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Relationship Issues

Dealing with arguments:

It's normal to argue with a partner. But sometimes arguments can turn into slanging matches that leave you red in the face. Here's how to deal with them.

With patience, basic communication skills and honesty, you can learn how to compromise when it comes to arguments. Look at the reasons behind your clashes to see what provokes you as a couple. Was it insecurity that made you lash out? Do they make you feel neglected or jealous in some way? Often the things that spark off arguments are more to do with us as a person and have little to do with the topic that's actually being argued.

If there are sensitive or taboo topics on your mind, try to get them out in the open to stop them becoming ticking time-bombs. Physical factors can also play a huge part, so don't underestimate the effect of exhaustion or hormones upon a situation. Warn your partner if you're not in the best of moods so they don't take it personally and can give you some breathing space.

Couples often use themes such as money, sex or housework, to fight for their deeper needs in a relationship. So rows about washing up are often really about respect, and arguments about sex can actually highlight someone's needs for affection. Until you deal with the real issue, you're likely to keep bickering. If one person seizes the opportunity to bring up numerous other nagging grievances, it can really drag an argument out. Don't get bogged down in meaningless detail, and avoid absolutes. Retorts such as "You always push me away," might feel true at the time, but are often an exaggeration and will only result in a defensive reaction. If you have a legitimate grievance, don't demean it by stretching it into a 'never' or an 'always'.

So, you've been kept up all night by your partner's snoring - reasonable grounds for annoyance, perhaps. But did you think to explain that before flying off the handle? Many arguments could be avoided if both parties remember to talk about things, rather than relying on mind-reading. At their best, arguments are chances to communicate honestly with your partner. But when tempers flare, the opportunity for rational communication will often evaporate. I think that the best way to argue is to sit down and try to stay calm, as much as you think you're right, the other person thinks the exact same thing. There's no right or wrong. There are just different levels of compromise. You can't force someone to say they're sorry - I think a forced 'sorry' has no meaning anyway. Always try to confront the real issue, not each other. If you fall into the trap of trying to win an argument, both of you will lose out. Listen, and ensure you both have your say without being interrupted.

Sometimes, all a partner is looking for is an apology, but when this isn't forthcoming, the argument escalates. It's normal that some people want to have the upper hand in an argument and don't want to admit defeat. If the person is genuinely repentant and you can forgive them, the issue is not irreconcilable.

Learning to move on from past problems in your relationship is on the whole a positive move. But sometimes the matter won't settle, especially if you've not managed to sort things out properly at the time. Usually, issues that are hard to get over involve a breach of trust which is more significant to one person than the other - such as a forgotten anniversary or an affair. You need to approach these subjects carefully and appreciate the feelings at stake, however insignificant they might seem on the surface. If you're the one holding a grudge, ask yourself whether it's necessary or is just causing you unnecessary pain.

After the 'honeymoon period' it's only natural that couples get more comfortable with each other, which in many ways is a beautiful thing. But familiarity can also breed contempt. Long-term partners sometimes find it easier to slip into bad habits, such as using spiteful names or threatening to break-up with you. It's helpful to ask yourself: would I speak to my best mate like that? Think about it: if you called them every name under the sun for not noticing your new haircut, or being 15 minutes late, would they consider that acceptable? So why should your partner?

Arguing does have some positives outcomes - sometimes it's the only time a couple might speak the truth, prompting an immense sense of relief after offloading. It can also add drama and gain one partner the attention they crave. Making up often makes up for the heartache as it can provide a chance to reaffirm your love for each other. But this pattern can become addictive and destructive if it's taken too far, so tread carefully and seek help if you're worried things have got out of hand.


We all get the occasional twinge of jealousy, but it can sometimes get completely out of hand. So how can you tell if it has gone too far?

Jealousy in your love life is one of the strongest and most unpleasant emotions. You suspect there is a rival for the attention or affections of your lover. It could be another person, or even your partner's work or hobbies.

If you are jealous about them:

Think about why you might be feeling this way. Are you being unfair?

  • If you live with them or nearby, but they're never at home or out with you, it's fair enough to have an honest talk with them and say that you really want to spend more time together.

  • If they do spend lots of time with you already, ask yourself how reasonable you're being here. There's a fine line between wanting to be with someone, and trying to control them. If this is the case, don't sit around brooding when you're apart. Go out and get some interests of your own to take your mind off your jealous thoughts. You do not 'own' your boyfriend or girlfriend.

  • Have they ever given you a good reason to believe that they would be unfaithful? If not, your own feelings of paranoia could be to blame, so don't take it out on them.

  • Lots of men and women are a bit flirtatious, but they don't mean any harm. If flirting upsets you, explain it gently to your boyfriend or girlfriend, without making a big fuss or any threats.

  • People who suffer from jealousy are often very insecure, and their worst fear is that their partner will leave them. If there is no real reason for your jealousy, then your shouting, pestering or nagging could really drive them away.

  • If your partner has been unfaithful before and doesn't seem to have changed, or flirts outrageously to make you unhappy, it may be time to find someone new.

If they are jealous over you:

  • If you have been behaving yourself perfectly well, but he or she is being a bit jealous, they might just need a bit of affection and reassurance.

  • Signs that their jealousy is starting to get out of hand include the following; calling to your mobile phone while you are apart to check up on you, listening in on your phone conversations, banning you from wearing clothes you look good in, and going through your bags looking for evidence of an affair.

  • Someone who flies into possessive rages for no good reason needs professional help, especially if they are violent. If they refuse to get help, get out of the relationship - it is unlikely that they will change (however much they promise they will) and you could be putting your personal safety in danger.

Mismatched sex drives:

One of you wants sex three times a day, the other only wants it three times a month. How do you cope when your sex drives don't match up?

Some people fret when their loved one doesn't want to have sex as often as they do, but it's important not to panic, and look through the possible explanations.

If you're beyond the first flush of passion that heralds the start of a new relationship, it's common to find that you settle into a pattern where you have sex less frequently. This is fine, because the quality of lovemaking is much more important than the quantity. You know each other's bodies better, and are more relaxed with one another, which is far more important than putting notches on the bedpost. However, if you've just got stuck in a rut, you could both try making a bit more of an effort.

Do not automatically assume that they don't fancy you any more, or want to leave you, as long as they are still being affectionate and have not changed in their other behaviour towards you. It is not necessarily a reflection on your prowess as a lover, or your all-round attractiveness. There is no set number of times per week that every couple should be having sex, everyone is different. It's quite normal for a person to feel super-horny one month, and less interested the next. Also remember that it is sometimes the person with the higher sex drive who has the problem.

Rather than bitch about the lack of action, show your significant other some care and concern. Are they tired, stressed out by work, feeling down, or taking medication? All these things can seriously affect their sex drive, and you should support them. Pressurising them for sheet action will only make you look selfish, and make them feel even worse. Problems within the relationship can often lead to an angry, neglected or hurt partner withholding sex, whether it's consciously or subconsciously.

Try not to stress out about the situation, it could be something temporary. Talk it through gently and calmly with your partner, without making threats or accusations, and you may find that there's a simple reason for any recent changes. If that's the case, work it through together, and be patient.

Depending upon the cause of the change, it could be time to go for relationship counselling, psychosexual therapy, or a medical check-up. If your other half continues to refuse to discuss the matter, constantly behaves coldly towards you, or won't get help for physical or psychosexual problems, then the outlook may not be good.

Relationship therapy:

Things aren't going well between you. So, what's the answer? Have you just outgrown each other? Do you both need to act more mature and learn how to compromise? Or do you need professional help to put things right? 

Difficulties in a first relationship: Very frequently, when people are in a first relationship they believe it will go on forever. Often it feels very special and magical. So, even if you know that - statistically - first-love is unlikely to last, it can be a terrible blow when it doesn't. However, it's important to remember that if your first love ends, you can still treasure its memory for the rest of your life. Its experience will also help you move on and find something even better in the future.

In love or just loving: Maybe your problems are about the intensity of the relationship. The kind of change that happens after you've been in a relationship for a while is natural. But it can worry people. You may feel your relationship is no good just because you no longer get breathless at the very thought of your boy or girlfriend. But what you have to remember is that the first stages of being 'in love' are so intense that it's difficult to get on with real life at the same time! After a while, you're bound to want to concentrate on your job or to see your friends more. This doesn't mean that your relationship is passed its sell-by date unless there are other things wrong with it too.

First baby: Research shows that the most dangerous time for a relationship is around the time of a first baby. And that even if the relationship doesn't end for another 20 years, its troubles can usually be traced back to the months surrounding the first child's birth. This makes bleak reading, doesn't it? But of course loads of parents stay happy and enjoy their babies. However, it's worth realizing that this is a difficult time and seeking some help from a counselor, GP or health visitor before your problems get out of hand.

Are you sure this isn't about sex? If what's going wrong is about sex, one of you finds it hurts, one wants it more than the other or one can't have an orgasm you may want to consider sex therapy.

Common sense tips:

If your relationship is in trouble, there are a few things you can try before going the whole hog and getting a counsellor:

  • Never have an important discussion or row after 9pm. The chances are that you'll be tired - you'll solve your differences much better in the morning.

  • If the guy in the relationship feels he hates to open up emotionally, or isn't good at talking, or feels he gets interrupted all the time, or shouted down, then it's worth working to the 10-minute rule. This means that you sit down together to discuss things calmly and you each have ten minutes of uninterrupted talking time to put your case. Neither of you must interrupt or swear, or shout, or flounce out. You just talk when it's your turn, and listen when it's not. If you need another 10 minutes each, then have it. But agree before you start that you won't let this discussion go on all night. Guys in particular hate the idea of an open-ended row that goes on and on. So agree that after, say, half an hour, you'll go and get a pizza or something.

  • Try to be pleasant and respectful to each other even if things aren't going great. A smile and a thank you when appropriate keeps things civilized.

When do you definitely need therapy?

Most therapists will tell you that couples tend to come for therapy as a last resort. And often they leave it so long before coming that at least one of the partners is past caring. So, do seriously consider therapy in time to do some good, especially if: 

  • One of you is very insecure, clingy or jealous and this is ruining the relationship;

  • You're both moody with each other most of the time;

  • One or both of you can't discuss feelings with the other;

  • Discussions always turn into rows;

  • One or other of you is unhappy much of the time;

  • You've stopped having sex.

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