Dear Amy:

My husband and I have been together for more than 17 years, and our inability to constructively solve disagreements is getting worse as time goes on.

Whenever I do something that upsets him or inconveniences him, not only does he give me grief for the offense, but he also accuses me of acting deliberately to jerk him around and play control games.

If I try to deny malice as a motive for my actions, he accuses me of being defensive and refusing to admit that I was wrong. I don't mean to downplay the original fault, but I get upset and insulted about how he interprets my motives.

If I try to apologize for the original offense but not for my "motivations," then my apology is unacceptable. My apology is also unacceptable if I don't promise to never commit the offense again.

It's not acceptable if I merely promise to try not to commit the offense again, because that's not a "real" promise. If I apologize too quickly, then I'm just saying that to avoid dealing with my real problems.

On those rare occasions when I complain about something he does that bothers me, he either exaggerates what I've said to make it sound ridiculous or he misinterprets what I say and then accuses me of changing my story when I try to clarify it, or he accuses me of hyperbole and says that I'm blowing things out of proportion. I know he's controlling, paranoid, negative and critical. We are both in individual counseling and just began marriage counseling for the fourth time.

What is the correct approach for fixing this relationship?

Running Out of Patience, Energy and Love

Let me get this straight. You are both in individual counseling and have just begun marriage counseling for the fourth time. I assume you have sent several marriage counselors running screaming into the night because even reading your letter has given me a terminal headache.

So far, therapy seems to have taught you to describe your husband's anger mismanagement in minute detail. From what you say, he has learned the exact same thing and throws it right back at you.

If your husband is manipulative, abusive and perpetually angry with you, why do you stay in this marriage? I assume you stay in order to fight with him. If this is the case, please tell your therapist that I said you should stop it.

As an outside observer, it seems that perhaps you should consider sticking with a therapist and changing husbands.

Dear Amy:

I have been single for almost three years. I consider myself a pretty attractive guy. I am caring and have a pretty good sense of humor. I am also interested in the arts and sports.

My problem is I can't get past the heartbreak of my last relationship. I don't want to get back together with her, but I feel like the wind has just been completely taken out of my sails.

I also feel that I push people away on purpose before they can get to know me, or I can get to know them. I am truly afraid I will be alone forever.

What should I do to liven up myself?

Cold in Chicago

One way to get the wind back in your sails is to let other people help put it there.

You need a wingman. A wingman doesn't only help a person troll for dates, but in those moments when you are feeling low, will look at you and tell you the good things about yourself that you may have forgotten. If you are interested in arts and sports, look into joining the young adults committee at your local museum. Many museums now offer sort of faux-singles nights where you can go to a members-only cocktail hour and lecture. If you have a similarly arts-oriented friend, perhaps the two of you could sign up together. If you know some guys from work or school who belong to a beach volleyball league, force yourself to join.

Getting busy like this won't stitch your heart back together. But it will get you out there in the world, mixing it up and having experiences, while you work on your own heart-valve replacement.

Because you are introspective and concerned about what's going on with you, a thoughtful therapist can help you navigate your feelings. You will learn that there is no statute of limitations on getting over heartbreak; you'll also learn how to work harder to mend your heartbreak, rather than let it get the best of you.

A book you might appreciate is "Heal Your Heartbreak: How to Live and Love Again," by Chuck Spezzano (2001, Marlowe & Co.). Spezzano gives encouragement and advice from a guy's perspective.

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

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