Q: My spouse has a few irritating habits that haven't bothered me too much in the past. But this past year, being shut up together so much... I'm about ready to snap. Help!
Jim: Nobody can change someone else -- the only person you can change is yourself. This doesn't mean that there are no limits to what's appropriate in a marriage: You don't need to accept abusive behavior, and physical aggression is NEVER to be tolerated.
But in the case of smaller, less harmful habits, it may be worth addressing the issue if you think the change would truly benefit everyone and put your relationship on a stronger footing. If you do, keep these things in mind:
-- Tackle the problem honestly. Say something like, "Honey, it bothers me when you burp at the table. It teaches the kids a bad habit and it's rude to guests."
-- Explain the benefit of the change. For example, "Meals will be more pleasant for all of us and you'll be a good example to our kids."
-- Don't demand change. Instead, request it. Your spouse will likely respond more favorably.
-- Don't attack your mate. Confront the problem; don't belittle the person.
-- Discuss ways to bring about the desired result. Change is hard for all of us. Work together to find ways to alter bad habits.
-- Encourage growth. Acknowledge positive progress and express appreciation for your mate's efforts.
-- Remember: Change takes time. Be patient and reinforce that you're in this together for the long haul.
-- Look for the good in your mate. Focus on your spouse's good habits, not just the irritating ones.
-- Seek to change the habit, not the person. Trying to alter your spouse's personality or temperament is a losing battle that will end in frustration for both of you.
Our staff counselors are happy to help you unpack these ideas; call 1-855-771-HELP (4357).
Q: I'm a woman in my early 20s just starting my career. I think I'm in love with a guy at work, but I'm not certain about his feelings for me. Do you have advice about romantic relationships between co-workers?
Dr. Greg Smalley, Vice President, Marriage & Family Formation: I'd suggest you tread carefully. Many office romances end in disaster. A typical scenario: A couple begins dating, the relationship doesn't work out and they break up. If there are hard feelings, the working environment can become a nightmare -- not only for the ex-couple but also co-workers who may feel pressured to choose sides. That's why some companies have "non-fraternization" policies.
On the other hand, some office romances work out fine, especially when they involve two mature and thoughtful individuals. Generally speaking, it's inadvisable to date a supervisor or a subordinate. The best case is when two people work in separate departments; if the relationship sours, there's not the awkwardness of interacting with each other every day.
I would be wary of jumping to conclusions. Don't read too much into the fact that you've had some good conversations with this guy or feel a sense of chemistry. Guard your heart and avoid building up a romantic fantasy in your mind. You'll know soon enough if his feelings for you are "more than friendly." Use the time to get to know him before allowing your emotions to run away with you. Watch him on the job; get input from people who have known him for a while. See how he interacts with fellow employees -- especially other women. Then ask yourself if he displays the character that you want in a dating and marriage partner.
Finally, I'd encourage you to grab a copy of a great book, The Dating Manifesto, written by my colleague Lisa Anderson of the excellent website Boundless.org.
Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus.
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