Habits you can reform – and ones you can’t

Habits you can reform — and ones you can’t

If he plays music too loudly, let it go. But you could rehab other unsavory behaviors.

For the most part, men treat manners like women treat football teams — we don’t know much about them and we’re not pressed to learn. But if your guy’s less than couth, it doesn’t mean you’re stuck with an ape. Men can change — just not too much at once. If your guy’s social skills need a minor touch-up, here’s how to handle it. But if his offensive behavior always puts you in a tight situation, trade him in before he takes you down with him.

Forgive and forget

These types of blunders are more about personal taste than bad manners, so try to shrug them off instead of nagging to get your way:

You don’t like how he dresses.
He plays music too loudly in the car.
He eats too quickly/noisily/unhealthily.
He doesn’t turn down the TV when you get a phone call.
You disagree on how much to tip.

There are ways to change his behavior, like offering him a trade of something he wants in exchange for minding his manners. “My boyfriend refused to tip more than 15 percent,” says Mary Stevens from Oak Bluffs, MA. “So we made a pact. If I think the tip should be bigger, he puts in extra cash, and I have to give him a back rub.” But bargaining isn’t necessary. Sure, you could struggle to change the idiosyncrasies that make your man an individual, but he may resent you for it later.

So unless his tweaks cause major conflicts (like if they affect your values, relationships with others, or well-being), let them ride. “When you have to do favors to make a point, you’re just making the best out of being bribed,” says advice columnist Harriette Cole, co-host of “Pulse” on XM Satellite Radio’s Take Five channel and author of Choosing Truth: Living an Authentic Life. “You can live with a 15 percent tip.”

Fix him up by toning him down

By any definition, certain behaviors are impolite, so if your guy’s an offender, you can help him become appropriate. Some specific examples of when you can indeed jump in:

He curses too much.
His table manners are suspect.
He makes jokes about your relationship to your friends.
He makes no effort not to control his bodily sounds in public.

These types of behaviors happen because he doesn’t know any better. In situations like these it’s not what you say, but how you say it. Be honest. If your man is a keeper, he won’t object to a little refining. “Give him a gentle course in manners so he can flow with you wherever you go,” says Cole. Some specifics: Don’t embarrass him by calling him out in front of people. Wait for a moment when you are alone together or can at least take him aside someplace where others can’t see or hear you. It’s not what you say but how you say it.

Be honest but use a gentle, non-patronizing tone. A line that never fails is, “Darling, please listen to me for a second. I want to help you see something you may not see. I think you may not have realized how it came across tonight when you were (cursing about your boss/joking about our love life/burping a lot). I think it gave people the wrong impression about you…” Now that you’ve told him what went wrong, he can do damage control — or you two can figure out how to fix it together. If you think he owes someone an apology, don’t be afraid to tell him so. “If he loves you, he should have noticed you don’t talk or behave a certain way, and if you’re meant to be, he’ll take the chance to redeem himself,” promises Cole.

Abandonship

Forget trying to make a silk purse out of this sow’s ear. Certain behaviors are indicative of deeper problems that won’t be solved by a simple conversation:

He’s rude to people he doesn’t know.
He always has to be right.
He’s immature for his age.
He belittles you in front of people.
He’s jealous of your friendships.

This bum from Bumsville is the reason fathers are overprotective. It may seem romantic to date a bad boy who needs fixin’, but this character is broke beyond repair. “I dated a guy who didn’t like my friends, especially the guys,” says Sarah Phillips, 27 from San Francisco, CA. “He couldn’t give me a concrete reason why he didn’t like them, so I dumped him rather than giving up my friends.”

It’s tempting to stick with a bad boy, but don’t delude yourself, he’s not going to change. And possessive or disrespectful behaviors are often the first signs that a guy will become emotionally and even physically abusive. Bottom line: You’re too good for him. “It doesn’t matter how cute — or generous — he is, if he doesn’t have a clue about how to talk to you with respect, he doesn’t deserve a second chance,” says Cole. “He is the way he is. Jump ship before you’re locked in.”