Dear Prudence

Hubby Has a Head Full of Steam

Prudie advises a woman whose laid-off mate has begun to verbally abuse her.

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Dear Prudie,
My husband was recently laid off from his job and is trying to start his own company from home. I work from home half the week, so we now see each other much more frequently. The close quarters have not been good for us. Little things that never bothered him before now cause him to nag (I don’t empty the dishwasher right away, or the laundry may pile up), which leads to blowout fights. Worst of all, he has become increasingly verbally abusive when we fight, insulting my intelligence, punching walls, and throwing things (although not at me). I’m starting to feel like a martyr because I have to apologize for every little transgression. When I told him this, he said I can’t fault him for my faults. We just got married last month, and I’m not considering divorce, but I can’t keep living like this. I understand he has a lot of stress, but my work is starting to suffer because of the constant pressure I am under from him. What can I do to make this situation better?

—Prisoner in Own Home

Dear Prisoner,
Your husband isn’t trying to launch a movie production company called “Mel Gibson Pictures,” is he? The stress of losing one’s job, having no income, and trying to start a (likely unsuccessful) business is getting to a lot of Americans. Grinding fear can make even the mellowest person short-tempered. However, there’s being snappish (and hopefully apologetic) and there’s abuse, and your husband has crossed that line. There is no excuse for the kind of assault he is inflicting on you. (One question: Why can’t Mr. Neatnik unload the dishwasher and fold the laundry himself?) He sounds potentially dangerous, and just an arm adjustment away from punching your jaw instead of the wall. Stop apologizing and start packing. You may even need someone to accompany you when you get your things and tell him you will no longer live in fear in your own home. Explain that if he doesn’t start going to therapy or attending some kind of support group—have him look at the rageaholic Web site (Mel Gibson might be attending court-ordered sessions soon!)—you will start proceedings to dissolve your marriage. Nice line he spewed about not faulting him for your faults. Now he can contemplate how it’s his fault that your marriage is about to come apart.


Dear Prudence: Husband May Cheat Again

Dear Prudie,
I’m in my mid-20s and recently engaged to a wonderful man. When I was in college, I intentionally overdosed. Luckily, I was found before anything horrible happened, but my goal was suicide. I was having a hard time adjusting to going away to school and was involved in a very unhealthy relationship. Afterward, I went to counseling and sorted myself out. Before the attempt, I would casually think about suicide as an easy way out if things ever got too bad. Since then, I’ve come to realize I want to stick around no matter what life throws at me. My fiance doesn’t know about any of this. I can’t help but be worried that if he finds out, it might change things. We’re very honest with each other, but I don’t want this to negatively influence his perception of me. Since it happened so long ago and I am truly recovered, is this something he should know about?


Dear Conflicted,
It’s not an honest relationship if you’re honest only about things that are comfortable for the other person to hear. I don’t think people owe each other an accounting of every detail of their pasts, but they do need to tell each other about material facts that, yes, might change their perception of each other. The “I have something I need to tell you” conversation always comes with a risk that the other person says, “If I’d known that, I wouldn’t be in this relationship.” But that seems very unlikely to happen in this case; if it does, he wasn’t someone you could rely on, anyway. Your story is an inspiring one, and more likely your fiance will be moved by the depth of your pain and reassured by how far you have come—after all, he knows the life-embracing person you are today. Give him the gift of trusting him enough to let him know about your darkest times. And consider what a violation it would feel like to him to learn about this from someone who unwittingly made a reference to it, assuming it would be something he had to have known.


Dear Prudence:
I am having a hard time concentrating at work. The front of my cubicle has become a popular gathering spot in my office. Today, three colleagues were standing there chatting away while one was unconsciously tapping my desk lamp. I have a job that requires me to really focus on what I am doing. Sometimes I wear headphones to signal that I don’t want to be disturbed. I avoid eye contact, because I have come to realize that this is an open invitation to stop and chat. But nothing seems to work. This afternoon, in frustration, I took my work to a meeting room. In less than 10 minutes my co-workers were peeking in, asking what I was doing in there. Unfortunately, one of the biggest offenders is my own supervisor. I worry that if I bring this up, I will just look grumpy. What should I do?

—Constantly Distracted

Dear Constantly,
You have some kind of nerve to try to use your work to put a crimp in people’s socializing. Actually, I frequently hear from people who are trying to forge on and discharge their duties despite colleagues who think the workplace is a good venue for displaying their taste in music, running a wedding-planning service, or demonstrating all the wondrous noises that can emanate from the human body. First of all, can you move cubicles? Maybe someone stuck in a quiet corner would love to be closer to the action, and you can switch places. Next, while running the risk of being the office grouch, tell people flat out that you need a kind of sensory deprivation environment in order to have the intense focus your work requires. Explaining this will be better than appearing socially weird by avoiding eye contact. If people are chattering and breaking your concentration, go ahead and say, with as much good humor as you can muster, “I hate to break this up, but can you take the conversation elsewhere, because I don’t want to miss my deadline. Thanks!” It’s unfortunate your boss is one of the offenders, but surely she will appreciate that you want to make her look good by getting your work done well and on time.


Dear Prudence,
I live in the suburbs of a very green city. I turn off the lights when I leave the room, don’t leave the water running when I brush my teeth, and so on. However, I do use air conditioning at this time of year, because it’s usually around 90 degrees during the summer. I try to limit how much I use the AC, though. This wouldn’t be a problem if not for my very close, very environmentally concerned friend, who absolutely despises air conditioning. I don’t keep it on during her visits, but she knows that I use it. When she comes over, which is about once a week or so, she always manages to lecture me about how I’m killing the environment because of my own selfish wants. I’ve tried to get her to see my reasons for using the AC, but she won’t listen. I simply don’t know how to deal with her.


Dear Fuming,
Al Gore has a mansion in Tennessee among his widespread real estate holdings. Columnist Thomas Friedman, who writes frequently about the need to curb our environmentally wasteful ways, lives in an 11,000-square-foot house outside Washington, D.C. I know neither man, yet I am confident that as they slip into their cool beds in July, they have to secretly acknowledge that air conditioning is an invention that makes living in the summer tolerable. Your friend is an eco-bore. I understand that she makes you hot under the collar, but I don’t see any reason why you should be stifling in your own home, whether or not she’s visiting. If she starts in again on her air conditioning lecture, tell her you’ve already heard it, and if you two can’t talk about something else, she should visit when you, and the weather, have cooled off.


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