Ask Amy

The Denver Post - - LIFE&CULTURE - by Amy Dickinson

Dear Amy: My wife and I are suc­cess­ful, hard­work­ing physi­cians in our late 50s. For many years we have had stress in our mar­riage that of­ten cen­ters around my ten­dency to fo­cus on per­ceived

“wrongs,” and what I be­lieve is her ten­dency to say things with hurtful in­tent.

Af­ter I saw a ther­a­pist, I worked harder to un­der­stand this, and our re­la­tion­ship has im­proved over the last year.

Un­til last night. We were watch­ing a tele­vi­sion show when a com­mer­cial came on. It fea­tured a hand­some man of about my age, stand­ing in front of a very nice is­land home. He in­vited the view­ers to en­joy fi­nan­cial in­de­pen­dence.

I men­tioned that I would like to join him on his is­land of wealth.

My wife said that she would like to run away with him (laugh­ing, of course). I did not share her laugh. I went up to bed.

Then I be­gan to fix­ate on her com­ment, and why she thought that was so funny. I think what made it more hurtful to me is that A: I have thin­ning hair, and B: I just worked for over two hours mak­ing din­ner for her be­cause she was work­ing late.

Later, I told her that her com­ment hurt my feel­ings. She replied, “But it was only a joke.” Well, of course, I knew she wasn’t go­ing to run off with this hand­some ac­tor, but I still won­der if this is how nor­mal, emo­tion­ally close cou­ples share hu­mor? — Up­set Hus­band

Dear Up­set: Many a mar­riage has been strained by failed “hu­mor.”

How­ever, let’s re-rack the evening in ques­tion: The “joke” started with you, say­ing that you wanted to join this man on his pri­vate is­land of wealth. Given your own ex­treme sen­si­tiv­ity, why would you make this sort of com­ment to your wife? By say­ing it, were you im­ply­ing that your wife has not done a good enough job of pro­vid­ing wealth to your fam­ily? (No, but she could take it this way if she wanted.)

In­stead, your wife sig­ni­fied that she got the joke by mak­ing a joke in re­turn. It’s called do­mes­tic com­edy, and in or­der to take the main stage, you need to not only make, but take jokes, mak­ing an ef­fort to re­spect the con­text.

You should recom­mit to your in­di­vid­ual ther­apy and be screened for anx­i­ety; you and your wife could also use some re­la­tion­ship coun­sel­ing, in or­der to learn ways to keep your com­mu­ni­ca­tion fam­ily-friendly.

Dear Amy: I’m wor­ried about the United States. In my 66 years on the planet, I’ve never seen this many an­gry, vi­o­lent and self­ish peo­ple mak­ing news. Some ad­vice, please, on some ba­sic ev­ery­day prac­tices by which we can learn to be bet­ter neigh­bors to each other. — Trou­bled

Dear Trou­bled: I have re­ceived many queries like yours, and of course I am per­son­ally also ex­pe­ri­enc­ing some of the tu­mult you de­scribe, in my life, as well as through com­ments and re­ac­tions to my ad­vice.

I am not quite as old as you are, but I can think of at least one other lengthy pe­riod dur­ing my life­time when this coun­try seemed to be com­bust­ing. Dur­ing my child­hood in the ’60s, riots, protests, vi­o­lence, ra­cial ten­sion, po­lit­i­cal cor­rup­tion and up­heaval, as well as the tragedy of the war in Viet­nam, were a daily and in­escapable back­drop to Amer­i­can life.

Then as now, the most we can do is also the very least we can do. And that is to be de­cent, re­spect­ful and kind to peo­ple; to pro­tect peo­ple in trou­ble and to lend a hand when some­one needs it.

If you are dis­tressed, it would help to dis­en­gage from so­cial me­dia, where ac­cu­sa­tions carom back and forth, “facts” are mis­stated, feel­ings are hurt and re­ac­tions are am­pli­fied.

Let your ac­tions re­flect the bet­ter an­gels of your na­ture, and you may in­spire oth­ers to do the same.

Dear Amy: Re­gard­ing the let­ter from “Baf­fled,” whose 10-year-old son was rude to his grand­mother: That mother needs to teach her son some man­ners and how to be­have and care for oth­ers. It’s some­thing that should have been done through the years, and I hope it’s not too late to start. The fault does not lie with the grand­mother. The fault is with the mother’s in­abil­ity to teach her son. — Dis­ap­pointed

Dear Dis­ap­pointed: Blam­ing the grand­mother for her own sen­si­tiv­ity to this rude­ness doesn’t help the child, ei­ther.

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