Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Dodging fights over little things can ease marriage transition
Va.: Newlywed here — all I've done is fight with my new hubby. We didn't move in together until marriage, and we're very close, working on several creative projects together. But it has blown up. There's plenty of love there, and fine moments, but … well, is a dramatic adjustment period simply inevitable?
Carolyn: Not necessarily, but they certainly happen.
One way to get out of the fighting loop is to drop your end of the fight. Not on everything — we all have some nonnegotiable terms — but on just about everything except those core issues. You can figure out which those are by asking yourself: "Is this the hill I want to die on?" (I stole that line from my neighbor.) And whenever the answer is no, you just let go.
This isn't a permanent solution; eventually, you'll get sick of surrendering, even if it's only on the little things, and there's also the risk that you'll start caving on the big ones, too.
Right now, though, your immediate goal is to stop going 10 rounds over where you keep the butter. Once the bickering clears, then you can start figuring out ways to fold each other into your lives without wiping out anyone's sense of self.
Announcing, sticking to plan during breakup is not cruel
D.C.: I have tried twice to end a relationship with someone who really doesn't want to let go. This person completely shuts down during the breakup talk, cries and then calls and e-mails repeatedly until we lapse back into the relationship.
Now I really want to end it. A "clean break" (rejecting all correspondences) seems cruel, but we've already failed at breaking up twice. What should I do?
Carolyn: Read The Gift of Fear, by Gavin De Becker, to see how predictably you're being manipulated and how your own choices are completing the transaction.
In the meantime, here's an abbreviated version of your to-do list: (1) Say clearly, "I do not want to continue this relationship, and I am through talking about it." (2) Say you are not going to take calls or e-mails. (3) Mean it. Don't return calls or open e-mails (but do save messages, just in case), don't pick up the phone if you see this person's or an unrecognized number, don't answer the door if he/she stops by.
As long as you announce your intentions, it's not cruel. You've been badgered and harassed twice. Please see it as necessary.
Anonymous: Re: The Gift of Fear breakup: That no-more-communication move works in a relationship — but what happens in a marriage, when the other just can't have that breakup talk (tears, excessive emotions, vomiting)? You can't just pack up and cease all communications, especially if you have kids and a shared life. You feel emotionally held hostage in a life you don't want to be in but can't be released from. What then?
Carolyn: Referees: a family counselor and a lawyer, both seen solo to start. When attempts to communicate the old-fashioned way fail you hire competent, reputable chaperones to help you shape and deliver your message.