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Posted on Mon, Jan 16, 2012 : 5 a.m.

How should partners discuss changing behavior of the other?

By Carolyn Hax

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

When is it OK to ask a partner to change a behavior to make you happy, and when does it cross a line? My partner and I are discussing this honestly and caringly because we have some differences in how we prefer to be treated, and while we both want to make each other happy, we aren't sure of the line between compromise and changing our "selves" (whatever that is!).

-- Communicating

As long as you're kind, straightforward and willing to treat the other's needs as equal to your own, then it's OK to ask a partner to treat you a certain way.

The partner can then say no, or try to accommodate you and see how that goes. Then either one of you can say it's not working and suggest something else.

There's no one formula to it, there's just seeing what you create together and how each of you feels as a result -- and taking care to avoid needless collateral damage. If one of you feels uncomfortable with the treatment you're either receiving or being asked to provide, then you just say so and move on to the next step.

Sometimes the next step is to try something a little different. Sometimes it's to accept that change isn't coming, and to make a concerted effort to find ways to like things the way they are. Sometimes the next step is to break up, because it would take an unrealistic (or unhealthy) amount of effort to make things work.

--0-- --0-- --0--

Dear Carolyn:

Help! I'm dating a great guy and I'm worried about sabotaging this 2-month-old relationship. He works with his ex (dated a year), and I can't seem to shake concerns they'll get back together. I dissect our dating until it pops up in conversation with him. He assures me that he likes me, that there isn't anyone else and that we're more than OK.

Asked and answered, so I don't want to dwell on my insecurity. How can I just let go and enjoy this amazing guy?

-- Anonymous

You can't control whether he reunites with his ex, so that's not a productive thing to dwell on. Instead, try steering your thoughts to what you would do if they did rekindle things.

Chances are, you'd have a stunned-sick-feeling phase, a crying-and-ice-cream phase, an I-hate-this-guy phase where you relive all the chances you gave him to admit he still loved his ex, and a phase where you decide you're sick of being sick about a guy you dated for a matter of months.

Then you start noticing it doesn't hurt as much, and you even periodically forget to think about him. You'll even get your laugh back.

In other words, if you're in a healthy emotional state, then you'll take a hit but bounce back. So, is that really something worth fearing at the cost of your enjoyment of now?

If you're not in a healthy state -- if rejection involves indefinite pain and self-doubt -- then respect your dread, but not by fretting about the status of your relationship. Instead, use the dread as motivation to attend to your own emotional health, starting with these questions: Why the need for any new relationship to stick? And, how can you fulfill that need yourself?

Email Carolyn at tellme(at), follow her on Facebook at or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at

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