Ask Amy: Couples’ communication is no cliche

Dear Amy: I’m 32 and she’s 29. We have been together for nearly 12 years and are not married. We have a 16-month-old daughter together.

Although we are best friends, we always seem to never quite get along. I used to brag about how we never argue until I realized it’s because we don’t communicate well at all. I’m open and will say what’s on my mind, while she tends to hold things in. She says I talk at her instead of to her.

I wish we could be open with each other, but it seems impossible. We’ve tried counseling, but it hasn’t worked. It is very frustrating because I do love her very much, but it mostly feels as if we are going to end up as single parents, which is something I never want for my daughter.

I’m ready to have a wife — not a girlfriend — but this lack of communication, among other issues, is threatening our future. I don’t know what to do or where to look for help. You are my last effort before I end this relationship.

Sad Dad

People harp on the importance of communication so often that it has become a relationship cliche. And yet, like many cliches, it happens to be true. Communication is everything.

A person’s temperament (whether the person is quiet or garrulous, outgoing or shy) will dictate some communication style, but the biggest imprint is from a person’s family background.

You suppose that your relationship would improve if she were more open, but your relationship might also improve if you changed your communication style.

You might overwhelm or override her verbally, and she might throw off nonverbal cues that speak volumes. Are you watching and listening?

One of my favorite books about communicating is “You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation,” by linguist Deborah Tannen (2001, Harper Paperbacks). And though you and your partner seem to be occupying gender-opposite roles (you’re a talker, she’s not), learning the dynamic between opposites is fascinating and helpful.

Try counseling again. Don’t give up on your best friend. Let your daughter grow up with two parents who have figured things out.

Dear Amy:

I’m a teenage girl attending an arts high school for music performance. Though music is my focus, I still have to take academic classes.

My parents see these classes as more important than my various rehearsals and performances; I put in 20 hours of extra music every week. I have maintained passing grades in all my classes, mostly B’s and a few A’s.

When I have a big project due at the end of the week, they won’t let me leave the house for rehearsals Sunday and Monday. I have tried to reason with them, saying that I am perfectly capable of completing my work.

Recently I was supposed to be at a rehearsal at the beginning of the week, but my mom wouldn’t let me go because I had a project due Friday. It was a big project, but I already had planned it out and finished all of my research. How can I reason with my parents on this issue?

Troubled Trumpeter

Presumably, your school requires attendance and excellence in your music studies, so missing rehearsals is serious business.

Ask your parents to come to school to meet with your guidance counselor. You should prove to them that you can budget your time. They should prove to you that they can trust you.

Dear Amy:

“Helping Hurts” felt other students were taking advantage of her academic abilities during group projects.

My daughter had that same issue all through school. She tried telling other students that she would help them but would not do their work. That didn’t help.

In high school, one teacher solved that problem by giving an overall score in points to the group. The group then decided how to allocate those points. Those who did more work were generally given more points by the group. My daughter later ran across the same issue while in a master’s program at an Ivy League school.

Problem Solved

Getting — or taking — credit is an issue that also dogs people in the workplace, where unfortunately there is no point system.

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

2011 by the Chicago Tribune

Distributed by Tribune Media Services

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