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Drastic behavior change can signal different things

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Fiance is mind-boggled by odd changes in his betrothed

Maryland: Guy here. I know you red-flag markers of controlling relationships. However, I think I have a legitimate gripe here: My fiancee, who is very beautiful with a vivacious personality, has begun dressing like a total skank.

I don't want to overstate the connection here, but this seemed to begin right after I proposed. Strangers are ogling her, and I am sure most people get the wrong idea. I know how smart and classy she is, and it's driving me nuts to see her sell herself short this way. However, whenever I hear myself getting at her about her outfit, I feel like a controller, which is the opposite of the relationship dynamic I want with my soon-to-be wife. She's embarrassing me. What do I do?

Carolyn: I agree you have a legitimate gripe — and while your consciousness of controlling behavior helps, the situation is persuasive enough on its own. When an adult undergoes a drastic change, particularly a negative one, particularly post-milestone, the red flag's on her.

So to avoid overstepping boundaries or missing the larger point, try approaching her with the fact of drastic change, vs. picking apart one skanky outfit at a time.

Meaning: "You used to wear (name her style her, or, better, a couple of specific outfits). Now, you wear (new specifics). Has something changed?" In your words, but that's the idea.

I wouldn't expect her to just up and say, "Yes, I'm scared about committing for life, so I'm showing all the cleavage I can without getting arrested." But framing your concerns in this general, I've-noticed-the-difference way is more likely to lead to a productive discussion than peppering her with criticism or making it about you. Clothes are a form of emotional expression, and getting judgmental reviews can hurt.

If you're not sure how to keep from crossing the line as the conversation unfolds, then it might help to keep this in mind not as an issue of her changed clothing or even changed personality, but instead as one of changed behavior. Keep reminding yourself as you go.

And also remember that if she doesn't see/acknowledge any change, and if she doesn't declare a cease-skank, then you'll need to treat the new, exhibitionist version of your fiancee as the real version, and make decisions about your future accordingly. That's another way to stay on the right side of the controlling line — taking (or leaving) people as-is instead of badgering them to become the way you prefer.

Other ideas from readers:

Anonymous 1: She could just now be enjoying herself, as she's smart and beautiful, only young once, is soon to marry the guy of her dreams and wants to exude how great she feels about herself.

Anonymous 2: I could see a major life event like getting engaged trigger a manic episode in someone with an underlying bipolar disorder. Perhaps not applicable here, but just a thought.

Anonymous 3: Maybe the smart, classy dresser was an act and now she's showing her real self.

Drastic behavior change can signal different things 10/20/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 20, 2009 12:15am]
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