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Claws And Effect

Since day one, my boyfriend has been nothing but wonderful, but I treat him badly for no (apparent) reason. Sometimes when we're together I'll suddenly become irritable and moody, and snap at him. I always feel bad, and apologize afterward, but I know if I keep this up I'm going to lose him. What's wrong with me, and how can I stop being so difficult?

--Hothead And Bothered

Picture yourself biting your boyfriend’s head off. No, no...really biting it off, then needing to deal with the ensuing reattachment issues. There you are, going through the Yellow Pages, “Hello, do you do boyfriend head reattachment on Sundays?” Next, imagine if “hitting the ceiling” actually left a big security deposit-sucking hole over your head, not to mention a steel plate where your scalp used to be. And surely, you’d be a little less likely to “blow your stack” if it brought an army of indignant neighbors to your door: “Excuse us, but would that be YOUR stack scattered across every lawn and flower bed in the neighborhood?”

Back here in real life, anger is still colorless, odorless, and shapeless, and doesn’t leave so much as an incisor nick on the jugular -- and maybe that’s part of the problem. In the heat of the moment, it’s easy to forget that every cutting remark you let fly hacks a chunk out of your relationship. You might try to think of them as verbal vermin -- rats you’re releasing to scurry around inside the walls of your relationship and gnaw themselves into a stupor. Keep ‘em coming, and you’ll have little love left, but a lot of rats the size of golden retrievers.

There are people out there who never speak a harsh word to anyone. They’re dead. For almost everyone else, it’s a struggle. Take me, for example. To say I’m no Gandhi is something of an understatement, considering my habit of screaming “ENVIRONMENT-HOGGING VULGARIAN!” at strangers driving huge SUVs. Still, I wouldn’t say a cruel word to my boyfriend. In fact, I made a pact with myself never to do it. Number one, because he doesn’t deserve it. But also, because you get the relationship you create. If you’d like to have a loving one, just find a good guy, then be good to him. This is a three-part process: 1. Be sweet to him, 2. Don’t gain 300 pounds, and 3. Keep the bedroom open for business. Yes, it’s that simple. The bottom line? If you love somebody, make it your policy never to speak or act like you’ve forgotten that -- not even while informing him that the “hand lotion sample” he just used up was actually an entire $300 jar of eye cream made from the spit of now-extinct Tibetan sheep.

Supposedly, “you catch more flies with honey.” Actually, you catch more flies with a fly swatter. Honey is messy, and hard to throw. But, once you tire of chasing insects, and get in the mood to persuade the person you love to bend to your will, you should find humor an extremely effective tool. Take persuading me, for example. I have been known to linger a little in getting ready -- a process which sometimes involves a lot of getting re-ready (i.e., burning my outfit and starting over). If my boyfriend reacted by griping that I was making us late, I might be tempted to gripe back that rushing me generally doesn’t help me change clothes 40 times any faster. He instead talks to my dog: “Lucy, it’s so sad that all the food will be gone when we get to the restaurant,” which makes me laugh so hard I forget that I meant to go out and mine for coal tar to make my own mascara to wear to dinner.

Pardon me, but isn’t that an 800-pound gorilla sitting on your life? There’s some big, hairy problem pressing on you, but you’d rather not look. Instead, you wait until you feel particularly squeezed, then you lash out at your boyfriend -- leaving the beast to sit around filing its nails and laughing. Well, it’s time to do a little personal zookeeping. Peer into your life, figure out what’s really weighing on you, then take steps to have it removed. For pointers, turn to “How To Control Your Anger Before It Controls You,” by Albert Ellis, Ph.D.

Let your boyfriend know how sorry you are, and how you plan to mend your wrathful ways. Should you relapse at first, remind yourself that you’re human, and resolve to do better in the immediate future. Show your boyfriend that you’re sincere in your willingness to change, and even if you “explode with rage” and “have a cow” or two, there’s a very good chance he’ll stick around to help you pick your left eyebrow off the lampshade and make milkshakes.


Copyright ©2003, Amy Alkon, from her syndicated column, "The Advice Goddess," which appears in over 100 papers across the U.S. and Canada. All rights reserved.