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Carolyn Hax Live: Basement-Sleeping Husband, Miscarriages and Blame, and a City vs. Suburbs Standoff

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Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 6, 2008; 12:00 PM

In her daily column in The Washington Post Style section, Carolyn Hax offers readers advice based on the experiences of someone who's been there. Hax is an ex-repatriated New Englander with a liberal arts degree and a lot of opinions and that's about it, really, when you get right down to it. Oh, and the shoes. A lot of shoes.

Carolyn was online Friday, June 6 taking your questions and comments about her current advice column and any other questions you might have about the strange train we call life. Her answers may appear online or in an upcoming column.

A transcript follows.

E-mail Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com.

Got more to say? Check out Carolyn's brand new discussion group, Hax-Philes. Comments submitted to the chat may be used in the discussion group.

Carolyn's Recent Columns

Carolyn Hax Live Archives

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washingtonpost.com: Carolyn has to reboot her computer and will be live in just a few minutes...

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Carolyn Hax: Sorry for the delay, everybody. Finally got frozen computer to thaw, so I'll be posting soon.

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Arlington, Va.: Dear Carolyn:

My husband was fired from his job yesterday after being with the company only 3 months. He messed up some presentation and had a "heated discussion" with his boss, and he let him go. Since we've known each other, he's lost two other jobs, too. He's good at what he does, but he hates his field, and I think he has difficulty accepting authority and dealing with the politics and ups and downs in the workplace.

I have a steady job, so we will get by financially for a while, but I worry about the future. We have talked about starting a family, but I really want him to have a steady career before that. Is that old fashioned of me? I have tried to be very supportive, telling him he will find another job and it will all be ok, but inside I dread the same cycle again: he's home for a few months looking for a job feeling discouraged and depressed, he finds a job, hates it, hates his boss, complains every night, and then eventually loses that job, too, and the whole cycle starts again. Am I being selfish?

Carolyn Hax: Certainly I wouldn't call it selfish to be worried about the way your husband's temperament might affect the stability of your family. I would hope he's a little worried, too.

What would make your concerns selfish would be to push him to get back into another job, any job, in his field in order for him to satisfy your demand for a traditional breadwinner. Even your sincere attempts to be sincere in your support for him are less about him right now than they are about you.

His repeat meltdowns are a big flashy honking red sign that you and he need to figure out what kind of work situation would suit his temperament. Office drone isn't cutting it. Fine. Not everyone is wired for that. So what is he wired for? What is he good at? What could he (at least semi-) look forward to doing every day? This bit of discussion and soul-searching needs to take place before the next wave of resumes goes out, before the discouraged depression set in.

It also needs to occur without rancor on your part. Understandably you're worried and probably a little frustrated with him, but you also fell for him and married him for his personality, to some extent, and that means his volatility has to be seen as part of the package you chose. Now concentrate on how he can adjust his vocation to suit.

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Mystery Illness response: Carolyn,

I think you were right in your response to the boyfriend wondering whether to keep pushing a sick girlfriend. I have a mystery illness of my own, and here is one more thing I wish my family would consider. Any long-term or chronic illness can cause debilitating fatigue. If her illness is affecting their quality of life, it may be that she has no energy for anything but the normal daily routine. Doctor visits can be extremely physically and emotionally exhausting, so they require a big chunk of extra energy.

It is an awful feeling to be unable to do everything you want or need to, and it may be even harder to explain to people who care about you and want you to get better. And the "I don't need another doctor" can easily be a defensive response covering "I am exhausted, and I cannot do this right now." I am definitely a coper, but I have done similar things before in reaction to my family pushing.

This is not to say that she should not seek second opinions, but she may require practical help and support - gathering test results like you suggested, but also some release from daily chores and social obligations, to help her get through it.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks for the other side. I also think that if the original doctor is still doing tests--in other words, hasn't exhausted his or her diagnostic options--then it's not even time for a second opinion yet. Like I said, let the first opinion come in, and then start on the next one.

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Dealing with Debbie Downer: I have a very good friend who is relentlessly negative about herself. Every time I see her, something comes out of her mouth criticizing her life, her personality, her lack of ambition and accomplishments, and so on. You get the picture. I've known her for many years, and I understand the roots of these feelings are deep. But it's begun to feel oppressive to be around her. Anytime during these conversations, when I try to point out one of her wonderful qualities, she literally snaps at me, like how dare I contradict her. That's the point where I tune out completely and just try to get through dinner.

This has become unbearable. Do you think there's any way to have a conversation with someone like this? How do I start? She'll accuse me of trying to change her, and I'm not. I just don't want to sit through a dinner with her badmouthing herself, my friend. She's an incredibly caring person (just not to herself), and I'd like to have her in my life. But I can't take her negativity anymore.

Carolyn Hax:"What do you want from me? How would you like me to respond, when you start trashing yourself like this?" I wouldn't blame you if you had to step back from the negativity, but I do think this is a question worth asking. From what you describe, you've been responding to her self-loathing jags with declarations. She doesn't want that, so it makes sense then to start asking questions instead.

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Really, really in need of advice!: Hi Carolyn, thanks for taking my question.

I've been married for almost one year. My husband has a habit that really bothers me -- several times a week, he falls asleep in the basement in front of the TV and never makes it to bed. This has been an issue for us since day one. I've explained to him that I believe sleeping together (and I'm not talking about sex, just about physical closeness) is critical in a marriage, and that I will not stay in a marriage where we don't share a bed! I've also told him that it hurts me when he doesn't come to bed -- makes me feel undesirable, makes me feel that he does not care enough about my feelings to make the necessary effort.

We're in counseling. I've gotten mad. I've pleaded. I've cried. I've acted passive aggressive. We have had the conversation about this issue 100 times. I suggested that he set an alarm clock. That he just not stay in the basement after I go to bed at night. Nothing has changed. I am beyond frustrated, feeling unheard and lonely.

It seems silly to consider a true ultimatum over something like this but at the same time, less than one year into our marriage, I really do not want to settle for sleeping in separate rooms-- or acknowledge that things may never change. Am I being unreasonable? I don't know what to do.

Carolyn Hax: I'm sorry, I think you are being unreasonable. Unless you're ready to divorce him over his TV habit, then the only choice you have left is to let him sleep in the TV room several nights a week.

I say this as a member of your camp, by the way. I think closeness is important. But part of the reason I think it's important is that it's part of an iconic image of a happy couple, where they just like having the other person there, where it feels funny when the other side of the bed is empty because you're so used to hearing the rhythmic breath of your sleeping mate. It's also important because two people are freely choosing proximity.

Well, you don't have this marriage.

There are plenty of happy marriages that don't fit this iconic mold, though, so it's not as if your sleeping arrangements stand as the last word on your marriage. But they will be if you don't face up to the fact that you don't have it.

It's time to stop forcing this issue, to grieve if you have to, and then to start figuring out what you do have. See if you can fall in love with the reality of your husband as hard as you've fallen for the idea of What a Marriage Should Look Like.

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Disappointed and tired : Am getting a little tired of clicking on your column and repeatedly seeing "Adapted from a recent online discussion" which is re-hashing some old issue from a previous chat. This seems to be happening more and more - example out of this week's 6 columns, 3 were "Adapted from a recent online discussion". Why the constant regurgitation? It is getting rather disappointing and tiresome to log on and see the same old stuff even though you may have a different opinion this time.

Carolyn Hax: I'm sorry, you must have missed the announcement last fall. I am publishing as many original columns as I always did--three a week, running on the three days they always ran--Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. Now, in addition to those, I am also publishing four columns a week adapted from the online discussions. The online audience represents only a small fraction of the readers of the column, and many of my syndication clients had been asking for a long time for a daily column. I realize this can be an inconvenience to the chatters, but there is, again, no less original content than there always was. We're merely trying to make the live content available to a wider audience.

The best I can suggest is to keep Sun, Wed Fri in mind and check for the column then. We also put the "Adapted from" at the top of the column to save chat readers some time.

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Alexandria, Va.: Carolyn,

Believe it or not, my husband blames me for two recent miscarriages. He says I made "bad, selfish decisions." (I didn't.) I know he's frustrated and grieving, but his blame really hurts. Now I'm pregnant again, holding my breath through the first trimester and considering not telling him at all till then, because I'm afraid the stress of his judgment will cause another tragedy.

Now that I've written it down, I think I already know the answer...but do you think this marriage is in trouble?

Carolyn Hax: Serious trouble. Please bring it to marriage counseling, and I would even go the extra step of getting names of counselors from your obstetrician. You want someone who can speak to the specific issues of fertility. That way any concerns your husband has can be addressed in an informed way, and any false accusations shot down.

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Anonymous: Sorry, Carolyn, I have to disagree.

The TV snoozing husband obviously knows it seriously ticks off his wife when he conks out in the basement. Yet he continues to do so. I would look beyond how petty she's being (and it is kind of minor) to how HE's reacting to her peeve. That to me is more telling about the state of their marriage than whether they actually sleep in the same room.

Carolyn Hax: To that end, I think they're both reacting badly. She is badgering him, which is wrong, and he is failing to deal with her badgering and is instead hiding in the basement, which is wrong. I do still believe the first step has to be that she backs off. Then she--they--can see what's left after the battlefield smoke clears.

I don't want to speak for him, this is really just a for-instance: It could just be that his participation in this marriage--particularly since she has firm ideas of how close they're supposed to be--requires that he get some time to himself at the end of the day. It would make perfect sense, if that's true, that his response to her pushing would be to want that alone time even more. Again, I don't know that this is true, and certainly if it is then he should just say this to her instead of staging a passive aggressive stand in front of the TV every night. I am merely saying that people need room to be themselves, and it could seriously tick -him- off that she's so insistent about his conforming to her idea of "correct" sleep habits. Her pettiness is not minor, kind of or otherwise.

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Miscarriage: Just in case the emotional abuse of blaming her for the miscarriages is not isolated (I can't believe it is), I would not recommend couples' counseling, but individual counseling first. That way, she can assess his behavior and attitude with a professional before getting into a counseling session WITH him.

Couples' counseling is NOT recommended in abusive situations.

Carolyn Hax: Right indeed, thanks. My concern was that his misconceptions be addressed by a disinterested third party. In the case of an emotional abuser, individual counseling is best, since the couples' counseling often becomes another front on which the abuser attacks the abused. Given that possibility, a meeting with an obstetrician to explore the miscarriage issue would make sense, and individual counseling for her to explore the marriage issues, and to find out whether couples' counseling would be advisable. Thanks again.

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Silver Spring, Md. : Hi Carolyn,

I'm dating a guy who believes there's "no point" in having female friends. His theory is that anything you can get from a female friend, you can get from a male friend "without the drama."

He's crazy about me, so he doesn't understand why this attitude concerns me. Basically, though, it means his interest in me is purely romantic, and that it won't ever be rooted in friendship. It also means he doesn't respect women as equals (because, frankly, I think that theory is ridiculous).

I think this bodes poorly for the possibility of our future relationship. What do you think?

Carolyn Hax: The misogyny in his statement is breathtaking. So, yes, I would agree it doesn't bode well for a future with him.

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Arlington, Va.: Thanks for your comments, Carolyn, on my husband's situation. I think you are right that he probably has to look at a career change and looking for something he would enjoy. I think part of the difficulty I have with accepting that is that I grew up in a family where work was work: you did it because you had to, to earn money, and that was that. It wasn't something you were supposed to enjoy. If you had skills in a field that pays well and has job opportunities (like my husband) you didn't give it up for the world. But, I'm starting to realize that that just isn't working for him. So, I'm really going to try to put that aside and encourage him to explore other career options.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks for the response. Have you talked to him about your views of work? I think that would be an interesting part of your conversation-to-be, with one caveat--if it comes out as a lecture, he'll probably shut down (you know, that whole problem-with-authority thing). But if you're of a suck-it-up mindset, and he's not, then I imagine this will continue to be a problem unless/until (a) you both are made aware of the philosophical misalignment, and (b) you summon respect for each other's viewpoint, even if you agree to disagree.

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Just Married, USA: Carolyn,

Let's say a husband acts kind of rudely one night as he and the wife are going to bed. (Not any one particular act, just a grumbly attitude that he neither owns up to nor explains.) The next morning, things are better between them, and as they get ready for work, the husband says, almost in passing, that he "was a jerk last night." It feels like neither an apology nor an explanation. Is it better for the wife to agree with such an offhand remark, to make it clear that she thinks that's the case; or to let it slide, assuming he wouldn't have said it if he didn't already know it was true?

Carolyn Hax: Once, you let it slide. But if it happens again soon enough for it to be a potential regular thing, then you do need to say it hurt your feelings. Getting ready in the a.m. for work might not be the time to start a big discussion, but you don't have to get into the details; just, "I was hurt by it, and if you're upset about something, I hope you'll trust me enough to let me know."

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Sobriety: Neither my girlfriend nor I drink, so this question is - for us - hypothetical, although was once quite real for her.

She said that a guy once wouldn't go out with her because she doesn't drink and she thought that wasn't a valid reason to not date someone. I think it's a perfectly valid reason, along the lines of, "The ways you and I have fun are just too different."

What say you?

Enjoy your weekend. Go Celtics!

Carolyn Hax: I think it's valid, with an asterisk--certainly you can pick out any little thing as a reason not to date someone, since it's everyone's prerogative to say no to anyone else. Your girlfriend, just for example, might have seen this guy's lack of interest in dating a non-drinker as a valid reason to rule -him- out. ("Huh?")

Here's the asterisk: Over the course of a long-term relationship, people don't always stay exactly the way they were when you first met them. AA or medication or allergies or whatever can make a non-drinker out of the most dedicated beer-swiller, for example; believers can lose faith and the faithless can find belief; the thin get fat and the fat get thin; the rich can lose everything and ramen-eaters can strike it rich. So inflexibility in the mate selection process, while nobody else's business but one's own, can come back to bite someone over time. Better just to find someone you really really like.

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Miscarriage again: I also suffered two miscarriages since this year began. Anytime someone hinted that it was my fault for not cutting out caffeine, exercising, not getting sleep, stressing out, whatever, (you would honestly be shocked at how frequently this happens) I asked them what the story was with crack addicts having babies. They never had a response to this.

If any woman could just blithely induce miscarriage, this country would not be wringing its hands over Roe v Wade. This woman's husband is a total freaking idiot.

Carolyn Hax: Just makes me feel good to post this. Thank you. I am sorry, too, for all the hints people have lobbed your way. Like anyone who has just miscarried needs that mixed in with her grief.

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High School Reunion: My 20th high school reunion is this summer. I'm ambivalent about going, so I thought I'd get an opinion from you and the 'nuts. On one hand, it's not too far away. Hubby said he'd go with me (though we both know it wouldn't be his first choice for the weekend). My parents still live in my hometown and would be enthusiastic hosts/babysitters for our young children. It might be fun.

But I haven't kept in touch with anyone from H.S. and there is no one in particular I want to see. (FWIW, our class had about 700 people).

H.S. wasn't a terrible time for me, but wasn't great either. Back then I thought there would be better times ahead, and luckily, I was right. If this were a college reunion, I would go.

Right now, though, I'm leaning toward a quiet weekend at home. We do not get enough of those. (We are already committed to be out of town two weekends during the month of the reunion.)

Is this an important life experience I shouldn't miss, or overrated?

Thoughts? Thanks!

Carolyn Hax: I think reunions are great (I type as I'm busy not traveling to my own 20th college reunion this very weekend). I think they're great not just for catching up with people you really cared about at the time, but also for getting a little shot of memories--what you saw, wore, listened to, cared about, did at the time was shared with all these people, whether you knew them or not. The commonality of it all can be a nice break from life in the disjointed present tense. Maybe you won't go every year, and maybe you won't even have that great a time--you never know how it's going to turn out--but it could be worth trying once.

That said, the opportunity for similar time travel will be there for you at your 25th, if that's a better time for you to go. Not having the interest/energy this time around is a perfectly good reason not to go.

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for Arlington, Va.: Carolyn,

Career Counselor here. The woman in Arlington whose husband doesn't like what he does could benefit from taking a few career assessments. There are services that offer this for a fee, but here in CT our Department of Labor does it for free... its called CT Works. I recommend she look into whatever Virginia's equivalent is.

Also, if he went to college, his alma mater probably has services that are available to alumni, again for free or a reduced fee. Sometimes seeing your interests on paper along with suggested career opportunities can show you more doors then you could have imagined.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks, good stuff.

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Basement Sleeping: Hi Carolyn:

Just a comment on the dude sleeping in the basement. I love sleeping next to my husband -- he makes me feel happy and safe, and it's so nice to wake up with someone next to you, even if it's the cats demanding breakfast that wakes you. However, I run my own business, and sometimes it just takes over. When I'm really overwhelmed, I find myself working on the couch as late as I can and then sleeping there. I know my husband misses me, and I miss him. I'm not doing it because the idea of sleeping on the couch with the lights and TV and computer on is so great that I can't bear to give it up and go to bed. I do it because going to bed brings me one step closer to the next day, and all its stress and pressure and deadlines, which some nights, I just can't handle. And some nights, it just feels like giving up, or giving in to a selfish luxury when I _should_ be working (my parents? One Catholic guilt, one Lutheran work ethic, with a side of uncomplaining...yeah, I've got issues!). So maybe dude in the basement is feeling really overwhelmed not just by his wife, but by life in general, and when he hides out in the basement, he's not specifically avoiding her, but the natural progression of time. Maybe he needs a break and to reexamine the stresses in his life, the way I've begun to...

Also, I know that they're in therapy, which is good, but a very wise man -- my father-in-law, who's a reverend -- said to me before we were married that he wished that more couples would seek counseling after a year of marriage -- that even with premarital counseling, people get married no matter what, but after a year, that's when reality sets in and everyone needs a head-space check. So she shouldn't feel weird or bad or stressed that they're starting to discover issues arising in their marriage -- it's totally normal, and even to be expected.

Sorry if I rambled...

Carolyn Hax: No no. This is good stuff, too. Thanks.

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Atlanta, Ga.: Hi Carolyn - I just passed my graduate program's candidacy exam (yeah!) and now have been thinking about my four year long relationship with my boyfriend. We've always talked about getting married, we both want a quiet simple ceremony, maybe even eloping. We have been waiting until we have both figured things out career and life wise. Now I realize I'm on a path I want, and see he is on a path he wants, so I'm starting to think, why wait anymore? We are taking a few trips this summer, and I'd love it if we came back from one of those married. How do I approach this topic? I don't want him to think he has to say yes - but if he says no (which I'd be fine with) I don't want things to be weird. I just want to know his feelings on the subject. What should I do? Sit on it for away until the post-exam euphoria wears off?

Carolyn Hax: Oh just propose.

I'm rarely moved to say this these days, but your story screams for it.

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D.C. Like Arlington: Carolyn, your response to Arlington re: her husband's volatility affecting his career prompts me to ask. I am soon to move in with and then marry (some months later) a wonderful man who sounds an awful lot like Arlington's husband. He is wonderful and warm and devoted and my best friend, so I am trying hard to embrace the volatility in his personality as you encourage. He's known as a bit of a hothead among his friends, but sometimes his willingness to cuss someone out over a relatively minor infraction really bothers me. It is not just that his behavior embarrasses me (I personally find it useless to confront idiots in situations by resorting to obscenities), but it has a real potential, because of what I do, to affect my career. He does not care what other people think about him but certainly cares what people think of me, so he has apologized and says he will refrain -- but I don't believe it because changing someone's temper is not that easy. For what it's worth, he is seeking help with the anxiety level and the quickness with which he reacts or over-reacts to things. And I applaud him for that. It sure isn't easy. How can I better embrace the fleeting moments where he is quick to tell someone off? Or do I just ignore it as his business? Thanks. I think you are a genius, by the way.

Carolyn Hax: That's kind of you to say, but if I came across as encouraging anyone to embrace someone's volatility then I'm dangerously misguided.

Please don't embrace this potentially destructive element of your fiance's character. Face it, try to understand it, try to anticipate its consequences--but don't embrace it. In the context of the recently fired husband, I think it was important for the wife (actually, both of them) so try to see how his volatility could be considered a professional asset, or at least not a liability.

You are at a very different stage of life, and you're also not talking about an anti-authority streak. You're talking about someone who pops off at bystanders. I would not move in with him unless his "seeking help" produces results. Certainly a lot of passionate people, even moody people, make wonderful spouses. But I firmly believe that happens only when they're mature enough to be able to anticipate, work around, harness and manage those spiky emotions, and when needed just to put a sock in it. Otherwise they're going to end up inflicting those untamed emotions on the person nearest them, the spouse.

You're right that a declaration of good intent is not enough to change his hotheadedness. But maturity is; please wait for that.

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Washington, D.C.: My wife and I bought a great city house in a close-in neighborhood 13 years ago. We had kids, the neighborhood got better, but this last year I absolutely hate living here with every fiber of my being. The schools are terrible, the parking has gotten bad, they discover lead paint everywhere, and the 100 year old house needs everything fixed. What is really killing me though is that a teenager down the street invites the drug dealers who once lived here to sell drugs out of their cars and the police won't arrest anyone- the guys in the cars peel out at the first sign of the cops. I want to move back to my parents' suburban neighborhood but my wife refuses to because we'll be "too close" to my family. She keeps telling me that it will get better and it will get better but it's been a downhill slide. It was fine when I was 25 and owned a starter house and went out 3 nights a week, but I'm 40 now and our kids are in school and the experiment failed- the drug dealers moved out, but they visit from the suburbs. She won't entertain moving. Is this the end for us?

Carolyn Hax: Why is the decision only between your parents' neighborhood and an open-air drug market?

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Washington, D.C.: One of my girlfriends is fixated on weight. She eats fine, works out and has a nice figure. She has a boyfriend who comments on how much he hates women who talk about and focus on their weight, so she doesn't complain to him. But she often will make comments to me about it, about our super-skinny friend who doesn't eat much, etc. As I have finally overcome my own total fixation on weight and food (including an eating disorder that I worked through myself) and because I am also super pregnant and feeling a little on the poofy side myself, how do I tactfully tell her to stop? I am just tired of hearing about it. I tell her she shouldn't focus on it, that as long as she is healthy about her eating and working out, she should be fine, etc. But she WON'T stop. This particular friend also has a slight problem completely fixating on herself and her problems, so it is doubly annoying when she's totally focused on her AND on a topic that I hate to discuss.

Carolyn Hax:"As I have finally overcome my own total fixation on weight and food (including an eating disorder that I worked through myself) and because I am also super pregnant and feeling a little on the poofy side myself, I need to ask that we talk about something other than weight."

Yes, it would be nice if you could help her deal with her problem, but it sounds as if you've tried. Sometimes you just have to save the one you can, and that happens to be you.

By the way, her issue isn't just weight, it's the whole emotional Blue Plate Special. She's suppressing herself in an effort to conform to her boyfriend's image of the woman he likes, and obsessing about body image. That's like verbal abuse: It's never just contained to one topic or situation. She doesn't like herself a whole lot and so a good deal of her energy goes into trying to become someone she does like. As long as her efforts take place on the surface--acting like the good girlfriend, having the right body, etc.--she'll never find peace. I wish I could offer something you could say to her to set her on a more productive path. Unfortunately, people really need to stumble across it themselves.

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Preggo, Va.: Carolyn,

I'm pregnant with #2 and am considering asking a friend to come to my first ultrasound. Is this too weird? She and her husband have decided not to have kids, so she'll never have one of her own. If I invite her along, will that seem like I'm trying to change her mind about having kids? Or that her life is somehow missing something without seeing my/a fetus on a screen? FWIW - hubby won't be there as he is creeped out by the ultrasound in general, so it'd just be her and me and tech. Should I ask her?

Carolyn Hax: WHY are you thinking of asking her? If you just think she'd think it was cool, then you're probably right. If you want the support or to share it with someone, then just say you want the support. But if you really are trying to change her mind, then consider this a little slap on the back of your hand, like you're reaching onto my plate to take my cookie.

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An analogy: I completely agree with you about the husband sleeping in the basement, but I find myself wondering if you would apply the same logic to another situation. My husband likes dropping his dirty laundry on the floor/leaving dirty dishes all over the house/etc. Seriously -- we've discussed it, and he gets genuine happiness from dropping his socks on the floor in the living room at the end of the day.

This drives me nuts. Like that other wife, I have pleaded/cried/bribed, and nothing has changed. So I alternate between picking up after him and feeling resentful, or trying to ignore the mess and feeling resentful.

I'm curious -- would you give me the same advice you gave her? Do I just need to let go of my dream of having a clean house? Or is my situation somehow different?

Carolyn Hax: I think it is different, because his "genuine happiness" reduces your shared living space to his trashcan, and your hell.

The adjustment a spouse makes to the TV sleeper is a significant one because of its emotional weight, but in quality-of-life terms, it's pretty easy to accommodate: It occurs mostly when Spouse is sleeping, for one, and compromise is right there: Go ahead, zonk yourself with TV, but please save a few nights for me. (Obviously this assumes a cooperative spouse, but even the original poster said "several nights," not every night--plus people do tend to cooperate more when you show you're largely willing to accept their quirks as-is.)

When it comes to a defiance about mess, it is the seeking of happiness at the full -waking-, chore-laden expense of Spouse. So it is different. However, the approach is very similar. You can certainly counter with, "Well, I get genuine happiness from a tidy house, so why is it your genuine happiness takes precedence over mine?" But someone who doesn't cooperate even then leaves you in the position of having to accept the marriage you have, and to see if you can live with it. (Hint: Continually feeling resentful is not tenable.)

If you aren't so angry at him that the compromise issue is moot, what you can do is consider technical compromises. Furnish your house with strategically placed storage bins into which you place the stuff he drops on the floor. Heck, save time, push the socks under the sofa. When he needs clean socks, he'll have to find them and then wash them; what should be his problem will be his problem.

As for the dishes, that's nonnegotiable. Infestation can't possibly bring him "genuine happiness." He gets fair warning, then dirty dishes go onto his desk/into his closet/wherever and you switch to paper.

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Washington, D.C.: Why is the decision only between your parents' neighborhood and an open-air drug market?

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I'm confused by this question. In my email I said my wife doesn't want to move at all. She isn't offering ANY other suggestions except maybe other houses a few blocks away. I want out entirely and have a neighborhood I really love. I want to live in a split level. I want a lawn and a community pool. My wife wants to be able to walk to work without a car and walk to restaurants and libraries. I can come back and suggest Takoma Park, but that's more like something we'd both dislike... I should be very clear my wife is saying no to any move discussion and I'm waking up from nightmares about the Maryland drug dealer's cars on our block.

Carolyn Hax: Then it's time to bring this battle to a referee.

But since you can't control what your wife thinks, you need to work on what you think, and that means you need to face that your wife does not want a split-level in the neighborhood you love near your parents. It's time to stop digging in on that.

It's also time to stop saying, well, she's dug in, too. That's certain marital failure.

She doesn't want suburbs. You don't want crime. There are choices in between. Start working toward that--by explicitly stating you're not going to ask for your beloved neighborhood any more--and maybe that will help bring her back to the conversation.

The "choices in-between" can, of course be hideously expensive, because walking neighborhoods with low crime are the holy grail for people who don't want a car-based life. But it's a big metropolitan area. If you focus on public trans, libraries and restaurants, you can start to research other places. Don't rule out the houses "a few blocks away." Maybe you won't be significantly safer that close to your old house, but you might be able to get significantly safer while remaining in proximity to the community.

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Basement sleeper's wife here--: Thanks everyone for the feedback.

I never really considered I was being petty, but that seems to be the consensus so, I suppose, it's worth examining my actions.

I guess overall I feel that I've changed my life in many ways to accommodate this new person, my husband. Some of those ways were positive changes, some were sacrifices I made because I knew it was important to him. I think that's part of becoming a couple. And the reason I care so much about this is not just that he's not coming to bed (which as a child of parents whose lack of intimacy and closeness for decades was linked quite strongly to the point when they stopped sharing a bedroom) but rather that he knows this is important to me but isn't trying to change.

I guess I need to accept that, and in that case your perspective and those of the chatters is worth hearing. But I suppose part of me just doesn't think this should be too much to ask.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks for writing back. What you said is really useful.

You cite your parents' lack of closeness, and their sleeping in separate beds. I understand how powerful a motivation that is to get him away from the tube.

But you're not your mom, and you didn't marry your dad. You're not going to avoid a chilly marriage by making your husband sleep next to you. There is only one absolute requirement for intimacy: That you and your husband feel free to be yourselves. Any sharing between you has to be according to who you are, and not according to a script.

You say you sacrificed for him because you think that's what couples do. But if you did it just because you thought you had to, and you now think he has to do the same for you, then that's not sharing out of love. That's scorekeeping.

It's also understandable. All of this is understandable. You were denied the example of a healthy marriage, so you're working from an image you've assembled on your own and you're now trying to get your marriage to fit that image. It's only going to break your heart, frustrate him and alienate you both from each other.

It may be that you need a professional counselor to guide you to a more productive idea of marriage, but that's not the worst thing. Whatever it takes is fine, as long as you ultimately come to see him for who he is, yourself for who you are, and trust each other. The best thing you can do for your marriage right now is stop comparing yourselves to ghosts, and just -like- the guy you married. Just, like him. Enjoy him. Appreciate him. Then work from there.

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RE Arlington: I am all for finding your bliss but sometimes you do sort of have to suck it up and just go out and work.

What would happen if they were truly depending on his paycheck (like they may well be if they have a few kids and she becomes a SAHM)?

So where is the line between someone needing to find a job that is more suitable to their temperament and someone needing to grow up FAST?

Carolyn Hax: When you don't have the luxury of time, you grow up fast. But it sure is a lot easier just to assume there'll be hard times and only date grownups than it is to hope someone will grow up if times ever get hard.

This is all stuff--employment, temper, household habits,willingness to accommodate--that we're discussing in the context of marriage, but really every one of these is best put to rest before vows. Obviously there will always be something that comes up that you couldn't anticipate, but often what people don't anticipate is how much they're going to care.

I've used this analogy before: Carrying a small weight won't bother you on a short walk, but it can become crushing over the course of a 20-mile hike. If you can't abide it, don't marry it, and if you're not sure, wait.

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Washington, D.C.: I've done it, I've blown it. Carolyn, I just let the most wonderful woman ever leave. She is everything a guy could ever want; smart, successful, funny, beautiful (and I really mean that), and genuine. I let her go because she wanted a commitment and I'm at the end stages of a divorce and do not feel ready to give her one. Maybe I have trust issues, maybe I'm not ready. There you have it. Am I having second thoughts, yes - how do I know she'll be around when I'm ready? What if she isn't? She just walked away - no look back. Good for her, bad for me.

Carolyn Hax: Not really. It was good for you, too. You weren't ready, so you said so. The only right thing to do to keep someone is to behave with integrity. If that didn't work, then she wasn't it.

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Fluff Question: Sometimes when I walk down the rows of cubicles in my office, I hear the theme from "Shaft" in my head, and envision that everyone I pass is basking in my coolness as I walk by. Should I see a counselor about this, or just enjoy the moment?

Carolyn Hax: Time for me to enjoy the moment. Thanks all, happy weekend and type to you next week.

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