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Ask Shari: Relationships Get Serious, Healthy Arguing, and Do Opposites Really Attract?

The 3rd edition of Ash Shari is here! Shari Hardies, LCSW, is here to answer your questions. Today, the questions are about rebound relationships getting serious, if more arguing will lead to more problems, and if there’s any truth to “opposites attract”.

Q: Hi, I’ve been seeing this guy for a few months now and, oddly enough, I feel like we’re starting to get serious and I didn’t even realize it! I’m not sure if I’m ready to jump back into a serious relationship after just getting out of a 5+ year one. Do you know what I can ask myself or how I can test myself to see if I’m ready?

A: Dear Am I Ready,

Thanks for writing and taking the time to check in with your self before moving forward into a bigger situation. Clinically, it shows a real interest in protecting yourself, which demonstrates a sign of personal mental health, but also usually a sign of fear. I am hearing that you are scared of moving too fast, and without making too many assumptions I will take it for granted that your 5+ year relationship that ended, didn’t end well, or on your terms.

Ended relationships are tricky to manage, sometimes it takes a long time to grieve and recover a sense of self. Other times it is a clear and positive change that feels great. One of the hardest and anxiety provoking situations I see folks struggle with is, listening to their intuition but ignoring their anxiety or “thinking errors”.

Think about it, it can be super confusing: “I should listen to my gut”, followed by “My gut is telling me three different things”, and then “I am happy and things are going well”, but “Don’t get too comfortable too soon”. It can make a person crazy listening to all the thoughts and choosing which are to be listened to when they are not consistent and based on fears.

The good news is you can stop the thinking error cycle in a few different ways and have a clearer picture of what you really want to do. There is no test to tell if you have a green light to move forward in a love relationship, actually there are many on the internet but unfortunately they aren’t valid. What I would suggest is simple and complicated at the same time; communicate with your partner! The only real green light you are ever going to get is going to be the green light to trust yourself and the person you are with.

I described above why it sometimes gets difficult to trust yourself, particularly when anxious, but what about the guy you are dating? In couples therapy there is always a point in time when trust is discussed, its one of the biggest components of a relationship because when the thinking errors begin to cycle, its all you have. I describe trust in a relationship as a gift, a gift that you give to a person you care about because you want to. When you give a holiday or birthday gift to someone, you don’t necessarily expect to get anything in return right? Just because you gave someone worthy a Christmas card doesn’t guarantee you will get one. Trust is the same principle, if you decide you can move forward with your guy and that he is trust worthy there are no guarantees that you are making the right decision. If you can trust him by establishing open communication about how you feel, that may give you the green light you are looking for.

I would really suggest that you guys continue to enjoy the great thing it appears that you have. Take some measures to write down the fears or “thinking errors” that stand in your way of moving forward. Most importantly talk to your man about how you feel, perhaps what he has to share helps to silence some of your hesitation and provides with the green light you need. Regardless, please take your time; you deserve to feel really good about this decision and to trust the person you are moving forward with.

Q: My husband and I used to never argue. I used to get mad at him sometimes for NOT getting mad back at me! However, in the past year or so we seem to be getting more agitated at each other, and I feel like its going to lead to more and more problems. Do you know what we can do to try to get ourselves back on track?

A: Hello, arguing equation. Thanks for writing in and sharing your issue, this happens a lot more than folks realize! It can be difficult to know how much arguing is healthy and how much is just too much arguing. Therapeutically, I am supposed to say that arguing is never healthy and to only fight with your loved ones when there is a good reason to, but I think that’s impractical and sort of dumb.

In general, all couples argue and it isn’t a bad thing. This might sound crazy but I actually spend a lot of time in couples therapy teaching couples who love each other very much how to fight fair and argue clean. Basically arguing can be a healthy expression of emotion and annoyance if it’s on agreed upon terms with non-negotiables (things we do not bend on, basically “don’t go there”). It sounds like your husband didn’t have the security or the confidence in his ability to argue and chose the safe route, not arguing.

Lets take a moment to say “Awww that means he really cares about not hurting you” (or you are HUGE and he is scared of you). Unfortunately, this didn’t work for you and it sounds like you sensed his mistrust when he chose to not argue. I’m not surprised that this didn’t last, it wasn’t a real personality trait for him to not argue, and he was simply controlling the reaction for your benefit. It sounds like you guys will be fine, but you need to learn how to argue and develop some boundaries or Non-negotiables around what arguments look like. For instance, we argue and discuss our points of view but we do not raise our voices at one another. Or perhaps, when we argue we each state our point of view in turn and then only respond to what was said and exercise caution to not bring more into it.

Take some time to discuss what arguing means to you and how you see it. Sometimes there is a real cultural difference between the way folks manage their differences and it’s just a matter of deciding what is acceptable in your relationship. Trust me, I’m from NYC and my husband, well he isn’t. Our arguing style was vastly different and if we didn’t take the time to get the cultural thing straightened out we would have never gotten anywhere! Let your husband let you know how he feels and then take it from there. Take a look at your families of origin and discuss what you experienced in your early years, you may be trying to avoid or recreate something you experienced.

In addition, make sure the first argument really ended, too often when couples are arguing “more often” they are actually still arguing from the first time but they don’t realize it. Make sure something hurtful that occurred in the first round isn’t causing the behavioral change. As crazy as it sounds, all couples need to learn how to fight in a way that works for them. At the end of the day, you love one another enough to figure it out. Good luck!

Q: I know this is a broad opinion question, but I’d like yours, Shari. How do you feel about the old saying, “opposites attract”? My wife and I have friends (who are a couple) that seem to have totally opposite personalities; one is very laid-back (not lazy) and just kind of goes with the flow and loves it, while the other loves planning and structure and can get a bit stressed at times. I feel like sometimes these relationships must clash in the worst ways. From your experience, do you see these couples having long-term success and happiness? Thanks!

A: Dear Opposites question, thanks for valuing my opinion on this matter and bringing it up. Although there is a huge amount of research to support relationship choices and how they are made, I am not convinced there is a clinical significance around dating opposites. In my humble opinion, we choose our partners for a variety of reasons and circumstance and there isn’t a set way of determining success. With that said there are key factors to successful relationships and I am very happy to discuss my thoughts on that while answering your question.

Very often we hear of these couples that seem to be a disaster waiting to happen! They seem to operate on two completely levels and its hard to imagine them getting along at all. Why do these couples get along? Simple, they have learned to respect and appreciate their differences. Further more they have learned to balance one another out with trust and compassion.

One of the best ways for a person to show love for another is to accept them as they are without trying to change them. If you love your partner unconditionally, then you are not trying to change them. Now lets travel back to reality for a moment, this does not mean not trying desperately to make your partner pick up his dirty socks, or clean her own hair out of the drain, or fine tune any little bad habit that drives you insane. What we are talking about is a true appreciation for the fact that my partner can just “go with the flow” while he/she totally appreciates that I will figure out where that flow came from and when it will come again!

Sometimes it is a very delicate balance for this type of couple where they are reliant upon their opposite to make sure they don’t go too far in one direction. Couples who can look one another in the eyes and say, “Babe, you are going a little too far” or “Honey, its time to get more motivated” and have their partner trust that they are right will most likely be very happy and successful. The key component is trusting that “if my partner is speaking up, he or she is probably on to something because they love and respect me.”

This type of relationship can be amazing as long as it includes the idea that no one is wrong and everyone is right to be who he or she is, and changing the other person is not ever going to be the goal. Throw in some common interests and great intimacy and you have a winner! In my opinion the trouble begins when someone in the relationship gets it in their head that their way is right and the other is wrong, or doesn’t have the trust to say when their partner is going too far. If partners can always remain respectful of their differences, TRUST EACH OTHER and truly appreciate their opposite they can be a very successful couple.

Shari Hardies, LCSW, is a social worker and contributor to Sono Bello Style, that has a true passion for improving the lives of others. She will be answering weekly user submitted questions on the topics of dating, relationships and live.