The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Carolyn Hax: An unlikable husband means no (lasting) couple friends

(Nick Galifianakis for The Washington Post)
3 min

Dear Carolyn: Several years ago, my husband and I moved into a community that was very social. As time went on, we were not included with other couples for social activities. Not only did we become ostracized, we became pariahs.

I was confused and deeply depressed. I was later told by more than one person that the reason for our situation was my husband. No one liked him. People pulled away from me, too, to avoid any possibility of having to socialize as couples.

I didn’t know what do to and I knew I couldn’t change hardened perceptions. We moved to another community. We are only here a few months and I see it happening again. His comments can be construed as rude, inappropriate, maybe even arrogant. I’ve tried when we’re alone to address the issue. I fear the same outcome, only it will happen sooner because he carries the anger and rejection from before.

I don’t know what do. I’m not single and don’t want to create a single social life. I already see couples pulling away. He will not go to any therapy or third party: He hates it and refuses to see any shortcomings in himself. It’s always the other guy. Ideas for navigating a rough road?

— Pariah

Pariah: You may not know what to do, but you do know what your choices are: Your husband or everyone else. Or you can flip it and ask, which can you build a satisfying life without? Because you apparently can’t have both.

There’s a little bit of room there on the margins, as there tends to be. You can recognize that even if you don’t want “a single social life,” it might be that or nothing. You can get your needs for community met, solo or paired, through structured activities like volunteering, classes, rec leagues or even your job. You can try to identify a region that values his flavor of rudeness or arrogance. (Make polarization work for you!)

Less on the margins but also available is for you to go to the therapy he refuses — to explore why he’s seen as repellent and why you aren’t repelled — or if you are, why you’re still there, and why he refuses to address what is clearly a problem, not even to please you, the one person still at his side.

About that: You can also reread your letter. No mention of loving him. Or liking him, which is a whole different thing. No further analysis of his behaviors that “can be construed as” this, that, or the other terrible thing. Is he in fact inappropriate, or just profoundly misunderstood?

In 25 years’ worth of dysfunction mail, the single most reliable predictor of relationship misery is a partner who, in some combination, won’t look inward, admit fault or consider therapy. (But will cling fiercely to their partner/favorite scapegoat.)

So it might not matter, ultimately, whether you failed to express your love/like/support merely by accident, or whether he is inappropriate or just misperceived to be, or whether you take self-caring actions at the margins, or whether there’s a community with its welcome mat out for his rudeness. It might come down to his self-centeredness wearing you out.

But if you’re not there yet, then one thing you can do is finish what I started: Tease apart your reality, scrutinize each of its threads, identify which are mutually exclusive, and make a deliberate, mindful choice which ones to keep or let go.