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AGREE TO DISAGREE

I have been with my partner for about six years, and I think we have a pretty good thing. A few friends have expressed their worry about how much we bicker. The sniping has become so natural that I’ve stopped noticing just how much we do it—it’s something that happens at least once a day. These little fights blow over pretty quickly, but they feel stressful and make me feel less close to her. We seem to know how to press each other’s buttons. Considering just how much time we spend together (neither of us has many friends since moving to a new city), this can mean quite a bit of tension. We’ve talked it over, and we make promises to be kinder. But nothing really changes. What do you think we should do?
Nama

Dear Nama:
Bad habits in relationships can be sneaky. They slowly worm their way in and before we know it, the main way we relate to each other has devolved into something fairly toxic. Ultimately, a new normal is established, wherein we don’t even recognize how bad things have gotten until they blow up in our faces. While you two are clearly stuck in a communication rut, things can change if you’re up for treating each other with humanity again.

Sometimes constant bickering is really just a sign that a couple needs space from one another. Moving to a new city is hard because the relationship becomes an island, and this gets claustrophobic. There’s a good chance that you have both started to look to the other to meet all of your respective needs, which, no doubt, sets you both up for disappointments.

The best thing you can do for the relationship is to focus less on what you feel you aren’t getting from your partner and make sure that you’re taking care of yourself —and in some of the most basic ways. Are you getting enough rest? Exercising? Having fun? The more fulfilled you are, the less likely you will feel as if she is getting on your very last nerve.

Bickering just perpetuates the notion that you are on separate teams when really you are one team trying to play well together. Nitpicking is a lazy way of expressing feelings without actually having to be vulnerable. Instead of mindlessly blaming your partner for losing a sock in the dryer, make sure you know what you’re really feeling and what you need her to understand.

You will need to be willing to not react to your partner’s digs in a way that perpetuates the cycle, no matter how irritated you are. Ultimately, you don’t have control over her behaviour, but you do have control over your own and how you choose to respond to anything she throws your way.

Every time that you are disrespectful with her, you are essentially consenting to the old pattern and in that case you can’t expect to see a lot of change.

Adam Segal, writer and therapist, works in private practice in downtown Toronto. Ask him your relationship or mental-health question at
relationship@inmagazine.ca.

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