How to stop fighting with your partner
Vail CO, Colorado
Dear Neil: My boyfriend of two years and I constantly fight. It seems that we don’t make one another happy anymore, just more and more angry. This week we decided it would be best to give one another some space. I moved out. We are hoping that with this space we can figure out what each of us can do. He is the man I want to marry and have children with. Is separating from one another a cop-out and an escape from our problems, or will it open our eyes and show us how to be together?
Alone in the Stars
Dear Alone: Giving each other space is not going to solve your problems. Neither is staying together and fighting. But there is something else that might work.
Ask yourself what you are fighting for. I mean in the big picture, what do you think you are asking for when you are fighting with your boyfriend? More time? Kindness? Less criticism? More romance? Greater stability? A marriage proposal? More affection? Less venom? To be taken care of? Be very clear in your own mind about what your top needs and wants from your boyfriend are.
Then ask yourself what you think he’s been fighting for, big picture wise. What is the essence of what he’s been asking for or saying he wants? If you’re unclear about his answers, ask him to do this exercise, and just listen to his answers without responding. Then tell him what your main issues are.
The goal is to change the conversation the two of you are having so that you can talk about the real things in the way of your relationship. Don’t get caught in the small petty arguments. Stand back and look at the larger issues the two of you are in conflict about. Can the two of you talk about those issues directly? If so, give yourselves a fair chance to work through the real conflicts in your relationship.
Dear Neil: I am wondering if there is any help you could offer. My husband and I have been together since 2005, and we married last year. We made it six months before I left him. We had a great relationship until we got married. He turned from a nice sweet guy into a controlling and jealous man. He stopped doing things for me, and accuses me of sleeping around all the time. He even stood over the bed and threatened me because he thought I was sleeping with some stranger I met. I left him in February and then filed divorce papers last month. I don’t know what to do because I love him.
Help Needed in Colorado
Dear Colorado: Your husband needs massive amounts of reassurance from you. Very likely he has low self-esteem and doesn’t, in his heart of hearts, feel worthy of you. It’s how you offer him this reassurance ” and whether it will be enough for him ” that will decide whether you guys can reconcile or not.
You might try telling him that you have been his, and only his, since the start of your relationship (I am assuming that is truthful. If it isn’t, then talk about the fidelity you are prepared to offer in the future). Ask him what he would need from you in order to feel reassured that you are being loyal and faithful. Don’t agree to anything that feels overly controlling, but if you can agree to what he asks, by all means try it.
Be sure to proactively reassure him every single day that you have been true and blue. Don’t wait for him to ask. Bring the subject up first. Your goal is to diffuse his insecurity and jealousy. But longer range, he needs to enter therapy to address his low self-esteem.
Neil Rosenthal is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Denver and Boulder, specializing in intimate relationships. He can be reached at 303- 758-8777, or e-mail him from his Web site, heartrelationships.com.
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