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Is he poking fun or bullying?

Dear Carolyn: I've just had a conversation with my husband, asking him not to make fun of me when I forget something. His reply was: "Poking fun is the basis of all humor. Comedians do it all the time." He said that's his sense of humor, and I should get used to it. What do you think?

-- Teased Spouse

A: Comedians poke fun all the time, yes, but so do bullies.

The purpose of comedy is to amuse and enlighten; the purpose of bullying is to gain power through fear. Bullies find your weak spots and press until you fall in line.

Comedians poke fun at themselves as well as others. Bullies pick only on others, and only on people they regard as unlikely to strike back.

So how is your husband usually -- amusing, or cruel?

If he's not typically like this, then it's possible you take yourself too seriously, and he's tired of walking on eggshells around you. That doesn't excuse his "get used to it," which is always hackle-raising and always inexcusable -- but it would certainly earn him another chance to speak honestly.

Give him one by making your hurt feelings clear: "I don't feel amused by your jokes at my expense, I just feel bad. Is there some reason you want to keep making them?"

People of integrity won't dismiss a loved one's pain, or defend their right to cause it. They'll either change their behavior, or express regret for an impasse, or spell out their side of the story in hopes of clearing up misunderstandings.

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Enough with the nagging

Dear Carolyn: My boyfriend and I have known each other for nine years, and been together for six. I love him very much; we live together and are, for the most part, happy. The problem is, I can't stop nagging him. He's a great guy. He works hard, helps around the house and is all-around good to me.

So why can't I stop griping at him? If I come home and he's cleaned the kitchen, I'll ask why the bathroom wasn't done. I don't do this with anyone else. How can I change my negative attitude?

-- Naggy McGee

A: So often we choose to be safely and predictably unhappy rather than risk an outcome we can't predict.

Fault-finding is a safe expression of unhappiness. It's not "I have doubts about you" -- so unpredictable, so scary -- it's just "Why didn't you clean the bathroom?" It's pushing someone arm's length away, and hoping momentum handles the rest.

Not knowing more, I can't say what the source of your discontent is. But I imagine you can. Please admit it, to yourself and then to him, if it's something he needs to hear.

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