The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Carolyn Hax: Friend sends old party photos for scrapbook; wife is unamused

(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)
5 min

Hi, Carolyn: I had a very serious case of covid at the beginning of 2021: nine weeks in the hospital, almost put on a ventilator, etc. During that time my wife was a rock supporting me and keeping everyone informed of my progress. She had friends and family send in pictures and she put together a couple of scrapbooks for me. Everyone sent family pictures except one of my oldest friends, who sent pictures of us at parties in high school, me with an old girlfriend, etc.

My wife responded to him with a few expletives and told me about it later when I was feeling better. She made comments about him over the last year and I kind of dismissed it all, thinking he just made a stupid decision. Last week I was in his state and we met up for a beer, and we also have an upcoming golf trip.

This past week it all blew up. She feels that he totally disrespected her and our family, that I did not take into account how he made her feel, and that I picked my friend over her. I am not looking for who is right or wrong, just wondering if I get blinded at times. Any thoughts would be appreciated.

— Blinded?

Blinded?: Yes, blinded by sanity, and by confidence that your marriage is strong enough to withstand a trial by adolescent snapshot.

I applaud your wife's dedication to your care, I do, and the scrapbooks were a masterstroke. I hope if I'm ever trying to manage a long hospital stay that someone makes the same loving gesture for me.

However, if I were asked to pitch in for an old friend’s scrapbook, I might send youthful party shots. A lark, a hoot, priceless. And if my husband flinched at a high school photo of me with an old boyfriend (he wouldn’t), I’d understand, and even maybe agree the friend who sent it while I was fighting for my life was a doofus — but that’s it.

Meaning: If he had felt seriously threatened by it, to the extent that he was hurling expletives and blowing up at the idea of my hanging out as usual with my doofus friend and nursing a grudge into its second year, well after I had recovered, then we’d be having a serious talk.

Does your wife genuinely believe your marriage is so fragile? Is she so fragile herself that she sees these ghosts as her rivals?

Maybe it's this fragility you're blind to?

I can only speculate. But to me it's the fundamental tension in this situation: that your wife is so insecure, withholding and then, boom, punitive, and that this all seems to have come as news bulletin to you. I can't imagine it's the first jealousy spasm she's ever had. (But if it is — is this part of a notable personality change, and is it therefore time for a medical work-up?)

Whether her thin-skinned possessiveness is new, new to you, or well-established, you do have some options for dealing with it:

· You can appease her — "I’ll talk to him. I’m sorry I didn’t pick up on how strongly you felt.” I’m not a fan, but it’s also not my marriage. Plus, the thought of “ever after” without license to spackle over the occasional crack is a little terrifying.

· You can call the problem by name, kindly and firmly: “You’re the one I wake up to every day, and no photos or doofus friends can change that. I regret how much this hurt you. However, I am unwilling to end a nearly lifelong friendship over what I still see as an isolated misstep, even if we agree it was big.” (Which you don’t have to do.)

· You can hold out for a better explanation, especially if this kind of flipping out isn’t her style: “You’re my rock and ours is a great marriage. Is there more to this than you’re letting on? It seems unlike you to make so much of pictures and people I’ve barely thought of since high school.”

· You can also ask her what you asked me: “I hear you, but still don’t understand the intensity of your reaction. Please help me see what I am missing.”

Last thing. What you’ve given me here is also just a snapshot, but if I squint, I can make out multiple signs that your wife is controlling. The jealousy, the expletives in anger (!), the withholding, the hint/comment-dropping, the grudge-nursing, the blowup, the binary thinking, the reactivity to “disrespect,” and the insistence that you take her side in a manufactured outrage against your friend, the oldest of friends at that. So. Given the potential seriousness and out of an abundance of caution: If the thing you’ve been “blind” to is that you have little agency in your own marriage, then it’s time to talk to a pro — solo, please, to start.