Snip­ing strains cou­ples’ friend­ship

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My hus­band and I have be­come friends with an­other cou­ple and have got­ten to­gether with them sev­eral times, ei­ther at one an­other’s homes or by go­ing out.

Each time, over the course of the even­ing, the wife be­gins try­ing to pick a fight with her hus­band. She speaks to him in a be­lit­tling man­ner, her voice drip­ping with sar­casm, and points out what she sees as his short­com­ings, and though he ig­nores her, she doesn’t stop. As you can imagine, this makes for an in­tensely un­com­fort­able time for my hus­band and me, to the point where we no longer want to so­cial­ize with them as a cou­ple.

My hus­band thinks we should just con­tinue to ig­nore her vent­ing. I want to tell her ei­ther that we now charge for cou­ple’s ther­apy or that if she’s go­ing to con­tinue in that vein, she’ll have to go home (or we will, if we’re out to­gether). I’d like to get your thoughts about how to han­dle this.

— At a Loss for Words

This sounds like your own un­for­tu­nate stag­ing of a liv­ing room pro­duc­tion of “Who’s Afraid of Vir­ginia Woolf?” so I’m go­ing to re­fer to this cou­ple as “Martha” and “Ge­orge.”

Martha is cre­at­ing an un­com­fort­able sit­u­a­tion for every­one. Why would you ig­nore it? She’s not shy about be­lit­tling Ge­orge in pub­lic, so maybe you should be less shy about re­act­ing hon­estly to it. Be­cause this is a pat­tern with a clear per­pe­tra­tor, you should call her out. Be­fore agree­ing to see them again, one or both of you should tell Martha, “We en­joy spend­ing time with both of you, but the way you speak to Ge­orge makes us very un­com­fort­able. We are be­wil­dered by it and feel bad for him.” If al­co­hol seems to be a fac­tor, then you should also bring this up.

Ide­ally, your hus­band would try to speak with Ge­orge pri­vately, to check in and ask how he feels about this ver­bal abuse and the re­la­tion­ship over­all. Men of­ten seem to find this dif­fi­cult, but they must find ways to dis­cuss their re­la­tion­ships and sup­port one an­other.

A month ago I was di­ag­nosed with an ovar­ian mass. I will be hav­ing surgery to have it re­moved in two weeks.

When this was an­nounced, my boyfriend started to pull away. He was more dis­tant and wouldn’t touch me sex­u­ally or ro­man­ti­cally.

He said that be­tween work and this stress, he needed space. Two weeks later he broke up with me. He said he doesn’t feel the same love­wise any­more and that he likes be­ing alone, but that he wants to come to the hospi­tal to see how I’m feel­ing and come to my house to see me when I’m re­cu­per­at­ing.

Your ex wants to see you in the hospi­tal be­cause he wants to feel bet­ter about his re­ac­tion to your ill­ness. This likely has very lit­tle to do with you.

Your di­ag­nos­ing physi­cian has given you two gifts: the surgery that will re­store your health and the knowl­edge that the guy you were with is not the real deal.

Peo­ple re­spond to ill­ness in a va­ri­ety of ways; your ex might have been thrown by what he in­ter­preted as a sex­u­ally re­lated or sex-ad­ja­cent health prob­lem. But pulling away when you’re un­com­fort­able or don’t un­der­stand is what lit­tle chil­dren do. Func­tion­ing and lov­ing adults push through their dis­com­fort for the sake of their loved one.

Let the hospi­tal know that you will not ac­cept a visit from this per­son.

I read the let­ter from “Hurt­ing” with great in­ter­est and sym­pa­thy. Hurt­ing was bul­lied dur­ing her school years, but I of­fer a bit of hope re­gard­ing her re­union.

I re­cently at­tended my 54-year high school re­union. We didn’t have nametags, and most of us didn’t rec­og­nize each other. Hurt­ing’s idea of “not know­ing” the bully might turn out to be prophetic; he might not know her ei­ther!

— Un­known Class­mate

Re­u­nions are mine­fields where each of us has to nav­i­gate around pre­vi­ous ver­sions of our­selves — and one an­other.

Copy­right 2019 by Amy Dickinson

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