Carolyn Hax: On partners’ interactions with opposite-sex friends and exes

Carolyn Hax
Columnist March 26

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Hi, Carolyn:

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

My spouse “friended” an old flame on Facebook some months ago. When I said I felt uncomfortable with this, I was told that they are just friends and not to worry. We’ve actually had several emotional discussions about this since, but nothing has changed.

Now when I see that the friend has “liked” or commented (which is often), I feel increasingly uneasy. Am I being unreasonable? How can I just let it go?

Spouse


(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)

Dunno. This can be a problem because it really is, or because you only think it is, and I don’t have enough information to tell which is true.

So, I can only advise you to pay careful attention to the context. Has Spouse started behaving differently? Does Spouse have a history of crossing lines, with this ex or with anyone else? Or, do you have a history of being jealous and/or feeling threatened when a partner has any friend at all who could also be a romantic rival?

Some old flames are harmless and some aren’t, so it’s essential not to go into this with any preconceived notions. If you’re already certain that old flame + social media = boom, then you’re not going to be able to see clearly what’s really going on. It’ll all be warped by your lens, so you’ll be upset repeatedly over something harmless — and then have no leverage or credibility left when something is actually harmful.

I guess it comes down to: Why were you instantly uncomfortable?

Re: Old flame:

If being Facebook friends with an ex makes your current spouse uncomfortable, then why wouldn’t you drop the ex like a hot potato? If the ex is that important to you, then all the more reason to stop “liking” them.

Anonymous

You’re assuming “current spouse” hasn’t sounded the alarm at every eyelash-bat for the past umpty years. The context really is everything: You want to be able to say, “You know I’m fine with exes as friends — this one just doesn’t sit right.”

That said, spouses need a darn good reason to hang on to a Facebook friendship through “several emotional discussions” on the subject.

Dear Carolyn:

Whenever I bring up a concern I have over a female friend of my boyfriend’s, he automatically assumes I want him to just stop being friends with that woman. I’ve never said, “Don’t be friends with X,” or, “I don’t like you being friends with Y.” It’s always, “I feel uncomfortable with the way you treat X, can we talk about it?” I’ve never asked him to stop being friends with someone and I never will. What do I do about this situation?

Assumptions

Unfortunately there’s no one right answer, there are only possibilities: that you’re jealous; that he has something to hide; that these friendships are innocent but he’s either a poor communicator or experience has taught him to be defensive; that you have bigger problems or incompatibilities and the female-friend argument is just where they’re showing up.

All I can advise you is to tease out more of what’s going on — look to the broader context, not just this one issue — and address it for what it is, with guidance from a good therapist if you can’t crack it yourselves.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Get her column delivered to your inbox each morning at http://bit.ly/haxpost.

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