You know how it is: Sometimes you feel so much damn love for your boyfriend or husband you want to eat his face; other times, you'd like to kick him in the teeth. Well, according to recent studies, feeling both love and hate (yep, actual hate) is totally normal. That's because the same area of your brain that activates mushy feelings is also responsible for producing white-hot rage—which helps explain why even happy couples are destined to fight from time to time. "Arguing can be a sign that your relationship is strong and passionate, and that you're comfortable enough to express negative feelings without fear of losing each other in the process," says Bonnie Eaker Weil, Ph.D., author of Make Up, Don't Break Up. Still, there are right and wrong ways to resolve disagreements. We break it down.
Use Your Ears, Not Your Mouth
If you find yourself sounding like a playlist on repeat, try pressing pause. "Research has found that unhappy couples tend to repeat themselves out of desperation to be heard, which isn't productive. They wind up talking at each other instead of having a dialogue," says Benjamin Karney, Ph.D., codirector of the Relationship Institute at the University of California at Los Angeles.
In the heat of an argument, the gloves often come off. The problem, notes Rita DeMaria, Ph.D., director of relationship education at the Council for Relationships in Philadelphia, is that once nasty insults start flying around and feelings are hurt, nothing will be resolved.
Also, according to a study conducted at the University of Chicago, our brains have a built-in "negativity bias," which causes us to be more responsive to unpleasant news. Why? Back in caveman times, our survival as a species was dependent on our ability to stay out of danger, so our brains developed protective systems that made it impossible to overlook the bad.
That's why you need to minimize the negative impact of your words. Remember, the goal isn't to upset each other, it's to resolve an issue. So instead of exclaiming "You're so lazy!" tell him how his actions affect you. Try, "I get tired of planning everything for us and wish you would take over sometimes."
It may be a lovers' quarrel, but victory isn't declared when one of you staggers back to the bedroom, clutching your wounded heart in your hands. "People often fixate on who's right, which distracts them from finding a solution," says Karney. "Conflicts are resolved quickly and more successfully when neither party feels compelled to proclaim, 'See that? I'm right!' "
For starters, find something you both can agree on (even if it means admitting that, OK, maybe you do send him a few too many texts while he's out with his friends). Then focus on finding a happy medium. For example, say, "I know it annoys you when I bombard you with text messages, but I get worried when you take forever to reply. Let's find a way to handle this so that we're both comfortable." This way, there's much less toddlerlike head butting.
Remember You're a Couple
We know this is a tall order, but if you can express positive emotions during an argument, you'll have a more satisfying relationship two or three years down the road, according to a study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family. "When couples are able to communicate closeness, affection (for example, a touch on the arm or the cheek), and even humor in the midst of an argument, the impact of harsher words is diminished," Karney says. "Positive interactions say that you still like and love each other, and you're committed to the relationship even in the worst of times."
And you can even go a step further by incorporating some playful ribbing: Couples who lightly tease each other during a conflict wind up feeling more in love when the disagreement finally blows over, according to a study conducted at the University of California at Berkeley. It may mean using funny nicknames for each other or making a self-deprecating joke. Just steer clear of comments that may wound your egos, such as negative remarks about intelligence, personal hygiene, or bedroom behavior.
It comes down to this: Even though your guy has the ability to drive you up the wall sometimes, at the end of the day you really do love the big lugï¿½and if you can remember this during the toughest moments together, your bond will remain strong.