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Tell Me About It: Couple's crude humor no laughing matter

Question: My girlfriend and I have been dating for three years, two long-distance. Now we are back in the same place and living together.

Question: My girlfriend and I have been dating for three years, two long-distance. Now we are back in the same place and living together.

While my girlfriend and I were apart, we saw my brother and sister-in-law only at holidays. Now, however, we live nearby and see each other frequently, and the interactions are not as pleasant. My girlfriend is offended by my brother and sister-in-law's sense of humor. It can be coarse and grating, relying on shock value rather than wit for a laugh. As such, she doesn't want to be around them.

I feel defensive when she says that, and I am not sure how much of her feelings to communicate to my brother and sister-in-law. Should I be the emotional interlocutor? Should I suggest they talk it out? I don't want to insist on a relationship between them all that is negative, but I would hope they could get along, as I love my girlfriend and we hope to be married soon.

Answer: Wait a minute - you blew right past the most interesting part: how you feel.

That's the crux of it, because this isn't about them; if it were, they'd just avoid each other, boom, done. Instead, this is about what you need from your innermost circle - and "defensive" says you don't entirely agree with your girlfriend.

That, in turn, means you need to figure out what you're defending and why, and where both your sympathy and loyalty belong. Whatever you choose to do here, it's going to affect your relationship with one of the most important people in your life, which promises considerable pressure and a sense of loss. That's why it's so important to know your own mind before you attempt to navigate a conflict like this - to make the best choice for you, and to have the confidence to respond without lashing out.

To get there, please ask yourself: Do you object to this couple's humor, or do you find it as funny as they do? Or are you between those two positions somewhere, objectively aware that it's offensive, but fine with brushing it off?

And: Do you think family trumps rude humor, or vice versa? Or, again, do you fall somewhere in between, believing answers are case-by-case and contingent on both the depth of the family bonds and the lows hit by the jokes?

And: If one party or the other forced you to choose a side, would you?

It's almost impossible to take a clear stand, much less be at peace with it, when you yourself aren't sure of your priorities - and that has its own consequences. If you think your girlfriend is overreacting, for example, but defer to her anyway because you think you're supposed to or you fear losing her, you'll grow to resent her for complicating things with your brother. If you think she has a point, but you won't admit that to your brother's face - not wanting to be his next target - your visits with him will feel dishonest and forced.

Mixed feelings also help put the "recurring" into arguments with your partner, which can wear your affection away. And these are just examples.

So figure out where you stand. Then explain that to your girlfriend - plainly, just facts. Then say you'd like for the two of you to figure out an approach to the brother issue that gives each of you enough of what you need. Talk it, try it, tweak it, repeat till you see what works.

A life together would include dozens of adjustments like this, big and small; as hard as this one feels, it might be eye-opening for you both to go through this exercise now.

Question: A few years after our marriage, my spouse decided to become a vegetarian. I agree it is his choice, but I feel it is a big detriment to our marriage. There are restaurants we can't go to because they don't serve vegetarian food. I would love to have a real Thanksgiving with all the trimmings, but that is out. I love to cook, but mostly it is cooking for one, unless I want to go vegetarian.

So one of my pleasures has been taken from me. If I divorce him, it will still be single cooking, but I won't have to pretend I am part of a household. Do you think vegetarianism should be grounds for divorce?

Answer: Yes, if you can't enjoy his company unless you're grinding your jaws through a steak.

Facetious, maybe. But the void where your affection would be is so chilling. Imagine if he were asking whether he could stop pretending to care about you because you enjoy a good BLT. Imagine how you'd feel.

Meanwhile, decades have passed since vegetarian cookbooks entered the mainstream; it's hardly a life-force-depleting challenge to adapt your cooking for, what, one meal a day? Because you love him and your life together? If you don't love either, then, yes - that is grounds for divorce.

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