Few things send couples sliding into disaffection faster than finding themselves on opposite sides of a conflict. “Many couples take an arms-folded, you-go-first approach to disagreements, in effect saying. Til be nice to you if you’re nice to me comments Shirley Glass. The couples who break this stalemate are those who figure out that their focus must be on changing the interaction, not each other.
Kara and her boyfriend, Peter, reached a relationship impasse when she tried to get him to stop riding his motorcycle. “I hated the thing,” she says. “I worried constantly about his safety, and that eventually made me resentful.” Peter thought Kara was being bossy and hysterical and began to focus on other ways in which he considered her a nay saver. “1 couldn’t believe she wanted to deny me something that gave me so much pleasure.” he says. Things got so bad that Kara thought their-three-year relationship might come to an end.
Then Peter proposed a wild idea: He’d buy Kara a motorcycle. He explained that having a bike of her own w ould give her a realistic notion of the risks involved and convinced her to borrow a friend’s bike so that she could test out the safety features firsthand. After a couple of outings Kara was won over. “If you know what you’re doing, motorcycle riding is not terribly risky,” she says now, “and it’s definitely fun. It’ll never be the same passion for me as it is for Peter, but it’s something enjoyable we can do together.” A pivotal deadlock in their relationship was broken.
Like Peter, Sonia, 34, found a way to redefine a conflict so that she anil her partner stood on the same side. Sonia says her live-in lover George’s smoking has been “the one and only source of tension between us”; for years her impassioned health speeches fell on deaf ears. Finally it occurred to her that George really wanted to quit but had been pul on the defensive by her harangues.
They made a deal. Sonia, who weighed 20 pounds more than her ideal, agreed to embark on an exercise program something George had been pressuring her to do if he came up with a stop-smoking plan. They wouldn’t monitor each other’s progress, only their own.
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