Dear Carolyn:

My boyfriend and I are having a HORRIBLE month -- loads of stress. On top of everything, I haven't been very nice to him. We've talked and I've apologized and am working on it, but now he's not sure he can handle a relationship on top of the stress.

However, the other part of him loves me, thinks we have a great thing together (if we can get through this!) and doesn't want to throw it away. I have very limited options. He knows that I'm sorry for taking my stress out on him, I love him and want to get through this, but I can't do much more (and frankly don't have the emotional resources right now to handle this).

So a step back is called for, yes? I hate feeling needy with him. Do you think we have a chance to make things better or does it sound like we're just not in the right relationship?

-- Stepping Back?

Question for you. Exactly how hard is it to be kind to someone?

A step back is called for here, not because you're both too stressed out to "handle a relationship," but because you're not ready for one if you can't stay glued when you're tense. Honestly -- HORRIBLE rarely is, and always passes.

I don't say this to diminish the emotional or even physical impact of stress. It's real, documented, huge.

But it doesn't constitute license to beat up on people around you, nor is apologizing afterward sufficient to make things okay.

When snappish behavior is the exception, maybe -- but not when it's your current operating mode because you lack for more productive ways to cope.

One of which, by the way, is kindness to people you love. It's not even something you need to "work on" or tap resources for. You just do it. It's as good for you as it is for the people around you. It's the anti-stress.

As is perspective. As is kindness to yourself. As is taking a break from the things that upset you, or seeking even the briefest refuge in a select few things that don't.

If your boyfriend is the former and not the latter, that's another vote for time off -- but if you like to be with him, try not "working on" that, either. Just get over yourself, and do it.

Dear Carolyn:

My boyfriend and I are members of the same minority group. But his family immigrated only 25 years ago; mine did several generations ago. Consequently, I haven't been raised with the same values, traditions, etc., that he probably thinks I was. I am American in my heart.

Anyhow, we are talking about marriage, and I am worried. He often says how happy he was to meet me because he would never consider marrying outside his own culture. Do you think it's important for me to feel as though I'm a part of his culture? Because I don't.

-- Virginia

And you haven't told him this? And you are considering marriage.

(Hair-pulling sounds.)


Please tell him who you really are, including your views on his culture and anything else you've withheld. Tell him with full confidence that it's better, for you, that he be disillusioned with his girlfriend than disgusted with his wife.

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