#483: Dealing with a friend’s caustic partner

Captain Awkward,

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;

Example 1
[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?

Example 2
[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.

Exasperated Friend

Dear Exasperated:

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.




119 thoughts on “#483: Dealing with a friend’s caustic partner

  1. This sounds so much like my step-father. Only his favorite topic is my job. I’ve worked for a non-profit agency for 11 years, I make a comfortable wage, I have excellent benefits, and I have very little work-related stress. But he constantly tells me that I’m wasting my life and that I should be looking for something better, even to the point of printing out ads for jobs that he thinks I should be doing. The most recent one was as a writer for a blog. Yes, he thought I should quit my stable job that I’ve had for a decade to write for an internet startup. At this point all I can do is simply say, “I’m not leaving my job, thank you” and change the subject. Even my mom gets exasperated with him when he whips out yet another printout for me.

    1. Can’t. stop. laughing.

      We are one of the most heavily-trafficked sites on WordPress. Average monthly ad revenue: $250.00. Glamourous, no?

      What does your stepdad do for a living? Maybe we could all come up with some “improving” suggestions for him.

      1. I tried to explain to him how difficult it is to make a living writing full-time, and that blog could very well never even get off the ground. His problem is that he is one of those guys who has a dozen “get rich quick” scheme ideas. The good news is that he mostly just talks about it and doesn’t throw money into things that go nowhere.

        Sadly, he lost his job as a computer tech at American Family in their recent round of job cuts. Employers seem to be filling those kinds of jobs with contract workers so they can avoid paying benefits. So my mom had to go back to work for the state, where she’d retired after 38 years of service. He’s constantly hustling and has had several short term contract positions, but he’s really close to retirement age which makes it hard for him to find permanent work.

        I feel like he probably means well but all I hear when he does this is that I’m not good enough.

        @Badger Rose: Thanks! I love Chie to death, she is my girl.

        1. Ah, this makes a lot of sense – he is projecting a lot of job anxiety onto you. And he’s looking at listings all day, and seeing ones he can’t do. And probably a teence of building himself up as the expert at your expense. Knowing where it comes from makes it no less annoying, and you’re handling it with a ton of grace.

          1. I thought his job loss would actually make him stop. He’s been doing this since I left college 20 years ago. I thought after he felt the full impact of job insecurity he would stop urging me to throw away a stable job in favor of pipe dreams, but no such luck.

          2. Oof, then raise that “teence” to “A BILLIONTY” and you are REALLY handling it with a TON of grace. My grandpa did this, too. He loved me the most, but he always had to remind me that he saw me as one big lump of unrealized potential.

        2. I had to do this with my father. The conversation went something like, “So you want me to quit my job, that I like and I do very well, where I make a six-figure salary, am published and respected, to join a field that I have a degree in but i’m seven years out of date, for entry-level salary of $30k because my skills have degraded to the point where I am now entry-level, and move to a city I don’t want to live in, and totally throw away everything that I have built up for myself in the last seven years WHY? Because it’s what YOU think I should be doing?”

          It was amazing how quick that shut him up.

          What’s rubbing isn’t so much the not good enough, as it is that somebody who knows diddly squat about your life and your affairs assumes that he knows what is Best For You. Hopefully you can get him sorted out.

  2. Ooh, yeah, had a similar situation (but maybe less severe) come up with a friend’s new husband a while ago. He was often being a jerk in a thoughtless way to another person in our friend group. I don’t think anything was said directly to either Original Friend or Husband, just a lot of “Can you believe Husband said that?” behind their backs. But Original Friend saw what was going on and started showing up without Husband more often, which helped smooth things over—and hopefully not at any real cost to the marriage, since Husband gave the strong impression that he didn’t enjoy hanging out with us.

  3. Sensible advice. A lot of people are simply not very aware of the impact they have on others, or make the assumption that because they’re among friends everyone will agree with them. Most reasonable people, however, will quickly change their behaviour if they find out they’ve been upsetting someone unawares, so I think if you point it out when it happens, as has been suggested, you stand a good chance of a decent outcome.

    1. Yeah, I agree. While the things he said above are pretty terrible, I think sometimes it’s possible for someone to say something horrible out of clumsiness or thoughtlessness rather than being-a-horrible-person-ness. (I know I’ve had moments where I retroactively went ‘oh crap, that was totally insensitive of me!’ because I just plain wasn’t thinking.) If that’s the case, they’ll pick up pretty quick if you say, “That’s a sore spot for me, so let’s change the subject” or “We obviously have different opinions on this and I’d rather not talk about it” or even just “Wow.”

      If they’re a basically decent person, they’ll knock it off once they realize, either by apologizing or by just quietly stopping with the hurtful comments. And… if they aren’t (they double down, get defensive, push harder, etc.), that’s not good, but at least then you *know* and can stop feeling like you have to give them a chance because they’re “a nice person but….”

      (Not that you have to give anyone a chance even if they ARE a nice person, but, you know.)

      1. LW, I think that, given that all signs for you point to “dude is a good guy with a serious case of foot-in-mouth,” you should feel comfortable gently letting him know when something he says upsets or offends you. I’m one of those people, and I’m always really grateful when someone lets me know I’ve stepped in it, so I can be a better friend. Hopefully this guy is the same way!

      2. I really liked when I read a comment on some other letter which suggested an incredulous “You just said that out loud” coupled with a disbelieving look.

        1. “You…you know you said that with your outside of your head voice, right?”

  4. Blarg, yes. These sort of situations are always difficult. For me, it’s the step-mother-in-law. FIL is a pretty decent guy, and OH and I both get along well with him when we see him, and SMIL has made him very, very happy and treats him in such a loving manner. She’s a decent person herself as well, she just has a couple of culturally-acceptable personality things that also happen to be a bit shitty when you actually examine them.

    Unfortunately, SMIL also really enjoys banter that includes gossip of the “ugh this complete stranger I saw last week was so ugly because of X, Y, Z thing I don’t approve of” as well as “ugh, FIL and his son’s mutual love of HOBBY and SUBJECT is so boring to me. I do not at all understand it and therefore will loudly complain about how boring they are until they stop”.

    I completely agree with the Cap’n’s advice, here. The best you can do is try to ensure there are opportunities to socialise without the caustic person (in our case, it’s usually just OH and his dad having a boy’s night out, because it’s way easier to explain/excuse that than to have all of us but specifically exclude SMIL), and make sure that you make friendly-but-direct responses that signal your dislike of a conversation topic when they do come up, or get in the habit of moving the conversation onto something less manky.

    1. The other thing that I probably should have covered in the OP, is that it’s good to find something you and Person A for Awkward DO have in common and CAN connect about. Not every person is going to be a Swiss Army Knife of friends, but if you have a few safe topics you can steer things back to it’s possible to have a pleasant time, and the more pleasant times and good feelings you can create the more you can withstand the bad stuff.

  5. I 100% agree with the Captain that your best options are to get some solo time with your friend, and to speak up at the specific moment when Caustic Guy is being caustic.

    One other thought, for the times you do double-dates: consider activities with less talking. Try a movie night, or a visit to a museum where you quietly appreciate the exhibit, or a card/board game that takes all your focus. You can show your support of their marriage, etc. with fewer unpleasant moments.

    Alternatively, meet up with Wonderful Friend and Caustic Guy at bigger social gatherings, where it’s easier to mingle and extricate yourself by ducking out to chat with someone else. Caustic substances can be diluted.

    1. YES. My best times with BF’s Caustic Husband (see below, in reply to clodia, maybe later, I wrote a book again and this shorter comment will probably make it through the spam filter first) have been at movies, at parties and venue events where we hang out together and then drift apart, at work parties where we’re all focused on a task, at events where the focus is on their children, or at their house watching movies or TV. Lively conversation over beers in bars, NOT SO MUCH.

  6. One thing that has been covered a lot before and I think applies here. If he wants to make it awkward, let him! There’s a lot of social pressure to smooth things over and enable that behavior, but you don’t have to.

    “C is so fat and ugly” “That’s a TERRIBLE thing to say!” Stare, blink, shocked surprise. Let him flail and cover and defend himself.

    If you’re doing anything to cover or smooth for him, even just the socially acceptable strained smile and nod, you have the freedom not to! Obviously whatever you chose to do is fine, you don’t need to feel forced to be his trainer, but he’s the one saying bad things. Not you. Though on that one, say it directly to him. Running to C and going “He just said you were fat and ugly” may feel nice, but…. in the long run you get the blame.

    For my own, I have a relative I dearly love and they have many great qualities, but they sometimes burst out with something very racist. My automatic response now is “___, don’t be racist.” There’s usually some “but… but I was just… I’m not being racist.” “Well then if you’re not, you don’t have anything to apologize for, right?” And it’s done a great deal of stopping the things, at least around me, which is all I can hope to control. And with a close relative I can afford to be that direct.

    1. Love this. I’ve recently started trying to be the one that says something in these situations and although it’s really scary it also realigns the power balance of the conversation. Instead of the other person being the strong one controlling the tone of the conversation and making you feel bad and weak and small, you’ve turned it round so he’s the one who looks bad and (hopefully) feels embarrassed about his social faux pas. This turning it round on him tactic might be a good one to take if he’s not responsive to you telling him that he’s hurting your feelings.

      1. So true.

        My strategy with racist/sexist/other hurtful jokes is to give a blank stare, pause a beat, and in a total deadpan voice say, “Huh? I don’t get it. Can you explain?”

        Explaining a joke leeches all the humor out of it and lays it on the dissection table.

        Everyone has the right to “not get” a joke, but if you’re the butt of a mean-spirited joke or a thinly-veiled mean-spirited joke, you are expected to laugh or be branded a humorless wet blanket with no sense of humor.

  7. 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

    Yes, this. Don’t let yourself get to that point. It’s very difficult to come back from this stage once you get there, and it’s very difficult to avoid having that cause friction with the person in the middle when you’re at that stage.

    1. There’s that bitch *eating crackers* again, stupid so and so, and… oh dear. *cough*
      Yep… the sneaky hate spiral as discussed on CA before is highly applicable here.

  8. My husband is occasionally The Caustic Husband, and I am generally mildly affronted when people talk to me about my husband’s behavior and not him. I am not in charge of making sure he acts appropriately. I will tell him when he is acting inappropriately to me and around me. But I am not his mother or his manager or anything but his wife. I can understand the impulse, a bit, when my friends are closer to me and only see him around me, that makes him “Clodia’s husband” more than “Caustic Husband” in their eyes. However, that doesn’t actually mean that he is an extension of myself that I need to govern.

    It is okay to build different relationships with different halves of a couple. If you try to lump them together as a unit, that’s dehumanizing to both sides. And it’s okay to like someone, but not like their partner equally well.

    1. You’re only mildly affronted? I had a friend confront me about my partner’s behavior once and he quickly became an ex friend. First of all, when you’re confronting me over jokes on facebook we have a problem. Secondly, no, we are not basically one entity, I’m not in charge of his opinions, or his jokes that end up not really being funny. If you have a problem with my partner take it up with him.

      I would be similarly upset if someone went to him with a problem about me. That’s just not the way things go.

      1. On the other side, if my partner was hosting one of my friends to the extent that she was considering not hanging out with me so much, I would DEFINITELY want to know. Similarly if we were making jokes in a public place that my friends found upsetting. If they felt confident enough to go to her directly, fair enough, but if they were understandably reluctant to get into a confrontation, I’d rather they told me about it than just faded out of my life.

        1. Yeah, I feel like there’s two approaches that can be used here. The first is going to your friend and basically bad-mouthing their partner. That’s shitty and also says to the friend that you view them and their partner as a unit, or that you expect the friend to “fix” the partner, which as clodia mentioned, is really dehumanizing. But I think there’s a way to bring this up to your friend, and that’s by making it about your friendship with your friend, and preserving that. Which, I think is the main thrust of CA’s original advice.

          1. Well that’ll teach me to not read to the end of the thread before commenting! Beth below said what I mean much more clearly and with examples even! Thanks!

    2. That’s great if you manage to spend time with your friends without your husband. If your friends are having to hang out with your husband in order to spend time with you, they can’t exercise the choice not to have him in their lives if they don’t like his style. Also, why would he listen to people who are his wife’s friends, rather than his own friends? So in that situation I can see why friends would want you to do something about your husband’s approach.

    3. I don’t think that approaching the more approachable partner (perceived-to-be more familiar, more accommodating, more self-aware, whatever) is *necessarily* (although it certainly can be and often is!) lumping the couple together as a “unit”, but I do think it’s fraught, and this is why:

      LW, your friend already knows. You don’t have to tell her, and telling her will be hurtful and frustrating. She is DEFINITELY aware her spouse is behaving badly and is in some way actively trying to navigate something that is stressful (and inescapable for her, because Married). I would lay even odds that at least one of the incidents you describe resulted in a fight, in private, later, that you don’t know about.

      I’ve been on both sides of this. I’m friends with my BF’s husband, I am deeply and genuinely fond of him and we have our own friendship independent of his attachment to her, but not nearly as close as her and I are. He is SO the Caustic Husband, and I sometimes find him emotionally exhausting or overtly offensive. On occasion I have gone to BF and said, “Look, I feel like I need to say something to him, but I thought i should get a reality check from you about whether that’s likely to be a productive conversation, and how to approach it.”

      Framed as asking for ADVICE about how YOU should deal with a person, and not as a DEMAND that their spouse deal with them or a REVELATION that they are making you unhappy, that can be an entirely appropriate conversation for VERY VERY GOOD CLOSE TRUSTING FRIENDS to have. (I would be EXTREMELY careful of this approach with anyone who is not super close, but it sounds like LW and Friend are.) BF and I have had very good conversations along those lines, and I’ve gone on to have really good conversations with him as well. (And sometimes not. Sometimes the gist of the advice is, “yeah, that would just frustrate you and confuse him, leave it alone.”)

      But I also had a lot of people (during the two or three years before the divorce) approach me to “manage” my ex, force him to do something they wanted, or quit behaving badly in particular ways, and those conversations were super painful and discouraging. (They were, in fact, the proximate CAUSE of the divorce, final straw, whatever. Being treated badly in private was something I was pretty practiced at navigating, but being pressured to Wife At Him by other people, some of whom I didn’t know very well, often in public, whole knowing full well that he didn’t give a shit about anything I said and was in no way engaging me as a partner, made me feel profoundly lost and helpless.)

      1. This is very good insight. One of my very close friends who has a boyfriend is very awkward and ranges from being entirely mute all night to talking over people and not noticing anyone trying to engage in conversation. When we were first getting to know her bf – his social awkwardness would be points that we’d mention to her and it would just be a stressful position for her because it either made her the “mommy” in the situation of having to correct is socially imperfect relations – but also as a reminder of some of his qualities that weren’t awesome.

        We drifted apart for a while when they were initially dating – but when we reconnected, a huge part of that was that I (and our other female friends) would stop putting our problems with him at her feet. We could ask her how to better interupt him when he wouldn’t stop talking – but ultimately it was up to me in how I wanted to deal with him and his behaviors that didn’t make him an awesome-friend-all-the-time for me.

        While it relieved a lot of pressure on my friend to make her partner “perfect” – it also relieved a lot of pressure on me to absolutely love her partner. Also importantly, her partner doesn’t feel like I’m constantly talking about him to her and others about how I don’t like him. I deal with my “issues” with him, directly with him – and it’s made everything far more friendly.

    4. I honestly don’t entirely get this perspective. If your friends only feel safe coming to you, and not your husband, that kind of says something about your husband, doesn’t it?

      I can understand why they might not feel comfortable addressing him right there in the moment – especially as women interacting with men, we can’t always trust that men care about how they make us feel with their actions. I know I’ve been burned more than once by men I *thought* would be good about me bringing up my discomfort with something they said or did (including family members and [formerly] close friends) only to find out that they were very much not willing to have that conversation. When there’s that privilege imbalance, it’s not that cut and dry. If a female friend is coming to you about your husband’s behavior toward her, it might be because she doesn’t trust your husband to understand her perspective as a woman, but she trusts you to, and hopes that as your husband’s spouse, he’d be more willing to hear you out than her.

      I’m not trying to be combative, and I certainly hope I’m not coming off that way, but your comment does perplex me in this sense.

      1. Well I also think that as part of the whole patriarchy thing there is this infantilization of men and a tendency to think that women should govern their behavior. (I remember one of the comments someone made about an early boyfriend “Him? But where can you TAKE him?”) It’s as though we have to be the civilizing influence.

        Truthfully yes, sometimes a partner has more sway, but on the other hand if the only feedback someone is getting comes from their partner they might not believe them. If my boyfriend is the only one who ever tells me I look bad in blue, I’m probably going to think it is because he is colorblind, not because I really look bad in blue. So if the people that are upset don’t speak up and are constantly channeling their issues through the partner that creates conflict and can become a real problem.

        I just think that whenever you have a problem with another adult you should address it with that adult. It’s true, it may not work, but at least that way you are starting with the assumption that they are an adult and not someone else’s responsibility. It’s one thing to say “Hey I’m going to confront your husband about X, do you think that’s a good idea and will you back me up?” And another to say “Hey could you please put your husband in time out he is being a bad man.”

        1. Agreed that there’s a big way that the expectation of women to ‘caretake’ plays into this dynamic.

          I explicitly do not manage my partner’s relationships. (Nor does he manage mine.) But it took a long time for me to get there. Early in our relationship, I had internalized the idea that ‘managing social stuff’ was kind of my job–I’m pretty sure I got this from my parents; my husband certainly didn’t encourage me to feel that way–and it took a lot of emotional work to get to where I could say, you know, if you have a problem with someone or someone has a problem with you, that’s really not mine to figure out.

          I make exceptions if someone knows me very well and doesn’t know my partner at all–if, say, my college roommate, who has only met my partner once in passing, had an issue, I’d be okay with her coming to me first simply because it’s understandable to not want to address the near-stranger with a problem immediately. If the person barely knows him, I expect to help out with the bridge-building, so to speak.

          But if they already know him reasonably well (we’ve met and hung out together as a group a handful of times or more), someone coming to me would get a, “I’m sorry you’re having trouble with [partner]. You’d probably better bring that up with him, though. It’ll have more impact directly from the source than secondhand anyway.”

          (I’d be disinclined to agree to “back up” a friend who wanted to confront my husband. Well, no, I make an exception: if my partner said something outright offensive–a slur, say, or an outright insult–I’d back up a friend. But something like, “Your partner interrupts me all the time” or “I don’t like the way he talks about politics,” I’m not going to step in even if I agree, because a) things will go better if he doesn’t feel ganged up on, since nobody likes a “yeah, we all got together behind your back and agree that you talk too much” or whatever, and b) if it’s not an issue of slurs or insults, it’s really theirs to negotiate, and it’s not my business to take sides.)

        2. That totally makes sense, and I do agree wrt the infantilaztion of men in social situations idea, and I’m a little surprised at myself that I didn’t make that connection on my own, so I’m glad you brought it up. I’m also realizing that I’m making associations from a few really specific events in my life (that I won’t get into, because it’s a derail) where me standing up for myself ended with both other parties ganging up on me for being “too sensitive” so, yeah, baggage!

          Anyway, I really appreciate your perspective and thank you (and you Badger Rose!) for being willing to type up such thoughtful responses.

        3. I don’t really think of it as, “Hey could you please put your husband in time out he is being a bad man.” For me, it’s more along the lines of, “Hey, you keep bringing this other person around me, and he’s behaving in ways that make me not want to be around either of you. Is there a chance this can stop, or should we see if there’s a way we can see each other without him?” It’s pretty much the same reaction as I have when someone has a friend who isn’t my friend, but who regularly accompanies them to things I plan.

          It’s a little harder to address the behavior with the other person more directly, because in most cases I don’t have much investment in continuing that relationship besides the tie with my friend.

          1. I have lost friends over this. If a friend of mine can’t go along with “I want to hang with you but not your partner”, they have to stop being my friend, because I am too old to be wasting time on people who are mean and rude.

    5. This one’s tricky.

      I’m not in charge of making sure Spouse acts appropriately, and I’ve had a few frustrating situations when people have seen fit to tell me “Here is EVERYTHING that Spouse is doing wrong!” while insisting to HIS face that there was no issue. That sucked, and most of those friendships have cooled if they exist at all.

      Spouse and BFF also used to have serious Issues with each other – and they were both wrong and they were both right. There was a point where they made peace with each other in the, “well, I don’t really like you that much but you’re important to Cheshire so let’s at least be decent to each other, ‘k?” sort of way. But then as the years went by they actually managed to have the occasional friendly conversation that wasn’t about Being Nice To Cheshire but was about topics of mutual interest to them.

      OTOH, Spouse and another good friend of mine had a huge blow-up, and friend came to me and basically said, “I’m not speaking to your spouse anymore except for bare bones civility, and this is why, and I hope you and I can still be friends?” And we are. And I was really REALLY pissed at Spouse about it because he was a) far and away more in the wrong than the other party and b) totally unable to see why he was in the wrong, but the good part of it is realizing/reinforcing that we don’t have to get along with all the same people just because we’re married.

  9. The Captain’s advice of “more solo plans” is sound.

    LW, it’s possible that the husband is a jerk, pure & simple. But it’s also possible that on some level, he is a little threatened in his (new) marriage by your close friendship with his wife, your long list of mutual interests, your history of shared crises, and possibly a fear that your future needs might compete with his.

    I’m not writing this to excuse his bad behavior, or to condone it, but rather to give you a possible explanation for why he’s saying these things. Specifically, an explanation that says “no, you’re not being over-sensitive, he is trying to hurt you’re feelings, and no, it’s not your fault he’s being a jerk and you don’t deserve it.”

    If the husband is being a jerk because he feels threatened, that’s not your fault or your problem LW. You’re not doing anything wrong, and it’s not your responsibility to try to address someone else’s insecurities. If the new husband is feeling insecure, you spending one-on-one time with your friend means he’ll have to address that with his wife instead of trying to take it out on you.

    1. This! I’m coming from the context of a former abuse victim, but the first thing that popped into my head was, “I wonder if he’s trying to chase her off.” I’m not trying to suggest that Caustic Husband is an actual abuser, but there are people who feel threatened by Old Friends/people who have a longer history with new partner/spouse than they do, and therefore have a “more legitimate” claim to Spouse’s time and attention – and since THEY should have the Most Legitimate claim on Spouse, they make an effort to run off old friends.

      1. Or, coming from my personal experience, people who are threatened by the fact that you’re not threatened by their entry into your mutual friends life – because if you’re not threatened, then they must not be a threat, and therefore have no worth…

    2. I dunno. To me, the Holding Forth that husband seems to be doing seem more like culturally-sanctioned insensitivity than something more insidious. Which, I think, is good news, as its far easier to convince someone who genuinely wants to befriend you that they are behaving badly than someone who wants to drive you off.

  10. Oh solo time, I love thee. I have a friend whose husband I cannot help fighting with–even when we are both trying our hardest to be on best behaviour, we have Very Careful conversations that are like tangoes over fields of unexploded landmines. I don’t know why! We just don’t get on. Our styles of seeing the world and relating are mutually incompatible.

    So I spend a lot of time hanging out with this friend on weeks where her husband works nights. It’s how we deal.

    1. Oh yes.

      In my case, the husband-equivalent really really wants to be friends with me and keeps trying to find a wedge to force me to open up to them. Because it’s gone so well every time before? (spoiler: never has) Why can’t we just be distant acquaintances who don’t talk about personal things?

      1. …oh gods the Friendship Wedge (and accompanying sledgehammer). I know it well, alas. Sometimes it is okay to not be friends with everyone! This is acceptable! Please stop trying to force the friendship, we can be friendly acquaintances THIS IS OKAY.

      2. Oooof – I have a million sympathy feels for you. My current wedge-wielder is a co-worker who just. won’t. let. up. He’s the kind of dude that shows love being throwing stuff at your head and pouts when you don’t like it. And then continues doing it because “it doesn’t leave a bruise.”

        1. And then continues doing it because “it doesn’t leave a bruise.”


          Pity it’d probably make things super-awkward to point out that that is actually higher than the legal threshold for assault.

        2. OFFS. That’s. Just … “Hello? HR? I’ve got a problem …”

          I’m sorry you’re being physically attacked in the name of “friendship”.

        3. I really hope that “throwing stuff at your head” is a metaphor for … well, it wouldn’t be anything good, but something other than actually throwing stuff at your head.

  11. It sounds to me like this guy is one a person with Opinions. He knows how things should be, and things that are not that way must be rectified. (For Newsroom fans, think “Mission to Civilize.”)

    I too am one of these people, but I keep my Opinions to myself, my partner, and to people who ask for them as much as I can. I realize people are going to do what they want and telling them that I think their diet is dumb isn’t going to do anything but make them feel bad and me feel bad when they hate me. I’m not perfect, but I try.

    It could be that he hasn’t realized that not everyone wants to hear his Opinions. Perhaps he is just sure that the world wants to know the brilliance of his mind.

    Or it could be that he feels like you are part of some inner circle who deserves the wisdom of his Opinions.

    Either way, no. I would suggest the Newsroom solution of throwing cocktails in his face, but probably setting boundaries with him when you can and hanging out without him other times is going to be less harmful to your existing friendship.

    1. I am now picturing a very puffy Person with Opinions, with a pince-nez and three piece suit, drawling along Monty Python style.

    2. Me too! My other half’s BFF-that-I-don’t-get-on-with is the same. I love having great big arguments about Things in General with people who also enjoy this, and I used to have many fun debates with him (or so I thought). Unfortunately, he found it upsetting to have women disagreeing with him, so he started saying nasty personal things. Which made me stop engaging in the debates. Fine, he’s achieved his aim. Except he still feels the need to hold forth on Things in General to a now-silent room. Not fun for me because I hate stifling the urge to join in and put him right.

      I’ve considered using my words, but I know he would feel bad and it would be a blow to his confidence, and it’s hard to break early conditioning that women exist to boost men’s confidence. So I try to treat the necessary periods of interaction as a gift to my hubby. And my hubby does the same for me (with much whinging).

  12. Another member of the “Friend’s Husband is a Jerkwad” Club here. I’ve had the most success with a two-part strategy: (1) inviting just Friend to do things that I know Husband won’t attend or want to do, and (2) completely ignoring Husband when he is present beyond the most basic civilities (“hi, how are you?” and “goodbye” in most instances). Over time, he’s basically stopped addressing me beyond the basics as well, and we have a “live and let live” agreement that doesn’t seem to hurt friend at all and didn’t require a hard discussion with her.

    It doesn’t matter if you’re being “oversensitive” (whatever that means to you)–you don’t have to like or get along with this guy, no matter who he’s married to, and you don’t have to wait for him to say something universally considered reprehensible. Just minimize your contact with him as much as possible. You’ll be happier for it.

  13. I have such a problem with saying this stuff right after the thing that’s happened. I’m always too busy just feeling crappy and not quite understanding why, and then later I’m like “hey wait a minute, I was feeling hurt because this person said X! It’s so obvious!” But since the conversation has moved on or in some cases it’s several hours later, I don’t know how to bring it up. I feel like bringing something up AFTER a conversation has ended makes it more of a Big Deal than responding to it in the moment. So I don’t say anything, but then it just festers in my head forever unless we have the exact same conversation again, which isn’t likely.

    1. I don’t know if this works for you, but I have found I’m better at this when I have very simple, general scripts handy. One of them–I had to practice to get the mild tone on this one right, because otherwise it easily devolves into tone policing–is, “What does that have to do with anything?” or, “What would that have to do with anything?” This has come up when people were using gendered slurs about politicians, for example, or when examples like the “fat and ugly” above came up. (The “does” vs. “would”: I use the latter when I don’t want to actually concede that the person *is* the thing mentioned, I just want to inquire as to what that would have to do either way. Some people are fat; fine either way, but it doesn’t make them show up annoyingly early for parties, or annoyingly late for dinner or whatever, and getting into whether Friend X is or is not fat is sometimes not the point.)

      The other thing I have been working on here is trying to be nice to myself when I can’t react right away. Even the situation in which I most successfully challenged racism in a personal conversation, I had to leap up and clear some dishes from my host’s dining room into my host’s kitchen and take some deep breaths before I could manage to figure out what I wanted to say that was more civilized and productive than, “shut up, stinky racist.” There are so many cultural narratives in which people have “zingers” and instant comebacks, and I think we would all love to be the person who gently but firmly puts asshattery in its place, but it’s okay if you aren’t that person in two seconds flat while dealing with your friend’s two-year-old clinging to your knee and worrying about Great Aunt Myra who is having a lie-down in the next room because she doesn’t feel good. It’s okay if it takes you a minute. Life is full of stuff. People quite often say, “I wanted to go back to that thing you were saying about Jane Austen,” when it’s a minor conversational point. It’s okay if we need to do it about offensive things too.

      1. This is great advice! I especially like the bit about taking a moment and then coming back to the table with “Going back to that thing you said, that was not okay”.

    2. I hear this. I think this is where a therapist can help you practice scripts for these kinds of situations. Or you could maybe roleplay them out with friends sans therapist. I think it’s kind of like learning a martial art or being a firefighter — you have to practice a LOT to overcome the initial “fight or flight” reaction, so that when the situation is “real,” you can kind of go on autopilot because you know what you’re “supposed” to do so well from all that practice.

      Of course, it occasionally helps to actually BE surprised and shocked, such as when a former co-worker used an incredibly offensive and outdated racial slur — I was truly and honestly taken aback and shocked, and before I could get in my own way, I called him out on it. I NEVER do that kind of thing, but my utter shock helped!

    3. One thing that I would recommend: don’t compound your own feeling-bad-ness by beating yourself up over what you “should” have said.

      It’s far too easy to turn someone else’s offensive comment into my own failure–the transition from “I can’t believe s/he said that” and “That thing s/he said hurt my feelings a lot” to “I can’t believe I didn’t say anything back” and “I can’t believe I let him get away with it” and “what a doormat/loser/idiot/wuss/bad ally/whatever I am.” Sometimes I wind up more mad at myself than I am at the person who said the offensive thing in the first place!

      Which is exactly backwards. Yes, it’s entirely appropriate to call someone out when they say something hurtful and offensive, But the onus for the hurtfulness is still on them. Your being too stunned, shy, or caught-off-guard to respond is not a greater crime than their being mean or offensive in the first place. In fact it’s not a crime at all. Awkward, maybe. But not a crime.

      What I do in those situations is, if the person is someone I am likely to only see once or twice in my life, I let it go. If the person is someone who is already in my Not Worth Bothering With book, I also let it go. (Some people, I already know that trying to have a thoughtful conversation is not worth the breath I would expend.) And if it’s something that I think was likely a goof (something clearly came out differently than they meant it, or a mild offense, or a thoughtless remark from someone who is usually not thoughtless), I might also let it go on the principle that it is not likely to recur or isn’t a big deal.

      But if it’s a friend or someone else I am going to be dealing with long-term, where the bridges are not yet burnt and I think I might be able to have a meaningful conversation, and where the issue is serious enough that I don’t want to just shrug and let it go, I might find a quiet moment and say, “Hey, I didn’t say anything at the time because it caught me off guard, but it bugged me when you said X, because Y.” Possibly followed by, “Can you please not say that to/around me in the future?” as relevant.

    4. I have the same problem – where I don’t realise exactly what was making me feel off until way later when the opportunity to say something has passed. But I’m getting better at it, and there are a couple things that have helped.

      First, the icky feeling is a clue – it’s usually a sign that someone has done something off and I’m being compelled by niceness to just smooth things over. Now if I feel that way I straight away look for the reason why, rather than just assuming that I’m socially awkward and it’s all somehow my fault. Which is not to say it’s always someone doing something dodgy, it’s just a good reminder to check.

      Secondly, practice. For example – after I had one person intrusively and inappropriately question me about my career path and then tell me I was doing it all wrong, then offer their own opinion on what I should be doing (for *hours*), I wondered why the hell I went along and answered all their questions and nodded and smiled through the conversation. The correct response would be to shut them down, but I felt powerless to do so without creating awkwardness. Of course, I now know that the correct thing to do would be to just refuse to answer questions I wasn’t comfortable discussing with a vague acquaintance. And keep refusing. And just outright say I wasn’t interested in discussing it if they pressed it. Having had that experience, I’m now much more familiar with what that kind of boundary violation feels like. Now when people ask me inappropriate questions I’m more likely to recognise what’s going on, rather than just having a vague feeling of not liking the conversation and not knowing how to get out of it.

      Basically those times when you think “Argh! That person was offensive! Why did I say nothing?” are opportunities to consciously assess what that kind of rudeness looks and feels like, and to think of appropriate ways to respond. In conversation I’m very focused on how I’m presenting and what people will think of me – I have a history of being bad at that stuff so I’m pretty nervous about it. It makes me blind to the fact that not all people are upholding their end of the bargain or being nice, and that I don’t need those people to like me. It means I only notice their weirdness after the fact when I’m not so focused on performing socially. Realising that actually other people are sometimes dicks and it’s OK for me to react to them as if they are dicks has been hugely helpful in noticing it as it happens.

    5. This! I have a huge problem in that sometimes I don’t even *feel* hurt or crappy until much later, and then I have to suss out why. Hurt and anger simply don’t register for me immediately. It’s been a serious issue for me because I feel like I’m not entitled to go back to someone a couple of days later and say, “That thing you said? It really bothers me, and I need to talk about it.” Half the time by that point they have forgotten about it. 😦

      1. Yes, absolutely. I spend far too much time eaten up with this kind of thing. And I don’t think it’s generally considered acceptable to go over cold conversations with people unless you’re very close to them. I guess one could sneakily set up a similar conversation again, to see if the person came out with the same stuff, at which point you could zing in with your response. And I guess if they don’t come out with similar stuff, their initial faux pas may have been a momentary idiocy, or they’ve realised they were in the wrong.

      2. I have the same problem. Emotions! They confuse and befuzzle me! I have had some luck with bringing stuff up a few days later when it really bothered me, especially with people who I know aren’t actually jerks, they just said something stupid. But that was with someone who was a friend already, so YMMV. With other people, I usually try to analyze the situation, find out if there’s a pattern behind one person’s comments, and mentally prepare myself for a similar situation and hope it goes better next time. Of course, that process is also heavily mixed with my anxiety around people and copious fuming, but it’s the path I’m trying to encourage my brain to take. Since I started trying this, I knew what to watch for around one particularly egregious offender, and I was actually able to say something in the moment, so I’ve had some success, and it has helped curb my fretting about the situation endlessly.

      3. For me, this (not realising I felt hurt or crappy until much later when I am alone and have time to think and process) is a survival tactic from previously living in abusive situations. It’s not something that’s gone away easily either. Sometimes it’s really cool\useful, sometimes it’s just neutral or even funny, and sometimes in an impediment to appropriately dealing with situations. Coupled with trying to get over shitty dynamics of “No, it’s not a problem at all (until 2 years later when it will be brought up in a completely irrelevant discussion as evidence of why rz is a terrible person)!”, it’s a bad combination for not being able to respond appropriately to shitty behavior in or out of the moment. I have thus decided there are three appropriate responses to shitty behavior by someone I want to (or have to) maintain a relationship with:
        –Confront it in the moment, trying to use positive and proactive scripts
        –Let it go. Process my emotions elsewhere and decide not to bring it up. (But, like, actually let it go. Not pretend to let it go when it actually still is eating away at me for ages. If I decide to let it go, but then realise I can’t, switch to the last option.)
        –Bring it up at a future, neutral point in a non-emotionally charged way. (i.e. Next time we hang out, an aside of, “Hey, that thing happened and I didn’t like it, and I didn’t get a chance to say anything but it’s bothering me. Can thing not happen again?” NOT as a criticism in the middle of another argument)

        I have decided anyone of these options is equally good, and I am not allowed to feel guilty for taking any of them, as long as I act in a way that is compassionate and respectful to all, and relationship-building towards those I want to build relationships with.

        1. Thank you! I also do this but didn’t realize that it was a post-abuse thing until you said it. Of course it is.

          Almost four years out, and still processing insights and incremental steps every. single. day. Also: I fucking love this blog and commenting community.

          1. same here, really really helpful insight & advice. especially the bits about not feeling guilty. i’ve found so much that’s useful & supportive on this blog, from the captain & the commentators. it’s such a refreshing change from the common victim blaming mentality you see in advice forums.

    6. If it’s a person who you’ll keep in touch with you can study their pattern of behaviour and if you don’t have a reply handy the first couple of times, eventually you’ll know exactly what they’ll do and exactly how to deal with it. If not, it’s easier to let go, probably.

  14. The Captain’s advice is excellent, especially re: solo time. In some social groups it can be difficult–people will assume that they and their SO are invited as a unit–but if that’s the case, it’s worth having the, “I like group things too, but I miss hanging out one-on-one!” conversation. (Phrasing it that way makes it harder to argue with, too. If you say, “I don’t want to see your partner all the time,” it can lead into a super awkward “what’s wrong with my partner???” talk, but “I love hanging out just the two of us!” is enough of a compliment that it’s harder to misconstrue.)

    Another thing that can be useful is, if you do 2-3 solo things and then one thing where guy is invited, make Thing Where Guy Is Invited a group occasoion. Dinner with friend and guy and you… and another couple! Movie night with friend and guy and you… and three other friends! And then don’t feel obliged to have more than cursory-pleasant conversations with guy. (“Hi, how’s your day been? I’m fine, traffic was rough. Looking forward to the movie. Oh, hey, I’m going to go say hi to Amy… bye!”) Then you have something of a buffer.

    It can also be useful to have a handy list of Neutral Topics that you can always turn to as needed. It may differ from person to person (I have one acquaintance who must be kept off the topic of politics unless you want to hear ill-informed ranting, but he’s great if you start him talking about food… and another who is exactly the opposite: perfectly fine on political topics but food is a red hot button. So if you notice that you can have a pleasant conversation with dude about sports, or gardening, or the weather, or music, or superhero movies, or his vintage doorstop collection, or your vintage milk bottle collection, or the roadwork on the I-5, or… whatever, it can be useful to remember that so as to make any times you *are* stuck having a conversation more bearable. I have some relatives who I try to avoid having to spend much time with… but when I can’t help it (grandmother’s birthday, say), I know that I can ask them about their garden, or Local Sports Team, and at least the next ten minutes won’t be acutely painful.

  15. This is really great advice and I wish that I’d had in the past! LW’s friend’s caustic partner sounds quite a bit like my grandma, and also like some friends and partners of friends who I’ve known.

    Sorta tangentially, thanks so much for the point about having friends who are really great otherwise but just not great to be around when you’re in a bad head space. I struggled with anxiety and depression a lot this past year and found myself avoiding one group of friends to spend time with a smaller group. When I was feeling good the first group was great to be around, but when I was feeling really down I just didn’t have the emotional energy to be around them, even though they were perfectly nice people. It was much easier to sit down to dinner with 2-3 close friends who understood things like depression than to try to juggle the group of 10 or so people I’d known since I was a freshman who liked to talk over each other and rib each other. I felt so guilty for choosing one friend group over another when this happened, especially because I could never adequately explain why some days I just couldn’t. And yet I definitely felt like it was the best way to take care of myself. How could I consider them my friends when they weren’t the best friends for all situations like they used to be?

    Who knows if I’ll be in that same kind of competing friend group situation again now that I’ve graduated from college but thanks for the validation. Hopefully if I have to deal with that situation again I’ll be able to remember this and try to explain better so I’m not just weirdly avoiding and losing touch with people who I generally like.

  16. I second the solo advice, but from a different perspective. I have a husband that most of my friends do not like. I am fully aware of it. My husband also doesn’t like most of my friends. There wasn’t any incident or anything like that. It’s just that my husband isn’t very social, has a friends group that includes two other people (and likes it that way), and has very strong opinions. We often get invited out as a couple. Sometimes, my husband comes, feels totally bored, quietly loathes most of the people in the group, will respond (truthfully) when spoken to, and ends up offending people. He has a terrible time, I am worried about his feelings and the feelings of my friends, and my friends often feel offended by my husband’s apparent rudeness. We have learned that, for us, it is better for me to spend time with my friends by myself most of the time. (Oddly, I get along great with his two friends!)

    My friends worry that he doesn’t like them. He doesn’t (He doesn’t hate them either. He just has no desire to get to know them and finds the going out process exhausting). That is okay. They are friends with ME, not HIM. They do not need to always invite us out as a couple. I don’t need to go with my husband to every party or every dinner. And I don’t. But I am always invited to come out as half of a couple, even by people who clearly don’t like my husband (they don’t say that they don’t like him, but it’s super obvious from the way they talk about him). I would prefer that they just invite me out. I think they worry that because I am married, I won’t come out if my husband isn’t invited as well. That is true some of the time, as I do prefer to be with my husband most of the time (even if I wasn’t married, I wouldn’t want to go out for drinks every night. Once a week? I’m all about it!). However, neither of us has to be together all the time and we don’t need to do group oriented things together. He has his friends and I have mine. He goes camping with his friends for a few days, I go to happy hour with my friends.

    I would honestly prefer if my friends would be able to recognize this. I don’t feel comfortable telling my friends, “Actually, my husband just doesn’t really like y’all.” Instead I tell them, “He’s not very social and really doesn’t like going out, but he doesn’t mind if I come by myself. Is that cool?” Maybe I’m not using my words enough, but I feel like that should be a pretty good indicator that I’m happy to come out alone and they don’t have to keep asking me if husband will come, why husband won’t come, will he come next time, etc.

    LW, I don’t mean this unkindly at all, but it’s possible that husband doesn’t want to do couples stuff all the time either. It’s possible that your friend notices his unkind behavior and that they do talk about it. Your friend might already feel in the middle (I do all the time between my husband, who would like to be left alone, and my friends, who are upset that someone they don’t like doesn’t like them either.) It’s okay if you two don’t like each other and it’s okay for you and your friend to have girls’ only nights. It will probably be more fun for everyone.

    It’s also possible that the three of you all like each other a lot and he’s just being insensitive. (I don’t want to create feelings of insecurity for you that he might secretly hate you or anything like that.) In that case, it’s still probably good for you and your friend to have time alone sometimes.

    TLDR; Solo time is also good because married people don’t need to go out together all the time and partners don’t always want to do things with their spouse’s friends.

    1. This sounds a lot like my husband (although he’s a bit more social than yours sounds, and is usually able to rein in the opinions) — he finds being around people who aren’t in his inner circle to be *completely exhausting* and basically spends all of his spoons on not freaking out. So I do a lot of stuff solo — and that’s okay! There are times when I ask him to come with me for things, and he does so agreeably, because I’m not constantly demanding that he do Traditional Coupl-y Things.

      1. My husband is good with our mutual friends and good with my family. He’ll happily come along for any family-related events. But, yeah, it is mentally exhausting for him to have to engage with others outside of his circle. He’ll come with me to certain social occasions where it would be weird for me if he didn’t attend (department functions, stuff like that), but otherwise I don’t try to pressure him into doing anything else with people outside of his circle.

    2. I’m (kind of) like your husband. It’s not that I dislike my partner’s friends–they’re perfectly nice people–but I have extremely limited social energy, and I already have a full slate of friends (both my own friends and mutual friends with my partner). He has a second group of friends, who I did not already know when we met, and I just don’t have the time or social points to make a totally new set of friends.

      So we’re not friends. I’m pleasant to them when they’re around, but we don’t hang out. But I think my ability to be pleasant is partly *because* I’m not pressured to hang out with them. I’d probably be quite a lot crabbier if people were pushing me to make friends with them, or if I had to either cut into my personal time or my time with my existing friends to hang out with them. I don’t think I’d say anything insulting… but I’d probably be not a lot of fun to be with. So it’s better all ’round that he has game night with them and I say “Have fun!” and either hang out with my own friends or–most often–have a blissful solitary evening with a book.

      1. Yeah, it took me a while, but I eventually learned that it was healthier for both of us if I didn’t pressure him to be friends with all of my friends. He finds it draining and confusing and he really doesn’t like it. He has nothing against any of my friends, but he has zero interest in bonding with them. He seriously dreads the idea that he’ll be forced into some sort of boyfriend/husband play date because I’m friends with someone who wants to double date or whatever.

        I think women sometimes grow up with a lot of pressures about how relationships are supposed to be, how we are supposed to treat our partners, and how they are supposed to react. Coupling up for everything, being friends with everyone, and managing my husband’s social life are some of those expectations I had to get over. And I was a lot happier once I realized that.

    3. Just a quick note from an etiquette perspective. If your friends invite the both of you, they ARE being polite and inclusive. An invitation is not an order though. You can very well reply that you are coming and your husband is not able to. No need to explain, also no need for them to explicitly say “your husband isn’t welcome”.

      1. Yes, an invitation is polite. An invitation is fine. Hounding me about why husband never comes, why doesn’t husband ever come out, why is husband so weird, etc., moves beyond politeness though. That is what I find difficult to accept. I am happy for both of us to be invited. I pass along the invitation to my husband. I decline for him and accept for myself. Then I get questions all night about why husband doesn’t come. And for days after. And I get conversations about how weird it is that I am married to someone so unfriendly. Or, I get people who are jealous because x person comes over and hangs out with us, so why doesn’t husband come out more (‘He can’t be that anti-social if x is allowed to come over!”). I don’t think that behavior is polite. I don’t like other people judging or questioning my relationship and I don’t feel like I should have to answer for my husband’s social behaviors to people who do not have a relationship with him.

        1. If you need reinforcement, I think the way you handle your husband’s greater introvertedness is lovely. As someone who has spent a lifetime feeling pressured to participate in social events that don’t particularly appeal, lest my absence (a.k.a., staying home reading) should be perceived as a hostile act, hearing your utter and complete acceptance of who he is, and your understanding that he’s not being introverted AT your friends, he’s just being himself, is a beautiful thing! Why should introverts have to spend hours and hours outside their comfort zone just to satisfy an arbitrary social model for “inclusiveness” that seems to owe a lot to Geek Social Fallicies? Preferring to mostly stay within his own small social circle does not make him an asshole, and by supporting his choice you are not complicit in a social crime.

          You are awesome.

        2. Uggggghhhhh, friendly “coercion” is still coercion. I second alphakitty, you handle this in such an admirable, accepting way.

  17. Yeah, this is one of those golden examples of the line between “fun jerk” and “jerk jerk.” Fun jerk pokes fun at friends in ways they find fun. Jerk jerk hears someone say it isn’t fun, and doubles down on his approach.

    Hopefully your guy is a fun jerk and will say “sorry, girl. you know I didn’t mean nothin’,” and follows up by really not doing it again. But if is a jerk jerk and gets offended at the insinuation that he is a jerk and starts going harder to prove a point (I don’t know why people do this but good lord, dumbest thing), I would recommend pointing out to him the difference between the fun jerk you generally love, and the jerk jerk who willfully hurts you when you express that something fun jerk said wasn’t received as it was intended (and that that is fine, but let’s move on).

    Good luck D:

  18. Oof, yeah, been there. My friend has a jerk-fiance. The thing is he isn’t TOTALLY jerky, and I always had a feeling that if we could talk one-on-one or just me-him-my-friend we’d be fine. And when we finally did, we were! He still has a tendency to be a bit sort of sharp around the edges, but within tolerable limits, and he’s actually really funny.


    If he is around me and someone he feels he needs to prove himself to, I become the proving ground. He does it by trying to Put Me In My Place, which I’m pretty sure he does because he is in fact very insecure in his own own academic abilities and is intimidated by mine. (He is actually very smart! But he’s not confident in that. I am also very smart, and I am confident in it.) And for ages that was our only form of interaction, because we always had lunch with a fourth party (also my friend!) to whom this guy desperately wanted to appear smart and witty. I eventually just stopped talking at these lunches, because OUCH.

    I have since managed to get on a sort of even keel with this guy, by spending some time with him outside of that specific setting and getting him a bit more onside. I think as time goes on he might even stop doing his SUPER ANNOYING things because he’ll see me as an individual. Maybe not. We shall see.

    But, now I’ve gotten through that super-long story, the point mostly was that I was actually, before the situation stopped being a thing, gearing up to say to my friend “look, I know that is a super-nice dude, and I know he’s really great for you, and I’m super happy that he makes you happy also. But often in he does and that’s pretty difficult for me — so can we not be in any more? Because it kinda sucks. Let’s just you and me hang sometimes, ok? And just to reiterate, I do know he’s a really great guy. Just his issues and my issues are getting a bit stuck together.”

    I think the most important part of that above potential conversation was the “partner is good for you and I can see that, because he is a good guy” thing. Acknowledging that partner is not in fact horrible, and is in fact a great match for the person in question, is probably pretty useful, because it says “although he and I are not a match, that doesn’t mean that I’m judging you for being a good match, and I can see that you are”. It could be pretty easy to hear “I don’t like the way your SO treats me” as “I don’t like the way your SO is.” In my case, I really could see that he was super good for her, and to her. He was just also super bad for (and to!) ME.

    (Also, I acknowledge that I’m pretty lucky in the whole ‘we talked one-on-one and got to know each other and now things are peachy(ish)!’ This is not necessarily the case for most jerks-attached-to-people-you-like.)

  19. Okay, I’m going to admit straight up that I’m a little nervous to say this, and I’m a little afraid that it’s a derail, but I’m honestly surprised by some things some people have said here and would like to better understand. So, with that spirit in mind, I’m going to try and collect my thoughts.

    I am… kind of perplexed at the commenters who have talked about how their spouses (husbands) don’t like their friends and vice versa, because, in my experience, that kind of thing is a huge red flag. And I fully admit to personal experience coloring my opinion here. I had an emotionally abusive boyfriend, and one of the first ways that manifested was that he declared how much he disliked my friends (how uncool they were, how all their opinions were wrong and invalid) and made it a point to refuse to do anything with them. And, for what it’s worth, my friends didn’t like him either – for good reason. So now, many years later and fully extricated from that situation (and now married to a different, far better man), I will say that if my partner could not get along with my friends, to me, that would be a deal breaker. Along those lines, if my friends don’t like my partner, I listen very carefully to why, because doing so all those years ago would have saved me a lot of pain and heartache. More simply put: I consider how well my friends and partner get along to be a necessary litmus test for the potential of the relationship, so I’m surprised that other people don’t.

    Of course, in typing this out there are a couple things that occur to me. This blog talks a lot about how, in relationships between people that you don’t understand, you have to accept that someone is in that relationship because they’re getting something from it, and that may be something you can’t see. So, there’s that. The other thing is that, my abusive ex would actively belittle my friends and try to make me feel bad for being friends with them, as well as try to prevent me from spending time with them on my own. (Only his friends were acceptable, at all.) It was very much not a “live and let live” situation. So, if it’s the case for other folks and their partners/spouses ARE happy to live and let live, and don’t try to actively keep those people from their friends, the situation is very much not the same.

    /deep breath

    All that being said, I will admit that, if I were in the LW’s position and a close friend’s spouse was saying hurtful things to me? It would make me reevaluate that friend. Because, how could she marry someone who is so thoughtlessly mean to the people who are special to her in her life? LW, I’ll also admit that, if my husband made to one of my friends the kind of comments you describe your friend’s husband as having made to you, I would be mortified, and I would be furious with my husband. Because those are really shitty things to say to or about people, and really, casual thoughtlessness isn’t okay.


    Clearly this is a loaded topic for me, and something I need to think more about. LW, I hope you don’t mind me framing these things like this, and I think the Captain’s advice is really sound for you. It’s something I’ll have to take to heart too, in case a similar situation arises for me in the future. Thanks for writing in with this – you’ve helped more folks than just yourself.

    1. I think we’re intersecting two different things here.

      If all your friends hate your new partner, or your new partner hates all your friends, maybe it’s a bad sign. If you feel like your partner is trying to separate you from your friends, that is definitely a very bad sign. But when it’s someone you’ve been friends with a long time, and someone you’re married to, these are lifelong relationships that are in progress and you’re getting something good out of them (presumably). So does it have to mean tearing everything down?

      We’re not talking about hate or abuse in this letter, or even a really strong dislike. The LW says husband is great for his/her friend and treats them well. We’re talking about….not quite gel-ing. Unthinking comments that are more hurtful than the perpetrator intends. Comments that are actually totally & unfortunately mainstream outside the (changing, thankfully!) culture of body acceptance. Like, the otherwise awesome guy who really, really, REALLY needs to win every game. So you don’t invite him to games parties, but movie parties are maybe ok.

      Because one answer to that, going the Geek Social Fallacies route, is that not everyone has to be really close and hang out all the time. Even two people who like the same person a whole bunch. And not every conflict has to be friendship-ending or a red flag of something deeper. The LW could just not like her friend’s husband all that much, in which case, minimize contact, find something to connect about, and figure out when and how to speak up in your own defense. Not all couples socialize best as a unit, or, even if they do, necessarily SHOULD hang out every waking moment. That’s not necessarily a bad thing at all.

      If you need your partner to mix well with your friends, that’s ok! But not everyone needs that, or, even if they do, can get it without letting go of some really important relationships that make them happy in other ways.

      1. Abuse is definitely a concern, and something that should be examined in relationships.

        But to offer my situation as a bit of an example, my husband and I have kind of this weird overlapping Venn diagram of friends. I don’t think I can do proper ASCII art here, but it’s more or less:

        (His friends.(………)………………………….My friends)

        He has a small number of very close friends, most of whom I love and some of whom I just don’t know all that well (e.g. they live out of state/country). I have a ton of friends. He doesn’t despise any of them, but he just doesn’t know most of them very well, because (as mentioned above) he is Super-Introvert. So, he’s not going to be comfortable at events where most of the participants are in the rightmost Venn circle – and that’s okay.

        1. Me too, with the friends.

          And it goes for families, too. My partner hates doing all the things my family loves. I find his family exhausting. So we each spend time with our own families solo usually. It’s nice! If we each spent as much time with our respective families as we do, but both at once, we would never have time for anything else.

      2. Thanks for taking the time to reply so thoughtfully, Captain! I do agree with pretty much everything you’re saying; like I’ve realized in reading other people’s comments, this whole situation is intersecting with my own issues/history in a way that’s making it hard for me to see other angles here, so I appreciate the patience. For me, honestly, the Caustic Partner’s body snark and diet snark/talk things would totally be deal breakers – in friend relationships or romantic relationships. I do not want people in my life who make those kinds of comments, period, and I have a low tolerance for it. But you are absolutely right that throughout our USian society, those kinds of comments are considered totally normal by a lot of people, so my perspective is in the minority. (Hopefully it’s a growing minority, though!) So yeah, that probably seems like a much bigger deal to me than it may to a lot of other people.

        1. Anothermas, I’m glad you brought it up, though. This situation does remind me of a friend’s BF who oh-so-innocently pushed all her friends’ buttons. The relationship only ended when her RA heard him hitting her… and he made her choose between dropping out of the college they were attending, since he’d been asked to leave, and having her throat cut. If we’d known, we would have helped, stood watch, stood guard, formed a human chain, gotten his butt out of the state, whatever it took. But he’d convinced her that since we knew it made her uncomfortable to see her friends squirm and to feel like she had to choose, we’d stopped hanging out with her because we didn’t like her… over now with a happy ending, thank Hestia. But very scary to think about in retrospect.

    2. I feel like one of the big things is that good friends/partners don’t try to make their problems your problems. You can love your boyfriend, and you can love your best friend, and the two can hate each other, and that can be fine! As long as they are both grownups, who respect that you are also a grownup, and don’t try to manipulate you into doing what they want, or whine at you all of the time about it. Friends and partners who DO engage in that kind of behavior aren’t just accepting that there are people out there they might just not like that much; they are using that fact as a justification to actively be shitty to the people they care about, which is 0% cool and totally dump-worthy.

      1. Conversely, I think it’s a very adult behavior to know when not to make their problems into your problems. Like, if your best friend and your boyfriend hate each other, it’s very unwise and inappropriate to try and force them to get along.

        1. Ever so late to the party but mmmmmm not sure on that one.
          My husband and I have had many issues about stuff like this. He has two friends who tend to, to put it bluntly, treat me like shit. One I actually told him straight up “I cannot function in a relationship with someone who is friends with Jerk. I need to get entirely away from Jerk for my own mental sanity, and if that means ending our relationship, that’s what I need to do.” Finally realizing I was *serious* Jerk was cut off for two years until I got over it. Jerk is now allowed around but guess what? He knows now not to fuck with me and where he ranks. Good. We actually get on fine now that he’s not being a snivelling creep to me.

          But it has always pissed me off it ever had to get there. I would *never* be friends with someone who disrespected my spouse like that. Never. I’m not talking disagreements over politics, I’m talking constant put downs insulting intelligence, snarky subtle cracks, a constant attitude that I needed to just STFU because men were talking basically. And my husband would AGREE this person was a Jerk, and that his behaviour was out of line, and DO NOTHING. So I quit hanging around when he was around, sounds smart right? No because to me this was even worse because this was showing Jerk that husband was fine with his behaviour and agreed his own wife was this silly irrelevant distraction to their bromance. I tried to explain this to husband and husband was all “I don’t really care how he interprets it I know what is true.” I was not impressed.

          So eventually no I just could not deal with being in a relationship with someone who was bromancing with someone so disrespectful to me, who thought so little of me. Now we’re all fine again (we’ve been speaking again for six months) but I’m still hurt. Because I found out that in fact they were still in (infrequent, light, very minimal) communication. And husband? He says he regrets agreeing to cut off Jerk. Why? Because it gave me the idea I could choose his friends. WTF. No. I don’t care who he is friends with. I care that my husband wants to be friends with people who are disrespectful toward me. I would never, ever even want to be friends with people who treated HIM as his friends have treated me (another one lied to me about something very important. I’m over it now as context was brought in and it wasn’t cool what happened but I understand how it happened and no longer am feeling like this individual hates me). At the very least I would tell them “it’s important to me my partner is treated with respect. You don’t have to like him/her or even socialize with him/her beyond being civil and friendly, but you cannot lie to them or put them down like that. It’s not okay.”

          He just doesn’t see any need to do this! I’m left feeling gobsmacked by it because fuck I’d do that for a FRIEND let alone a partner. And I’ve seen him do it for friends! In fact he did it in the past for me with Jerk, before husband and I were even dating! It’s massively infuriating. And it really, really, really HURTS.

          1. Ouch. Wow, yeah, I would be furious in your position. I’m really sorry you are going through all that.

            I don’t want to pry, but, have you considered couples counseling? I went through a really shitty episode with my husband a little over a year ago (tl;dr version of it is that he behaved like a coward and an asshole toward me; our relationship nearly ended) and counseling is what saved it. It took the counselor’s insights for my perspective to get through to my husband. That in and of itself is frustrating, but I did eventually get an honest, self-aware apology and we’re both much happier and our relationship is much better.

            I hope things can improve for you. I agree with you: everyone has to treat my partner with respect, and I expect all of his friends/family to treat ME with respect, too. And if that weren’t the case, I would be very, very angry.

          2. Yes, we’re in counselling and very slowly getting there. It’s like an onion, so many layers. Luckily, we both think the other, and “us” as an entity, is worth it.

      2. Yeah, you can really really loathe someone without ever trying to get someone you care about to dump them and their friendship. You can really not want to spend time with someone without getting in the way of other people spending time with them.

        (If you’re dealing with someone who is pulling that childish, manipulative behaviour on a mutual loved one, nothing upsets said manipulator more than Being An Adult about it and refusing to compete for the affections of the mutual loved one, and emphatically making sure that the loved one knows that you support their right to make their own decisions about their relationships and how they spend their time. Over time, said mutual loved one does notice the contrast between the behaviours around them… 😛 )

        1. Yes, exactly. I had to really clearly take down the Geek Social Fallacies when an old friend and I had a much-overdue falling out, and some mutual friends were feeling weird about it. Honesty and boundaries helped the most; having our mutual friends feel like they had to “sneak around” did not. Luckily we are all getting so much better about our boundaries and being generally better friends than the fucked-up messes we have been in the past, that it didn’t take too long to straighten out 🙂

      3. *Nod* yeah, I’m starting to see a bigger picture out of this now, and I thank everyone for being willing to reply! I guess too, for me, I have a pretty small social circle (just the way I am!) so if, say, my husband and BFF didn’t get along, that would make it much harder for me to socialize, because I rely on so many fewer people for social interaction, does that make sense? So again, that situation being totally okay for some people really threw me!

        Thanks for your thoughtful reply. 🙂

    3. I am sorry for your previous situation. That sounds very difficult and I can see why that behavior would be a red flag for you. But, our situations are not the same.

      My husband does not try to keep me from seeing my friends, does not speak badly about my friends to me, and is generally polite to my friends. He encourages me to spend time with my friends, co-workers, acquaintances, etc. He just is not interested in being friends with them and would rather not have to come along with me when I spend time with them. Not liking someone is not the same as disliking someone. I would say that my husband is generally indifferent to my friends and has no interest in making new friends period. He is just that way. As I mentioned in my post, he is not very social and has a very small group of people who he considers to be his friends. I am in that circle and I am friends with those people. Other friends I have are not within that circle and that is okay. I have known my husband for over half of my life (and he has been my friend and partner longer than any of my other friends). We grew up together. I understand that he prefers not to have a large circle of people in his life and that he is very selective about who he chooses to spend his time with. I also understand that social situations make him very uncomfortable. When we got married, he signed up to spend his life with me, not my friends. I feel that it would be unreasonable for me to expect him to be friends with everyone in my social circle. I expect him to be civil and polite (which he is), but I can’t ask him to be a different person.

      I mentioned that a number of my friends don’t like my husband. In some cases, I would say that it is a dislike, or at least a misunderstanding. They are genuinely baffled that my husband doesn’t want to be friends with them. I try to explain to them that it isn’t personal, but that he just is not interested in participating in activities that he doesn’t like with people who he doesn’t know (and that he does not have a desire to get to know them because he doesn’t have a desire to get to know new people in general.) They don’t dislike him because he is mean to them. He isn’t mean and he does not display the behavior described by LW. They dislike him because they feel rejected and that sucks and I am sorry they feel bad. But, he isn’t being anti-social (I can’t really think of a better word) at them. He just is anti-social. I accepted that long ago and I have no desire to change him because I love him for who he is. I don’t ask my friends to love, like, or have any feelings about him. I ask that they accept a friendship with me, and not base the quality of our friendship on whether or not my husband will go to the bar with us.

      I also don’t want to derail, but I hope that helps you to understand a situation where spouses/friends don’t like each other and, at least in my opinion, that is okay.

      1. This does make sense! I guess I misinterpreted from your earlier comment. I really appreciate the time you took to type all that out, thank you.

        1. I’m glad that explanation helped. I probably wasn’t clear enough in my initial post, but it was getting to be novel length, so I left some info out. I’ll be honest though. A real red flag for me is when I meet new people and they can’t respect the boundaries of my relationship with my husband. If people continue to be offended that my husband prefers not to come along with me to parties or dinners (once I’ve explained to them that he is very uncomfortable with social situations), I take it as a sign that they probably won’t respect other boundaries that I have either. I am still friendly with them, but I also tend to keep a distance because I’m afraid they’ll be disappointed if I can’t meet other expectations that they have and the result will be emotionally draining for all of us.

    4. To give an example from my experience:

      A subset of my friends, including my BFF, are geeky bookworms and this is a big important part of their lives and of our shared friendship. Most of us also like exotic food that is at least sometimes vegetarian. My spouse has a weird visual/neurological issue (trying to get it exactly diagnosed, doctors haven’t quite figured it out) that makes it physically painful for him to read printed books with type smaller than the hardcover editions of Harry Potter, so he doesn’t read very many books; he also has PTSD triggers related to certain foods he was force-fed or anything that resembles them in texture or appearance.

      Before he realized the sources of these dislikes, Spouse came across as anti-intellectual (one could even say “trailer trash”, though most people were smart enough to not say this overtly around me) and rather rude about it, which a) was off-putting to this subset of my friends and b) left them wondering just what the heck I saw in this guy anyway. This was made worse by these things making him seem superficially similar to my ex-Darth (and that Spouse and ex-Darth share a first name DOES NOT HELP), who was incredibly rude about his personal likes and dislikes and was doing the gaslighting and emotional isolating.

      Ten years and change later, most of the above-mentioned friends have come to at least respect Spouse, and vice versa, though it was a long and difficult road. But if the agenda is, “BFF and I and a few other friends are meeting up in NYC to hit The Strand and eat vegetarian Ethiopian food” then Spouse realizes that making other plans for himself and at least SecondKid is probably a good idea, because he’s just never going to be able to share this delight of ours in this particular way.

  20. I think it’s worth looking at how your friend is responding to these situations. Twenty minutes of ranting about your diet to a stranger? I’m betting she’s noticed that there’s friction between you two.

    Perhaps the next time you’re out with the two of them and CP starts unintentionally hitting you buttons, you can turn to your friend (physically turn yourself away from the CP) and say “Well, that’s not what I signed up for. Tell me about [completely unrelated and new conversation topic]”. You’re signalling to your friend that you’re unhappy with the thing that just happened and you’re doing it in the way that the CP can notice, but you’re not making the problem your friend’s responsibility and you’re not entering into a potential argument with the CP about safe and appropriate conversation topics around you. Being conspicuous in backing out of an awkward or uncomfortable situation can really help other people to recognise that you had been put into an unhappy place.

    Other than that, I agree with the Captain and co. Solo time with friends is always good (and if they’re recently married, maybe that’ll happen more naturally as time goes on and they settle into their marital bliss), and flagging the awkward can sometimes be enough to make it stop.

    1. I like this approach. I think it also signals to CP that you’re not engaging in those cases, or on those topics.

  21. “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.”

    This is really reassuring for me to hear right now. I have a family member whom I love dearly, but who is a little rough around the edges in some of the ways you describe. I can’t imagine cutting him out of my life completely, but I also find his behavior very hurtful at times. It’s good to hear that there can be a middle road between No Contact Ever and allowing yourself to get hurt all the time, and that it’s okay to just sometimes not be up to dealing with certain people no matter how much you love them. It seems so obvious when I put it this way, but I get so tangled up inside my head sometimes with this kind of stuff. So thanks. 🙂

  22. I am the caustic SO. I say things sometimes that I don’t understand are painful or I don’t understand *why* they would be painful. And sometimes I say things because I’m in pain, or hungry, or irritated, or because I think they’re funny. Over the years I’ve gotten a lot better about open-mouth-insert-foot, but I still do it on occasion.

    My boyfriend is the patient intercessor, and not because he wants to be. When our friends have come up to him in the past to tell him to change me, or to talk to me about my behavior, or to bitch at him about my behavior, it hurts his feelings, it angers him, and it angers me. It’s not his job to be my translator or my therapist or my coach and it’s certainly not his job to get something done for someone else that they’re too mealy-mouthed or chicken-shit to do themselves. (There I go with the caustic.) I get angry because I don’t see why I should have to consider the feelings *in this regard* of someone who won’t take their problem up with me directly. We are all adults.

    These days when someone approaches me to tell me I did something wrong, I run an assessment: is the person commenting on how I treated them? Is the person commenting on how I treated someone else *that they witnessed or directly heard?* If so, I listen, I’m generally apologetic, and I make amends. I am still learning how to treat people, so this input is welcome. If someone gets in my face about how they heard I treated someone else (ie got it through the grapevine) or asks someone else to talk to me about something, I disregard it completely. It also takes the heat off my boyfriend. He tells people, “you should really talk to her about this. I’m not going to.” And I tell people, “I would be happy to address X’s complaint/feelings/whatever when s/he comes to talk to me about it, but it wouldn’t be right to discuss this matter with you.” That approach has worked well with me and it seems to work well with my friends.

  23. Oh dear, this is very similar to a situation I had a few years back that resulted in me losing my then-best friend. Her boyfriend would make a lot of jabs at me, to the extent that I hated being around them (since they were always together). I didn’t know how to deal with it. Instead of doing anything similar to the wise advice given here, I went straight to my friend with my complaints about it, and some other issues I had with their relationship. I think things got a bit better after our talk, but I later found out that she had her own issues with me she was staying silent about, and in the end it culminated in being ignored completely and her attempting to hack into my e-mail and telling even strangers about how I was a cunt.

    It was a messy affair, and though we were only 19-20 at the time it’s a bridge we’ll likely never mend. Neither of us really responded to the situation properly, and we made a lot of mistakes that cost us a really valuable friendship. I regret what I said and did, but this was also an important lesson to me in toxic relationships, and I’d never want a part in it again.

  24. This is very timely advice for me.

    My best friend just moved in with her SO and I am having all of the feelings about it. They have had a tumultuous relationship that included a lot of emotionally shitty (her) and abusive tactics (him). Her partner then escalated to physically accosting her and that ended the relationship.

    Well, zie went to therapy and they mended their relationship, but they have had periods of being separated for reasons. The reasons cleared up for several months and in that time, they decided to move in together. Given their past history, I am not really a fan of her being with this person in general. I worry that zie will escalate and become abusive again during a time of increased stress or pressure. She knows how I feel and she has not forced the issue of zie and I spending time together. When we did spend some (admittedly brief) time together, I did not feel like her partner and I were even getting along as people. We were civil, but we did not connect.

    It’s hard to navigate how our relationship will change now. She has already mentioned that she wants me to visit her new house, and I do not feel comfortable doing that with her partner there; I do not know that I feel comfortable being in zher space without zher present either. But as the good Captain said, avoiding them completely as a couple probably isn’t largely workable for the future. As their relationship becomes increasingly serious, it will become increasingly noticeable if I have nothing to do with him. And I know that the likely resolution of that will mean her reducing or ending her friendship with me, not breaking up with zher.

    LW, I think you did a smart thing by writing to the Captain and I would say that the advice offered is really valuable. I don’t have much to add, but I thank you for bringing this problem up because it seems like a situation that really speaks to a lot of people!

  25. I’m still trying to figure this shit out too. My general personal rule is that if I complain/vent 3 times about a particular person/incident, then I need to go talk to that person pronto, instead of continuing to circle around hir.

    And I am also practicing recognizing shit in the moment and scripts for confronting racism etc. when it happens. A large part of that practice is lurking on various blogs watching stuff unfold and learning from the many fine examples in the comments. I am much, much better at seeing straw men than a year ago, for example.

    But it’s hard. My partner has various friends that I find problematic. Maybe most of them? Largely because they are various degrees of asshats, in assorted flavors (like Bernie Bott’s Every Flavoured Beans, but more like popsicles–leaving me cold and with a sticky mess on my hands). And I can’t help ranting about them if I spend too much time with them. So I tend to decline couples invitations, accepting maybe 1 in 10. At one point, my partner pointed out with a faint air of desperation that zie was running out of friends to introduce me to.

    So I encourage my partner to go out and socialize with them on hir own. And I make an effort to socialize as a couple with other friends that are enjoyable. And I am working on not complaining about how awful some of them are. It helps that one couple had a baby–I have no problem listening to doting parents carry on about the bestest baby ever. It sure beats the usual negativity, judgmentalism and victim blaming that passes for these enlightened liberals commenting on current events. I am also working on redirecting conversation into more innocuous channels. Plus, I called them on the victim blaming pretty explicitly last time. “Not to victim-blame, but…” Rly? Still victim blaming. Shut up. Shut up. Shut up. (I was more tactful than that.) It also helped that the most awful and egregious one moved out of state.

    Part of it too is being introverted and really needing to focus on something tangible, not just (idle) conversation for hours. Taking up embroidery has really helped with that–it’s very portable and mostly socially acceptable and it’s made it possible for me to socialize much more than in the past. And to let the small stuff just glide past me when I just don’t feel like dealing with it.

    1. Ah yes. I bring knitting along everywhere, because knitting is how I don’t stab people. Embroidery (or other handwork) would also work nicely. With special added bonus of deflecting the worst of the patriarchial asshats because there I am doing something perfectly feminine while I ignore them.

  26. Uh…I have a hard time with people who use either fat or ugly as an insult. That had NOTHING to do with the person in question as an actual person, and is such a cruel and (in my mind) juvenile thing to say. If you say that about someone, it is highly unlikely it is their looks that are bothering you. You are just throwing a tantrum to make them look bad, and often to make yourself look or feel better. At least say “so and so is too arrogant” or “so and so gets on my nerves because of x”

    1. For me the classic example is the mover who decided it was appropriate for him to tell me about his fat, ugly ex-wife while hauling my furniture. I happened to work with the woman (though he had no way of knowing this) and she was neither of those things. For some men, it’s the go-to insult for women, no matter what they look like, or even (in the internet age) if the gentleman in question cannot possibly know what they look like. It is nature’s way of letting us know they are jerkwads.

      1. My (then) boyfriend once cheated on me with a girl from the other side of campus who then made a point of being super-mean to me for the rest of the semester. All my friends rallied round me to tell me that she was super-fat and really ugly, and none of them really got why I kept saying “what she looks like has nothing to do with it, it’s her personality is super-jerky”.

  27. Thank you for this! I _am_ one of those friends with the good-person-but-caustic partner and have been put it in the middle by a few loved ones. My response has been along the lines of “I’m sorry that happened but I can’t take responsibility for zer behavior. If you can say that to zim, I will back you up.” Glad to know I’m on the right track even if nobody follows through!

  28. Hey LW,

    Captain Awkward has it exactly right. Use your words and make plans that are just the two of you.

    I’ve got a similar story. One of my dearest friends really doesn’t like my partner. There is something about him that rubs her the wrong way. He hasn’t been mean to her, he doesn’t say nasty things, she just finds it hard to get along with him. To me, they’re a lot alike, so i have trouble understanding why the problem exists. If I was going to play faux-therapist, I’d suggest that he mirrors some things she doesn’t like about herself.

    Anyway, she bottled it all up. Packed it all away inside and kept it to herself. Until one day, she went to an event that my partner was hosting and made a snide/sarcastic remark about it in front of people he wanted to impress. (She didn’t know who they were.) My partner felt that she caused him to lose face. He was angry – he didn’t bring it up at the event, but he blew up about it at home. I talked him down and invited them over to talk about it a few days later. For the record, i thought he was over-reacting. Anyway, I explained the situation and said that my partner had been angry but it was ok now, but we wanted to tell them about what happened so we could avoid this in the future. I expected a “Sorry, I didn’t realize, won’t happen again.” Surprisingly, she blew up. All the stuff that she had bottled up came spewing out. It was awful and hurtful, but worst still was how much she had hurt herself by letting it all fester inside.

    It didn’t have to happen that way. Things have worked themselves out, with a little help via Using Our Words. We don’t do couple things as often – we do a lot of girls nights. When we do a couple thing, it’s in a bigger group, for example, hosting a bbq or a birthday party. The main thing is that she and I are still able to be close but I don’t put my friend and my partner into close approximation without a lot of other social lubricant to keep the friction from heating things up.

  29. I love the way the Captain addressed this. I’m really sad to say, but in my 20’s (and (ouch) a few times in my 30’s) I was that caustic person. I never meant to hurt feelings, but could be pretty obnoxious. Once in recounting a spat with a friend to my therapist, she calmly yet bluntly said to me, “that wasn’t very nice of you.” I was shocked, bc that’s not exactly therapist speak. I protested that what I’d said was true, and she admonished me, “perhaps. but it wasn’t necessary and it did seem to hur your friend’s feelings”. boom. turning point in my life. After stewing over that therapy session, I started a long path toward being a more considerate person.

  30. “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.”

    I didn’t read this the way the Captain did; I sort of assumed LW meant ze would talk to the friend in more of a “Hey, your husband rubs me the wrong way some of the time, could we spend more time together with just us?” sort of way. Some of the other options, while they might work well, seem a little more passive-aggressive to me than just confronting the issue and asking for what LW wants.

    I have a friend who didn’t seem to like my partner very much; I actually brought it up to her (with a “BTW, you totally don’t have to like him, it’s really just fine if you don’t”), and while that turned out not to be an accurate perception, I was completely prepared just to see her on our own, without my partner present. Personally, I would prefer that sort of bluntness, and I would definitely respect it if, like the LW, the friend in question thought my partner was a good person but simply didn’t enjoy his company. It would enable me to ask whether it was okay to bring my partner around on X particular time, etc, being able to deal with it directly.

    I am often unusual in my preference for gracefully delivered bluntness, but I thought I’d add that perspective regardless, because I think having those conversations can really ease the awkwardness around the entire situation for a lot of us.

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