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Lots of little conflicts can add up to big problems

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Lots of little conflicts can add up to big problems

Va.: My boyfriend and I have a running joke. Apparently I took it too far and he hung up on me. I think that is the height of rudeness. He thinks he's justified because of my sarcasm.

I don't want this to fester but I also don't want to ignore the sign of something bigger. It really bothered me and I feel like I'm keeping a running list of other things about him that bother me. I know this is probably not as deep as other issues you deal with but I could use advice.

Carolyn: No no no, it's dismissing just such conflicts that puts people deep into relationships that were unhealthy from the start.

You pushed it too far. You need to think about when you crossed over and why you didn't notice.

He, meanwhile, reacted like a child. I throw my full support behind doing the following. "You've pushed this too far" — followed by, "I'm hanging up now," and then hanging up if the pushing continued.

Then, if you called back and wanted to talk about it but he didn't, he would be entitled to say, "I'm too angry to talk right now, I need time to cool off." He would then need to call you back in a matter of hours, not days, in the interest of not torturing you.

I hate that this sounds like a script of The One Right Way to Do It, but being in a relationship and asserting the right not to talk about something demands walking a very fine line. Hanging up on someone in a fit of pique is always over that line.

As for your running list, take it seriously, too. When we like people, we give them countless little breaks. If it's a pleasure to do so, it's fine, even essential to happy companionship. When it stops being a pleasure, then you have to consider whether you've rationalized away big problems with all these little breaks.

To be fair: You also have to consider that you're rationalizing your own mistakes/shortcomings by piling a running list of blame on him.

Find a better way to share the family workload

Boston: I've been married five years. We have a 1-year-old baby. I'm generally happy, but lately I can't shake the feeling that I could have done better choosing a spouse. My husband has a lot of great qualities (funny, laid-back, patient, supportive), but some infuriating ones (lazy, not very ambitious). And now I'm a primary breadwinner, a position I had not anticipated for myself. I would never leave the marriage, but sometimes I wonder, what if I had waited for someone else?

Carolyn: You would have married some other unanticipated shortcoming (though maybe a more agreeable one)?

Or not, but it's really not a productive line of daydreaming, natural though it may be.

Talk to your husband about other breadwinning/childrearing configurations that might work for your family. People who "have done better" choosing a spouse sometimes just did better, by luck or hard work, in finding a comfortable way to share the workload — one that plays to the best in each other's natures, and avoids the worst as much as possible. The alternative, toughing it out amid resentment, usually has a final score of Resentment 42, Toughing It Out 0.

Lots of little conflicts can add up to big problems 11/03/08 [Last modified: Thursday, November 4, 2010 8:43am]
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