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Ready to Rumble?

How to Pick a Fight With Your Significant Other

By Brett Smiley

That perfectly adorable, argument-free couple is full of it: Couples fight. Conflict in a relationship is an inevitable truth, like the unearthing of a B-list celebrity's sex tape when fame begins to fizzle.

But there's nothing wrong with fighting. I'm not talking about Jerry-Springer-circa-1998-style brawling, but rather engaging in spirited debates about things that matter. Whether provoked by a simple smirk or a few choice words, lovers' quarrels can have productive ends, or even lead to a better understanding of what makes their partner tick. 

According to experts, it's often those Barbie and Ken couples (and their bottled-up emotions) who end up sleeping in separate beds. "I worry about couples who never disagree," says Kathy Nickerson, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and relationship expert based in Irvine, California. "If you never fought, this would mean you never had an opinion that differed from your partner's — which is scary — and/or that you never had a viewpoint that you felt was worth fighting for — which is also scary. Fighting is quite normal and does not indicate much about the health of a relationship."

So, in the spirit of a good fight being good for your relationship, here are some of the best ways I've found to pick one. (Barbies and Kens, take note.)

The Hint

Ladies, start with some subtlety. "I find that women hint a lot more than men," says Dr. Nickerson. "This is a generalization, but it tends to be true. Women will say things like, 'Hmm, doesn't this picture of the ballet just make you want to go?' This statement is really a hint at: 'Honey, I want you to go with me to the ballet!' More often than not, men will miss this and just respond literally to the question asked by saying, 'No, not really, you know I don't like the ballet.'" Frustration ensues, then a fight — and then nobody gets to go to the ballet.

The Mess

Guys, leave wrappers, crumbs or empty containers all over the kitchen. This doesn't only apply to couples who live together. Most women like to keep their places neat, so, when you're in her kitchen, just don't clean up after yourself. Your crumb disaster will likely capture her attention and lead to a confrontation. During the ensuing debate, maybe she'll feel she's really been too hard on you about your habits. Or maybe you'll see that you really shouldn't leave empty cartons in the fridge. In any case, these issues will be up for discussion, along with any lingering ones.

The Pile On

This might happen naturally out of frustration, but it's a sure-fire way for a woman to start a fight. Say something to your guy like, "You didn't take out the trash. How come you never get me flowers? You know I hate Lindsay Lohan, so why do you insist that she's a fine actress?" He'll feel like he's getting picked on and probably meet the complaints with a defense — voilà, a fight.

The Time Bomb

Guys, as you drive past a great restaurant with your partner, say, "I love the (insert dish) there."  Of course you and your lady never dined at that establishment together. You ate there with an old flame, which you will hesitantly explain, should your partner inquire about the dining experience. I wouldn't advise using this one — it could be relationship Armageddon — but if that's what you're after, have at it.

The Change-Up

Gals, if you want some silence in order to confront an issue head-on and need a guy's full attention, you will most certainly have it after pulling this trick. Change the channel or turn the television off, while your man's watching. You can even go further and do it while an important game is on or during his favorite show. (Extra points if he's not Tivo-ing it.)

The Unwanted Truth

"Does my hair look good like this?" the wife or girlfriend asks, as she emerges from the bathroom looking like a tightly-wound librarian. Maybe she wants an honest answer. But it's usually apparent that, for whatever reason, she just wants approval. If that's the case, guys, disapprove if she does indeed look like a librarian. You'll find yourself in an argument, and maybe she'll find herself late to work — albeit looking much better with her hair down — but you'll be a better pair (hopefully) for weathering the disagreement.

In all seriousness, what matters most is how you fight, as well as how you extinguish your disagreements. "If you attack, berate, criticize, insult, and ignore what your partner is saying during a disagreement, then you are likely deteriorating your relationship with every argument," says Dr. Nickerson. "If you listen, accept responsibility, explain, try to soothe your partner, reassure that you are on the same team and work for common ground, then you are probably enhancing your relationship with every fight."

With that in mind, the scenarios above can be effective entries into an honest, productive quarrel. Or, ways to land a spot on Dr. Nickerson's couch. Choose your own adventure.

Do you ever pick fights with your significant other?

  • Put up your dukes, ladies and gents.

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Ready to Rumble?
How to Pick a Fight With Your Significant Other
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