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GETTING PERSONAL | TELL

Can't live with or without 'em

July 20, 2006|Teresa Strasser and JD Roberto | Special to The Times

IT'S about 10 minutes before the guests arrive for Thanksgiving dinner and someone has just thrown the remote control at someone else's head. It's not the worst fight ever -- probably wouldn't even make the highlight reel -- but from here on out, Sir Ben Kingsley and Dame Judi Dench have nothing on this evening's performances. The guests, unless they happen to check the remote control for fiber samples, will have no idea that this fight ever happened.

Your friends and family, thanks to the sudden acting chops that every couple acquires in times of need, see your union as blessed and serene, and you can't let them down.

Anyone who's ever been half of a "perfect couple" understands the power of Relationshame, the discomfort of knowing that even though you love each other, the union isn't as flawlessly joyous as it appears to be.

There are other, less toxic, forms of Relationshame in the realm of love and dating. Maybe you bring your new girlfriend out with your buddies and she inserts herself into the conversation to say, "Pink Floyd? I love his music!" You cringe, but you still take her home. One drop of doubt is dissolved in the bucket of her likable qualities. None of your friends bring it up and you go on letting her think Roger Waters is the guy who directed "Hairspray."

Maybe you keep it to yourself that the boyfriend who just moved in actively participates in nine Rotisserie baseball leagues, or once asked you to chip in for gas, or sleeps with a blue plastic mouth guard so he won't grind his teeth.

Still, the most intense form of Relationshame is the one you face together, when you just can't let anyone see that your bond sometimes feels as shattered as the remote.

In a sense, we're trained to be ashamed of our relationship troubles. In a culture where Monday is tattoos and vials of blood and Tuesday is divorce court and the cover of In Touch Weekly, we're programmed to recognize relationships in two states: blissful and over. The reality is that most partnerships exist in the no-man's land between the Pamela Anderson honeymoon and the Denise Richards divorce, the euphoric Tom Cruise couch jump and the soul-crushing Alec Baldwin custody battle.

TO be clear, we aren't saying it's wrong to put a happy face on an ugly situation, especially if it spares your loved ones from feeling like they are at a dinner party scripted by Edward Albee. However, let's learn to leave agonizing shame to the folks that created "The Simple Life" and embrace the truth that behind every perfect relationship are two imperfect people making mistakes and irritating each other now and again.

We readily accept the self-help axiom that "all relationships are hard work."

If a relationship really is work, some days you work harder than others. Some days, you call in sick, you knock off early, you roll your eyes during an endless meeting and consider keeping a flask of Scotch in your drawer. Some days, no matter how dreamy your gig, you end up exhausted and unfulfilled. Still, you don't pack up your desk because, overall, you know you're lucky to be there.

If a relationship takes effort -- and we all agree that it does -- we shouldn't Relationshame ourselves into sweeping the shrapnel of that effort beneath the couch. No matter how much love is in the air, occasionally a household object will be hurled through it.

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Teresa Strasser (teresastrasser.com) and JD Roberto (travelgeek.com) are not writing from experience. Their relationships are so perfect it would make you sick. Contact them at weekend@latimes.com.

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