Strategies for making your relationships work, Part II
(If you haven’t read Strategies Part 1 please do so before going on.)
So it seems that overnight your Ms. or Mr. Right turned into a jerk. Suddenly their voice, which you couldn’t hear enough of in the beginning of your relationship, now really gets on your nerves. Or those little habits that once were so cute are now so annoying. You have now left the stage of blending with its feeling in love and high sexual activity and entered the second stage of a LTR which usually begins somewhere toward the end of the first year and goes on into the third, at least according to D.P.McWhirter, M.D. and A.M.Mattison, M.S.W. in their book The Male Couple (Prentice Hall, 1984). This is a time of home making and finding compatibility as well as a time of ambivalence and hence, more conflict. At this stage the bloom is off the rose so to speak and the real players emerge. Sometimes this is the point where people bail out as the once blissful relationship now seems “difficult”. Assuming you have done the work in the previous edition then what may be occurring is that the relationship is moving to a new level and unfortunately there will be growing pains. For many this is when the “work” of the relationship really begins.
More than before pay attention to your mate, listen!!!!!!!!!!! and paraphrase to be sure you grasp what they are saying. When conflict occurs, acknowledge to yourself and out-loud your desire for a better relationship. Conflict has a somewhat predictable process of quarreling, withdrawing and finally negotiating and making up. Try not to avoid conflict by burying tension or denying what is going on and try not to make up without acknowledging the conflictual issue and coming to some real resolution by negotiating.
Some tips on managing conflict: Listen without interrupting; reflect what you understood before stating your side; imagine yourself in your partners shoes; focus on behaviors that bother you and how you feel about them; say how you feel rather than interpreting your partner; avoid sarcasm and blame; don’t put each other down; use your partners defensiveness as a sign to back off and listen; acknowledge your own defensiveness so your partner can listen to you; give your partner the benefit of the doubt and listen for positive intent ( a desire to improve the relationship or how it feels). If a quarrel is escalating take a break and come back to the issue when tempers have cooled down (Love Between Men, Rik Isensee, Prentice Hall, NY, 1990)
Remember that your mate had a life before you that included family, friends, and interests. Honor and respect these attachments and ask that your mate do the same for you. As the individuality of the partners reemerges these “outside” (the orbit of the couple) influences also reemerge. Try to at least get to know friends and family depending on the outness and comfort level of your mate and also populate your lives with other couples if you can.
Differences between men’s and women’s relationships probably reflect how we are socialized as well as any innate differences. Men tend to negotiate relationships through power, intimidation, dominance/ submission and competitiveness. As a result men can have a more difficult time with the emotional intimacy issues and negotiating skills in a relationship. Women, often more comfortable with affiliation, emotional sharing and compromise may have more difficulty with assertion especially as the individuality of each member of the couple starts to reemerge.