Hello, Carolyn: I have a good friend who has experienced several life disappointments in recent years. Currently, work has separated her from her husband, exacerbating some of their ongoing and unaddressed issues. She is also clinically depressed.
In our two most recent conversations, she has mentioned how frequently men hit on her, and has also discussed how vulnerable she is right now. The two aren't mentioned side-by-side, but it's clear she is aware of vulnerabilities and temptations — and that the attentions of other men can be attractive. She also rationalized extramarital affairs when we were discussing a movie we watched together, saying few people are entirely faithful.
I would hate to see her make a choice she cannot reverse while in a period of depression, frustration and vulnerability . . . but this feels out of my depth. What should I be doing to support her? She is seeing a therapist, and I often ask about that but do not know what else to do.
— Long-Distance Friend
Long-Distance Friend: You can reflect back to her what you’re hearing: “You’ve said affairs are common and that men are hitting on you. Are you trying to tell me something? Are you asking my opinion?”
If “no” and “no,” then you’re done. Even if you don’t believe her entirely. It’s still her life.
If “yes,” then that’s enough of an invitation for you to say what you said here, which is excellent: “This feels out of my depth. I’m concerned you’ll make a choice you cannot reverse while in a period of depression, frustration and vulnerability. I hope you’re talking to your therapist about it.” Or husband, if abuse isn’t one of their issues.
Something else you can do? Don’t get so distracted by her maybe-possible-potential infidelity that you forget how powerful friendship can be for those who feel vulnerable. Love her, care about her, listen to her without judging. All that enables is strength.
Dear Carolyn: I am 74, and my wife is 63. We live in the house we bought when we married 24 years ago. My wife says she loves our house and immediate neighbors but has felt unsafe and scared for several years. She cites pawnshops and liquor stores that have moved into the area, and declining property values. Of the three closest shopping malls, one has been razed, one sits abandoned and one is down to one or two tenants. There have also been at least three shootings within two miles of us in recent months. She wants to move.
While I understand her concerns, I don't feel threatened. Mainly I don't look forward to the considerable work of going through our possessions, moving and fixing up whatever new place we might find. I don't do well with change.
She says marriage entails compromise, but I fail to see what compromise lies between moving and not moving. Can you please offer me some advice?
J.: “Compromise” suggests two equally worthy positions, but the two claims you present here are not equal.
Your discomfort will be temporary — gone as soon as you’re resettled. Given your neighborhood’s trajectory, however, your wife’s discomfort looks to be unceasing.
I’m not saying you must defer to your wife — just that you see your thumb of self-interest on the scale. Remove it, then consider what’s fair.