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Carolyn Hax: Explain your need; don’t pose ultimatum

Dear Carolyn: I’ve been in a relationship for 10 years. We split up a year ago and I moved on, but he didn’t and wanted to try again. I did, too.

I think the time apart did worlds for us, but now I see an old problem creeping back in: We define our future differently. He wants to continue our two-city commute and stay together. I can only do that if I feel like I have two homes.

He has helped to shape ours here (new place, buying furniture together), but he won’t change anything at his. I feel like a visitor there and just know this will be a replay of why we parted.

I’ve tried everything but an ultimatum. It’s not my style nor do I think it’d be well-received. I’m out of ideas and falling out of love again. I do love him, but I love feeling like I’m home with him wherever we spend our time more. Thoughts? – Not So Sure Now

I never want to be the messenger of shouldas – useless things, usually – but this one’s glaring: Before you gave this relationship another shot, while you were still discussing it, was the time to draw this line.

It’s not impossible now, it’s just harder because you don’t have the natural, unspoken leverage afforded to you by the open question of whether you’d get back together. Now you have to spell out your terms, including the consequences of not getting what you want, and that does put you uncomfortably close to an ultimatum.

You still need to talk about it – it is a deal-breaker, right? – so take care to frame it not in terms of consequences to him (lobbing an ultimatum), but of consequences to you (articulating a need).

Start by taking responsibility: “I should have recognized how important this was to me before we got back together. I’ve helped leave one of our past problems unresolved.”

Then state the need: “I love you. I also love feeling like I’m at home. I still don’t feel at home at your place – there’s zero imprint from me.”

Then state the significance: “This is starting to affect my feelings for you.”

That’s it. The unspoken question you’re asking here is, “Will you do this because it matters to me?” where an ultimatum would ask, “Will you do this because I’m taking hostage something that matters to you?”

It’s not about the substance of what you’re asking; one half of a couple is always free to ask and the other half is always free to say no and both are free to decide how to handle the relationship based on the outcome of this exchange. What’s relevant is the difference between asking him to give to you, and threatening to take from him. The former stays on your side of the line, the latter crosses it.

Dear Carolyn: Is it ever permissible to comment on how nice a woman’s breasts look, especially when about 3/4 of them are exposed with low-cut dresses or bikini-type tops? (Single gals only.) – D.


Email Carolyn at, follow her on Facebook at carolyn.hax or chat with her online at 9 a.m. each Friday at www.washington


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