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Question MarkDear Mark,

My boyfriend and I have been together for 17 years. We met in Washington DC where we were both working corporate jobs. We spent 15 years in the city and were very happy together. We were both living “the life” and had many friends and were involved in many activities. About two years ago, my boyfriend’s job was coming to an end and we both decided we wanted to make a change in our lives. We had always been interested in design and had taken jobs on the side in the city that had gone very well. We decided we would open our own company and move to Florida. We started out strong, but when the economy dried up so did our business. We have made some significant changes and are surviving the transition. However, in the process, our relationship has suffered some as well.

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Dear Mark,

My boyfriend and I have been together for 17 years. We met in Washington DC where we were both working corporate jobs. We spent 15 years in the city and were very happy together. We were both living “the life” and had many friends and were involved in many activities. About two years ago, my boyfriend’s job was coming to an end and we both decided we wanted to make a change in our lives. We had always been interested in design and had taken jobs on the side in the city that had gone very well. We decided we would open our own company and move to Florida. We started out strong, but when the economy dried up so did our business. We have made some significant changes and are surviving the transition. However, in the process, our relationship has suffered some as well.

Traditionally, we had taken specific roles in our business and in our relationship. These roles have changed over the past two years. I was always the one in control of the business aspect while my boyfriend has been more on the creative end. Now that we are both working full time together and having to make joint decisions, we have ended up getting in fights over who does what. This has leaked into our home lives as well.

I find myself getting irritated with him a lot. We have gotten into a few arguments and I have found myself blowing up at him. He gets angry at me and then we both shut down. Sometimes we walk around the house not saying a word to each other. We had always been very social and now I find myself not wanting to go out. I would prefer to stay home and cook dinner in. He still wants to go out. I have let him, but then get resentful. How do I fix this? I want him to have a good time, but find myself getting resentful and not saying anything to him fearing we’ll get into another argument.

Signed,

David, Palm Beach

Dear David,

Longterm relationships can take work. Over the years, as our lives change, our relationships change as well. What worked before may no longer work today. In order to stay connected to each other you have to find a way to talk about the inevitable frustrations that come up. When you have tried in the past, you find yourselves getting mad at each other. It’s time to try a new kind of conversation. Instead of getting upset and holding it in, try talking to him about your feelings. Not about what he’s doing, but about when he does what he does, how it makes you feel. It’s not necessarily his actions, it’s how his actions affect you. And, conversely, how your actions affect him. It’s the difference between a “reactive” relationship and a “proactive” relationship.

Instead of saying “I don’t like it when you go out”, try “when you go out without me I feel lonely and I’m worried that our connection is fading”. This is the truth. If you can engage him in your feelings rather than react with your anger, you may see some progress. Compromise is key but you can only get there if you take your reactions off the table. In relationship theory, it’s called the “dialogue”. You tell your boyfriend you’re having a feeling you would like to talk with him about. You acknowledge that you have gotten angry in the past and you are aware that it has caused problems between you in the past. You say you would like for him to “hear” you and you offer up the opportunity to “hear” him as well. A good book to explain this process is called “Getting the Love You Want” by Harville Hendrix. This book deconstructs how to begin the dialogue and shows you ways to manage this new type of dialogue. A good couples therapist could help you begin to practice this new way of communicating with each other when a conflict arises. Good Luck.

Sincerely,

Mark Rutherford LCSW

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