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Tell Me About It | by Carolyn Hax

It takes two to have a balanced relationship

It takes two to have

a balanced relationship

Q: When is verbal negativity really abuse? I've said some things that could be considered abusive. Not very often, always in the heat of anger. Usually apologize very quickly and try not to do again. Husband also engages in what could be considered abusive comments and acts. Lately, I've recognized

a lot of my behavior in anger could be considered abusive/controlling and I'm in counseling. But at what point does it become a reason to leave? It seems like the "Leave!" alarm goes off way too quickly in many of these anonymous cases.


A: I'd argue it doesn't go off enough. Mates have two fundamental jobs: Taking care of themselves, and taking care of each other. When even one person gives significantly more attention to one job than the other, the relationship will eventually fail, even if the couple stays together. Of course, they often do stay together, since hanging on is the whole point.

Someone who is verbally abusive — yes, even when "in the heat of anger" and "very quickly" retracted — is skewed more toward taking care of herself than taking care of her mate. Likewise, someone who takes abuse is so skewed toward appeasing a mate that it comes at her own expense.

From where I sit, people don't flee at the slightest imbalances. Far more common for people to rationalize even extreme ones as normal.

It's great you're in counseling, an important first step. But when an alarm sounds, it's also important not to blame the alarm; just like abuse or control, that's a reflex to protect yourself. Instead, focus on what tripped the alarm in the first place. When you've taken full ownership of your role — i.e., when you don't trail your confession with mitigators like so many brooms behind an elephant — then you can vet the alarms.

As it happens, a sign of relationship balance is the ability to say, and mean, this: "I want you to stay, but will accept it if you choose to leave." That's knowing exactly where you end, and where someone else begins.

Be honest with Dad

about hurt feelings

Q: A few weeks ago, in an e-mail my dad sent by mistake, he made a snarky comment about my unmarried status (he didn't know if he'd ever get to plan a daughter's wedding

. . .). When he realized what he'd done, he sent a quick "I didn't mean it!" e-mail. He was out of the country, so I said no big deal.

But it is. It was mean and uncalled for. Now I feel like all the to-my-face talk of being really proud of me and knowing I shouldn't settle, etc., is a sham, and all he thinks when he looks at me is: "There's my unmarried 29-year-old daughter." Now I just got dumped and have to go to my 21-year-old cousin's wedding, solo, with my parents. I don't know if I should say something, let it roll off, or what.


A: It hasn't rolled off, so don't pretend it has. When a moment presents itself, tell Dad exactly what you said so well here: You're

not only hurt, but also questioning his sincerity.


It takes two to have a balanced relationship

05/31/08 [Last modified: Monday, November 7, 2011 5:38pm]
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