DEAR CAROLYN: My husband has been friends since college with a woman who ended up marrying one of his fraternity brothers. Her husband is an alcoholic who will not go for help, even though all of his friends have urged him to. The wife will not go for counseling either.
Since her husband is emotionally and physically absent from their marriage, she calls on my husband for companionship and advice. The last time they stayed with us on a vacation, she and my husband went on long walks talking about lots of things, including her marital problems. She does not confide in me, even when encouraged to do so, and I don’t like inviting myself on walks.
I have talked about my unhappiness with my husband, and he has apologized, explaining that he did not realize how I felt.
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The dysfunctional couple will be staying with us again soon. If the unhappy wife initiates more talk-therapy sessions with my husband, what can he, or we, say to her without making her feel like her old friends are withdrawing support?
— Anxious Wife
DEAR ANXIOUS WIFE: It’s he, not we, and he needs to keep it simple.
“I appreciate that you want help, and I want to be helpful. But I can’t be your therapist. It’s not fair to my wife, because this is my vacation time with her, too, and it’s not fair to you and (Husband), because I’m not qualified to give you the help you both need.”
And then you and he back it up. She suggests a long walk, he either declines or invites you along.
(Side note to your husband: You need to come through here. Deal?)
A friend of mine, “Sara,” has many great qualities, but one thing is starting to make this friendship wear thin.
We both have 8-year-old boys, and Sara seems to think her son can do no wrong. When I pick my son up from playing at her house, Sara will always have some tiny infraction to report that my son did “wrong.” (He had his feet on the chair! He didn’t say thank you!) When I have her son at my house, he might do similar things, but in my opinion, unless it involves hurting someone physically or emotionally, it’s not worth mentioning.
I finally got tired of sending my son over there to be judged. He’s 8! How can I salvage the friendship, but put a stop to this judging?
DEAR MIFFED: She sounds lovely.
Certainly skip the play dates if your son isn’t comfortable there.
If he is, then, next time she presents you with a tiny-infraction report, say something to her along the lines of, “Right, I’ve been meaning to ask … ,” then, this:
“When your son does stuff like this at my house, I let it slide because I don’t see it as important enough to report to you unless someone gets hurt. Would you rather know about things like thank-yous and feet on a chair, though? Or are you OK with our having different approaches?”
You thereby make your point that you don’t care about feet on a chair, acknowledge that she does, disabuse her of any notion that her child is perfect and offer a respectful compromise. Just what play dates are for.