Dear Carolyn:

My fiance and I have been dating for about two years. He works really hard in the construction business, and always comes home tired. I am volunteering 30 hours a week at a community service agency, working 30 hours a week as a telemarketer, and taking 18 hours of college classes. He is 25 and I am 22, and I feel we both have excessive amounts of stress. He's really great (not perfect but great)! We don't have many of the problems couples under stress have.

Unfortunately, no matter how much I take on or do, he claims he is always more tired and under more stress. He thinks that because I am in an office or in class I don't work hard enough. He says physical work is more tiring than mental work; when I am sick, he is always in worse condition; and he is never very sympathetic regardless of my burden. Actually, I have been thinking about taking on another small job so he thinks I am "doing something." What can I do to get him to understand this?

-- I'm Tired, Too!

Dump him. It will accomplish absolutely nothing toward making him understand, but it will end a relationship modeled admiringly after the Bataan Death March.

Please read these words: To satisfy your fiance, you want to suffer more.

Please see how insane these words are. From the start of this column, I've tried judiciously to avoid any suggestion that there is only one right way to do things, if only to preclude the inevitable "I did the opposite and I've been elected Happiest Person in the Solar System 14 years in a row" letter from a reader the next day.

But for you, I'll make an exception. There is only one thing any of us should ever do to please a mate, and that is to be ourselves. It should be as good a version of ourselves as we can realistically sustain on a daily basis for a lifetime, but ourselves nonetheless.

When that's not good enough and the love gets doled out on merit, I guarantee you an unhappy couple -- maybe not today, but inevitably, either when the sparks cool off, or the babies come, or the money gets tight, or the going gets dull, or you both come home too many times too tired to pretend to be someone else for the other's benefit. There is such a thing as a relationship that's just too much work.

There's also such a thing as blazing disrespect, which is what your fiance has shown for, as far as I can tell, all of your major life pursuits. (Mental exertion does induce physical fatigue, absolutely.) But even if you managed to win his respect with just the right combination of school, work, charity and third-shift ditch-digging, you'd still always be one lunch break away from his scorn. Do you really need the suspense?

You have one distinct advantage here. You're already miserable, and you're not even married yet. Mazel tov. Now do something about it. It may take 80 hours a week to achieve a worthy fatigue, but you can have guts in a minute. Or less.

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