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ASK AMY

‘Barking’ episodes make partner flee

Q. I recently reconnected with “Mara” after an on-again/off-again love affair that spans many ups and a few downs over 20 years.

As traveling professionals, we had a worldwide torrid affair for years. We were both single parents raising children, so we were not together consistently. We feel very lucky to have had these experiences. Our kids are now adults and doing well.

Mara and I recently reunited. We are deeply in love and quite compatible, but I am having an unusual problem. She has periods where she is “barking” (as she puts it). She is disagreeable and argumentative to the point where communication shuts down.

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The thing is, she seems to be operating from a place of anger. I am not. She becomes defensive and illogical when I ask if something is bothering her. After our “timeout,” she often apologizes, but offers no explanation. I don’t really press the matter.

Because of the pandemic, we are still largely on top of each other 24/7. A few solo car rides do help but given the increasing frequency of the “barking” and subsequent recovery period for her (uncomfortable time for me), I am starting to get concerned.

Though not the only trigger, when I have a drink after work or on the weekend, she tends to “bark.” However, she is a social drinker herself.

I don’t know anything in her history related to substance abuse, and I have asked her about this specific point, but I get nothing in return. It is confusing. Do you have any theories?

BARKED AT, NOT BITTEN

A. Running away is a natural response to loud “barking.” You are choosing “flight” over “fight,” and while that might be the wisest choice in the moment, you and “Mara” aren’t dealing with her behavior or what might be causing it.

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Because you mention your drinking as one trigger, you could start there. Do you behave differently after you’ve had a drink? Do you become loud, sarcastic, or sleepy? Did she have another partner (or a parent) who had a drinking problem? Might her own alcohol use be triggering her anger? You two should talk about your mutual alcohol use.

Is she going through menopause? This monumental hormonal shift can cause extreme behavioral changes. She should see her doctor. Does she signal her stress before an eruption? If so, perhaps she — and not you — could go for a solo drive to cool down.

I highly recommend the book “10 Lessons to Transform Your Marriage,” by marriage researchers John Gottman and Julie Schwartz Gottman (2007, Harmony). Read it together. Quick lessons from this important book: Treat your partner as a friend. (Gently!) Don’t push your problems aside. Talk about your feelings.

Try to look beyond her anger (for now) and key into her longing. What does she want? What do you want?


Q. I hate my husband of 21 years. I don’t want to be married to him anymore, but I am fearful of what the future holds if I leave.

I am 56 years old, I do not make a lot of money, nor do I have much in retirement savings. My three children are all over 18 (two still live at home).

I am also afraid that if I don’t leave, I will never be able to be my true self and live in peace.

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What should I do? Should I stay for financial security, or leave with the hope of being happy?

UNHAPPY

A. If you hate your husband, with no hopes of reconciling the relationship, then you should leave.

You don’t seem to have done any research regarding how divorce would affect your financial situation. You should research the laws in your state and speak with a lawyer. Dividing your marital assets might provide you with a small nest egg.

You should also consider the impact divorce would have on your other relationships in order to prepare yourself for some emotional instability.

You have at least 10 years of earning power left before retirement. Your financial planning should include a realistic budget for living a pared-down life.


Q. Thank you so much for promoting the concept of “radical acceptance” in response to the question from “Secret Mean Girl,” who had moved home during the pandemic and was extremely judgmental about her family members’ obesity and unhealthy choices.

RADICALLY ACCEPTED

A. I gave “Secret Mean Girl” a lot of credit for admitting to her own unhealthy thought patterns.

Amy Dickinson can be reached at askamy@amydickinson.com.