Dear Harriette: My husband is hypercritical of everything I do. I normally cook for three people, because that’s what makes up our household. We recently had a guest to stay with us for a few days, so I had to cook for four. One day I cooked a little bit too much spinach, and you would have thought I had committed a crime. He criticized me in front of everyone for getting the portions wrong and for wasting food. When I asked him if he liked his dinner, he accused me of being too sensitive and of always making everything about me. I wanted to throw the spinach in his face. Why couldn’t he be thankful that I cooked a meal that everyone enjoyed and that we didn’t run out? I had one extra helping of food, and he nearly bit my head off. How can I stop such insulting behavior from him? — Enough Already
Dear Enough Already: Stop engaging him when he is in a mood like this. It will be hard for him to keep going if you don’t respond. Your husband may be worried about being wasteful or about saving money. He may also be mad at you about something completely unrelated. Don’t get caught up in whatever it is.
If possible, stand up and walk away when he goes in on you in hypercritical ways that seem out of proportion to the moment. Let things cool down and then reconnect. Beyond that, decide if you have the stomach to take his insults. You should weigh how frequent and egregious they are to decide what you can handle. Consider therapy as a way to get to the bottom of why he is behaving this way.
Dear Harriette: I learned from an old friend from my hometown that my high school boyfriend still holds a flame for me. We dated 40 years ago; I have definitely moved on. I have a family — a husband and children.
I am planning on visiting home this summer, and I want to get together with old friends. I thought to invite him, but I don’t want to stir up old emotions. How should I handle this? He is a nice guy who treated me well, but that was a thousand years ago. How do I talk to him now? — Past Love
Dear Past Love: If you are willing and able to do this, it would be kind to have coffee with him independent of the other friends. Check in with him to see how he’s doing. Find out about his life. Let him know how grateful you are for the friendship you two had when you were young, and tell him about your life today. Make it clear that you are happy and content.If he seems calm and rational, invite him to your group gathering. Just make sure your husband knows who this man is and what your history is so that there are no surprises.
Dear Harriette: Is working for free ethical? I struggle with this topic with both family and friends who have their own views about it. But the overall consensus would be that those days are over, and whatever skills a person has should be compensated in some way. I do have some people who say the opposite and believe that working for free is crucial in proving one’s self and gaining necessary knowledge. What are your thoughts about both arguments? — Working for Free
Dear Working for Free: This is a hot-button topic that has no easy answer. I certainly believe that people deserve to be paid for their service. I can also tell you from firsthand experience that the reason I got my first job in New York City as a magazine editor is because I had created two unpaid internships for myself when I was in Washington, D.C., where I was able to get my work published and prove to a potential employer that I could do the job that I really wanted.
Because of my own experience, I have always had interns. Typically, they start off unpaid, but often get high school or college credit. Others I have given a chance when no one else would. Many go on to be hired at my company. I have helped to launch dozens of careers in this way. I’m just one example.
On the flip side, if a company can afford to mentor people and pay them from the start, I believe they should do it. Compensation comes in many forms — from dollars to experience to connections to academic credit.
Dear Harriette: I have gained a lot of weight, and I feel self-conscious about my body.
I have been in a relationship for almost a year now with a guy I really like. He is respectfully romantic, so he hasn’t pushed me to do anything, but I know he wants to be intimate. I do, too. I just feel like he will reject me if he sees my body in this state. I always dress nice when I am with him, so I make myself look as good as possible. But the very idea of taking off my clothes makes me so nervous.
I think I could be overreacting a bit, but I can’t seem to help myself. My boyfriend is overweight, too, but he seems perfectly comfortable in his skin. I am not. How can I relax? — Too Fat for Intimacy
Dear Too Fat for Intimacy: Since your boyfriend is being so thoughtful and patient, he probably is willing to do a little talking, too. Open up to him. You don’t have to talk about your physical insecurities directly, but you can say that you are shy about intimacy. You can tell him how much you like him and that you want to explore that side of your relationship, but you are a little nervous. This may open the door for further discussion about what the two of you want in life long-term, what you appreciate about each other and what makes you nervous.
If you feel up to it, you can admit that you feel apprehensive about intimacy given that you aren’t the size you used to be. In all likelihood, this man will encourage you by telling you that your body size is not an issue for him. Why do I say that? Because he sees you, even though you have your clothes on! He knows that you are not thin. He already likes you for who you are. You now have to like yourself for who you are — even if you want to shed some pounds, too. Take a risk and let him love you.
Harriette Cole is a lifestylist and founder of DREAMLEAPERS, an initiative to help people access and activate their dreams. You can send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.