Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

My husband and I are friends with a couple who have recently fallen on hard economic times. The wife hasn’t worked since she had her first child 10 years ago, but now that their kids are all in school and money is tight, her husband wants her to go back to work. She is refusing.

This is none of my business of course. However, she is now bad-mouthing him to me and my husband (and I imagine whoever else will listen) and she is also asking me to buy stuff from her, like handbags and clothes, that I don’t want. It’s making everything awkward.

I’ve told her as much, and that I value our friendship, and maybe it’s best that we don’t know these private issues. She called me a traitor! I don’t really care about maintaining my friendship with her but my husband and I worry about her husband. Can we maintain a friendship with him if we want to distance ourselves from her?

Fancy Friend

Given the apparent trajectory of this marriage, the two of them may no longer be a package deal by the time I publish this.

For what it’s worth — and not that it’ll really help — one way to deal with such bad-mouthing is to say, “I hear that you’re upset, but I’ll admit I don’t understand why, and I’d like to. Would you be willing to explain?”

I suggest it only because I think we’ve all been in this position, and everything can feel wrong — comforting her, challenging her, biting your tongue. This way you demonstrate that you care and are open to her side if she wishes to share it. No, it’s not your business, technically, but she’s making it yours by mouthing off about her marriage to you.

Another less combative way to avoid abetting the bad-mouther is to say, “I care about both of you, and I’m not comfortable in the middle.”

Re: Friend:

Has she ever heard of a thrift store, secondhand shop, or garage sale?

Anonymous 2

The “traitor” bit suggests clear thinking is currently beyond her reach.

Re: Friend:

My sister acted this way when she and her husband fell on a similar situation. It turned out her behavior stemmed from two issues:

1. Her anger at being asked to go back to work was really a cover for the shame and fear she felt that no one would hire her and that she didn’t know how to re-enter the workforce.

2. She felt that her husband’s work request somehow devalued the years she’d spent with the kids. She believed that her being at home served the family better, and it was hurtful for her to think that he didn’t appreciate her contributions. (Of course, he did — it’s just that he also saw a mortgage payment that could no longer be made on one salary.)

Just throwing these thoughts out there. Someone might want to probe a little deeper into the Fancy Friend’s motivations.

Anonymous 3

Fear and defensiveness, the architects of so many of our lowest moments. Thanks.

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