to think of how I coped with conflict early in my relationship with Jonathan. I stormed out — a lot. I once threw an apple at his head. Hard. (Don't worry, I missed — on purpose.) I had a terrible habit of threatening divorce at the slightest provocation. But eventually I figured that this was pretty moronic. I didn't want out, and I knew that pelting someone with fruit was not a long-term marital strategy.

"Fighting is the big problem every couple has to deal with," says Daniel B. Wile, Ph.D., a psychologist and couples therapist in Oakland, CA, and author of After the Fight. That's because fights will always come up, so every couple needs to learn how to fight without tearing each other apart.

Fighting right doesn't just mean not throwing produce; it means staying focused on the issue at hand and respecting each other's perspective. Couples that fight right also find ways to defuse the tension, says Wile — often with humor. "Whenever one of us wants the other to listen up, we mime hitting the TV remote, a thumb pressing down on an invisible mute button," says Nancy, 52, an event producer in San Francisco. "It cracks us up, in part because it must look insane to others." Even if you fight a lot, when you can find a way to turn fights toward the positive — with a smile, a quick apology, an expression of appreciation for the other person — the storm blows away fast, and that's what matters.

Step 5: Find a balance between time for two and time for you.

Jonathan and I both work at home. This frequently leads to murderous impulses. Though I'm typing away in the bedroom and he's talking to his consulting clients in our small home office, most days it really feels like too much intimacy for me.

But that's my bias. When it comes to togetherness, every couple has its own unique sweet spot. "There are couples that are never apart and there are couples that see each other only on weekends," Greer says. With the right balance, neither partner feels slighted or smothered. You have enough non-shared experiences to fire you up and help you maintain a sense of yourself outside the relationship — not to mention give you something to talk about at the dinner table. But you also have enough time together to feel your connection as a strong tie rather than as a loose thread.

Your togetherness needs will also change over time, so you'll have to shift your balance accordingly. "My husband and I spend a lot of time together, but it's almost all family time," says Katie, 40, a mom of two in San Leandro, CA. "We realized a few months ago that we hadn't had a conversation that didn't involve the kids or our to-do lists in ages, so we committed to a weekly date. We were so happy just to go to the movies and hold hands, something we hadn't done in ages. It felt like we were dating again!"

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