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Welcome to Connie's Relationship-Advice Corner

With Valentine's Day mercifully behind us, we can get back to the day-to-day challenge of finding ways to increase our relationship satisfaction and avoid the pain of dissolution. There are many ways to go about this, but among the top three is an agreement with your partner to abide by "Tut's Yelling Rules." I call them "Tut's" because they are useful in situations when a simple shake of the head and a "tut, tut," uttered sotto voce and accompanied by an inner smile, won't suffice.

1. By far, the best strategy is to avoid yelling. Once you've allowed that part of the brain not given to rational thought to rear its reptilian self, you have failed. If you can learn to maintain your cool in all situations and successfully deflect the negative flow of energy emanating from your partner, you won't need the rest of the rules. But if you fall into the category of "mere mortal," there are times you will scream something you immediately wish you hadn't, or, worse, mindlessly engage in an ever-escalating exchange of nastiness.

2. Be sure you know WHAT you are yelling about. This isn't as easy as it seems. While most couples admit sex and money are their primary subjects of disagreement (especially after the initial lust glow has acquired a tarnished patina), it's smart to remember what appears obvious may mask layers of complexity. And as anyone with a functioning brain who's spent more than five minutes in this culture can tell you: Sex and money rank right up there with breathing and food in importance.

Added to the mix is power. So when you are exchanging verbal barbs in a squabble over finances or pouting (internalized yelling) because your partner has declared your polar bear sexual fantasy over the line, consider the possibility that the bigger issue is control. Who is "in charge" here? Who, to paraphrase an old James Brown song, has the power?

3. To make the murky maze of relationships even more perplexing is all the garbage we carry with us from our vulnerable days as children. When you find yourself in the midst of a yelling match--with no provocation on your part, of course--ask yourself, "Am I acting like his/her mother, father? Is s/he (unconsciously, we hope) trying to get me to be her/his parent?" Alas, these scenarios are all too common. But once you've recognized and acknowledged the dynamic, it should be easier to let go of your end of the rope, so to speak.

4. Humor is the most important salve any two people can apply to their bumbling efforts to make it through together. Agree that once tempers start to flare, you will set a timer for an agreed amount of time and simply stop arguing once it's sounded. The very act of setting the alarm is so silly, you just might stop right there.

5. Give up any ego-driven thoughts of "having the last word." There really is no "last word" until you are a cold, dead slab of flesh, at which point all your survivors will have left is memories. What kind of memories do you want to have; what kind do you want to leave behind?

6. If you've managed to not raise your voice, and your partner is still determined to entangle you in some non-productive yelling drama over whatever issue-of-the-moment is raising her/his blood pressure and threatening an apoplectic fit, exit the scene. Avoid any imperious sounding words to the effect of, "I see you are having trouble controlling your temper. I do not want to engage in any yelling match, so I am out of here." And never, NEVER say, "You really are an asshole, you know. I've managed to keep my cool, and you are getting more pissed by the moment. I'll be back when you are ready to be civil."

This type of exit strategy may appear to give you the so-called high ground, but all it really does is make you come off like a twit and could lead to your partner's escalating anger or brooding resentment.

Maybe the divorce rate and Valentine's Day excess are connected. We sing about love, make endless movies about love, spout idiotic sentences such as, "I love my (fill in the blank with some material possession)," while in the end, we really know very little about love.

And maybe, just maybe, love is an invention, a biological and historical accident subject to neurons firing at just the right moment. And instead of another silly love song, what we need to get us through is compassion and care informing all our relationships.

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