The Right Approach

Direct Answers - Column for the week of June 9, 2003

I grew up in a happy, loving, stable home. My fiance was not as lucky. He was beaten by his parents and shuttled from relative to relative. At age 11, his parents threw him out, and he had to live on the streets until his aunt rescued him. He is the youngest of four, with three older sisters.

For reasons I don't understand, he remains in almost daily contact with his family. Family gatherings typically turn into insult contests, even in public places. His sisters scream at each other, and typically one or more of them will tell me he is lazy and good for nothing.

Being an only child, I have no experience with siblings, but I'm pretty sure this is not normal behavior. His parents are nice to me, but I have difficulty wondering how they could treat their children as they did.

I don't want to be one of those women who makes him choose between his family or me, but I also don't want my own future children subjected to this kind of conduct. He is a wonderful, gentle, kind man, but I am not sure I can deal with his family for the rest of my life.


Margie, to me dealing with people who engage in over-the-top behavior is like housebreaking a puppy. You have to be absolutely patient, absolutely consistent, and absolutely firm. Tamara compares it to being a deep sea fisherman who must maintain a constant strain on the line in order to play a fish and tire it out.

Whatever comparison you make, it is out of the realm of sitting down, talking things over, and being reasonable. You must let your boyfriend's family know their behavior is unacceptable in your presence, and you must let them know that there are consequences if it continues.

For example, when insults and screaming occur, you could tell them if it doesn't stop, you will leave for the day. Then if it continues, go, even if it means walking out of a theater before the movie has started. Without your boyfriend's consistent support, there is little chance of success.

Very frankly, a good book on dog training is likely to be more useful to you than books on etiquette, understanding others, or negotiating differences. Difficult people may change, but you have to be very patient, very consistent, and very firm.


Custom Fit

I am a 37-year-old female, never married. I am intelligent, kind, and fun-loving. I am attractive enough that I spent most of my twenties modeling professionally. I think I would make a great partner for someone and a good mother as well.

Some of my well-meaning married friends say maybe I should just find Mr. Close Enough and go for it. The problem is I cannot be satisfied with close enough. I know, because I tried with some wonderful men who are great catches and want children, but frankly, I was bored to tears.

I don't want to appear arrogant, but some people on this planet are satisfied with minivans, soccer practice on Tuesdays, and a vague feeling something is missing from their life. I am not one of them. I don't want Mr. Perfect; I know he doesn't exist. But I do want Mr. Perfect for me.

Some women never marry. Perhaps I wasn't meant to be with someone special.


Natalie, it is not arrogant to know what you want. Some inner part of you is saying the fate of doing it wrong is worse than the fate of not knowing if it will happen. If you settle for close enough, you will resent what you settled for.

I ended up with a marriage that exceeds my greatest expectations by holding out for someone special. Perhaps another man would say of Tamara, "Gandhi couldn't get along with that woman!" But for me, she is absolutely perfect.


About The Author

Authors and columnists Wayne and Tamara Mitchell can be reached at

Send letters to: Direct Answers, PO Box 964, Springfield, MO 65801 or email:

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