Hax: Drop the 'shoulds' in the relationship

The Washington PostJuly 31, 2013 

Carolyn: My boyfriend constantly picks up on little things about me (too many boxes of Cheerios, the names of romance novels on my shelf, the colors of garments in my closet) and needles me about them. When he's done with those, he finds something else.

I've raised some protest, saying that in a relationship, it doesn't help to have the unflattering obvious mentioned over and over again. He says "inside jokes" are a sign of fondness and bring people closer. He says I must be laughing on the inside. I'm not.

I get that a lot of relationships today have a lot of sarcastic banter. But he doesn't seem to get that that's not the way I (or my family members) operate. I come away enervated and, frankly, find myself moving things out of view to avoid his turning them into a punch line. Though the rest of the relationship is going fine, this observational comedy has got to go. Any way to make it go - without making him go?

A.

You're both talking in this-applies-to-everyone "shoulds," with a side of generalization when both of you need to talk about just-between-us specifics. Nothing matters except the way you two actually get along.

His idea of "fondness" annoys you, and you both think it's the other one who needs to change. It's that attitude that "has got to go."

Look to your behavior: You're hiding from him to avoid ridicule. That part has to go, too.

Suppressing a part of yourself to avoid confrontation is a short-term remedy that I don't even recommend in the short-term unless the problem is really truly wholly going to go away on its own, soon. This one has proven it won't.

Stating your objections and deciding whether you can live with his response is a long-term solution; ignoring him when he gets like this or developing a thicker skin is a long-term solution, as long as you both can be genuinely playful about it; concluding that anyone who tells you how you're supposed to feel is a bad bet becomes a long-term solution when you find the guts to break up.

But hiding Cheerios? Since I think the whole point of a relationship is liking and being liked as-is, you lost me at Paragraph 1.

Email tellme@washpost.com. Chat online at 10 a.m. Fridays at www.washingtonpost.com.

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