Carolyn Hax: A husband imagines a better life with his wife’s friend

Carolyn Hax
Columnist November 16, 2012

Dear Carolyn:

I’ve long thought I’d rather be married to my wife’s friend (they met after our marriage), because Friend and I have more similar interests and personalities. Wife has even non-jealously commented on our apparent compatibility.

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

I’ve waited years for these thoughts to fade, but they’ve only gotten stronger. Friend has a positive outlook on life, whereas Wife’s issues with moodiness and negativity can be draining.

I don’t know how Friend feels about me (she’s single). Wife and I don’t have kids, and if I could press a button and have a new life with Friend, I’d do it. But I know it isn’t that simple.

So, what should I be asking myself in figuring out what to do? I never thought I believed in divorce with non-abusive marriages, but the idea of how much happier I could be has me very confused.


Confused

There’s only one question to ask yourself: Would it be right to leave your marriage if this friend didn’t exist?

For your purposes, she doesn’t. Your “much happier” ending is too messy and too speculative to be treated as a realistic option.

But your wife’s “moodiness and negativity” do exist; is she unhappy, too? Talking about each other’s needs, and whether they’re being met — with a good therapist, if that helps — is your best option. Distance from Friend is essential.

It’s just one question, packing a seriously difficult answer.

Dear Carolyn:

Years ago my family of three moved to a new part of the country where we knew no one. A woman at my job befriended me and I was very grateful. Over the years we grew close.

Since then she has retired, and her negative aspects seem to be getting much worse.

For example, she has NOTHING positive to say about her husband, who is a decent guy. Her remarks are cutting. She feels her son-in-law is a good-for-nothing and totally inept father to her new grandchild. He works and seems faithful. (I don’t know how good a dad he is.)

I’ve tried countering with modulating remarks, but they ALWAYS are ignored. My inbox is flooded with pics of grandchildren who are “fantastic.” I’m just tired of it all. I want to walk away and be a twice-a-year friend, but how? She continues to seek me out.

J.

You skip the easily ignored “modulating remarks” and tell hard-to-ignore truths: “When you rip your husband, I feel uncomfortable/put off/sad.”

Or: “I do wonder how you’d feel if your in-laws wrote you off as inept.”

Or: “You so rarely have a kind word for your husband. Is it possible your negativity is as much cause as effect?”

Or: “Isn’t it good for your grandkids to give their dad the benefit of the doubt? (They got ‘fantastic’ somehow.)”

Maybe these seem unfriendly — or ungrateful? — but appearing supportive while silently wishing she’d go away won’t sweep any kindness awards, given that she’s presently unaware that you aren’t in her corner.

Whether her negativity stems from boredom or advancing age (both common culprits), there’s absolutely no reason you shouldn’t express your unhappiness with it. If she appreciates your candor, then your friendship will be better for it — and if she resents it, then she’ll likely “walk away” for you, sparing you the trouble of doing it yourself.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Subscribe at www.facebook.com/carolynhax.

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