DEAR AMY: My boyfriend and I have excellent customer-service skills. Our customers appreciate the way we handle things — and yet we don’t know how to talk with each other.
I try not to be rude when I express opinions, suggestions and advice, and I don’t think I am inconsiderate. In my head, for instance, if I tell you that you’re overweight, that doesn’t mean that I called you fat.
I am a very good writer; yet when I have to tell my guy to pick up after himself, “slob” and “lazy” are my choice words. But if I chose different terms, he’ll say, “So you’re calling me a slob, right?” and I admit to it. So I can’t win.
He has a beautiful smile, but needs to take better care of his teeth. If I suggest that, I am a nag, or I am offensive. If asked for my honest opinion, I give it. That’s just me!
We are crazy about each other, but we fight all the time, and I am exhausted, saddened and discouraged.
I don’t know if this is a textbook case of needing a counselor or some communication boot camp. I’m taking the first step by writing to you. What’s next? — Communication Challenged
DEAR CHALLENGED: Here’s a news flash: When you tell someone he is overweight, he hears “You’re fat.” Why? Because that’s what you’re doing. When you tell someone to pick up after himself, he hears you calling him a slob, because this is one of your go-to put-downs.
And saying, “You have a great smile but need to take better care of your teeth,” is just an insult wrapped in condescension.
You should apply some of your customer service skills to your relationship.
There is no more powerful way to love someone than to love him just as he is. This goes for him, too. He needs to realize that your bluntness is part of who you are.
Couples counseling will help you to learn to speak (and listen) differently.
For now, try using “I” statements where you normally use “you” statements. Instead of, “You always leave all your clothes on the floor,” you say, “It really bothers me to see your stuff on the floor.” If he counters by saying, “So, you’re calling me a slob?” You say, “No, I’m telling you about something that bothers me, honey.”
DEAR AMY: I recently learned that a guy I was seeing off-and-on for about six months is now steadily dating someone else. It took a while to digest that, but I always knew it was a possibility, so I’m not too bothered by it.
However, last time I saw him I left him my junker bicycle with the understanding that he would sell it for cash, but he has instead given it to his new girlfriend. The bicycle held a lot of memories for me about our relationship, and while I don’t begrudge his new girlfriend, I can’t help but feel a bit devastated he gave the bike to her.
I know he didn’t mean anything bad by it, but how do I come to terms with this situation? — Adjusting
DEAR ADJUSTING: In your life, you will lose objects — and you will also lose people. The bicycle provides you with the perfect opportunity to learn detachment, which is an extremely powerful lesson. Close your eyes. Visualize your clunker bike as a metaphor, carrying all of your powerful attachments.
In your mind, picture your bike wobbling down the street with a variety of people riding it (your former boyfriend, his girlfriend, your dear departed grandmother and Richard Nixon). Letting this go will help to liberate you.
Contact Amy Dickinson via email: firstname.lastname@example.org