Dear Carolyn

Carolyn Hax is away. The following first appeared March 25, May 8 and May 22, 2005.

DEAR CAROLYN: Before we married, my husband and I enjoyed doing fun stuff together. Now, he just wants to watch TV or play video games. When he does leave the couch, it’s to play poker or basketball with his guy friends. He NEVER helps me around the house unless I’ve completely broken him down — asking nicely, nagging, cajoling, etc. By that point, I’m upset because I’ve had to expend so much energy for his minimal help, and he’s upset that he’s had to get off the couch.

I’ve also tried everything to get us to do recreational things together, but when I’ve managed to get him out the door, the results have been disastrous. He spoils the whole activity by pouting and fault-finding. These evenings always culminate in a huge fight!

I love my husband dearly and can’t imagine leaving him. However, I thought my marriage would be a best-friend partnership, and now I feel like live-in domestic help. We don’t have kids yet because I feel like my hubby’s already too much of one. I don’t think he’s depressed because he’s always pretty happy and up for going out with the guys.

What do I do? Get divorced? I’ve tried to talk to him about how I feel, but he thinks I’m being critical and gets defensive and angry.

— Confused

DEAR CONFUSED: Time to imagine leaving him.

It may be hard to accept that all these complicated feelings can point to so basic an answer, but, consider: Your other choice is to keep living exactly the way you’re now living. Disappointed, lonely, tired, angry, grudgingly kidless and scared.

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You do still love him but, if anything, that’s an argument for the drastic, not against it. Your hope is already dying; how long before the love dies? Then your choices get ugly: divorce or go numb.

And don’t let guilt paralyze you, either. Your choices are bad because, by refusing to put any effort into the marriage, your husband is leaving you no other choices. Fortunately, drastic action does have an entry level: marriage counseling. He seems the type to resist, but try.

If he refuses to go, the next level up is a trial separation. Again — do it now, while there’s still love and before you get so angry you forget why you’re trying so hard.

DEAR CAROLYN: I’ve been dating my boyfriend for about six months and it’s been fantastic. Around the same time — pure coincidence — I started talking to an ex whom I hadn’t spoken to in years (it ended badly). I have no desire to be part of his life again, but I like the idea of being on peaceful terms with somebody. My boyfriend is not pleased and has all but flat-out asked me to stop talking to him. If I let him make this call for me, will it continue to escalate from there?

— Detroit

DEAR DETROIT: You have an admirable, credible motive for keeping in touch. If he doesn’t believe it’s admirable, his values don’t line up with yours. If he doesn’t believe you, why is he even with you? The only response from him that passes the fantastic-relationship test is to trust you. Ask for it. Tell him it’s nonnegotiable — as is your being worthy of it.

DEAR CAROLYN: So I have this mysterious thing for blondes — I don’t get it myself. My current girlfriend is not a blonde. Is there any way to ask if she’d dye her hair, without getting slapped?

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I realize this is a huge favor, and I am willing to do whatever she asks in exchange.

— The Doghouse

DEAR THE DOGHOUSE: The way to ask is to admit you have a freak thing for blondes that you can’t explain, and to offer to do what she asks in exchange.

This isn’t to say you won’t still get slapped. You just won’t get slapped for being dishonest.

It also won’t be for asking a “favor.” You’re asking her to process that you want her to be less like herself and more like your imaginary girlfriend.

This is where I would normally single you out for a verbal slapping — except these “favors” are asked all the time in ways that pass as mainstream. Men who pressure their wives to become Mrs. Husband’s Name, women who pressure their men off quirky career paths onto more lucrative ones, parents who freeze out their kids for not toeing traditional lines — beneath the neat and varied upholstery lies the same frame: “I’d love you more if you changed yourself to fit my vision of how you should be.”

So before you put your paw in your mouth, make sure that’s really the way you feel about her.

And if it is, I would argue you owe it to her to speak up. She deserves to know how you see her, so she can choose how to see you.