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The 7 Steps to Happily Ever After

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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.

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