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updated: 12/27/2010 5:01 PM

Steps to combat ugly language used as a weapon

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Q. I have noticed the word "bitch" being used far too often in TV, movies and real life. All of my friends around my age (25) have been called that name at some point, including me. I also dislike it when my husband uses phrases with that word in it. I have told him multiple times to not use that language around me. How do I get him to change?

J.

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A. Since "that language" is the problem, am I correct that you'd be OK with, "You're always nagging/henpecking/harping on/carping at/hounding/needling/badgering me"?

No matter what you say, no, I'm not correct.

The "B word" may be the second-ugliest tip on the spear, but the real problem is that your husband is using the weapon at all. If women are such pests, why on earth did he marry one? After all, our society has successfully dispensed with the no-ring-no-intercourse hurdle which is so often cited as women's undoing, but which I would argue was the opposite, sparing untold numbers of women the indignity of being wooed into marriage by men who wanted nothing more than a sexual parking permit. Which did no favors for men, either.

But I digress.

You can't "get him to change" unless he's willing to recognize that finger-pointing and stereotyping accomplish nothing but escalation and alienation. You can gauge his willingness, though, by changing your response to his rudeness.

Tell him that if there's something bothering him, if he believes you manipulate him through hints and punishment, if he'd rather you both agreed on chores and left each other alone to do them, or even, worst cases, if he's cheating and trying to push you away or just thinks you're the little woman and it's your job to wait on him, then please say it. If he has the courage to say where he really stands, then each of you can decide your next moves from there.

Explain to him that by digging up whines from the take-my-wife-please vintage i.e., by resorting to misogyny he doesn't just insult your marriage (and intelligence). He also assails your worth as a person and puts you on the defensive, neither of which is likely to make his home feel like his castle any time soon. He also cedes the high road, along with any genuine grounds for complaint he might have had.

Stereotypes aside, he might actually have legitimate grievances; before you speak up, you need to look inward. Are you constantly on his back about something, or quick to criticize, or more comfortable hinting than saying, or otherwise vague about your needs but unequivocal when he fails to meet them?

If you aren't nitpicky and he's still angry, or if you are (or he thinks you are) blind to your own failings, or if even broaching this leads to a fight, then you might be beyond do-it-yourself marriage repair. For that I suggest marriage counseling or classes try smartmarriages.com.

But if you can honestly say you're making things tough for him too, then you need to lead with a detailed apology. Then make your case that you feel hurt and defensive when he uses the "B word" or otherwise reduces you to a hostile stereotype, and believe you'd both benefit from putting down your dukes.

• E-mail Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at washingtonpost.com.

2010 The Washington Post

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