DEAR AMY: My wife has turned into a self-appointed quality inspector for everything our two kids and I say or do. She is quick to point out whatever she views as incorrect or inadequate with the things she hears or sees. Her extreme and constant negativity is taking a toll on our lives as it makes us feel bad and we no longer want to be around her. It starts with her complaining -- but then, after about a minute, it transforms into ridicule, personal verbal attack, and verbal hostility. Whenever I point out to her that she has transitioned from a specific complaint to dishing out a personal verbal attack, it only gets worse. We don't know how to get her to stop, so the kids usually leave the house to go visit their friends and I usually go outside and do yard work or take the dog for a walk. As we leave she usually ridicules us some more for not just sitting there and "taking it," while she spews her verbal venom at us. When she gets this way, it feels to me not just like a loveless marriage, but like a downright hateful one. How can I get her to stop this behavior?
StuckDEAR STUCK: Unfortunately, you cannot necessarily "get" your wife to stop verbally abusing the family. You can -- and should -- try to respond to her in a way that might inspire some very necessary change on her part.
During a calm moment, you should tell her that she is obviously very unhappy, but her way of expressing her dissatisfaction is not only unhelpful, but it is upsetting and alienating to you and your sons. Tell her, "When you go on the attack, the kids and I respond by basically trying to avoid you, but I don't want to do that. I want you to treat me with respect -- even if you're angry. As it is, our relationship is in trouble and our kids don't want to be home. We need to find another way to behave." Couples counseling could have a major impact on your whole family by coaching you both to communicate differently. She might be forced to confront her behavior if you (or she) recorded a typical encounter and played it back. If things don't improve -- please think about the long-term impact on you and the children; it might be best for her to leave the household.
DEAR AMY: Glancing over the obits page (hmmm, anyone I know?) -- I notice that at the bottom of a person's write-up, it will sometimes say "Memorials to the family." What does that mean? Are they asking for monetary contributions for the funeral expenses? Is the family having problems paying their loved one's bills? While I am used to requests for contributions for specific causes, asking for contributions otherwise seems rather greedy and/or ill-mannered. Please explain this to me.
DEAR MELINDA: I shared your question with my own resident "obit" expert, my daughter Emily Mason, who helps people to place death notices in newspapers for Tribune Publishing.
She answers: "One important thing to remember when reading obituaries: They are trying to convey as much information as they can in as few words as possible. Asking for memorials to the family usually means that the person died suddenly and the family is asking for help with the funeral expenses, or possibly they want to select a cause themselves at a later time. Whatever the reason, it's important to respect the family's wishes; they wouldn't say it in the obituary if they didn't think it was important."
DEAR AMY: I'm sure you've heard from other readers that you were fooled by a letter signed by "Devastated," who described a very specific domestic drama. Every detail in this letter proved to me that it was based on the movie "The Room."
DEAR FAN: Thank you (and others) for catching this. Yes, I was definitely pranked.
I stand by my advice to Devastated (Break up!), I just wish I had offered it to a real person in need -- or, failing that -- a more deserving fictional character.