I have a very, very good friend who has been with me for many years. She’s helped me when I’ve been suicidal (even so far as taking me to the clinic), she shares my nerdy interests and crafting interests, and everything inbetween to be a perfect friend for me.
The problem comes here – her husband. He’s honestly a great guy. Cares for her, means well, and is a genuinely good person. However, he can be very caustic with thoughtless comments. For example;
[expressing frustration about an individual who upset many in our group by saying] “C is so fat and ugly” – this friend is half my size, physically… And he says this in my presence – what does that make me?
[sitting at a bar and hanging out. I had just gotten done with a successful but unorthodox 6 week diet. He asks me about it, I begin to explain and he spends the next 20 minutes ranting to the bartender why my diet is stupid and how he would know because he's a restaurant manager]
I could go on here but I believe you get the point. He’s not maliciously trying to put me down, but that does end up being what always happens. I love my friend. I am happy that she and her husband are madly in love and make each other ridiculously happy. But Everytime I hang out with the both of them – which considering they got married 4 months ago is nearly every time, I spend the next day incredibly depressed (I over think and internalize everything. Haven’t managed to find a therapist that can fit me into their schedule yet.) and I drive my long-suffering fiancé up the wall with my deep-seated sadness that he doesn’t know how to fix.
I know the quickest answer is to tell her.. But am I being oversensitive? Ridiculous? Unfair? I don’t think telling her would make her stop associating with me, but it would put her in an awkward position. I would appreciate your wisdom here, thank you.
In both of your examples, the husband was out of line. Unfortunately, especially with the body snarking & diet talk, he’s out of line in a way that has been totally normalized in our culture, so you may not be able to easily get him to really understand why.
I don’t think “the quickest answer” is to have the “Friend, sometimes your husband unthinkingly says hurtful things, can you talk to him about it?” conversation. She is your trusted friend, so you want her to have your back here, and talking to her seems less scary than talking to him, but she’s not actually responsible for his behavior and has little control over how it goes. Even with everyone having the best intentions, there is no way that doesn’t put her in the middle, and if she starts defending him it’s gonna make you feel even worse. She can help you address certain specific moments and actions, she can be an ally in conversations, but she can’t make promises or representations as to this guy’s entire personality.
I think it is totally possible to remain friends with people when you don’t 100% love their partners, but one very necessary step in that is to stop double-dating so much. Try making solo plans with her. “Howabout lunch or a movie, just you and me?” “I have an extra ticket to this concert, want to be my date?” That way you get what you want (awesome friend time!) and the husband doesn’t have to be an issue. This won’t fully solve the problem, and you probably can’t/won’t/shouldn’t avoid all socializing with the two of them, but it will give you a break and keep the bond intact while you figure out the rest. While it will quickly become a noticeable issue if you never do anything with the two of them, within close friendships, “Sometimes I just want to see you” shouldn’t be a lot to ask. Strive for 2-3 times solo for every couple outing.
I think when you guys do all hang out, and when he does say something that is out of line, that talking directly to him (and a certain way of talking directly to him) will be the most helpful thing you can do. It takes practice, and courage, but it can be done.
Because his pronouncements don’t have to just sit there, unchallenged.
You get to say “Wow” or “Obviously we are not going to see eye to eye here, so let’s change the subject” or “I’m sure you don’t mean to upset me, but you are, so I’d like to change the subject now” or “Huh, you don’t say” or “I’m sure you’re right, but I really enjoyed it” or any of 1,000 subject changers we use for people who get on our tits in social situations.
I think it’s bad if you try to correct everything that comes out of his mouth, or to see everything that comes out as a personal attack on you, and this is where a therapist (when you find one) can help you by rehearsing scripts and having courage but also in choosing your battles. He’s going to be in your friend’s life presumably forever, and your life for a long time, so you don’t want to end up at the “every single thing about this guy is part of a story about how he is bad” stage if you don’t have to. But whether he is intentionally or unintentionally hitting your sensitive places, it’s ok to tell him. “That’s a really sore subject for me, you had no way of knowing, but let’s drop it” is not an unreasonable request to make of someone who wants to be your friend. Give it a little time, once you start speaking up – what has been an ongoing problem for you is just being brought to his attention, and it may take him a little while to work out how to be more aware.
I think you should test out these two things (1) Making solo plans and (2) Speaking up/changing the subject in small ways before you have any big talks with your friend. How those two things go is maybe going to fix the problem, with a little time and patience, but if it doesn’t fix the problem, it gives you a lot of information about how to proceed when you do talk to your friend.
Because if your friend only wants to socialize as half of a couple, that gives you room to be pretty emphatic about what you need. “Doing stuff as a couple is great sometimes, but it’s important to me that we do stuff as just us sometimes, too. Can you tell me, in a perfect world, how you see this all working out?“
If you try changing the subject, steering him away from certain topics, or letting him know that he’s hurt you, and he laughs it off and doubles down on the insults because it’s fun to poke at the “sensitive” person, that also gives you a lot of information. (Hint: The information is that he’s a jerk and it’s not worth engaging with him seriously. I hope it won’t come to that!).
This is another possible conversation you could have with your friend:
“Doing stuff as a couple is great sometimes, but sometimes Husband can be really caustic about stuff that’s a sore spot for me. He really hurt my feelings the other night when he said x specific thing and then kept going after I politely asked him to stop. I don’t want to make it a thing, but I also need a little break. And I know you’re not responsible for anything he does or says, but in situations like that, I could use a little backup in getting the subject changed.“
If possible, including a specific thing you’d like your friend to do will help enormously in this conversation. “Constantly police & worry about everything your husband says, lest it accidentally hurt my feelings” is too much pressure to place on your friend. ”When things are going south, and I change the subject, back me up” is a very manageable and reasonable thing to ask. This is also something specific you can ask from your partner.
I know that personally, there are some people I like, who have many good qualities, that I nonetheless shouldn’t hang out with when I’m feeling depressed or fragile. Some folks like to argue for fun, or think that making fun of you is an act of love, or are super-competitive about certain things, and when I’m feeling okay I’m right there with them, but when I’m not, I’m really not. (I am 100% sure that I am also That Caustic Person for some people on this earth, and that’s something I’ve had to consistently work on). By avoiding people who use that kind of humor or who bring out the super awkward in me when I’m in that headspace, I am actually taking care of myself. So ”Sometimes I’m really in the mood to hang out with y’all, but sometimes, when I’m feeling low, his caustic humor is hard for me to take so I might bail or be more open to making solo plans with you” is a reasonable thing to ask for.
You don’t have to sort out everything that everyone will feel. You don’t have to solve their marriage and make it perfect, or make all social occasions perfect, or make everything frictionless. There is already friction, because there is friction for you, so being honest about it as close as possible to the time that it’s happening, and directly to the person who is making things weird, is actually the most chill way you can handle things from here on out. The only part of the equation you can solve is “Hey, I need some solo time with my friend” and “Hey, that hurt my feelings/really bugs me/isn’t true.” Once you speak up about that, you are doing the best you can at taking care of your needs.