Carolyn Hax: They’re engaged but they fight — a lot. Should they call it off?

Carolyn Hax
Columnist November 20, 2013

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Hi, Carolyn:

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

Is it normal to have fights so serious that you contemplate breaking up? My wonderful significant other and I are engaged, and we have been having some fights lately that have led me to consider putting off the wedding. I have these thoughts only when we have long, drawn-out fights about what I consider to be insignificant issues. Once we recover and talk it through together, I go right back to walking on clouds. I care deeply about my S.O. and I do envision a life together, but these thoughts might be a sign of cold feet. I guess I just want to know if this is normal.

Cold Feet?

It’s normal, maybe, but so is divorce.


(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)

In the early stages of your next fight, do something different — something you select from a short list of actions that fall under the categories of kindness, good communication, self-discipline and integrity.

For example: “This feels like the beginning of another long argument about something small. I’m going to take a few minutes alone to sort out my thoughts.”

Or, “I’m hearing you say [paraphrase of your S.O.’s position]. Is that accurate?” — followed by listening as your S.O. clarifies, if you’ve gotten it wrong, or by promising to give that view some thought, if you’ve paraphrased it accurately. Then do give it thought, and see whether it’s about a core value of yours or just about a habit of needing to be right.

Or, if it’s a topic of past arguing, stop yourself from reacting as you always do, and instead ask: “This keeps coming up. What can we do to put this to rest?” Don’t assume you already know.

However you choose to do it, remain calm and give yourself room to think about and identify any larger issues driving these petty fights. If your S.O. won’t give you that room, then that’s already a bigger deal than whatever you’re fighting about.

If you do find yourself convinced this is more than just frayed nerves, then do not chicken out of these: premarital counseling and postponing the wedding. You don’t have to postpone; you just need to treat it as if it’s a legitimate option vs. a calamity to be avoided at all costs. You never want fear of public humiliation or lost deposits to decide the course of your life.

Dear Carolyn:

A few months ago, one of the most important romantic relationships of my life dissolved. It was a relationship that was on and off for about 10 years (we met while we were both too young and struggled together to grow up). We lived together for a while, and I was going to marry this man until I realized I didn’t love him anymore.

How do I move on while keeping that important part of my life? Do I throw out all our pictures? All the gifts? Do I give them back? Some guidance would be greatly appreciated.

Keep or Throw Away?

Don’t do anything with the gifts or photos that you can’t undo. Whatever you’re unsure about, box it up and put it away for a time when your feelings aren’t so raw. Unless it’s a shared pet — don’t box up the goldfish.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Sign up for Carolyn Hax’s column, delivered to your inbox early each morning, at http://bit.ly/haxpost.

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