Advice columnist

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Hi, Carolyn:

I hear over and over that you should marry someone you can’t live without. That has always seemed so dramatic to me. I have met a man I’m excited about and would be ecstatic if he asked me to marry him. But I could live without him. I mean, I did for 27 years and was fine. Am I just reading into this too much?


When I was expecting, my midwife advised me to postpone going to the hospital until my contractions were so painful that I couldn’t talk through them. Found out with the first babies that I can talk through extreme pain and almost got to the maternity floor too late.

The moral of making this about me: We all have highly personalized comfort levels and pain tolerances, and no one phrase is going to capture the right threshold for everyone.

I’m with you on the can’t-live-without standard — seems a bit much — and prefer the more temperate, “Marry someone you don’t want to live without,” or even the romantic realist’s “Marry someone you can’t envision life without.”

The closest I’ve come to a universal standard came from Iris Murdoch: “One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one’s luck.”

Dear Carolyn:

Is it within the range of normal to feel pretty constant low-grade irritation/anger with a spouse of more than a decade? I definitely love him, and he’s a good dad to our three kids (two elementary-age and one toddler), but I often find myself annoyed or angry with him. Maybe this is as good as your average marriage gets at this stage of life?


Never ignore anger. It rarely goes away on its own and instead usually metastasizes.

That said, you’re right to look to your stage of life — small kids can grind you down — and your own general well-being. Are you depressed, exhausted, overextended? Any of these can quickly emerge as irritation with the people nearest at hand, and since a lot of parents feel uncomfortable getting irritated with their kids, they funnel their bad feelings into the nearest adult.

It’s crucial to pinpoint the source of your irritation, and the best way to do that is to work what might be a small miracle: Clear out a little time for yourself so you can think straight. Get that time by admitting to your husband that you’ve been feeling irritable a lot lately and you suspect you’re overextended, and you want to deal with it now before you become a galloping beast.

If/when you get this time, use it to get out in the world unencumbered, to see a friend, or even just to take a walk around your neighborhood. Get your circulation going in ways that you’ve let slide for a while. Don’t force your thoughts; let ideas come when they come.

When they do, talk to a trusted friend or, if they’re all too close to your family, a therapist — whoever helps you think clearly and speak freely.

What comes next depends on what you identify as the root problem, but I suspect just getting a little distance from your routine will not only clarify your thinking but also reduce your stress appreciably.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or Subscribe at