Mate Makeovers

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A Little Finesse

So how do you harness that trick -- pulling out of a hat the magic words and attitude that'll help you confront your guy's most harrowing habits with style and grace? Here are some sample scenarios to get you started. If your problem isn't on this list, you can just use the strategies and apply them to your situation. Unless it's that gas-passing one. That just seems to be hard-wired in the male gene.

Relationship Rut #1: He's Fat and Hates the Stairmaster

"I couldn't believe my comfy bear of a husband had turned into Jabba the Big-Butt," says Catherine, 43, a wife and mom in Los Angeles. "He just seemed to get bigger with each of my pregnancies, and ballooned up into a libido-crushing super-size. His dad died of heart failure; why can't I get him to see how he's endangering all of our happiness?"

Catherine figured out that her husband was depressed, and overeating was a symptom. He sought counseling and together they revamped their kitchen cabinets so his default foods were healthier choices. It was still a struggle to rein in his eating, though, with the result that their two little girls have a strange obsession with eating that makes Catherine feel like she's passed on food-neurosis to the next generation.

Still, Catherine's approach gets the thumbs-up from Ursiny. "The first thing you want to do is understand the person's perspective," he says. "Get in his mind-set by saying, 'I want to understand. You say you don't care about this weight-gain. What's going on?' It might be a test to see if you'll still love him when he's chubby. He might be afraid he can't lose the weight. Somewhere in the explanation, you must find out if there's a part that wants to change." Let your hubby know you've heard his concerns, and then, in true coaching style, use his reasons to convince him. "A good coach brings the desire out of the player, so he's self-motivated." Guys like to think it's THEIR idea to change; that way, they're the boss, not you.

Relationship Rut #2: He Dominates Your Social Interactions

"I've been with Robert for 20 years, and he always develops some sort of obsession," says Sarah, 44, a producer at a children's television program in Atlanta. "It used to be rockabilly music, but lately it's become right-wing politics. Since he works nights, he watches Fox News all day, and he's so well-informed that he can pick a fight and steamroll over any opponent if he wants to. And believe me, he wants to. It's to the point where I don't want to leave the house with him in tow."

In fact, Sarah has stopped going places with Robert. If she can't attend without him, she doesn't attend. The result? Their social life has suffered, but their pets are very, very well cared-for.

Fair wishes Sarah had used what he calls "the chunk-down theory." "If there are five things going on," he says, "you can't hit him with all of them. Pick one -- Is it his tone? Is it that he talks with his hands? -- and address that first." Once you've decided on the just-one-thing to change, you've got to offer up a suggestion for how to change. Saying "stop doing that" is only half the battle; you must follow it up with "...by doing this."

If that doesn't work, Fair recommends a backup plan "that doesn't require your partner to change, but leaves it open to the possibility that he might." Come up with a consequence: "If you start an argument the next time we're out, I'll nudge you with my knee. If you don't pick up on it, I'm going to ask you to lower your voice in front of our friends." Let him know, ahead of time, what each consequence will be, so that your not doing it is a reward, rather then your doing it being a punishment. "You want to alter his behavior without it being punishment," says Fair. "Once he sees you're serious, he should be able to participate not just in what the consequences should be, but in responding to your cues."

Continued on page 3:  More Annoying Habits

 

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