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
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