Before you do battle, set some ground rules

The Baltimore Sun

When it comes to relationships, you just can't win.

And that's a good thing even if it doesn't seem like it during the heat of battle. Of course, I'm competitive. When I was a kid, you could lose an eye if you interrupted me during a game of Hungry Hungry Hippos.

But when it comes to disagreements with your boo, it seems you've gotta check your inner child (and your ego) at the door.

"Folks tend to get invested in winning," Virginia-based dating coach Toni Coleman says of disagreement between couples. "I think that's the primary thing that goes on."

She says an unwillingness to back down is a common mistake.

"You've got to be willing to accept that you're wrong," says Anil Kashyap, a 32-year-old who lives downtown.

Coleman, who counsels couples and singles, says it's best to set up ground rules before the fights start. "When they're in a good moment, have a good conversation about fighting," she says.

Andrea Musgrove, 31, of Mount Airy says the argument plan has prevented discussions with her husband from escalating.

And there are a few other keys to fighting right.

"You've got to listen," Kashyap says.

Sit down, Coleman says. (If one person is standing, subconsciously he or she can be seen as trying to gain an upper hand.)

Jennifer Whitehead, 33, of Upton says she never discusses things in her house.

"When you have it in the house, it can linger all night," she says.

Musgrove says that just because you want to talk about it right now doesn't mean you should.

"If the timing is not right, don't do it," she says. "Give them time to think about it."

Coleman says that it also doesn't hurt to talk about things that bother you when they're small. Don't internalize and let stuff build up.

"I think that's key in all fights; don't wait, don't withhold," she says.

Either way, it all comes down to compromise. Mick Jagger was right. You can't always get what you want.

"Daddy and Mommy may have told you you were perfect ... but that doesn't go on in the real world," Coleman says.

And compromise isn't all bad. If your significant other is half-happy and you're half-happy, then that makes a whole happy, right?

"If you give, you get in return," Kashyap says.

But we're not perfect. We all have our insidious tactics that we use when we're not wearing our grown-up pants.

"You can try to be mature about it, but there's always games," says Whitehead.

Musgrove and Whitehead say they use silence as their method of attack: Whitehead will go on a communication blackout - no phone calls, no e-mails, no talking. Musgrove, who says she's naturally a big talker, will just be quieter than usual around her husband.

Kashyap says he has been the unwitting target of the guilt trip. Though he has learned to turn it around.

"And then they feel guilty," he says.

He smiled a bit after he said that. I think I saw his inner child peek through.

Coleman says fighting got so intense for one of her couples that the wife went into the bathroom and fired her husband's pistol.

On second thought, don't indulge your inner child. You don't want to end up with a Richard Pryor-shoot-up-your-car type incident. Winning isn't everything.

And as Kashyap points out, the sooner you resolve your argument, the sooner you can get to the best part of arguing: "Making up is awesome," he says.

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