Mate Makeovers

It's tempting to change what you hate in your mate. But can you? And should you?
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Better or Worse

It seems paradoxical. You fell in love with this guy, and now you want to change him? When someone asks us women to change, we're well-trained to say, "I just want to be myself!" Yet we get flooded with righteous, Queer Eye joy when we toss out those ratty boxer shorts and pack away his collection of wrestling figurines. When is it okay to change a nasty habit, and when should we exercise tolerance and patience, remembering our vow of "for better or worse?"

Every couple's got gripes. "I hate the way he clams up around my friends," says Celine, 30, from San Francisco, due to be married in May. "If he doesn't like them, he can't step up to the plate and make small talk. It's so rude. What if I did the same to all his boring friends?"

Some issues hit the home front harder. "My guy lets loose with the gas and then just goes on with his activities, as if I have selective deafness and didn't just hear that percussive blast," says Nina, 34, from Cincinnati, just married to Mark. "And if I make a fuss, he just laughs. I don't want this level of comfort."

"I don't know where he picked up this hillbilly habit, but my husband chews tobacco," says Carrie, 36, from Morristown, New Jersey, wedded to Michael for almost 10 years. "We each agreed to give up one bad habit at the other's request, and that was the one I chose. The other day, I walked into his office and caught him, mid-spit. Then again, I'd just sneaked a cigarette, so I had to be at least a little understanding."

So when do you accept your husband's foibles, and when should you step up and make a fuss? "There are two factors that indicate a real problem: intensity and longevity," says Tim Ursiny, PhD, author of The Coward's Guide to Conflict (Sourcebooks, 2003). "Does it only bother you on a bad day? Does it really only bug you a little? If either of those is true, there's no need to discuss it. But if your annoyance has a shelf-life, it may be a block to your intimacy."

In other words, if there's something you can't bring up -- or that causes a fight when you do bring it up -- it's a symptom of a larger problem in the relationship. The way you approach minor irritants usually mirrors the way you'd approach major ones. "If you can't get through an 'I-need-this' talk without fighting, folding, or fleeing, it's a sign you've got major relationship issues," says JacLynn Morris, coauthor (with Paul Fair, PhD) of I'm Right. You're Wrong. Now What? (Sourcebooks, 2004). "The trick is to approach the situation in a way that'll bring results -- to get what you really need, rather than just insisting you're right."

Continued on page 2:  A Little Finesse


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