Wife asks if husband’s friends dislike her, and they do; what now?

Carolyn Hax
Columnist February 20, 2012

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear 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

What do I tell my wife when she says (almost every day), “Your friends must think I’m a spiteful, controlling [wench]”?

Most do, based on their observations of her behavior and not anything I say — I’m reticent to discuss personal issues in public. I’ve generally told her things like, “They don’t think that,” but that is feeling more and more dishonest.

Of course, if I even hinted at what my friends do think of her, she’d insist that I never speak to them again (yes, I know that would be spiteful and controlling). Yikes!


Fishing expedition

Even though what you badly need is a talented counselor, I’m going to venture an answer to get you out of your lie:

“Why do you think they’d think that?” There can’t be even a whiff of accusation or sarcasm to this, or else the whole effort is a goner — the “whole effort” being to open the topic to an actual conversation, instead of her fishing and your lying.

If she answers defensively (“If,” ha, I crack myself up), then go into just-the-facts mode: “I’m not attacking; it’s an honest question. You make that remark a lot, and I want to know what you’re feeling.”

Because feelings are everything here — both what she’s feeling (but neither telling you nor acting on in a loving or productive way) and what you’re feeling (but neither telling her nor acting on in a loving or productive way). She’s acting out, and there’s a “why” there that you both need to face.

If you’re not sure you can go into a conversation like this without getting angry, snarky, accusatory, defensive, etc., then think carefully about what you’d need to get to that state. Given how high her defenses are, Zen must be your target resting state throughout the discussion. Seriously. She’s going to need to feel safe, if that’s even possible.

And if not, then please see “counseling,” above, but go alone. Control issues and joint counseling don’t mix, at least not till individual counseling has progressed to a certain point. Otherwise the controlling half of the couple can manipulate the therapist, which doesn’t just erase the value of the treatment, but in fact can make things worse. Plus, controlling people scare their mates out of telling the truth — reread your letter as Exhibit A — and counseling without truth is pointless.

Dear Carolyn:

I’ve got a friend who is smart and funny and who understands things about me that most others don’t. I like her a lot. The problem is that we seem to clash constantly. In one sense it’s not bad, in that whatever we’re arguing about is usually quickly defused, and we seem able to understand where the friction came from and move on.

But the thing is . . . it keeps happening. All the time. And I’m starting to feel a bit tired of it. But I love talking to her when we’re not arguing! Any thoughts?

Too Much?

Stop conducting your part of the argument and see what happens. This is part thought experiment, part actual trial, and I suspect the results will be interesting. The friction says you’re competing; a step back might reveal why.

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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