Sense & Sensitivity by Harriette Cole

Couple on the Mend Must Ignore Old Feelings

DEAR HARRIETTE: My husband and I have been going through tough times for a few years. We have been in counseling, and it seems like things are getting better. The particular issues that each of us identified as breaking points have been addressed pretty well. All in all, our life together looks much better than it did. Still, I am finding it difficult to let go of the old feelings. When stuff comes up, I get mad way too fast. And that sets off an argument. Same for him. We are still pretty testy. How can we move past the old stuff and savor the good that seems to be growing in our life? -- Crossroads, Detroit

DEAR CROSSROADS: Talk to your husband. Acknowledge what is going on. Thank him for working hard on the issues that you two thought were important to address in your marriage. Point out that you feel good about the effort that you have put in as well.

Next, bring up your current concern. Tell your husband that you want your marriage to be strong again and that you worry because you have noticed that the two of you revert back to old behaviors very quickly and that it feels like the hard work you have done is eroding. Ask your husband if you two can agree to stop that kneejerk behavior whenever you notice it. Further, suggest that you come up with a signal that either of you can use that indicates that it seems like you are going down that road.

Talk to your counselor about navigating this next step in your relationship's development. Request tools to help you establish healthy ways to move past old behaviors.

DEAR HARRIETTE: My siblings and I get along fairly well when we talk on the phone, but whenever we get together, things go south fast. I am not looking forward to our upcoming family reunion because inevitably something bad is going to happen. Last year my older sister started picking on me about the way I was dressed, exactly the way she used to do when we were kids. My brother got into a fistfight with my cousin because they were arguing over something stupid. I have no patience for any of that stuff. What can I do to avoid these conflicts without skipping the reunion altogether? -- Family Ties, Jackson, Miss.

DEAR FAMILY TIES: It can be hard to resist falling into old family patterns when you get together. It is possible to remain in the moment and to remember that you are an adult who is completely capable of making decisions independent of how others treat you.

You can go a step further and call a family meeting either before the reunion or as soon as everyone arrives and ask all who are gathered to make the choice to be respectful to each other and to pledge to have a good time.

If a family member goes down memory lane and starts bullying or otherwise egging someone on, step in and attempt to squash it. Remind folks that you are there to have a great time. To the extent that you can remember that you are an adult -- not a child back in your childhood home -- you will feel more empowered to stand up for yourself and stay calm and mature. It usually takes two to ignite a bad scene. Don't light the match.