Miss Manners: Disapproval of friend’s spouse is best kept to yourself

November 17, 2011

Dear Miss Manners:

My best friend has appalling taste in women.

He and wife No. 3 divorced about three years ago after she treated him wretchedly. Prior to the divorce, I held my tongue about this treatment, and about her equally wretched treatment of her son by an earlier relationship, because my friend was so obviously smitten with her.

Once their marriage ended, I felt free to agree over-enthusiastically with his new characterizations of her, occasionally adding some of the earlier observations I had kept to myself.

It appears they are now entering some sort of detente. I hope to God it is just what I would laughingly call a friendship, and not an actual resumption of romance.

Whatever, my feelings about this woman are now no secret to my friend, and it is more difficult than ever to mask my disapproval of any contact with her at all. Do you have any advice for me?

Sure, but it’s retroactive advice. It is never a good idea to chime in when friends complain about marriages gone wrong. Listen sympathetically, yes. Say vague, comforting words, such as “I feel for you” and “I’m so sorry to see you suffering like this,” yes. But supporting evidence, no.

It is not just the chance of reconciliation that makes this dangerous, although that happens, as you have discovered. It is also the implication that everyone else pitied the innocent party — and slightly scorned him for remaining innocent — at the time when he had considered himself happy.

Backpedaling will not be easy, because if the two are friends again, he will have told her what you said. Therefore, Miss Manners advises taking the initiative of wishing them both — both — happiness, and saying that two such nice people should not have lasting differences.

‘’What?” you scream — as do they. After what you said?

Well, you were just reflecting what your friend said at the time, although you now realize that it was colored by his passing emotions. Or so you should seem to feel as you come to the important realization that no outsider knows what goes on in a marriage, or, apparently, a divorce.

Dear Miss Manners:

I have a wonderful husband whom I love and respect very much. He will often do things like open doors for me, or carry all of our groceries to the car while I carry only my purse.

Every so often, a stranger will respond to us by looking at me and commenting, “You have him well trained.”

We both find this rather offensive. How can I let the person know that my husband is being kind and thoughtful, rather than trained like a dog?

When are such supposed pleasantries, based on the notion of the domineering wife, going to be retired?

Never mind. You can’t wait that long, as it is extremely wearing to hear the same cliches over and over. The reply Miss Manners suggests is, “No, he was like that when I got him. He was born a gentleman.”

Visit Miss Manners at her Web site, www.missmanners.com, where you can send her your questions.

@ 2011, by Judith Martin

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