Q: Dear Kim,
I love my friend but I can't stand her husband. He's rude and obnoxious. For example, he'll call her names in front of her friends and start fights in public with strangers. They invite us to dinner from time to time, and she talks about him often, but really I want to shake her and ask her why she tolerates his behavior.
I can tell she doesn't like when he behaves like that, but she is very traditional and religious and never says anything in the moment. I'm sure her point of view is she should support her husband at all costs. Avoiding him and biting my tongue seems like the 'right' thing to do, but is it? I really respect my friend. She is a responsible and decent person with a lot of integrity. If I say something to her, I'm afraid she will do what I admire most about her, which is stick to her principles. Unfortunately, that means defending her husband.
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A: Dear Anonymous,
I have much less tolerance for Ugly Human Beings now than I did two weeks ago. Back then, I might have wondered what your friend’s husband’s deal was, and helped you help her get to the bottom of it. But now more than ever, I find no excuse for a good man to be unkind to people, much less his wife.
How can a responsible, decent person who has a lot of integrity support a husband who so clearly does not have the same qualities? She must be a saint who can see through his disgusting exterior to the soft, good person who dwells inside.
Once upon a time, I was in a relationship with a man who was always quiet and sullen around my family and friends to the point that it seemed rude. It was so unpleasant to have them all together that I stopped spending time with them. He was just shy, I told myself, and only I could see how amazing he was, and that made me feel special. After a while, I saw that he actually treated me the same way. By then, I had retreated from my support system so much that I was all alone to deal with what had become a miserable relationship.
Or so I thought. The people who really loved me were there when I realized we had to break up, even though they had warned me, and I had pushed them away.
It’s more important for her to stand up to him so that she doesn’t spend her entire life being beaten down, little by little, by his ugliness.
Your friend may be stuck in this kind of relationship, too. Since she’s married to the guy, it’s more important for her to stand up to him so that she doesn’t spend her entire life being beaten down, little by little, by his ugliness. If they have children, those kids will be undoubtedly affected by his behavior. They will learn by example to act like he does. Their sons will treat women the way he treats his wife. Their daughters will grow up feeling inferior, or hating men, or both.
Here are your choices, Anonymous. Keep quiet, avoid your friend’s husband, and continue festering until you can’t take it anymore, and you either dump her or you explode and she dumps you. Or, you can do what your heart is telling you to do: 'Shake her and ask her why she tolerates his behavior.' Except you should replace 'shake' with 'give a glass of wine to.' That way you’re less likely to put her on the defensive right away.
She may do as you suspect and stand firm in her support of him. She may never confront him, and he may never change his ways. They may stay together, raise children who are at risk of becoming miserable human beings, and ride off unhappily into the sunset. And you may lose her friendship for saying something about it.
But if you say nothing, how will that feel? While biting your tongue will allow you to avoid a confrontation, you will still know that the guy is treating her poorly, and this knowledge will eat away at you forever.
Up to now you have only assumed that she will support him at all costs. But what if everyone in her life does the same thing? What if she needs a friend to hold her up while she gives voice to her doubts? At the very least, bring up the subject and let her know you love her and you will be there for her. Even if she turns away from you, in the back of her mind she will know that someone is in her corner if and when the shit hits the fan.
Do you have a dilemma that’s too big for your friends, but too small for a therapist? Send it to me at email@example.com, and I may choose to answer it in next week’s column. I’ve got your back.
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