by Kristina Grish
If she’s punchy from a long day, don’t plant yourself in front of the Pistons game. Nothing will change until you help with dinner, laundry, or homework. When it comes to chores, both of you should act the way you would at your jobs: Delegate, budget, and set deadlines.
Truly passionate sex beats obligatory makeup sex any day. Maybe men don’t feel the difference, but we women do. We hate fighting—it makes us feel alienated, confused, and downright disappointed.
But the next time we bite your head off, don’t rush to pack up your CDs. Experts insist that squabbling (but not screaming) is a healthy sign. It’s silence that should scare you. “The guy might think everything’s okay since they’re not arguing much, but that can really mean she’s over the relationship and planning her exit strategy,” says Karen Sherman, Ph.D., author of Marriage Magic! Find It, Keep It, Make It Last.
You need to know what her fighting words mean. What follows is classified intel from behind enemy lines—code breakers that can lead to a cease-fire, then pay off in a peace treaty that will make everyone happier. If we feel closer and more intimate after each resolution, that’s more naked for you.
THE ATTENTION FIGHT
Opening Volley: “We don’t go out anymore.”
It Means: She’s nostalgic. “I want my husband to sit across from me, think I’m attractive, share my food, and realize we still feel what we did before I became a wife and mother,” says Jennifer Jeanne Patterson, author of 52 Fights: A Newlywed’s Confession.
Battle Tactics: Once a month, surprise her with a real plan. “If you’ve gone a whole month without proffering flowers, compliments, or a special date, you’ll have a problem,” says Carol Ritberger, Ph.D., author of Love . . . What’s Personality Got to Do with It? “Do something she’d like, but give it a spontaneous twist. Go for a walk, but take her to a sight she’s never seen. Or book a babysitter, then lead her through a night of surprises—without prompting.” Men like familiar places, “but women respond best to novelty.”
What You Win: Dinner counts as foreplay. Really. “Women like to be shown off,” says Charles Sophy, M.D., a psychiatrist and an associate professor of psychiatry at UCLA. “Men should hear this as a compliment. Avoid getting defensive, and realize she needs attention or loves PDA with you. You’ll come home and have a great evening.”
THE FRIENDS FIGHT
Opening Volley: “What’s with the morons in your fantasy baseball league, anyway?”
It Means: She’s questioning your judgment. “Criticizing how men spend time with their friends implies that they’re irresponsible in making choices,” Ritberger says—meaning your 0partner is nervous about your decision making with regard to the two of you.
Battle Tactics: When she disses your buds, it feels like a personal insult, because friends are directly tied to identity and ego. Hold your ground and try this sneaky attack: Invite her to an event with your friends, suggests David Wygant, a Los Angeles–based dating coach and the author of Always Talk to Strangers: 3 Simple Steps to Finding the Love of Your Life. “She wants to spend time with your friends, but a lot of this has to do with her not wanting to be the invisible girlfriend, and knowing you’re not cheating on her.”
What You Win: Peace. “Once she’s out, she’ll realize your friends are harmless geeks, and she’ll never want to join you again,” Wygant says. Sherman has a trick play that works: Include her in one of your regular pool or bowling nights—and let her pick her team. Competition—either with or against each other—is well established as an aphrodisiac.
THE MONEY FIGHT
Opening Volley: “Do you really need another gadget?”
It Means: She’s implying a lack of responsibility on your part. This raises issues of control and insecurity, and highlights both partners’ need for order, Sherman says. Women tend to be more security-minded than men, adds psychologist Warren Berland, Ph.D., so you probably have different tolerance levels for spending.
Battle Tactics: Schedule budget talks. Have a sit-down with paper and pencil (or computer and software) to go over spending and debt levels. Negotiating lets her discuss the issue—but as you sympathize, make your case. Use “and” statements rather than “but” ones. (“I understand you’re nervous, and I also want to buy this new plasma TV. How do we figure this out together?”)
What You Win: You get the TV—as long as you set aside a few hundred for something she wants. Wygant warns that women can view a big purchase as something that will compete for your attention. If ever there were a time to splurge on a pair of $200 jeans for her, this is it. “She’ll think of you every time she wears them,” Wygant says, “which lets you make love to your plasma all you want.”
THE INTIMACY FIGHT
Opening Volley: “Why does everything have to be sex, sex, sex all the time?”
It Means: It’s not about sex. She’s lacking intimacy, excitement, novelty—all those things that made your early days so darn carnal. She may feel that sex is now more about your enjoyment than something mutual.
Battle Tactics: Research shows that the female snuggle impulse is also her aphrodisiac, so take an honest look at your attempts at intimacy. Do you assume that a shoulder rub must always lead to the bedroom? Ask what she needs from you in order to feel close—it could just be more snuggling or listening.
And leave sex out of the discussion. Berland suggests speaking in “feeling” and “wanting” terms, without accusation. “Don’t assume you know what ‘affection’ and ‘love’ mean to her,” he recommends. “Simply say, ‘What do you want? Please tell me, because I want to give it to you.’ ” Find out what intimacy means to her, then provide it.
THE KIDS FIGHT
Opening Volley: “Why can’t you spend more time with the kids?”
It Means: She feels like she’s doing all the work. “The typical scenario is that the woman feels as if she’s lost her wits dealing with the kids all day, and her husband comes home from work at night and shuts down,” Sherman says. “He removes himself from household responsibility and doesn’t understand she’s been working all day, too.”
Battle Tactics: If she’s punchy from a long day, don’t plant yourself in front of the Pistons game. Nothing will change until you help with dinner, laundry, or homework. When it comes to chores, both of you should act the way you would at your jobs: Delegate, budget, and set deadlines. “Men have the ability to prioritize like this at work, so why not apply these sensibilities at home?” asks Sherman. “If your report isn’t handed in on time, the boss will ask for it. If you aren’t contributing to a meeting, your team will be livid.”
What You Win: A calmer home, kids who actually like their father, and, after they go to bed, the last quarter of the Pistons game. Which is the best part anyway.
DEFUSE AN EXPLOSIVE ARGUMENT
Don’t ask “why” questions. This creates an emotional response and puts her in fight-or-flight mode, says Carol Ritberger, Ph.D. Other questions are fine, especially if they show an interest in “how” or “when” the two of you can solve the problem.
Don’t assume she’s basing her decisions on emotion. There may be plenty of logic behind her reactions, though these reactions may be charged with stress and contention. And for goodness’ sake, don’t tell her she’s being emotional.
Don’t cross-complain. Countering her bickering with your complaints won’t work. If you’re fighting to be heard, someone’s bound to lose. It might be you.
Don’t interrupt. Actively listen to whether she uses kinesthetic (“I feel”), auditory (“I hear”), visual (“I see”), or cognitive (“I think”) terms—and respond in her language. She’ll hear it more clearly.
Use body language. Touch her, lean forward, and maintain eye contact to show you’re in the moment with her.
Read more in Men’s Health
Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.