Ask Amy: A shallow tide may sink this relationship

April 17, 2012

DEAR AMY: This June, my partner and I will celebrate 11 years together. It has been a tumultuous 11 years, with job losses, family losses, moving houses — but we have always been there for each other.

The problem is, he takes everything personally and has come to resent me and pretty much everyone around him for being more successful, more capable, more content and happier. However, he is handsome, talented, smart and capable.

Lately, we have been fighting almost every day over trivial things (and not so trivial, like his complete lack of interest in sex). We have seen couples counselors in the past, but he believes all they do is unfairly criticize him.

He has gone to his own therapist for two years, but she told our couples therapist that he remains very “surface level,” that he doesn’t try to dig deeper into the root of his poor self-image and low self-esteem. These issues are killing our relationship. He says he will see another therapist, but “only because you insist on it.”

Therapy is something he has to do on his own, but because he has such low self-esteem, he second-guesses every answer.

How can I encourage him to get into the difficult, uncomfortable stuff, the areas that will really help him get unstuck? I want us to have a strong relationship, but to get there and move to the next level is going to take help, help he doesn’t seem to want to get. -- John in Los Angeles

DEAR JOHN: You know from your own work in therapy that you can only really write your own story. The right therapist will help to organize all of the events and related emotions of your life into a coherent narrative, complete with a “happy ending.”

It’s called “self-esteem” for a reason. It involves the self. You cannot force another person to dig deep. You have urged, encouraged and cajoled your partner into the process. The real issue for you is the one involving your own choices.

Can you stay in this relationship if your partner never changes? He may have already reached his capacity — shallow as it is. So far only you are eager for growth and change. He may never get there.

DEAR AMY: Upon the death of a friend or relative of a friend, I often make a charitable contribution in memory of the deceased as suggested in the obituary.

I have found that although I receive an acknowledgment from the charitable organization, I hear nothing from the family of the deceased. While a thank-you would be nice, I’d mainly like the bereaved to know that I thought enough of their loved one to make a memorial gift.

The gift recipient always states that the family was informed of the gift. But if I don’t hear from the family, I have no way of knowing that this is true.

I don’t wish to put anyone, especially mourners, on the spot. Is there an alternative to asking someone outright if they’re aware that I made a memorial gift? -- Wondering

DEAR WONDERING: The alternative to putting mourners on the spot is to trust that the charity is doing what it says it is doing.

A duplicate of the note that is sent to contributors is normally also sent to the family of the deceased. Responsible charities handle this responsibly, because they understand how important this is to all parties.

It can take many months for family members to thank people after the death of a loved one. Some people never seem to manage this task, and it calls upon you to be trusting and understanding.

DEAR AMY: “DD” was bothered when co-workers spoke to one another in their native language.

Perhaps the writer could try to learn a few phrases of the new employees’ languages. Obviously they all speak English and are multicultural! -- Jo-Anne in Maryland

DEAR JO-ANNE: It is exclusionary to speak another language in someone’s presence if you can speak his native language but he can’t speak yours.

Write to Amy Dickinson at askamy@tribune.com or Ask Amy, Chicago Tribune, TT500, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60611.

2012 by the Chicago Tribune

Distributed by Tribune Media Services

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