Screaming fights leave her worried about love

Washington Post Writers GroupFebruary 21, 2011 

Hi, Carolyn: Are high-drama relationships ever good ones? My boyfriend and I usually have a huge argument every couple of weeks (not disagreements, but fights where we yell at each other). Is this normal? Most of my friends are in a similar type of relationship, too. I know a couple who have the opposite type of relationship, where it's calm and fun and full of adoration. Am I doing something wrong? - High-drama relationships

Not if you like yelling and getting yelled at every couple of weeks.

It's actually not as obvious as it sounds; some people feel better in "calm" relationships, and some are happier with the volume cranked a bit.

There is, granted, a risk to the does-it-feel-good method of life-assessment. Whatever path you've chosen, honoring your commitments to others (and yourself) is likely to involve holding down a job, doing chores, wrangling toddlers/teenagers, refusing seconds, remaining faithful through various temptations, or just showing up where you said you would even when you'd rather be somewhere else. These often involve choosing the right thing over feelin' it.

But there's an even greater risk, I believe, in tuning out your feelings based on a misguided sense of duty, normalcy, or the way things are "supposed" to be. Your experience and your peer group tell you that being in a relationship means 26 shouting sessions a year. But something in your gut - backed up by that oasis-couple you know - is telling you it's possible to do better.

When you fuse your sense of long-term responsibility with your sense of well-being, that's when you have your compass. The former is what tells you to be good to someone you love; the latter weighs in on whether you've chosen the right person and the right means. The combination tells you whether you've got a good relationship.

Your question alone says you don't - but it also reveals a huge thing you're doing right: You're looking inward, willing to find fault with your choices.

So turn that honest scrutiny to the way you're behaving with your boyfriend, starting in the most obvious place: Don't yell. Adopt a response you can sustain through a temper surge, like, "I'm walking away till I'm calm."

What you do after that (and after that, and so on) will depend on the results of each incremental change, with too many possible outcomes and choices for me to list here.

However, if you continue to put your actions to these two tests - am I being good, am I feeling good? - I believe the answers will lead you in a healthy direction. That is, as long as you have the courage to heed what they say.

Dredging family secrets

Dear Carolyn: My husband's family is extremely secretive - they're the type to trumpet good news while hiding dirty laundry. We're looking for a nanny for our newborn, and my husband's younger sister is a top contender. My big reservation is that I know there's something in her past that hasn't been explicitly shared with me - all I've been told is that there was "a brief thing with Vicodin," which may or may not have something to do with her not finishing college and still living with her parents at 26.

Digging deeper has gotten me nowhere; my in-laws lie or get upset, and my husband gets irritated and tells me to drop it. Should I deny her the job just because of this giant question mark in her history? - Philly

Deny her the job because of the giant question marks in your ability to communicate with her and trust her word.

While drug problems and caring for a newborn obviously don't mix (phrases I never dreamed of typing, Part MDCXLVII), you don't know when, much less whether, she had a problem; she could be six years into a solid recovery. But that's exactly the problem: You have no confidence you'd know about it if there were a problem.

So, for sake of argument, let's say her history is painkiller-free. Let's say, too, there's an incident/accident/oops while she's caring for your baby. Can you really trust her to tell you what happened and why?

It doesn't sound as if you've even talked to her directly. Reject her as nanny candidate, and reconsider only if you have the kind of one-on-one, soul-baring, doubt-erasing conversation with the sister herself that allows you to trust her with your child.

And while I'm here: Since your husband apparently has the family affliction, I also suggest you consult a marriage and family therapist on a preventive basis. If I've read him correctly then he'll refuse to go, but that's all the more reason for you to get there yourself.


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