DEAR CAROLYN: My husband, “Jeff,” and I have a really great relationship. We do, of course, disagree on a few issues. Several years ago he dated and was intimate with “Nancy.” After the flames fizzled, they went their separate ways. But Jeff’s relative married into her family, and Nancy and her husband are now at family functions. Initially, Jeff was dishonest with me about their history but eventually came clean.
Had he been honest, I might not feel the way I do. I know she is married, and Jeff is obviously married to me; however, I feel uncomfortable with his feeling the need to hug her hello and goodbye. He claims they are strictly platonic and he doesn’t even really like seeing her, which I counter with: “Then why do you feel the need to hug her if you aren’t even friends?”
I have no problems with being around her at the functions or with his talking to her, no point in being petty about that, but I really wish he would not feel the need to touch her.
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He claims I am being controlling and he doesn’t want to make her or the situation uncomfortable. What do you think?
— Hugged-out in Florida
DEAR HUGGED-OUT IN FLORIDA: There are several answers to this question, starting with:
(1) Trust. Trust your husband to be the person he has shown himself to be over the years, of course — but more important, trust yourself to handle this single, isolated, upsetting-but-ultimately-inconsequential thing in your relationship.* Don’t expect Jeff to handle it for you.
(2) Pragmatism. You’ve already insisted many times that he handle it your way, and he has declined to do so. Plus, when someone else initiates a hug, dodging it is awkward. Awkwardness is fine when it’s necessary, but it isn’t necessary here, not really.
(3) Forgiveness. Yes, he was wrong to lie to you about Nancy, and, possibly more relevant, he was stupid to lie. You’ve both had ample time to marinate in the consequences, however: You’ve tortured yourself with speculation about his secret feelings for Nancy, and he’s had you all up in his grill.
(4) Proportion. Either these hugs are significant (*meaning, this is not an isolated or inconsequential issue after all), in which case they deserve much more serious attention or they’re insignificant, in which case your only rational choice is to drop this.
(5) Respect and love. This no-hugs thing isn’t a mere request — it’s an accusation. Either you have grounds for one (see 4), or you don’t (see 1), or you know you’re being irrational and want Jeff to acquiesce anyway (see 2, though admitting you’re being irrational might help).
Whichever scenario is accurate, your interests are best served by feeding the love you share with Jeff, as opposed to protecting it — which backfires more often than not.
DEAR CAROLYN: I’m No. 2 of four sisters (in our 30s/40s). Nos. 3, 4 and I are the best of friends; we hang out and talk often, visit each other’s homes and know each other very intimately. No. 1 has a life of her own going on — different region, busy job, crazy schedule that prevents her from being available when we’re getting together — and as a result is not as close as the rest of us are. She has expressed to me that this hurts her feelings, but she hasn’t taken steps to change it because she doesn’t want to intrude. I do feel it’s her responsibility to get close to us, but I feel bad, too. Any suggestions?
— Busy Sister
DEAR BUSY SISTER: You urge her to intrude, because her making an effort wouldn’t be an intrusion at all, right? You also invite her to everything. Unless, of course, the “busy” and “it’s her responsibility” are disingenuous, and what you really want is a fig leaf for leaving her out.