#624: My friends can’t read my husband’s emotions they way I can, so they hurt his feelings by accident.

Matt Smith as The Doctor, holding a baby (Stormageddon)
“Evan, Stormageddon did not appreciate your last remark.”

Dear Captain Awkward:

My husband is very expressive of his emotions; the problem is, he’s also very subtle about it. I’ve had half-joking chats with his BFF (we’ll call him Adam) about the subtle distinctions between the sigh that means “I’m pretending to be offended because you’re playfully teasing me” and the sigh that means “I’m actually really hurt but I don’t want to make a scene”; it’s as clear as day to me and Adam, but sounds identical to onlookers. My BFF, Evan, is one of those who can’t read my husband at all; recently, he approached me and mentioned that it makes him uncomfortable when I call my husband out on emotions Evan didn’t even notice he was feeling because it feels like I’m telling him what he’s feeling when I’m actually just echoing back what I’m seeing on his face. 

The way my husband and I work, it helps tremendously if I stop and question him when I’m getting signals that he’s not okay, so we can resolve the issue immediately and not let it fester. I’m very grateful Evan said something, however, because I suspect other friends are also uncomfortable. How can I address my husband’s emotions when I’m the only one who can tell them apart without making people think I’m making things up, seeing what’s not there, or generally neurotic and anal?

For example: The three of us (Me, my husband, and Evan) were out to lunch and Evan and my husband were playfully teasing each other. Evan said something that actually bothered my husband, and he went into his (subtle) withdraw-and-sulk routine. I knew he’d feel bad all lunch and barely participate in the conversation, so I tried to comfort him,  but he rebuffed me, so then I felt kind of bad myself. Evan was highly uncomfortable, but he characterized the event as my making a big deal out of nothing and making both of us upset. I pointed out that my husband was upset by the teasing first, and Evan was shocked to realize that he’d hit a nerve at all, and immediately apologized. That ended well, but I feel like I handled it badly. It’s like the three of us were in two totally different conversations: my husband and my perspective, and Evan’s perspective. I really don’t want to come across how I do in Evan’s perspective, but I’m not sure how to clue him in without sounding like a control freak. 

Got any scripts for this?

Peter Capaldi as The Doctor ordering a man to "Look at the eyebrows!"
“Attack” eyebrows!

I’ve been around a lot of babies lately, since my friends have been creating cute new life left and right, and there is a thing that new parents do where they closely read and translate the various expressions that babies make. Is she sleepy? Is she gonna barf? Is she pooping? The parents must become fluent in Baby because the baby is on a years-long-time-delay for becoming fluent in Adult, and it’s a matter of the baby’s comfort or even survival to get it right. And since Auntie Jen can’t reliably tell the difference between a “I’m bored” cry and an “I’m staaaaaaaaaaarving” cry (among other things), having the actual parent step in and say “You better hand her to me, that’s a barf-y sort of face” is pretty invaluable when we’re all hanging out together.

Reading your description of your lunch together in the example you gave, it seems kind of like you are translating your husband to other people the way parents translate their babies to non-baby people, and I see why your friend “Evan” is a little weirded out by it. If Evan accidentally hurt your husband’s feelings, you may have been the first to sense trouble, but I’m not at all sure it was on you to translate, and I’m not at all sure that a “withdraw-and-sulk routine from an adult man at a lunch with friends deserves your translation or mediation.

You may be trying too hard to control the situation (and I think there is something in here where you like that he’s so inscrutable to everyone but you) but in a world where a man just has to sigh, or pout, or sulk-and-withdraw (in a barely perceptible way) to have all of the corners of the world smoothed to his liking by his spouse, maybe the “control freak” here isn’t you. I have so many questions:

  • Was Evan supposed to pick up on your husband’s discomfort? How? When? Does Evan have trouble picking up cues in general (your cues, for instance)?
  • Do you think it would be a good thing if Evan, and others, could read your husband as well as you can? If the multiple variations on a sigh sound identical to onlookers, can they not be forgiven for not being able to distinguish them?
  • What would the likely consequences have been if you did not intervene or translate? What if you just ignored your husband’s behavior until such time as he wanted to jump back into the conversation?
  • Does your husband expect you to smooth over troubled waters often in social spaces? Do you often assume the mediator or translator role? Has he asked you to? Are you sure that he wants you to? Are you comfortable with it? Have you ever talked about this?
  • Do you ever read your husband wrong? It seems like he was not that into your attempts to smooth things over (for instance, when he “rebuffed” your attempts to comfort him).
  • What does your husband do when you’re not there to translate – at work, for instance?
Sheriff Bullock from Deadwood
Sheriff Bullock is a one-man Kuleshov Experiment. This face could mean literally anything. “Money coming in!” “I have a boner right now!” “Gonna fight some guy to the death!” “Soup was better than average at lunch!”

It’s really great that you speak Eyebrow As A Second Language, and I’m sure it makes you and your husband formidable partners at Charades and Time’s Up and well able to re-create the Kuleshov Experiment. But my suggested script applies to your husband.Evan, you couldn’t have known, but that hurt my feelings. New topic, maybe?”

Since you are the one who wrote to me, I would encourage you to do some thinking about this pattern of hyper-attenuation and translation you and your husband have going on. I read my boyfriend’s face very well, and he reads mine very well, and I’d guess that many or even most spouse-level partners can read their partner’s face very well – what’s so unusual about that? What’s unusual here is the habit of translation that you have. Honestly I am having a hard time imagining a situation where I’d want my partner to translate me for others or tell them what I “really” feel or want or need, when I am sitting right there and can do it myself. It sounds like you and your husband have a different sort of deal with that, but what’s the harm here if he had to do his own translating and make his reactions and wishes clearer when you socialize with others who don’t have that same kind of agreement with him? In Evan’s shoes, I’d be like “Hey, I’m sorry I hurt your feelings, but can’t you just tell me that? I feel weird having your face narrated to me by the Husband Whisperer when you’re sitting right there” which I think is sort of what he said, only he said it to you instead of your husband, which is again the problem. Basically, I have an anti-script for you: What if Evan can make a mistake in his teasing, and your husband can feel some kind of way about it, without you doing or saying anything at all? Misunderstandings can be cleared up between friends, right?

184 thoughts on “#624: My friends can’t read my husband’s emotions they way I can, so they hurt his feelings by accident.

  1. The letter-writer sounds like a bit of a “fixer” to me — and I say this as one who has suffered from the same condition. If you’re walking on eggshells, trying to “translate” your husband’s subtle cues in order to smooth out social encounters, I can understand why Evan was creeped out. It doesn’t sound like an entirely healthy dynamic.

  2. such a great answer, cap’n. This (subtle) withdraw and sulk, which makes you so anxious and produces with rifts with your friends (the only friend who “gets it” is your husband’s friend, he’s cool; your friends, they are subtly breaking husband rules which you are apparently compelled to awkwardly explain to them later and they find it alienating so you are repeatedly at risk of either incurring more *subtle* husband wrath or losing your non-husband-savvy friendships): this is a pattern, of isolating you and making you always in the wrong while your ever more finely honed husband-attunement apparatus fills and fills and fills your mental space, that is described by Lundy Bancroft. In a book the title of which may freak you out. But which might be relevant to your interests.

    1. Also, sometimes it’s okay to let someone be withdrawn and a bit sulky in themselves, in a way which isn’t really hurting anyone– especially if they know what ever it is that upset them isn’t actually anyone’s fault, and that their reaction (even hidden from the general public) isn’t a useful or proportional one.

      If someone comments on, I dunno, my taste in shoes (not in a bad way, just “I only ever see you in vans,”) I don’t want to be someone that’s bothered by that or read it as “I think you are failing femininity”, but sometimes I do… even when I know that’s not how it’s meant, and it’s just a statement of fact when we were talking about shoes. I wouldn’t want anyone to pick up on my emotions then, or say to Speaker “hey, Person is sensitive about her choice in shoes.” because I’m not! And I don’t want it to be avoided, because I like talking about shoes, or managed by a third party– I’m happier ignoring it.

      Sometimes, I don’t want someone to make me feel better or manage the situation so that it doesn’t come up again. I just want to feel it, in a way that causes the least trouble to me or the people around me.

      TL,DR: even if it bothers you that something upset him or made him feel less social, it may not bother him. And if it does, he should work out how to handle that himself, or let you know *clearly* that he wants your help in translating. Otherwise, helping may not just be not-your-job; it may also not be helpful.

      1. Agreed! When something hits me the wrong way, I need to work through it myself. Having someone beside me catch on and coddle me and make it into a spectacle would not make the situation better. It would make me feel infantilized and ashamed of myself.

      2. This. I have a tendency to be upset by odd and really idiosyncratic things, and sometimes the most graceful way I can handle it is to withdraw and have a little pout while I process it. I try to do this as discreetly as possible in social situations, but people who know me very well (like, for example, my husband) can usually tell. And you know, my husband deals with it mostly by ignoring it, because he respects my right to interact with other people however I damn well please. If he stepped in with “You couldn’t have known, but that topic really bothers aebhel,” well–unless I was actually having a panic attack or something (in which case it would be pretty damn obvious), I would feel incredibly condescended to and managed.

        Tl:dr, managing how someone interacts with your spouse should be reserved for very extreme situations. Managing a situation where the issue at hand is a minor offense or misunderstanding is weird and intrusive even with the best of intentions. And if your spouse expects you to manage those situations, then he’s being weird and inappropriate.

    2. I think that’s a possibility, but the other possibility is that Husband was just like, “I’m a tad miffed/put out/hurt, but I’ll get over it, seriously, it’s not a big deal.” What the LW is characterising as “withdrawing and sulking” could be manipulative behaviour, but there’s also “sometimes I’m a bit quiet in company, that’s OK, and I don’t expect anyone else to jump around and manage it and in fact I’d rather they didn’t.”

      I had an ex like that – previous boyf had done sulking as a deliberate “I need attention” thing, and the first time the new boyfriend was a bit quiet at a party I immediately got annoyed and said, “Look, I am not spending the next half an hour dancing around your feelings trying to cheer you up. It’s a party and I’m here to enjoy myself!” His reaction was, “Woah, what? Nobody’s asking you to! I’m just feeling a bit introspective, so I’m going to go for a quick walk outside and get my thoughts together, and I’ll probably be back in five minutes on top party form. It’s my problem, not yours!”

      I totally agree that the husband could be being manipulative, but I don’t think it’s immediately clear that he expets this kind of “translation” from LW – he could equally be thinking, “Oh Jesus, I didn’t want a scene! Can I not have a bit of emotional privacy and the right to be a bit narked without it turning into a giant apologyfest!”

    3. Sometimes people go a little quiet in a conversation after someone says something that bothered them but they don’t feel it’s significant enough to address it. If someone else then addressed it on their behalf they might actually be irritated because they actively chose not to address it.

      Sometimes people do this in order to get attention and have everyone asking whats wrong. This can actually be a manipulative thing to do depending on what happens next and the frequency and things like that.

    4. It’s also possible, in the example the letter writer related, that the husband was indeed bothered by the comment but believed that, by engaging in the mutual teasing, he’d himself been a part of going down that road and didn’t want to make an issue out of it. When I decide to play-wrestle with the dog I can’t get bent out of shape if he accidentally scratches me; I communicated that this was cool. Sometimes we goof with our friends in a way that lets them think something is okay when it’s not. Or we suddenly realize it’s not when we thought it would be.

  3. My own emotions are hard for others to read, which is a result of being socially checked in different ways when I was growing up — I was hugely expressive about them. Expressing emotions the way I did made me a target for people who wanted to get a similar reaction out of me, so I learned to hide things really well. It’s my fault that I went too far in the opposite direction, and it’s me who has to do the work to Use My Words to let others know how I feel. It’s hard, but it’s not fair for me to expect others to read my mind, especially if they don’t know me well. I can’t abdicate responsibility for communicating my feelings if I NEED those feelings to be “out there,” and it’s not fair of me withdraw and expect everyone else to coax me back into a good mood.

    I’m not saying that I’m always successful, but I do try, and it is possible.

    1. Seconding all of this. Letting people know how you feel is hard (for lots of reasons), but it’s still your responsibility to learn how to communicate that stuff.

    2. I am with you there. And my expression can be hard to read, too, but sometimes I want it to be. Sometimes I am upset about something but I know I’m overreacting, and if I can just take a minute, I’ll be fine. If someone where to intervene and be all, “Uh-oh, Ferdinand, you’ve upset her,” I’d be super annoyed. Because now we have to have A Conversation About Feelings, and everything becomes a much bigger deal than it was. Plus, I want to be treated like an adult who can decide for herself if she wants to talk about something that bothers her. Yes, those conversations are hard, but I should get decide about whether something bothers me enough to talk about it.

  4. Hello LW, fellow married person here. When I read through your letter and the Captain’s response, it raised many of the same questions she brought up – mostly, it sounds like you two have a dynamic wherein you feel obligated/want to emotionally translate for your husband. The key sentence to me was “how can I address my husband’s emotions…?” which sounded an awful lot like “how my husband is feeling is my responsibility.” To be perfectly clear: neither of you is responsible for the other person’s feelings. Your emotional job in marriage is to: be kind to your partner as you would to anyone else; be kind to yourself, as this makes you a better partner and a better person all around; clearly and concisely relay both what you like and any concerns about his behavior when it is relevant; and to be aware of and appropriately communicate your feelings clearly to your partner – without apology and without intent to wound. He is allowed to feel his feelings, even if they are sulky, because managing his emotions is part of his job as an adult. Likewise, if he needs comfort, he can reach out to you physically or emotionally to express that. This is simple but not exactly easy. Best of luck to you in navigating these waters.

  5. I think you should def talk to your husband about it, because this situation is making you feel weird and is making you worried about yourself. You’re worrying about him in social situations and now also you but also how others feel about your husband’s secret-feelings and you interact with those feelings? That’s a lot of worrying! So I think that this system is not working so well if you’re feeling bad and conflicted about it. I think that’s enough reason to start a conversation and maybe negotiate some changes to the social-manager-of-secret-feelings system.

    1. I’m not even sure there’s much to negotiate? If LW wanted to stop to translate husband-friends, she would be well in her rights to just do that. Sure, she can communicate that to him in a concise sentence, like “I feel, I took on a little too much explaining of your emotions, how did you feel about this?” *listen* “Anyway, I will draw back on this front starting from now on. Please tell me, if I slip up.” It’s totally possible her husband would be more comfortable if she didn’t do the translations, but even if he likes the status quo, she doesn’t have to keep it up (and shouldn’t, IMO).

  6. Bless your heart for the Bullock photo, as well as the phrase “Eyebrow As A Second Language.”

  7. Hah, I have kind of the opposite problem (and an entirely different relationship dynamic around it) – apparently I over-emote significantly, and my boyfriend has to explain to people that I’m actually just mildly grumpy and do not in fact want to murder them all. (I think it is a cultural thing, as it’s almost always an issue with how his friends from home interpret my expressions (or how he thinks they are interpreting them), and not one with mine.) Unfortunately this can make things a lot worse sometimes, because he will feel like I’m *really angry*, or at least that other people think I’m really angry (I really think this is at least partially projection, because they never say anything and he only seems to think its a problem when there are other people around), and will react accordingly, which will of course make me then legitimately upset, because being treated like you are behaving unreasonably angrily when you are actually only mildly annoyed and/or extremely hungry doesn’t exactly make you feel *better*.

    1. I had a vaguely similar problem in one of my past relationships – my “deep in thought” face apparently looks SUPER ANGRY, so I’d be daydreaming or trying to think through a problem, and my girlfriend would come over and cuddle me and kiss my cheeks and try to “cheer me up”. Which was a very sweet intention! But it was unneeded, and it interrupted my thought process (which does make me grumpy), and it also kind of sent the message of “You’re not allowed to be grumpy around me. You must be cheerful!” which wore me down a little.

      So yes. Not the same situation, but I feel you on having an attempt to make you un-grumpy when you are not grumpy just, in fact, inducing the grumps.

      1. Additionally, I have a “time to go?” look and my dude has a bland “ugh why is this person talking?” look and we probably have “you look hot, let’s do it later” looks or “some nice person in your family is telling me about the Lord, woooooo!” look and we recognize those looks on each other’s faces but actively do not necessarily want others to pick up on those looks. Others might see that *a* look of sorts has passed between us, but hopefully not *what* look.

      2. My thinky-face apparently looks super sad and even now my husband will still occasionally check in with a quick “Something wrong or just thinking?”

        1. My boyfriend’s tired face, thinking face, and angry face are the same face. Seven years in I cannot tell the difference.

    2. ” being treated like you are behaving unreasonably angrily when you are actually only mildly annoyed and/or extremely hungry doesn’t exactly make you feel *better*.”


      1. The quickest way to make me/anyone as angry as they assumed. Hate.

        Also, my partner is really sensitive to my ranting/being frustrated about awful things and feels attacked… I need to work on it so I don’t make him feel like that, but I can’t really tell – it seems like sometimes it’s fine, and other times he suddenly gets really angry? 😦 /derail

        1. I started a thing where I preface my rants with “So, I just want to rant for a while about this thing that is making me upset. Are you up for listening?” And then letting my partner decide if they are up for me ranting or not. I will also sometimes ask for a 5 minute limit on my roommate’s rants, because she can go on for a while, and sometimes, I’ve got other things to do. So she starts on a rant, and I will say “wow, that sounds awful/frustrating/annoying. Do you just want to rant, or do you want me to propose solutions?” If she says it is a rant, i will reply “ok. I have something to do/am walking out the door/ need to go to bed, but you have five minutes of rant time!” This works out pretty well for us.

          1. This is BRILLIANT. I feel like my husband has been getting this way a lot around me lately as I’ve been ranting about Gamergate and Celebgate and other such nonsense where women are being attacked and threatened and ugh. But he’s really sensitive and hadn’t been exposed to a lot of the terrible things women have to deal with until he met me, so it can get very overwhelming and sad for him. I also have a tendency to kind of randomly switch into those rants, because that’s how my female friends and I interact (we’re all pretty up on current events, nerd culture, and feminism, etc.)

            Anyway, that was probably a little too much about my specific situation, but the tl;dr version of it is: *thank you*. I am going to borrow this “Are you up for listening?” script next time I need to go on a feminist tirade for a while.

          2. While it’s cool to sometimes check in that people are up for lending an ear, I have massive side eye for these dudes who are too sensitive to listen to the women in their life talk about upsetting stuff. Especially when their reaction to being told upsetting stuff about how women are treated is to get so freaked out that the woman who told them has to take care of their feelings rather than her own…

    3. > I really think this is at least partially projection

      The spouse’s parents have a dynamic like this, where it will be clear that his mom is mildly miffed, and later his dad will pull him aside and say, “Your mother was FURIOUS” while we think, “No, Dad, that was you having that feeling.”

      1. Oh my god, is your dad my mom? Because my mom does that ALL the time. She even called my grandparents once to tell them that my brother was really upset they didn’t come to something when he was in town, and they called him up (now very upset themselves) and he had to spend half an hour talking them down because he WASN’T upset at all. Mom was just upset they hadn’t come, and she wanted to make them feel guilty about it. It’s easy to tell if she’s told someone about our imaginary hurt feelings, because one of us will get an apology out of nowhere, but related to something Mom knew about. It’s really annoying, because we always have to reassure whoever that no, we aren’t upset; Mom was just being ridiculous.

        Attempts to shut it down/point it out have never worked, alas; my mom loves concern trolling. My bro and I long ago agreed that if we are angry/sad/whatever with each other, we will just say so, and so we can ignore whatever Mom says to us about the other’s level of upset.

  8. It sounds to me like this could be a case of:

    a) LW is getting a little too concerned about managing everybody’s emotions and making sure that people understand her husband, when that really shouldn’t be her responsibility. (Being a “fixer”, as someone said above.)


    b) Husband needs to get a bit better at expressing his emotions, especially in situations where people are unwittingly making him angry or upset.

    (Or, something that just occurred to me: Is it possible that the example with Evan could have been something that wasn’t actually that big a deal to Husband, and that’s why he didn’t speak up himself? (See a.) Or, does husband generally go into a “subtle withdraw-and-sulk routine” even if it’s related to something very serious? (See b.))

    I would recommend either just letting it go and seeing what happens the next time you feel like you should be explaining your husband’s feelings to people in order to smooth things over, or having a talk with your husband about how he feels about all this, or both.

    1. Something similar occurred to me. If it’s so subtle that Evan wouldn’t have noticed anything wrong, then … is it even really sulking? It’s very easy to me to imagine being a little hurt by something, but think “That’s more my issue than the person saying anything really wrong,” and choose to just quieten down a bit while I wait for the feeling to pass. In which case, I really wouldn’t want to be “translated!”

      If the husband sulks AT her if she doesn’t manage his feelings, or is silently broadcasting “why do you subject me to your friends who don’t get me” at her across the table, then that’s a real problem.

      But whether he’s just trying to process, or whether he expects this of her … this isn’t something she should be doing.

  9. I think your husband needs to start using his words instead of expecting you to translate Him to English. Does he do this at work? If not, then I’m wondering if he’s just gotten used to letting you do the emotional heavy lifting when he’s at home.

  10. It sounds like you’re in the role of husband-whisperer.
    Whether you’ve explicitly agreed on that role with your husband (not mentioned, so I’m doubting it), or if it has grown/escalated over time, it will look weird to people who expect a fully-grown adult to talk for themselves instead of through their spouse.

    Stop “addressing” hubby’s emotions and have him use his words or sulk in a corner or whatever he chooses to do with them. He gets to use his words or not, but you don’t have to translate for him.

  11. As somebody who can poker face like a boss, I wouldn’t want someone translating for me. I have a poker face because I like to think through my emotions before deciding that “Yes, I am upset by this” or “Nah, that’s NBD.” I’m not repressed, I swear. I just realize some things aren’t worth worrying about and I like to take the time to process.

    1. Yup, I’m the same way. And I’d be really annoyed or even offended if someone took it upon themselves to ‘translate’ for me in this way, because it’d read to me like they had decided I needed to be managed or handled, or that they knew more about what was going on in my head than I did and it was their job to react properly to things for me because I wasn’t doing it right. The only situation I can think of when I’d be okay with someone translating or steering people around me is if they knew I was heading for an overload/meltdown (I’m autistic) and wanted to help me get out of a situation quickly and maybe explain what was going on if I didn’t have the resources to spend on being super polite to people. But I can only think of one person, maybe two, who know me well enough to do that, and I’d still want to try to have some kind of signal worked out to let them know it was time to step in like that.

      1. Exactly. That’s a thing to be worked out ahead of time, by both parties, by explicit agreement. Maybe LW and her husband have already established this pattern explicitly. If that’s the case, then she should readdress with him. But if it isn’t explicit…

      2. Yeah I really don’t like people telling me what I feel, at all, even implicitly (“oh, don’t be mad!”, when I wasn’t mad to begin with). It just feels really intrusive and usually annoys me and also makes it harder for myself to recognize how I’m feeling right now.

        1. My husband has a very bad habit of telling me what I’m feeling. He thinks he’s better at reading me than he is. The particularly annoying one was my “you made me mad, and I’m trying not to tell you off right now, when it is inappropriate” face, which he translated for YEARS as “you’re really quite pleased about inappropriate thing I just said”. He used to actually say “I see a little smile”. The little smile was probably a twitch from me closing my mouth on the extremely rude thing I didn’t say.

          Eventually, we had a massive blow up about how he should listen to the actual words I was saying about how I was feeling and also about what his misunderstanding made me feel, and precisely what I was going to do if he ever did that again.


          1. Oh I so get that. That would make me MAD. I also used to have problems when I tried to communicate my anger, but my partner was smiling defiantly so I would smile involuntarily in response. And it feels really fucking rude if someone, despite me explicitly telling them I’m mad, is saying “but you’re smiling”. I can’t help it! But maybe listen to the actual words I am saying??

          2. The problem is, humans are hardwired to heed the expressions rather than the words (speech coming along much later in human development). Which is not to say you’re wrong to be angry, or that he shouldn’t listen to you, but it’s something to be aware of. I sometimes play a game in which I nod yes while saying no (or shake my head ‘no’ while saying yes) and watch the utter confusion of the other person play out. They hear, but they don’t believe, because hardwiring.

            The problem of them misreading your expression when rendered without words is on them, though. That sometimes takes a “See this face? This is my [emotion] face, not my [whatever you think it is] face. Get it right!”

          3. O, Bob, my husband used to do this too. I´d be telling him about something and how I felt about it, and he would cut me off and say: “Oh, I get it you feel (upset/angry/sad). EVEN WHEN HE WAS RIGHT, I hated it with a fiery passion that he would take my agency away like that and not allow me to express my own feelings about whatever.
            He was raised in a very disfunctional family, where a lot of stock is put by “reading” other people and showing that you KNOW THEM. It took a few years of me going bananas over this + a looooot of calm conversations where noone was upset to get him to stop that.

      3. My ex used to “manage/handle/translate” me to his relatives on a somewhat frequent basis. And it sucked, because YES, I’m shy, YES, I had a lot of untreated anxiety back then, but his behavior only exacerbated things and made me worry about literally every step I took, everything I ate, every tiny thing I said or did. It didn’t help that his family had about a million get-togethers per year, and that I was simultaneously compelled to come to each one and made to feel like a nuisance when I did.
        So we’d be at some relative’s house, and I’d know maybe three people, and everyone else would know everyone else. Understandably, I would want to stay near my boyfriend. However, he would sometimes go wandering off, saying he’d be right back…and then never return. And 20 minutes later I’d find him talking to some aunts and cousins and whoever. So I’d sit with all of them and he’d tell them that I was “too afraid” to talk to people or whatever. Or if I was eating he’d make fun of whatever it was I was eating, or the combination of foods, something. He liked to turn everything into some referendum on how I was too scared, too weird, too hopeless at interacting with other people, when really I was embarrassed at the way he was treating me, and nervous that I actually wasn’t wanted there. And perpetually hungry. And sometimes also bored.

    2. I have to take time to process things, too, and I’d rather err on the side of “This isn’t a big deal” rather than make a fuss and have to apologize later for over-reacting. And I have a hard time expressing feelings anyway, often because I’m not even sure what I’m feeling “in the moment” — it has to percolate for a bit so that I can recognize it.

      It causes some conflicts with my boyfriend, who subscribes to the belief that “We should never go to bed angry” and assumes that it’s true for everyone, while I often am able to articulate things better after I sleep on them.

      1. Yes to the “never go to bed angry” not working for all. 90% of the time, by the morning it’s not an issue at all and there was nothing for me to say. The other 10% of the time I can much more clearly articulate my feelings.

    3. Exactly. Once, in college, a guy hurt my feelings to the point where I started crying. I cried on my then-BFF’s shoulder, who proceeded to tell the guy that he’d hurt my feelings, of her own initiative. This is one of the more embarassing memories in my life, because on top of feeling overly sensitive, I now felt like everyone would think I wasn’t mature enough to take care of my own business.

    4. Right? And sometimes I can be in a social situation and just want to be a bit less in it– so maybe I’m not being as actively social as I was before, but I don’t want me blipping on sociability to disrupt the social event, just because I’m a feeling it less in to it. That’s why etiquette and “knowing how to behave in public” and learning about socially acceptable behaviour and how to fake it are a thing– so you don’t have to negotiate with your own and other people’s emotions every time you interact with other people.

      1. Yessss. A good friend and I are both very introverted, but we live in different cities so when she comes up quite often we’ll have a meet up in a bar and anyone can come round and hang out. And sometimes one or both of us or some of the other people just want to get a few minutes of peace! We’re lucky that this has been made well-understood in our social circle, we have a good tradition of people using their words when they know they have quirks like that.

    5. This forever. My first reaction isn’t always reliable, so I want a few moments to parse it out. Someone interpreting for me would be invading my space, basically.

  12. I was the translator and smoother-over of feelings for someone I loved very much, for several years. Took until things exploded into outright physical violence for me to realize that I was in an abusive relationship, and that the role of smoother-over is a common one for abuse victims, because it’s the natural result of being hypervigilant to your partner’s emotions and having a desperate awareness that Things Will Be Bad if those emotions are not placated.

    I am NOT implying here that the LW is being abused. There’s nothing in this letter to indicate that, and it’s certainly not my job to decide based on minimal information, none of it obvious. What I am saying, however, is that if this is _not_ an abusive situation, then it will be okay for the LW to decide to step back and cease translating all the time. Because normal, non-abusive people do not, when their partner fails/refuses to smooth things over, cause Things to Be Bad. So if they’re genuinely dealing with a safe person to be around, they can step back without worry, and let their husband manage his own feelings… and I agree with the Captain that he should. It’s his job, not his partner’s.

    1. Seconding this. Lizard Ex required a lot of public soothing and translation and furtive whispers to my friends when he was out of the room “hey, don’t do that, don’t be affectionate with me, don’t make jokes about straight people, can we change the subject?” Turned into making excuses not to see my friends. One time, I was insufficiently careful and he made me walk up a hill in the snow without my walking cane. He wouldn’t show much around them, but I’d get hell when we were in private. My friends definitely thought the Smoothing Behavior was weird and off-putting, but, well, I wasn’t scared of my friends.

      1. Thirding. This was the last behavior shedded after my abusive relationship. Current Dude is quite reserved and not super social, but it took me YEARS to stop Smoothing Over as if he were some delicate flower who needed protecting from the wilds of human discourse.

        Instead of a grown-ass man capable of making his own decisions about whether to join me and friends for dim sum.

    2. Yes this! I came here to say this. An ex of mine used to require endless smoothing and soothing and managing because whenever he was upset about something I would get a tonne of sulking, passive aggressive bulshit, gasslighting and outright emotional abuse. I started reading him like tea leaves at all times trying to keep him in his nice pleasant form and not his inexplicably mean form. This happened subconsciously – I can really only see it on hindsight.

      But I treated him sort of like I was his mother, constantly taking care of everything for him. It was bad for me. I needed to take care of myself instead. And frankly, even if your guy isn’t shady, doing this is infantilising and weird and not a great way to treat someone.

      LW, stop interpreting your husband to people. And if this causes all sorts of badness for you as a result take a long hard look at your relationship.

  13. I have a husband who used to do something like this. He did subtle head wiggles to get me to come over to him, or go talk in private. He would whisper instructions when he wanted us to leave a party, or if someone bothered him, that kind of thing, and I dealt with whatever it was. At some point my sister mentioned that it seemed demeaning and I agreed. When I started ignoring the secret signals, he became confused and angry the first few times. We had some a couple fights about him “using his words” and being able to express his wants around other people. We were eventually able to work it out. Now if he (rarely) does one of the secret signal things, I ask “I’m sorry, hon, did you want something?” and let him use his words.

    1. That’s funny, my SO and I very purposefully use the secret signals at parties so we can provide a united front, e.g. so we can agree to leave before one person says they don’t want to be there.

      1. Yeah well, if both are in on it, it’s a totally different dynamic and an example for emotion expressing, not “Here, take my emotions and deal for both of us.”

        1. Agreed. My husband and I share a “wrap it up” hand signal to let each other know when we’re ready to leave a social situation. But I think the key difference here is that I’m not expecting him to stand up and announce “It’s time for us to leave!” or vice versa. We’re not expecting each other to be the “bad guy” by ending the social situation or facilitating the other’s need to get out of the situation. It’s just the signal for us to start rounding up the kids, gathering coats, etc.

  14. Yeah, this all sounds a bit weird to me too, LW. It is not your job to manage social situations (even if it feels like it does – believe me, I spent many years learning this lesson the hard way). It is not your job to manage your husband’s interactions with others. If he is hurt, and he wants to bring it up with Evan, he can do that himself. If he wants to sit in the corner and sulk about it instead, then let him do that. It’s not your job to make everything better, or manage his relationship with Evan.

      1. I’m pretty sure I never did learn Baby, and I had two. 🙂

        When my first one cried, I ran through the range of likely problems in order of probability: is she hungry? Is she wet/soiled? Is she hot/cold? Is she tired? Is she bored? until I found the right one by sheer trial and error. When my second one cried, my first — then between two and four years old before the second could use English effectively — translated for me, being still fluent in Baby from her own recent infancy.

        Don’t worry — you can get through parenting on common sense and hard work, with no instincts required!

        1. I have three kids and am not at all fluent in Baby. My middle child (two years older than her younger sister) used to “translate” for her too and it was stinking cute, but left me not at all sure that she spoke Baby either – because she´d give her sister a cookie and then say: What? She wanted a cookie! Or be all like “Our baby wants to watch Dora the Explorer” (or whatever else she wanted herself but expected us to say no to).

    1. Hear, hear! I learned with my second, fortunately, and the contrast was astonishing. I had no idea what my first baby was saying, almost ever.

      1. I was really bad with my second one – just personality-wise I didn’t find her very intuitive. She stayed overnight with a friend of mine when she was 10 months old while I went to a job interview out of town, and when I got back I was surprised to find that after ONLY ONE NIGHT this friend knew my baby better than I did.

    2. I have a four year old and an eight year old. Babies are incomprehensible to me until they pass three months old, and I… gulp… somewhat dislike them. Even mine. But then they get through that fourth trimester and turn human and get cute and fun and silly and are awesome to me.

      1. I’m glad I’m not the only one. I don’t get warm fuzzy feelings for my children until around 2 months or so. While I’m pregnant I just don’t feel like I’m a mom to another child. Now, I know intellectually that there’s a baby in there and I can feel them moving around, but I just don’t get emotionally attached until a few months after birth.

        1. I think all parents have age ranges that are natural for them and age ranges that they just don’t like very much.

          I’m delighted with newborns, but my real talent is for teenagers. I adore them. I think they’re just awesome. I’ve never understood on a ‘gut’ level — even while TOTALLY understanding intellectually — why people consider them difficult. On the other hand, toddlers drive me out of my tree. I adored my own kids no matter what their age, but between the time they became mobile and the time they became truly conversational (around four or five), I couldn’t stand to spend very long around them without the help of someone else who was better with toddlers and preschoolers than I was. I hated that about myself, but couldn’t make it stop being true.

          Now that I’ve talked to enough other parents and realized that there’s some period of childhood where pretty much *every* parent is simply gutting it through on self-discipline and waiting for the kids to get out the other side to an age they can tolerate better, I feel better about the whole thing. And my children have turned into adorable 10 and 8-year-olds, capable of holding fascinating conversations on just about anything, and I have a great time with them. But I’m still in the process of adopting a teenager, because I can’t wait till my ten-year-old gets there herself. 🙂

    3. I’m living with two single mothers who both have six month olds and I see quite a lot of “Is this what you want? No? Are you hungry? You just ate… your diaper’s fine… Do you just want attention???”

      (I’m also really bad at speaking TO babies so even when I spend time with them sometimes I just sit there poking them gently, lol.)

  15. Your husband needs to learn to stop “withdrawing and sulking” in the middle of conversations. If he’s upset about something, he needs to communicate that, instead of relying on you to translate his Rosetta Stone of Sighs to the world. How do you enjoy these outings when your attention is so focused on reading your husband?

    1. “Rosetta Stone of sighs” 🙂

      (btw — this isn’t meant to be making fun of your letter, LW! I just love a good turn of phrase is all)

  16. Ooh, I really feel for you, LW. I have a huge problem with wanting to socially manage everything around me. Sometimes it feels like I can see a situation developing and have this flash of “noooo” as I see exactly what will happen in terrible clarity. It’s very hard not to want to leap on that and stop it from going bad any way I can. This can sometimes be really useful, but other times will lead to me stressing myself out as I desperately try to prevent any unpleasantness from happening. I want all my friends to like each other! So I have to stop them doing anything that might change this!

    It’s hard to unsee, though, and hard to ignore once I think I know what I should do…I am trying to just leave it more often, sometimes actually leaving the room for water/washroom break etc if I am too tempted to intervene!

    1. YOU ARE DESCRIBING MY LIFE. So much that I had to use all caps there, sorry. And I’ve actually been in therapy for awhile now trying to unlearn this habit because:

      1) It isn’t fair to me to take on everyone else’s emotions. Empathy is good! Empathy to the point where I am so anxious I’m nauseated because a friend of mine is unhappy is UNHEALTHY. Especially since I can not, in fact, control how everyone else feels all the time about all things. It is really, really difficult for me to acknowledge that someone is sad or angry or that there’s a conflict happening in front of me without trying to fix it, because of how uncomfortable I get (and I do sense things like that very, very clearly and am rarely wrong when my “oh this will not be good” spidey sense starts tingling), but I am learning how to just sit with the discomfort, and let the situation be whatever it’s going to be.

      2) My friends are entitled to feel what they feel and have conflict when they are upset. Like, I would love it if everyone was happy all the time! But that’s not how life works, and it’s not okay for me to try to force people to be harmonious and happy when bad things happen, or to try to get people to ignore conflict when they are unhappy with each other, because that does no one any good in the long run and isn’t fair to the people who are actually involved. And further, my friends are adults who can, in fact, manage *their own feelings*. As a friend, it’s my job to be supportive and love them and help when I can and am asked; it’s not my job to handle their lives and feelings unasked for — and trying to do that, even though it comes from a place of empathy and love and wanting to help, is actually really controlling and condescending.

      LW: I don’t know if this is a general pattern in your life, or just the case with your husband. But either way I would suggest that you take a step back and let your husband handle his own unhappiness when things like this arise. My best guess from your letter is that him being slightly withdrawn may indicate his feelings are hurt – but that he’ll cope with it, and rejoin the conversation when he’s ready. Or, if he’s more than slightly hurt, he needs to learn to say so *for himself*, because you managing it for him isn’t fair to either one of you.

      1. I think we are absolutely life twins. Much like you, I am pretty much always right when it comes to my “someone is upset” sense, and often I also know exactly why. This makes it really hard for me to step away, whereas if it had bitten me in the ass when I’d done this before I probably would be less compelled to feel like I have to help. Because most of the time I do help, at least…in the short term. But I can’t explain people to each other, and it’s something I’ve learned in the past few years–sometimes people just don’t like each other, even when nobody’s done anything wrong.

    2. Re: both “wanting to socially manage” and “too much empathy”… I obviously don’t know if this is the case for anyone else, but for ME, these behaviors/traits come in part from growing up in a family where this was necessary/expected. You learned to read Dad and Mom’s moods very, very well and do your best to manage them, because if they got angry/sad/upset enough, there would be yelling and tears and awfulness. I also happen to be a super sensitive kid who was probably bound to be pretty emotional myself and in tune with the emotions of others ANYWAYS, but what took it to the level of pathology, I think, was the environment I grew up in.

      It’s been pretty tough for me as an adult to learn how to manage these tendencies. Mostly, I try to remind myself that I no longer associate with abusive people, so even if emotions happen, it won’t be the end of the world. And I frequently tell people to “use their words”.

      1. This is where it comes from me, too. “oh no, Dad is getting upset, better defuse this as quickly as I can!” I was hypersensitive as a child/teen but then it sort of switched to intellectualizing as I get older and now I have a huge problem with essentially going “Ok, I know that David’s upset because of factors X and Y, so if I can alter those just this much, then he will no longer be upset, but I have to not alter them enough that Lucy will notice or *she* will get upset…” Emotion math! It’s…not always where it’s at.

      2. *solidarity fist bump* This is me, too. Not to project this on you, but when I saw a therapist for the first time at age 23 and she used the word “codependent” for the first time, I could see clearly now, the rain was gone.

        This letter reminded me of my feelings about NEEDING to smooth things over, and I didn’t want to comment specifically because I have no reason to think she is like me in that regard, but I have to say it DID seem very familiar. I wish them the best.

      3. It’s funny, this is a thing that came up in therapy recently. I’m really good at managing people and getting everyone where they need to go. I’m good at smoothing out the bumps in terms of my professional life. Predicting when and where the problems will be. It had never occurred to me that this was a result of managing my family for so long. Definitely one of those moments of clarity.

  17. My favorite form of exercise is jumping to conclusions. That said, just my opinion, etc?

    Darth Lives.

    1. agreed, it seems like an excellent way of making sure his wife is focused on him at all times and so tuned into his emotions that she neglects her friends and eventually ends up focused on him and only him.

    2. A couple of related questions: LW, do you spend more time and effort on identifying your spouse’s feelings than your own? Are you more tuned into his feelings than into your own?

      A “yes” answer to either of those is cause for concern, IMO.

      1. LW here. No, not at all; the problem is that I’ve gotten a bit of a rep as the one who is wise about emotions. When he needs to work through something, he leans on me to do so, because he thinks I have some skill he doesn’t. We’ve talked after this went up about him needing to learn a healthier way to deal with his feelings without my having to step in.

        1. Hi! I’m glad you can post now.

          I think your friend Evan is telling you – that rep for being able to translate emotions is not working here. It’s not better than silence. It’s not better than everyone feeling slightly weird for 10 minutes. You’ll never be so “good at emotions” that you can manage someone else’s feelings.

  18. Something that stood out to me here was that the LW is stopping a group conversation to comfort and attend to the feelings of her husband. I can see how that would make the other parties in the group uncomfortable. Sulking and sighing is no way to get your friends to know that they’ve gone too far, and also it is not an emotional emergency to comfort him and check in with him in the moment just because his well-meaning friend hurt his feelings.

    Maybe if you really need to check in on the emotional state of your husband, you can wait until a more private moment? If your husband doesn’t bring it up directly with his friend, it’s really not your place to do it for him. That’s probably more the cause of the discomfort on the part of your friend, rather than the fact that they don’t “understand” your husband.

    1. I agree with this. I strongly support close friends or partners to have a signal they can use between each other when out in group settings that means something like, “I have a problem and would really like to talk to you alone.” You can verbally communicate this sometimes, but a subtle hand-signal can be great at parties for a socially smoother way of going to discuss something privately. It can be anything from, “I really needed you to rescue me from the most mind-numbing conversation I’ve been in for a while” to “I think I’m starting to become ill, so let’s wrap things up and go home” to “I’m really upset about something” to “Please tell me you know the name of the person I was speaking to just now” or whatever. But generally you should find a way to end the social interaction with others, at least temporarily, and discuss the matter privately. This isn’t as feasible in a lunch setting, in a lot of group conversations you can find ways to temporarily extract yourselves. Basically, I tend to hold to the rule that if it’s important enough that you need to disrupt the social interaction to handle it right now, you probably need to wrap up the social interaction and go somewhere private. If it isn’t important enough to disrupt it, it can wait til you get home or otherwise more naturally have privacy.

      In a case where the issue is actually between two people neither of which is you, well, it’s really the other person’s call if they are upset enough to want to end the encounter and then get emotional support. If someone has upset you enough for that to be a sensible course than I’d generally think either you should be informing them of it or you should be getting away from them if it is possible. Since the husband chose neither course of action, I’d view that as a statement that it is not upsetting enough to be dealt with currently.

      1. I second all this, and would also add that most of time, subtle hand gestures or signals aren’t even necessary. I think it’s perfectly social acceptable in a party-setting, to be like “Whoops, excuse me, I just need to steal my husband from you lovely folk for a moment!” or “Sorry, something has come up, can you give us a minute?” Most people will have no interest into prying further into Couple Business, or if they do, they’ll be polite about it and restrain themselves.

    2. That was my feeling, too. “Withdraw-and-sulk” might be a passive-aggressive manoeuvre (as a lot of the replies here seem to have interpreted it), but it could also be taken at face value. I read the “rebuffal” of the LW’s attempts to comfort her husband as maybe him wanting to stay quietly and politely withdrawn, and not wanting attention drawn to him by his partner’s kind attempts to cheer him up. The people I know who actually sulk, in a manipulative way, do it so that everyone (or at least more than two people) can tell that they’re doing it.

  19. I’m coming at this from a slightly different perspective, and it’s kind of twofold, so we’ll start with the first.

    1. When I was growing up, my dad was NOT GOOD at expressing emotions beyond Vague Disapproval or Outright Judgment, and it took my mom to say, “No, really, he’s very proud of you,” or some other emotion than the one he was explicitly giving me. (Come to think of it, he’s still not great, but he’s gotten better.) At some point, though, Mom got fed up being the translator, and she essentially made him start to use his words, and refused to be the go between. Oddly enough, our relationship improved immensely when he actually said things like, “You’ve really made me proud.” Who knew?

    The point being that Mom translating Dad into Daughter wore on her, and it didn’t do much for my relationship with my dad, since my response was always, “But why won’t he just say that?” You might feel the need to translate, but after 20 or 30 years, you might also get really tired of it. It’s much easier to break those habits young.

    2. I have depression and anxiety issues, and I’m a huge introvert, whereas my husband is not, and there are times when it’s easier to set up prearranged signals that I can shoot up like a flare, and he can say, “Shoot, we really have to go now.” He’s great at shielding me from that sort of responsibility when I can’t handle it, and the same is also true when we go to his parents’ house, and I see him getting stressed, and I say really loudly, “WE ARE GOING TO BED EARLY. SO TIRED.” Mostly so we can decompress for a while before trying to sleep.

    There’s nothing wrong with having each other’s backs in situations like that, or reading signals that the other person is sending out, and wanting to protect them, especially when there are things your guy has a hard time with.

    But I do think that there’s a difference between the two situations–things that he really should be navigating by himself (like, if he has a relationship with the person you’re translating for, then he probably SHOULD be more free with his words), and things that you do for each other to pad the pointy edges of the world.

    1. I’m really glad you brought up the first point. As I read the letter, I couldn’t help but imagine what it would be like to be a child in the LW’s household. Can you imagine how crazy-making this would be? I sincerely hope they do not have children and have no plans to procreate.

  20. I knew he’d feel bad all lunch and barely participate in the conversation, so I tried to comfort him, but he rebuffed me

    I am not your husband, but here’s what such a rebuff under the circumstances you describe would mean if it came from me: “Maybe I don’t feel great right now, but for God’s sake. let me decide how I want to handle it.” Is this a possibility? I find Feelings Interpreters most welcome at home, but in public I would rather they didn’t.

  21. I catch myself playing the translator role on a near constant basis for BOTH my mother and father toward each other. My mother has increasing difficulties with her memory and cognitive thinking, and my father simply does not know how to handle it. If she forgets something, he takes it personally and just repeats it *louder* because, you know, that’ll work. On the other side, my father can’t express when he’s genuinely hurt and instead sulks and mumbles under his breath.

    So I find myself constantly running interference between them and let me tell you…it’s *exhausting*. You don’t want to still be stuck in this role for the next ten or twenty years. At first it makes you feel proud, because it’s always a good feeling to know you can communicate with another person so well, so effectively, that other people are left out. It’s almost a kind of ownership, really. I have the same exact feelings about my cat. *I’m* the only one he’ll sleep with. *I’m* the only one who can kiss him without risking fangs to the face. He’s *my* cat, and I’m *his* person.

    But as time passes, you start to realize it’s not that you more effective with communication so much that you never gave anyone else a chance to practice. If I’m always right there to say “No, don’t pet the cat that way…he only likes it like *this*”, then I’m denying other person the opportunity to form their own relationship with him. Maybe they will get nipped a few times or he’ll walk away, and that’s okay. If they’re really interested in interacting with him, they’ll learn what works and what doesn’t.

    It’s the same way with people. Your husband’s friends can’t learn his signals if you’re jumping in to translate. And your husband can’t learn to communicate with *them*, because communication has to go both ways. It isn’t on his friends alone to form that bond and relationship…he has to put the work in to, and that means using words when they miss his signals.

    Believe me, I *know* how hard it is to not jump in. It seems so bloody obvious that the other person is missing something that to you sounds like a shout. Even before my mother’s memory issues, I’ve been playing peacekeeper between them since I was a kid. It’s very, very hard for me to step out of that role. As a result, here we are 20 some odd years later and my parents have no clue how to have a simple conversation. I’m going on vacation next week and leaving them alone together, and the sheer terror and anxiety around that is incredible. That’s not what you want for your husband and his friends. If he pouts, he pouts. Truth be told, it isn’t *anyone’s* job to soothe the emotions of a grown person who is opting to pout instead of communicate, and that includes not only you but your husband’s friends. What if *no one* responded when he sulked? Would he perhaps learn that it doesn’t work and that speaking up is a better solution? Should the lesson here really be on Nate to learn…or your husband?

    1. Digression: Congratulations on scoring some vacation time! If your dad has never shouldered any of the caregiving duties before, maybe the experience will make him realize how ridiculous it is that you’ve been doing this all by yourself for so long.

      1. So I wake up this morning and send my cat downstairs by himself for all of ten minutes…and when he came back up he couldn’t jump on the bed. Somehow in that ten minute span he managed to injure his back and/or hind legs. Had to take him into the vet as an emergency…x-rays showed no broken bones, so it’s likely a soft tissue injury. So goodbye vacation. 😦 (Though I’m way more worried about my cat than that.)

  22. I’ve never commented but I feel compelled to from this letter. I used to be the translator in my current relationship. My spouse has PTSD and can be very uncomfortable in social situations. Living with someone with PTSD, you become hypervigilant to body language and surroundings that may trigger. Little things, like a head tilt or playing with their necklace or slight shoulder slump, would tell me that they were being triggered or needed to step outside to have a cigarette to regroup and avoid dissociating.

    After my spouse left, my friends and family would ask “Oh, is X upset? They left very suddenly.” I used to explain everything to them (“X was upset by the dogs in the other room running into the door and making a loud noise, so they stepped outside.”) Dong so led to a disconnect between my friends/family and my spouse, where they didn’t interact with X in meaningful ways because they could just ask me.

    My spouse and I both had codependent behaviors and wanted to change, and one part of that was for me to stop translating. When people would ask me something about my spouse’s behavior I started saying “You should ask X, but I’m sure they’ll be back soon” and “They likely needed a breather, but you could ask them”.

    When my spouse became accustomed to having to answer those questions and interact, they made more friends outside of my circle of people and had better relationships with my family and friends. It’s probably one of the better things we’ve done for our relationship. It’s hard to break those patterns but it’s so worth the effort. I’m not hypervigilant in social situations and I’m more likely to bring my spouse to socialize since I don’t have to focus on them more than I’m focusing on the people I’m visiting.

    LW, things can change for the better! Try flipping the script! To break the habit I started to ignore my spouse at social functions. The Captain’s advice there is solid. It felt weird and rude but it was the quickest way to stop the pattern. I let them sink or swim and stopped being the social lubricater. Give it a try and see what happens.

    1. I’m in a kind of similar position to your spouse. Apparently, whenever my girlfriend introduces me to her friends (and sometimes when we’re both meeting someone for the first time) they end up asking her why I’m so quiet. The result isn’t good for either of us. She ends up feeling stressed and put-upon, because it shouldn’t be her job to smooth things over for me, and *I don’t get to speak for myself*. I don’t get to try and explain to people how I’m feeling, why I’m being quiet, and I don’t get to find out directly what they think, either. That makes it *harder* for me to talk to people. Like you said, it’s a lost chance for actual meaningful interaction between me and them. I understand why people ask her instead of me, especially when they already know her better- they just want to avoid asking an awkward question. But knowing that I’m being left out of conversations *about me*, for no good reason, really isn’t a great feeling. It’s awkward and difficult but I’d like, ideally, to be in charge of how I explain myself and present myself, instead of having some of it happen behind my back.

    2. I wholeheartedly agree with “ignore my spouse at social functions” thing. My husband has some social interaction quirks (read: gets overwhelmed easily), especially on group vacations, and I used to check in with him constantly. Finally, after yet another uncomfortable interaction, my best friend pulled me aside and said “why don’t you just leave him alone? Constantly asking him if he’s OK isn’t working. Maybe try something else?”

      Lo and behold, it totally worked. I stopped constantly checking on him, and he started acting like a normal person most of the time. YMMV, but it’s definitely helped our social interactions. Now I just need him to put the damned iPhone away when we’re out with friends and we’ll be all good.

  23. I agree heart and soul with the Captain’s advice. When you and your husband are out socialising, you are there to have fun, catch up with friends, eat dinner or drink coffee – you are not there to babysit, translate, or otherwise “manage” your husbands interactions and feelings. I’ve been there and it was exhausting.

    Have a little thought exercise with me. So, you’re out with Evan, good-natured teasing hits a nerve and your husband does the secret eye-brow raise. What if you more or less ignore it, and carry on chatting? Does you husband ever decide to express his own feelings? Does his sulky behaviour become overpoweringly awkward and weird? Does he act pissed at you for not holding his hand/looking after him later in the day? Or does he take a few minutes to regroup and then get back into having fun?

    I have a feeling the answer is one of the more negative ones, where you end up being made to feel bad or have to deal with negative consequences for not dropping everything to comfort him.

    There is a degree to which it is normal and natural to check in with a partner if you’re at a social event and you think they might be having a bad time/need a quick chat/want to discuss options of going home (one of which is always, “I go home, you stay and enjoy yourself”), but it sounds like you’re in a habit or more than a quick “hey, you alright?” in a quiet moment. You sound like you’re actively managing his feelings for him. Think about how limiting that is – are you ever a bit annoyed, because you’re having a good time and suddenly things change to “look after husband” mode? Often leave earlier than you would like because he’s in a shitty mood? Most of all – when you start over-explaining his behaviour, and comforting him in front of other people, is there a part of you that’s doing that because you’re embarrassed that he’s acting like an asshole and you think the explanation will make it seem better to your friends?

    I’ll be honest – I’m totally projecting, but your letter is exactly how I would described an ex of mine, and when I started to examine what was going on in honest detail, I found I was essentially managing him so he wasn’t a dickhead in front of other people, and so I wouldn’t have a fucking awful day after the other people left with him remaining in that terrible mood. When we broke up, it was amazing freedom to be at a party and not have to be constantly on alert for whether there was something going on with him that I “needed” to attend to. It was such a huge difference that I’ve actually stipulated in relationships following that one that, at parties and social occasions, if I am having a bad time I will manage that myself and my partner will do the same, including one of us going home early, and it totally being understood that it is not the other person’s issue.

    I’m not saying the answer is to break up with your husband, but I do think you should examine how you feel about the idea of not intervening in situations like the one you described. If it makes you anxious, why is that? Maybe this is something internal you need to work on yourself or maybe (and I’m leaning towards this one, since he is a grown man who sulks) your husband is doing something to put out the message that you are responsible for his feelings. If that’s the case, you’ve got a lot of boundary setting to do and you guys need to retalk what each of you expects from the other in certain situations. But either way, you should work towards not doing this sulking-to-English translation thing you’ve got going on, because he’s not a child and you are not his carer.

    1. OP here. If I said nothing, Evan would never even notice that my husband was upset, but I’d feel miserable knowing he was upset, and it’d be very stressful for me.

      1. LW, good to hear you in the conversation, but I have a question. If your husband is A) sufficiently okay to be able to handle things with no more demonstration of upset than a mild quietness that Evan probably wouldn’t even notice, and B) not happy (“rebuffed”) with your attempts to make things better for him, then possibly he isn’t the one actually as upset about all this as you are? It’s easy to feel upset on someone else’s behalf, either jumping to the conclusion that they would be upset themselves when they aren’t (or at least aren’t as much as you are), or else correctly analyzing them as upset, but not picking up on their preference to handle it their own way. Could you try to see what he’s doing, not through the “lens” of “he’s upset, terribly upset, and if I don’t do something about it, nothing will happen and he’ll STAY terribly upset, and OH MY GOD THAT IS TERRIBLE,” but through the lens of, “he looks like he might be a bit upset about that, but he can handle it, and if I just leave him be and do my own thing, he will get through it himself in his own time?” Because it looks to me as if that’s what he’s trying to do, when you keep stepping in.

        What I see most clearly here is that you aren’t — by your own statement — stepping in because of your husband’s needs. He has shown you that he does not need you to step in by rebuffing your attempt to do so. You are stepping in because of your *own* needs… your need to do something to make *yourself* not feel miserable, the way you tend to feel when you believe him upset by something someone else has done.

        That’s not good for you, and it’s not good for your husband (nor, according to his action, is it his wish), and it’s definitely not good for either of your friendships with other people, who tend to prefer to deal with you about your feelings and your husband about his feelings. I hope you’ll consider owning your own jumping-in impulses, acknowledging that it’s your own feelings of misery which compel you to do it, and maybe think about therapy if that would be helpful in allowing you to learn to let go of your husband’s upset and not let it make you feel miserable every time you sense it in his expression. It’s just not healthy to let it make you miserable for the whole gathering when he appears to be handling it just fine.

      2. Hi, OP.
        I read your other comments, and I pick up from them that part of the stress of knowing your husband is miserable is from the past abuse you were subject to. I have a little bit of the same thing going on from watching my father explode when I was growing up. The thing is, even though you are very stressed, your husband’s emotions are still not your problem to solve. I would try working on being ok with the awkwardness. That’s not to say “just stop being stressed,” more like, learn to feel that stress without it controlling you. If we were in a meditation group, I would say, “sit with it, observe it. you feel the stress, but you are not the stress,” or something like that. Learning how to still yourself is an important part of your husband learning how to express himself. You need to give him that space.

  24. BRILLIANT ANALYSIS, CAPTAIN! I wasn’t even thinking about what you brought up when I read the letter…But as soon as I got into your response, I was in awe of your insight. Well done, captain.

    1. Well, passive aggression is “LOOK AT HOW MUCH YOU HURT ME. JUST LOOK AT IT.” If his behaviour is so subtle about it most people can’t tell anything is happening, I’m not certain that he isn’t just handling his own feelings his own way.

      1. True, although if he only intends to be PA towards his wife and knows that she is vigilant for tiny signs, then the subtle actions can be clear as day to the one he’s targeting and look perfectly innocent to the others. So this plausible deniability rewards him with 1 – attention (managing, soothing, etc) from his wife AND 2 – any negative reaction from others will most likely be targeted to the LW, since she is the one appearing to react to nothing.

    2. Basically. I mean, people are coming up with the most convoluted explanations on Earth in this thread.

      Is he in the autism spectrum? Then we are talking about something else, of course, and it is not his fault. Or does husband have serious diagnosed psychological problems that induce him to this sulky behaviour (e.g. what someone mentioned above, PTSD)? Then what he needs is professional help, that is not something that can be solved by a romantic partner, or fixed by smoothing out every single social situation.

      Otherwise, your husband needs to get his shit together. He KNOWS you can tell when he is upset and whatnot, and he KNOWS you feel responsible for his feelings. He needs to stop doing this. If he can’t because he is an introvert to the nth degree (and I’m not comfortable making this link because I know many introverts who are not passive aggressive), then he needs to come up with strategies to manage his social awkwardness. You are not his mother.

      1. Well, if you’re reading the rest of the thread, you might also have seen where the LW has followed up with more details. And what we now have include the following information:

        -The husband’s behavior, if behavior it can even be called, is so subtle that, if his wife had not insisted on dragging his alleged feelings out into the open and making a big deal about it, nobody except her would ever have even noticed it.

        -The husband has made explicitly clear that he doesn’t *want* her to drag his feelings out into the open and make a big deal about them… that’s why he “rebuffed” her when she tried.

        -The wife has realized that her compulsion to jump in and smooth things over has nothing to do with her husband’s behavior, but is a residual reaction to the way she was treated by other people in the past.

        To me, that sure looks like her husband isn’t being a problem at all. He’s trying to do the responsible thing with his feelings: manage them himself, internally, in a way which does not show to outsiders at all except *maybe* those who know him best, and rejecting any attempt to make them the topic of conversation, because that’s not appropriate. It’s his wife who, without his consent, has decided to “feel responsible for his feelings,” in your words.

        Even if he does “KNOW” that she feels compelled to jump in and talk about his feelings when he is handling them perfectly well by himself, that doesn’t make it his fault that she does feel compelled to do so. It may mean that, if they’ve got a good relationship otherwise, he wants to help her get over her compulsive thing about managing other people’s feelings… and, judging from the followup comments we have from the LW, that’s exactly what he is now attempting to do. But she isn’t doing this because he expects her to, or wants her to, mloro. She’s doing it because HER own past experiences make her feel “miserable” if she doesn’t jump in and do it, even if he’s actually handling the whole thing just fine without her intervention. I’m not sure I understand why that’s something for which you’d blame the husband. Yeah, he *would* be behaving like an asshole if he’d been actively sending her deliberate signals so she’d know, and then waiting expectantly for her to deal with it for him. But that just doesn’t sound like what’s really happening here.

  25. If your husband’s way of expressing his different emotions are so subtle in the differences as to need you to act as permanent translator for the rest of the world, then he is not being very expressive about his emotions at all.

    You teach a child to use their words and tell people what they want by stopping speaking for them and encouraging them to speak for themselves. Looking wistfully at the fridge is no substitute for saying “May I have a drink please?” even if you know what they want before they speak. They have to learn to say the words because not everyone can read their minds or their moods. Nor should everyone have to learn to do so. It sounds like your husband needs to learn to do the same thing and you need to let him learn that.

    1. This is exactly what I came to say (only better put). A sigh from a repertoire of similar sighs is not expressing emotion in any clear way that people can be expected to understand.

    2. Very true. I honestly didn’t expect a letter that started with “My husband is very expressive of his emotions” to turn out like this one here did.

    3. >> Looking wistfully at the fridge is no substitute for saying “May I have a drink please?”

      Unless you’re a cat. Then it’s fair does. 😉

      1. My cat’s are extraordinarily unsubtle about stuff like that but if my partner ever stared at his plate, stared at me, stared back at his plate then back at me, and then walked over to sit in front of the fridge and continued to stare at me? I would a) wonder why he didn’t get his own damn food and b) wonder why he hadn’t just ASKED, a form of communication unavailable to my cats.

        Anyway, if the LW is treating her husband like an extremely spoiled pet then she has bigger problems than those mentioned in her letter.

        1. My Siamese cat’s meow used to sound like a crying baby but I could disinguish her “I’m hungry” meow (Siamese cats are very vocal and loud) from her “pet me now,” and her “fuck off,” meow. If she wanted to go outside she would sit at the door and howl. And then she had her “hi! I’m really happy to see you, so how are you?” conversational meow.

          That little cat was a great communicator.

  26. Agreed that approaching your husband directly about this is a good course of action, once you’ve had some time to think. My gent and I can both be pretty socially awkward and we handle conflict very differently. We’ve had a lot of luck with occasional, “How would you like me to handle X situation when we’re in public?” conversations.

  27. I’m wondering where the translation practice came from in the first place. Is this something the husbwnd wants or expects LW to do? Or is this something LW just fell into the habit of doing and husband never stated “please do/do not do this.”? LW, your husband rebuffing your efforts to comfort him might mean that he doesn’t want to be translated to the world. This might be a good opportunity to discuss this dynamic and whether or not it should continue–discuss verbally, out loud, with words not sighs.

  28. I’m getting a different read on this than many commenters, in that it sounds to me like your husband does not particularly want you to “translate” for him and you’re the one who is pushing the issue.

    Frankly, it is not at all the end of the world if two friends are teasing each other and one gets a tiny bit of hurt feelings. That’s happened to me more times than I can count, and on most of those occasions I’ve decided I don’t want to raise the issue with my friend and just go on with the conversation, even if I might be a bit quieter or less jokey because something pinched a bit. I would have been MORTIFIED if someone else decided that she could tell I was upset and needed to take it upon herself to inform the other person in the conversation that they had upset me and we all needed to talk about it.

    Maybe it works for the two of you in your relationship that you monitor his mood and bring it up whenever you can tell he’s upset. But certainly with other people, I’d say that you should totally stop doing that in any way. If he’s upset, he’s an adult and can decide how to deal with it. Maybe he won’t say anything because he doesn’t want to create awkwardness or doesn’t want to explain why it upset him or didn’t think it was all that big a deal. Maybe he will say something sometimes, if you’re not jumping in to do it for him. Maybe on some of the occasions where you think you’re reading his emotions, you’re actually projecting something on to him that isn’t there and making an issue where there isn’t one. But no matter what, I agree with the Captain that he’s an adult and can handle his own social interactions, and that you don’t need to and shouldn’t be trying to micromanage his feelings for him.

    1. Yeah, I think that it’s hard to tell from the letter whether the whole “husband interpreter” thing is something that the husband is ok with/manipulating the LW into doing (=KIND OF EXTREME CONCLUSION, but I think I’ve seen a few comments that seem to go in that direction), or if it’s just a role that the LW has stepped into of her own accord. But either way, time for LW to stop!

    2. Yeah, I’m also wondering if the husband is actually okay with the “translating” that’s going on, and whether the signs the LW is picking up on are deliberate behavior or just how her husband looks when he’s upset. “Withdrawing and sulking” that’s a passive-aggressive attempt to get people to ask if you’re upset is one thing; getting quiet because you’re trying not to show that you’re upset (but aren’t hiding it perfectly enough to fool your spouse) is another thing. Personally, I’d hate it if my spouse took that choice away from me by making a big deal out of “but I know you’re upset!” in front of other people after I’d chosen not to say anything about my feelings.

      1. Yeah, the fact that only one person other than the LW seems to be able to pick up on these signs makes me think it’s less likely to be a passive aggressive sulk-for-attention (because if so, he’s not doing a very good job of it) and more likely to be him just not perfectly hiding that he’s a bit upset.

        1. Exactly! If the husband is doing what LW sees as subtle “withdrawing and sulking” and then later feeling upset when other people don’t pick up on it or LW doesn’t “translate”, then that could be kind of a red flag, but at least in the example given, it sounds like it could be possible that the reason nobody else is picking up on the husband’s signs is that he doesn’t actually WANT them picked up on.

  29. Given that Adam also focuses on the LW’s husband’s subtle ‘cues’, it seems the husband likes people who translate his feelings for him. It may be useful for the LW to point out that he should not expect this from most people, and step away from a translation role.

    If the result is that her husband’s interactions with her friends get more awkward, he would be perfectly within his rights not to hang out with them so much. But if he is spending time with people, it needs to be clear that he is responsible for dealing with any discomfort. The couple could privately discuss ways in which he could engage with her friends more happily. But it’s up to him to actually do the interacting, in the way he sees fit – and it’s up to her to manage her anxiety around this.

  30. I see another possibility in this letter, one that hasn’t been mentioned yet I think?

    It might depend on what the “teasing” is about. If it is one topic or a certain subset of topics that get the “nope, actually not funny and I’m offended” reaction but he’s being “subtle” about it, it might be that actually the guy is not just offended but HURT for a reason, and that he’s not doing so well with the “using his words” because if he got offended every time, then he wouldn’t have friends.

    I’ve been in the husband’s shoes in our church, and Spouse has ended up going to the pastor or other people and saying, “Hey, cool it with the fat-shaming ‘jokes’ because they are actually really upsetting Cheshire and making her feel unwelcome here.” Because if I try to say anything myself, I can’t get words out, just tears. On this one specific subject. And I’d rather not be crying when everyone else is laughing and hey, what’s MY problem anyway?

    So there may be a larger issue of “how can I keep my friends when they are upsetting my partner?” and the partner is not wanting to push the issue BECAUSE he knows that’s what abusers do, etc. But at the same time the stuff that is being said hurts.

    1. I think this is definitely a possibility, and I don’t think anyone’s denying that LW’s husband is suffering genuine hurt. But if LW’s friends are periodically hurting her husband with their words, then they need a strategy to deal with that as a couple. LW’s “I will translate all your feelings in real-time to an uncomfortable audience of friends” strategy is not fixing the problem.

      A good strategy for this scenario would be for LW to sit down with Husband in private and say, “Hey, what specific topics of conversations are triggering your withdrawals? Let’s come up with some strategies on how we can avoid/buffer those topics together. Let’s practice some scripts for shutting down those topics so you can handle it when I’m not around. How much do my friends need to know about this/what would you like me to tell them about your feelings on this?”

      Couples standing up for each other and having each others’ backs in social situations is really important. But the situation LW describes doesn’t sound mutually supportive, or even like it’s actually benefiting her husband all that much.

    2. Would you and spouse not have an explicit conversation about whether or not you wanted him going to say that to others, though? I would be unhappy with my partner doing that on my behalf without an explicit discussion about whether or not I wanted them to, whether it was on an individual-event basis or a blanket yes please/no thanks agreement. The comparable situation in my relationship would be when my brothers go overboard with the “haha, Mary’s girlfriend is a vegetarian weirdo!” jokes, but even then, when it’s explicitly my family and therefore my responsibility, I’d tend to check in with my partner about whether she’s in a “meh, they are annoying, but let’s just leave it” mood or a “yes, actually, I’d really like this to stop” mood.

      I definitely agree that it’s a different situation if the husband is experiencing a lot of micro-aggressions and feels that he can’t challenge them openly, but I does still come across to me as the LW making a lot of assumptions about how her husband actually wants her to react in this situation which might not be justified.

    3. It seems to me that you’re describing a situation where your spouse is going to bat for you on a very particular issue that hits you very hard. But LW is talking about swooping in and translating for her husband really frequently when his feelings get hurt, and he gets his feelings hurt often. And Lord help me, the more I think about LW’s husband’s conduct, the more I want to say “fee-fees” instead of “feelings.”

      As a lawyer I’m in a position where I have to gently tell clients (or not-so-gently tell opposing parties) that getting your fee-fees — er, sorry, feelings — hurt is not grounds for taking someone to court. Part of growing up is learning how to deal with hearing things we don’t want to hear without taking them personally. “Defendant said something that hurt Plaintiff’s feelings” is not something you can sue someone for. There’s a reason for that. By the time we’re adults, we should have thicker skin than we had when we were children. I mean, we shouldn’t be completely emotionless, and we shouldn’t put up with things like fat-shaming and people in positions of leadership making jokes to a crowd at our expense. But there’s a difference between what your spouse is doing, that is, joining Team You and calling someone out when their insensitivity leaves you so upset you can’t talk, and what LW does, which is, in my opinion, assisting her husband from becoming a fully actualized adult.

      1. That would really depend on the kind of crowd you hang out with and who you are, though. Having most people around you in everyday life, at work or school or family events, be sexist, racist and homophobic is sadly not rare at all. It could mean you’re hurt frequently, over and over again, in a way that leaves you even more helpless to react – because it happens *all the time*, so you have to choose your battles etc.

        Yeah, obviously you can’t take someone to court over your feelings being hurt. That doesn’t mean that they can’t be hurt, repeatedly, or that the people who hurt them are blameless just because they see hurtful behavior as normal. Sometimes part of adulthood is realizing that you live in a toxic environment and that people hurting you might not be your fault, even if you can’t necessarily do anything about it.

        1. “Sometimes part of adulthood is realizing that you live in a toxic environment and that people hurting you might not be your fault, even if you can’t necessarily do anything about it.”

          This. Saying “Maybe don’t be hurt by other people’s comments?” is much easier if you don’t hear them every day all the time.

      2. The reason I see it this way is because it was all specifically in the context of jokes and one person’s oh so funny joke why aren’t you laughing oh your poooor pooor fee fees is another person’s actually really hurtful microaggression. If this is happening around something other than jokes (or “jokes”) the. I might see it more your way.

        1. I do dig what you’re saying. LW didn’t characterize the problematic conduct as microaggressions, though. But even if they were, there are ways to deal with toxic people that don’t involve what LW and her husband do. Husband sulks and withdraws, leaving LW to read his mind, stop the conversation (truly a passive-aggressive, attention-seeking move), and explain to all and sundry that this teasing, which would roll off anyone else’s back, has hurt LW’s husband’s feelings so much that they can’t get back to the conversation again until husband’s feelings are “resolved.”

          And if she doesn’t do it right, he rebuffs her! Best of all, whatever was going on, now husband is 100% the center of attention. I wonder if this happens just a little more frequently when LW is having a really fun, satisfying conversation with someone, especially of LW’s preferred gender, and husband hasn’t had too much to say in the conversation, and his eyes are starting to turn just the slightest bit green.

          1. It’s really interesting to read other people’s interpretations of this, because mine is so very different. I read this as: friend says something that strikes a nerve for husband and he withdraws so subtly that only the LW notices, but the LW decides to comfort him in front of the other person in the conversation, thus guaranteeing that the issue is now the center of attention. Husband doesn’t want to engage in that right there and tries to make her stop, and then the LW visibly gets upset about his resistance to being comforted hurting her feelings. Now the third party feels really uncomfortable (and note, feels uncomfortable about what the LW is doing, not because of the sulk/withdraw the LW perceives in her husband that isn’t visible to anyone else), and the LW takes it upon herself to tell him he hurt her husband’s feelings and to force everyone to talk about that.

            The LW says that her friend has actually approached her to say that LW doing this is uncomfortable and seems like she is dictating her husband’s emotions, and that she suspects other friends are uncomfortable about this as well. But her question was not “how do I stop doing this” or even “is this something I should be doing” but “how can I better explain my husband’s emotions so other people won’t think I’m being a control freak?” I’m sure the LW is very well-intentioned, but taken together, all of that suggests to me that this isn’t about the husband throwing sulks to force the LW to pay attention to him; it’s about the LW trying (lovingly!) to micromanage her husband’s interactions with others even when he doesn’t want her to.

  31. Best/worst version of this I ever saw happened in the waiting room of a vet clinic I was working at….I was quietly sitting at my reception desk, and a man, his wife, and their two pets checked in. They sat and had a seemingly normal conversation, too quietly for me to have heard anything…until he suddenly started to raise his voice in a way I can only describe as “petulant” and literally, dramatically Stamped His FEET!!!! I was stunned that this grown-ass man was behaving in every way like a spoiled two-year old, and worse that his wife seemed not to be horrified or embarrassed, but continued to talk to him as if he were behaving entirely normally.

  32. I kind of feel where the LW’s husband is coming from because I also have a longstanding habit of muting my emotional expressions thanks to some toxic stuff from my childhood; and I also have an awful habit of withdrawing and fuming and wishing someone would notice me and ask what was wrong and make a big fuss and pander to me. It’s honestly one of the habits I dislike most about myself because it harms my social life so much. If I had a SO who was willing to jump in and do what I wanted in that moment, I’d honestly be tempted to keep doing it, and that would turn bad between us indeed.

    So for me, opening my mouth and saying, “I’m not having fun anymore,” or “That thing you said upset me,” or “I’d like us to change the topic” is so annoying and so necessary and I groan like a kid being told to get out of bed for school every single time. But I do it BECAUSE IT’S REALLY IMPORTANT.

    Also because–people hurt each other’s feelings. It happens. It’s always going to happen, no matter how hard everyone tries. It’s not actually possible for everyone to be so perfect and thoughtful that they just exactly know what the other person’s comfort zone is. So when I speak up and push back, I’m not doing that because omg they are a bad person and must be chastised, but because we’ve hit a moment where our needs conflict but they’re not aware of it. I need to choose what to do in that moment, whether it’s choosing to speak up and bear with discomfort, or choosing to stay silent and feel a little trod-upon.

  33. OP, I am confused as to why you seem to think that your husband’s hurt feelings are your problem. I hope this doesn’t sound overly harsh, but frankly, your friends do not owe it to your husband to be able to “read” his emotions. He is a grownup, and should therefore be capable of articulating the fact that something has offended him. The fact that he chooses not to do so, and instead (in your own words) “sulks” until you explain to your friends that his feelings have been hurt is a little bit worrisome. It is not fair for him to put you in a position where you are forced to explain his feelings to other people. That is a huge responsibility for you to have, and has the chance of negatively impacting your relationships with your friends.

    Why not have a conversation with your husband where you say “hey, I really don’t like having to tell other people that you are upset and explain why. In the future, do you think that you could use your words and speak up when someone hurts your feelings? That would make things much easier for me, and would probably be way more effective in solving the problem.” If he starts doing this, problem solved! If not, it might be time to take a broader look at your relationship and communication styles and think about discussing them with a neutral third party.

  34. LW, it sounds to me as if you have (voluntarily?) taken on the role of doing ALL your husband’s emotional work for him, to the point where he’s not even expected to tell someone who is annoying him to knock it off. And there’s no incentive for him to learn to use his words because you keep jumping in for him.

    Rolling his eyes and sighing is not “being very expressive with his emotions”, it’s the exact opposite. Someone who was very expressive with their emotions would say, “Hey, that thing you just said wasn’t cool”. You are the one who is expressing [your perception of] his emotions on his behalf. It is not unreasonable to expect an adult man to take care of this kind of thing himself.

    Also, I sympathise with your friend Evan’s perspective because I used to be friends with a couple who had a very similar dynamic to what you describe between you and your husband. To be blunt, it is a little tedious when any conversation with friends gets derailed into a discussion of one person’s issues; it makes the occasion all about the couple, and reinforces the feeling that the friend’s needs and wants are always secondary to the partner’s. Imagine not being able to finish a story or conversation without being interrupted by constant checking if someone else is OK. It doesn’t exactly make you feel wanted and valued.

    My perception is that your managing of your husband’s feelings is preventing you enjoying time with your friends, and it’s making it hard for your friends to enjoy it too. In fact, is anybody enjoying this situation at all? I’m not sure.

  35. A few points on this:

    1. LW, I get the impression that you think that your super-special husband is misunderstood by the world at large because they don’t have your super-special husband reading skills. You need to disabuse yourself (and possibly him) of this notion. Your husband is not a special “emotionally expressive yet subtle” snowflake. Based on how you’ve described here, your husband is sullen and non-communicative, but unsurprisingly, you – and other people who know him intimately – are able to parse his sighs and grunts and grimaces. This is not particularly unusual. Most families and close friends are able to read each other like this.

    2. Being able to read someone’s emotions does not automatically mean you are now responsible for managing those emotions.

    3. I used to withdraw/sulk/shutdown during meals when someone said something I didn’t like or teased me in a way that I felt was going too far. I grew out of this behaviour around the same time my age hit double-digits. This is not how adults behave. The fact that you said your husband has a withdraw-and-sulk ROUTINE is deeply troubling. Please stop enabling your husband’s childish behaviour by indulging his sulks and trying to get your friends to play along by soothing and coddling him.

    4. You seem convinced that people are unable to read your husband like you do. My take on this is that he’s not nearly as subtle as you think he is (it’s pretty difficult not to notice someone sulking at a three-person lunch). I think it’s more likely that your friends are kind of mortified by his behaviour, but don’t want to embarrass him or you by addressing it directly.

    5. I have a friend whose partner is… abrasive, to put it mildly. He is the sort of person who thinks “being honest” and “telling it is like it is” means being a pass-remarkable asshole 24/7. Now, I can cope with this. He is not the first, or last, abrasive person I will deal with in my life, and he’s certainly not one of the worst I’ve encountered. I can deal with him inadvertently insulting my career choices every now and then. What I can’t deal with is my friend, who spends most of her time “explaining” his “humour” to everyone. He’ll say something caustic, friend will immediately launch into loud fake laughter while explaining to everyone why that was actually a joke, and why it was so funny and how her boyfriend has such an unusual sense of humour and BLAH BLAH BLAH VOM. This usually results on him doubling-down, reiterating his comments, offending yet more people and creating an incredibly fraught atmosphere for everyone involved.

    Later, my friend will be upset because people (especially new people) don’t “get” her wonderful boyfriend. And it’s like, “Dude, we do get him. We get that he’s an abrasive asshole who thinks being rude is the same as being funny.” People not “getting” him is in fact people refusing to participate in creating a group illusion where Boyfriend is hilarious and edgy, and everyone who thinks otherwise is just uptight and stupid.

    LW, this may not be the same situation at all, but food for thought. Is “subtle but emotionally expressive” the illusion you have created around “passive-aggressive sulker”? Are you trying to encourage your friends to all get on board with that narrative, because everyone pretending your husband has a super-special-subtle-but-expressive-emotional range is easier than admitting that you married a passive-aggressive sulker?

    If so, stop asking your friends to participate. That’s what’s weirding them out. It may not be that they don’t “get” your husband, it’s that they get him all too well.

    6. Some scripts for you – to be used IN PRIVATE AND/OR OUT OF EARSHOT OF YOUR FRIENDS

    “Hey husband, I noticed you decided to give Evan the silent treatment at lunch after he said That Thing. That was not cool. At all. If something offends you, you need to speak up. I know speaking up when you’re upset can be difficult, but I promise I will back you up 110%.”

    “Hey husband, I notice you always tend to go into a sulk when someone brings up X Subject. Can you explain exactly what’s hitting a nerve there? If you can articulate what’s bothering you, we can start figuring out how to set boundaries with our friends around this topic.”

    “Hey husband, *TAKING HIM ASIDE* you’ve been sighing loudly at the buffet for several minutes now. What’s up? We can go soon if you’re not having a good time, but at the moment you’re actually being rude to the other party guests.”

    1. A+++++ WOULD BUY AGAIN

      Criminy, the scripts are exactly the kind of thing I would use with my daughter — when she was twelve.

    2. I don’t know about this, necessarily. It kind of depends on what ‘being withdrawn’ means. Ostentatiously sulking is one possibility, but so is just being kind of quiet. And I don’t think anyone is obligated to either fake chatty and happy or launch into a How You Offended Me speech. It’s perfectly possible to just sit and quietly eat your dinner and process a little bit without other people getting their panties in a bunch…especially since it doesn’t seem like the friend in question realized anything was wrong until LW pointed it out. People generally know when they’re being given the silent treatment. Being a little withdrawn is not the same thing, and is not rude.

      Also, tbh, all of those scripts are the way I would talk to a child, not my spouse. He’s a big boy. If he wants to leave, he can say so. If he’s being rude to the other guests, they can take it up with him. These scripts are…kind of doing what LW is already doing, just mediating the other people to her husband instead of mediating her husband to the other people.

      1. LW is the one who used the phrase “withdraw-and-sulk” so I’m just going on the information at hand. I mean, there are a few possible scenarios here.

        1. Husband sometimes gets a bit a quiet at dinner or whatever, LW interprets this as him feeling unhappy, starts explaining his feelings to the gathered company against his wishes. In this case, LW needs to back off.

        2. Husband deliberately sulks for attention/whatever and expects LW to deal with any ruffled feathers until he decides it’s time to be an adult again. In this case, LW could choose to back off as the Captain said, but I’d be more inclined to confront this behaviour head-on rather than spending any more awkward social events wondering if and when he’s going to start pouting over a minor slight.

        3. LW’s friend group have some genuinely problematic behaviours, and are consistently offending Husband to the extent that he is frequently withdrawn and quiet around them. In that case, they need to have a talk about how they want to handle that as a couple, and since Husband is clearly not a big communicator, LW needs to open the floor for that conversation.

        The fact that LW called this behaviour a routine is what makes me tip towards No. 2. My scripts are all basically just different versions of “Yo, what the fuck is up with this withdraw-and-sulk routine you keep pulling?” They can obviously be modified to sound more adult, but honestly, when someone is acting like a child, it’s kind of difficult not to speak to them as you would to a child.

        1. “LW is the one who used the phrase “withdraw-and-sulk” so I’m just going on the information at hand.”

          Yep, but she also said Evan would never have noticed this without her intervention, which makes me uncertain whether she’s right to call it such. Especially as she doesn’t seem concerned that her husband is being rude, but rather that he wasn’t enjoying himself. If EVAN’s feelings would not have been hurt, or disturbed at all by the husband’s behaviour then I’m not at all sure Husband did anything wrong. Unless of course LW was anxious because she foresaw a big strop or a long bout of moping from him once Evan had left.

          1. This is the piece that made me think it was the LW’s problem, not the husband’s. If the husband’s behavior was truly so subtle that Evan would not have noticed it, then he is managing his own feelings appropriately (if indeed those *are* his feelings; sometimes even spouses misread each other, and he did “rebuff” her attempt at comfort/translation), and his wife has taken upon herself the job of expounding to the world on what *she* thinks he is feeling, when he himself apparently doesn’t really want her to, or he wouldn’t be rebuffing her when she tries.

            Add that LW said in a followup comment that Husband, had she not tried to hijack the conversation into being all about his feelings that he didn’t choose to express, would not have done anything inappropriate; indeed she reiterated that Evan would never have known — it’s just that SHE, his wife, would have been “miserable” all lunch, because she “knew” he was upset.

            This doesn’t sound like his problem to me. This sounds like she’s got a bee in her bonnet about what she perceives as his feelings, and she is determined — for the sake of her *own* “misery,” at least as much as his “upset,” — to drag those feelings she’s sure he has out into the open where she can make sure Evan does find out about them. That is not really appropriate behavior on her side, and from her description of *his* behavior (withdrawing so subtly that Evan would never have noticed; rebuffing her when she attempted to make his feelings that he chose not to show into the center of attention), her husband doesn’t really want her to do that, but hasn’t yet managed to stop her.

            I don’t know whether she is reading his feelings accurately or not. And it doesn’t really matter. If he doesn’t want to show them, and he is capable of managing his expressions so that nobody except his closest family and friends can spot them, then he is behaving reasonably in choosing to keep those feelings to himself. And he has the right to choose to do that, and not have that attempt squashed by his wife, who wants to make sure that everyone else hears about his feelings, whether he wants them to or not.

            The best thing I can think of for the LW to do is to learn, through her own work on her own feelings (possibly with a therapist if she feels it would be helpful), how to ignore any feelings of her husband’s which he has not chosen to express in words, when they are in a public setting; and how to prevent the constant pressure of those feelings on her sensitive husband-feeling-receptors from making her miserable if she doesn’t talk about them.

          2. Having read LW’s follow-up comments, I’m super glad that this is largely a problem with her own anxiety and control issues, rather than an emotionally manipulative husband type deal. While working through those issues is undoubtedly tough, the challenge of changing your own behaviour is a much smaller mountain than changing the behaviour of your partner.

            I think I came down particularly hard on this because I have been Evan in the middle of a similar but far more toxic situation – the male half would sulk and pout if he didn’t get his way and his girlfriend would immediately jump-in and try to redirect the conversation/evening plans/road trip to accommodate him. It was a sort of chicken-and-egg situation, unclear whether she acted like a fussy mother because he behaved a spoiled teenager or vice versa. Either way, it was deeply uncomfortable, often times mortifying for everyone involved, and frequently ruined social events (especially smaller ones where there was no option to slip away to another part of the room). This couple has long since broken up, but what was most surprising to me was discussing it with my friend years later: I described their dynamic from an outsider perspective and she was genuinely shocked to hear how overbearing the whole thing had been. She’d recognized that her partner had definitely used sulking/silent treatment to manipulate her, but had not realised that it was so painfully obvious to the rest of the group. She’s a real high-energy organizer type and tends to willingly take responsibility for everyone else’s fun – she honestly thought her interventions with her boyfriend were for everyone’s benefit, sort of major projection along the lines of “obviously no one is going to be able to have a good time if he’s sad!”

            Anyway, I’m very glad I was wrong and that LW’s situation is not this situation!

    3. That bolded line is really, really important for compulsive fixers (myself included) to keep in mind. I wish I’d internalized that message in my teens instead of “you’re good at emotions, so fix everything.”

  36. I really felt the need to comment on this. The response was terrific though.

    Your letter is all about your _husbands_ emotions, how you can manage your _husbands_ emotions. This isn’t your responsibility. Even if you got into the habit of this and it sort of works for you – as a spouse this isn’t your job. Being respectful to those emotions, yes of course, but not shouldering them as if they were your own. As others have commented, it is emotionally draining for you and can actually damage his relationships with others. If you pull back and he still doesn’t start to express emotions with words, then that is actually his choice. Maybe he is content to just hang out with people that “get” his different sighs. Maybe he isn’t. You can try to offer different options, ways of interacting that works for him or point out specific instances where he should use words, but he has to do the work himself. He’s an adult.

    Digressing slightly: Assuming the LW is female (I’m very sorry if I’m wrong), managing men’s emotions is a very female thing to do. This post made me think of a study made on kindergarden kids (Not in the US). At meal time, the kids were placed every other girl and boy. The girls learned to anticipate the boy’s needs. The boys only had to grunt or point at stuff, like a drink or bread, and the girls gave it to them. Which resulted in boys actually being behind the girls in language development. These were 2-5 year olds.

  37. For me, the part that was most problematic was:

    “sigh that means “I’m pretending to be offended because you’re playfully teasing me”

    How often does he fake being really offended with your friends? How far does all this teasing go where him getting actually offended by teasing is a thing that happens enough that it concerns you? When he’s pretending to be offended does he pretend to withdraw and sulk? How do your friends usually react when he goes into a fake offended sulk? It seems he might be playing a bit of the boy who cried wolf with being upset/getting offended.

    And trust me – I understand how hard it is to be out with partner and friends when partner decides he is a special snowflake that needs to have a sulk regardless of surroundings or social situation. It is REALLY HARD. If you ignore partner to try to interact with the group and keep things feeling normal for everyone you have this nagging guilt, plus that nice awkwardness when the whole group is trying to politely ignore the person who is pointedly not partaking. And if you address whatever issue with partner then you are brining the DRAMA out into the open and now everyone has to deal head on with the sulk.

    I also get that part of the pressure to manage this is that they are YOUR friends (or.. friend) and you kind of have that compulsion to make sure partner doesn’t come out the outing looking super bad. It feels better to explain that Joe-Bob sulked all night because he was offended by that thing you said then to have everyone think Joe-Bob sulked all night because he was putting on an elaborate “offended” show or that he can randomly just decide to not be social.

    But.. being the social explainer of partners moods and behaviors is a stressful exhausting place to be – and making sure everyone is happy and getting along is not your job. If friends and partner can’t be together without your constant work – maybe they should be separate for awhile.

    This is all coming from a place where I’ve decided I need to keep my closest friends and partner apart. Partner has decided that one of my friends hates him, not due to anything she’s ever said or done but because HE SAW IT IN HER FACE! AND HE’S REALLY GOOD AT READING FACES! And just…. ugh. So they occupy separate spaces in my life and I am much less stressed because of it.

    1. OP here. We have one of those friend groups that thrives on banter and mutual teasing, so most of the time he’s pretending to be upset to play the game.

    2. For what it’s worth, I read the “pretending to be offended” as more of a non-verbal equivalent of the last line in a “Teasing comment!” “Oh yeah, well teasing comment!” “Oh yeah, well ZINGER.” “Augh! Dude, I am wounded! (Blatant subtext: I am not wounded, that was funny, I like these conversations with you.)” exchange.

      But it took until reading your comment to realize that even if it’s meant that way, it might not be coming across that way to her friends, who are just dealing with some guy who sighs all the time in indistinguishable ways.

  38. I’ve had some experience with people calling out my emotions (of course, usually the negative ones) publicly – “oh, that’s your angry face!” or “I can tell you’re annoyed, are you grumpy today?” – and it always makes me, and the people around me, feel super awkward. It’s not a common behavior, but the two people I know who do it, do it frequently, and I’ve seen people avoid them as a consequence. I’m sure the LW isn’t that bad, and doesn’t seem to be doing it to all of her friends, but if Evan is uncomfortable… maybe it’s a behavior that needs to be nipped in the bud.

    There’s a reason that people say kids are better at reading people than adults, and part of it is that, as adults, we look away from things we’re not supposed to be reading on other people’s face. The same illusion of privacy you give to the person squished next to you on the bus, it’s part of the social contract. It’s good to be able to read your *partner* so closely, definitely, but there’s a reason your friends aren’t 100% tuned into his emotional frequency – they aren’t really supposed to be.

  39. …it helps tremendously if I stop and question him when I’m getting signals that he’s not okay….

    This is the part of your letter that stood out to me to most. I would think about WHAT is helped tremendously. Is there a backlash or situation you are trying to prevent? Is it something that affects you or are you just trying to help your husband fell better?

    Or do you just mean a social situation, although you’re already aware that it doesn’t really work if you, your friends and your husband are all feeling uncomfortable.

    Regardless, most of this responsibility does fall to your husband. I hope you two can work things out.

    1. OP here. I mean that he feels a lot better if given the chance to talk through his feelings, which he won’t initiate on his own.

      1. Yeah, but he’s a grown adult and that is his problem, not yours to manage. What would happen if you left him to use his words without swooping in and trying to manage his feelings?

  40. OK, I had to click on the Kuleshov Experiment link because I had no clue what it was… and now I’m totally going to read everything on the elementsofcinema.com site because it’s all so freakin’ interesting! First up: “Cross Cutting: Creating Suspense”. We’re so manipulated in visual media – I love this! Thank you.

  41. I get the whole “picking up on nonverbal cues” thing because I’ve been married for almost two decades. What I understood less is the role your friends play in this, or your concern that they don’t have this same expertise. Why would they? More importantly: Why does it matter?

    The relationship & communication you two share as a married couple is between you. The relationship you have with your friends (jointly or separately) is something different. If you are trying to carry over that same translating and negotiation of your husband’s psyche into your relationships with your friends, I think you’re letting your marital intimacy spill over where it doesn’t belong. Also, from the perspective of your friends, I suspect you may be making yourself a lot of work to be around.

    When we go out as a couple with other people (often other couples) we’re not looking for soul-to-soul communication. We’re looking for connection, companionship, warmth, and a good time. I love my friends, and the couples’ relationship dynamics are interesting to me as an observer. But that doesn’t mean I’d welcome one of them making a regular effort to reveal his or her spouse’s unspoken thoughts and private emotions based on cues only he or she can discern. It would make me uncomfortable. There are windows to your relationship that you just don’t need to open to me. I’d understand the need to correct boorish manners if I’ve overstepped based on my own ignorance of something the spouse is sensitive about, but if you have to hand me a toolkit of “how to get along with my inscrutable spouse” every time we get together, I think we’d just be better off not hanging out.

  42. I had an experience in a prior relationship that my BF truly believed (and eventually had me believing) that in any interaction his feelings as to all matters (real or feigned, one couldn’t guess) were paramount and if they weren’t honored or placated or whatever, there would be some form of hell to pay, the beginning of said hell often signaled by a subtle “withdraw and sulk.” And, of course, this was also a device to attempt to isolate me from normal people who could interact like mature adults. Just saying, yellow or red flag. He could just be kind of a jerk who needs to check himself.

  43. I love the Captain’s analysis.

    Dear LW, please give yourself and your husband permission to act like grown ups.

    He should use his words when he’s upset.

    You could use yours to get out of being his interpreter.


  44. i’ve seen my sister do something similar with her husband. he is very introverted and also seems quite sensitive but is not very self-aware. he tends to need a lot of time to process emotions. sometimes to even identify what emotion he’s feeling, let alone communicate about it. she feels insecure while he’s processing, because she’s worried about him and wants to help but he but can’t interact well. and also because he’s not available for her(or whatever is going on at the moment), and she feels shut out. so she scrambles to “help” him process to try and hurry things along and skip the shut-out phase.. but sometimes it does backfire with him being annoyed that she’s pushing or that now is not the time. i think it works *if* they have private time alone for him to feel and express a feeling and figure out what to do, but not while out with other people, or while he’s trying to do other things and put the emotion aside until later.

    she is sensitive and strongly aware of her emotions, such that she struggles to put aside an emotion for a later time. if someone says something hurtful to her or someone she cares about, she wants to address it right then. she’s *feeling* it so strongly that it sometimes seems there is no other option. she may cry or get visibly angry and i know she struggles at work to find an appropriate time and way to express emotions. so i think, her very different style of emotional expression and values affects how she deals with him. she assumes that holding an emotion under the surface is incredibly hard and possibly will make the situation worse. but for other people, that’s not always the case. sometimes letting it sit can actually let it fade, or let it be something to address in a more level-headed and less escalating way later. and i think she has to learn to be comfortable if he needs to withdraw for a little while.

    they are definitely still working this out between them. i’ve noticed her start to ask him, by taking him off to the side if she can, or by talking quietly to him only, whether he wants to talk about something, rather than saying it out in the open in a group. (they tend to sit next to each other so they can do these little conferences.) and he’s getting better at saying when he’s processing. but she still does watch his emotions like a hawk, and hook her emotions very closely to his. which i’m not sure is necessary or useful. as a partner, i wouldn’t be comfortable in either of those roles. as a friendly family member, i can sometimes ask him if something is bothering him, if he wants to adjust plans or activities, but basically i trust him to be an adult and deal with or communicate his emotions as he sees fit.

    i think the advice to clarify what the goals are is great. what does “it helps if” mean? does it mean the same thing to you and your partner? have you talked to *him* about what scripts he wants you to use if he is in that situation again?

  45. One thing that I haven’t seen come up in the discussion yet is that I’m feeling a little pressure from the LW for her husband to have emotionally close relationships with her friends where he talks about his feelings (or, at least, where she talks about his feelings).

    And I just want to put out there that it’s okay for Husband not to feel like he’s close enough to these people to want to tell them when he’s upset. It’s okay for him not to want to put effort into resolving “when you say X it hurts my feelings” situations with them. It’s okay for him to consider them his wife’s friends, not his, and to be aiming for “polite” when dealing with them, not “emotionally close.” I think it would be worth the LW considering whether she is getting into Friendship is Transitive territory here; just because someone is her bestie and she wants to share her feelings with them doesn’t mean they’re Husband’s bestie and that he wants to (or needs to, or is obligated to) share his feelings with them.

    If he’s sulking so obviously that it’s off-putting, then he’s not succeeding at “polite,” and that’s a problem. But if no one else recognizes what he’s doing as “sulking,” but LW can see that he’s not having fun, I don’t think the answer is “if you just talked about how you felt, you’d have the relationship with Bestie that I want you to have!” I think it’s accepting that Husband and her friends don’t get along tremendously well, and maybe accepting “polite but not super-talkative” as the way he’s going to be around them. And maybe he’ll decide to make the effort to get closer to them, including telling them when their teasing hits a nerve … but maybe he won’t, and I think as long as he is polite when he’s around them and doesn’t mind the LW spending time with them on her own, that’s just fine.

    1. OP here. Evan and my husband get along great, most of the time. It’s the sort of thing where if my husband just said “Hey, not cool,” Evan would say “Sorry, I didn’t mean it like that, I meant X” and they’d go right back to bantering about anime I don’t watch 🙂 Which is why it’s frustrating to me to instead see him shut down and stop bantering. I tend to feel like it’s then my job to change the subject and it’ll become my-and-Evan’s conversation while he stays quiet, and then I feel bad that he’s left out. Which, you guys are 100% right. None of that is my responsibility or my fault. But it feels like my fault because in past, abusive relationships, I’d get blamed.

      1. it feels like my fault because in past, abusive relationships, I’d get blamed

        Ding ding ding we have a winner!

        So it sounds like you are the source of your anxiety here, not your husband. This is fantastic news! (I mean, no, it sucks that you are feeling anxiety about your husband’s emotions and your ways of managing that aren’t working in a wider context, but hearing that your anxiety-feelings result from past Darth Vaders instead of a current Darth Vader makes me feel a little more hopeful about your situation.)

        Can you rely on your husband for support about this? I think a certain amount of private you-and-husband time spent reminding you that he isn’t upset with you because of things other people do and that his bad feelings aren’t your bad feelings or your responsibility might go a little way toward minimizing the stress you feel when you socialize.

        Based on your other comments it sounds like this isn’t a hugely debilitating problem for either of you; you’ve said your husband and your BFF (and other friends?) get on great and this has been a relatively minor hiccup with few lasting repercussions, but you wrote in about a problem so let’s talk about the problem, no?

  46. I used to do this kind of thing a lot with my seriously messed up family. I would try to keep things smooth between feuding members, I would try to add context to make abusive behavior seem acceptable. It was all for the sake of maintaining the illusion that my family wasn’t just a steamy pile of shit in the summer sun. I’m done doing that now. People can make themselves look terrible and I don’t need to step in to make them look better. They should look terrible when they’re doing terrible things. They really don’t need my endorsement.
    I’m not saying the LW’s relationship is abusive, just that I’m familiar with the urge to make things better/look better. The thing is, it doesn’t actually make anything better. At best it makes the illusion more appealing. It doesn’t change the situation at all. In this case, it doesn’t make the husband more communicative, it doesn’t make the friends magically understand the secret signals, it doesn’t create group cohesion and it doesn’t make anyone more comfortable or happier. Other than maybe making LW feel a little more comfortable because she was able to do a thing that makes her feel like she was productive in resolving the situation.
    It’s a comfort but it’s a hollow one.

  47. Just a small thing: I think that the fact that the boyfriend rebuffed OP when she comforted him in this instance doesn’t necessarily mean he wasn’t really sulking or that he even felt OK with her not intervening – sulking has this weird property of being an expression of wanting attention but then also wanting to rebuff the attention when it’s finally given. It’s manipulative because the person who sulks puts others into a double bind “help me, but I’ll punish you for it”. Also, I could believe that the boyfriend is able to be subtle enough so others don’t notice but still send a clear and intended message to OP that he’s unhappy. It may be directed at her only, in which case it’s not that surprising if others aren’t aware of it.

  48. Yay, it’s finally letting me post! My computer was acting up last night, I’m the OP.

    My husband and I had a long talk last night in which we processed a lot of things. I had sort of taken it for granted that he was going to be like this, and he’s told me he’s willing to work on his behaviors. He’s a little immature when it comes to feelings, mostly because he was teased as a kid and learned to never ever talk about his feelings. I kind of left out the part where despite being originally my friend, Evan and my husband spend a lot of time together, with or without me, and consider each other friends as well.

    As for the abuse vibe some people are picking up, I was emotionally abused in the past, and while my husband is nothing like the people who have treated me badly, I still react like an abuse victim sometimes. I didn’t twig earlier that this was one of those times, but now that you guys mention it, it makes a ton of sense. I tend to panic when people are upset or might be upset, thinking the other shoe is going to drop. I’m going to try and work on stepping back and letting things resolve themselves while my husband is working on using words to express himself.

    1. Glad to hear from you, LW! It sounds like you, Husband, and friends are on track to take care of yourselves and each other more better, so yay! Like you, I have a lot of anxiety when other people are upset (stemming, I think, from some bad childhood stuff), and the least crazymaking way I have of dealing with that is mostly to pretend it isn’t happening. This does not have a full, total, 100% success rate of making things never a big deal or keeping my stomach from turning over on itself, but it does mean I never over-manage other people’s emotions. (It also really freed me from a Darth Vader aunt who still holds the rest of my family in her Dark Side thrall, to the point that she no longer talks to me and my mother has expressed being jealous of me over it.)

      1. I think ignoring it can also help you learn over time that nothing bad will happen when someone gets upset and thereby reduce associated anxiety.

    2. omg, I feel this so hard. Another emotional abuse survivor here. I’m just starting a new relationship (yay!) with a guy who I am like 90% sure is not an asshole (yay!) (and I think I’d be even more sure except that these days I am like WHAT IF YOU ARE NOT THE PERSON YOU HAVE ALWAYS APPEARED TO BE? WHEN DOES THE OTHER YOU SHOW UP. I suspect you know what I mean).

      Aaaaanyway, this thread has been really good for me to read, in that it is reminding me of when to enforce boundaries and when to step back because I am anxious about having every aspect of the relationship under control, but actually things are okay. So: thank you!!

    3. Good for you, OP! I’m so glad you’re getting things worked out, and that you’re going to try and step back more and let him handle his own stuff. I totally understand the post-abuse-victim reactions, even with a later partner who would never do anything like that… despite (like you) being with an awesome guy who treats me very well, I still freak out when he does something that, if it had been my former partner, would’ve led into an abuse cycle. Even though I know intellectually that that isn’t where it’s going with this guy, my feelings react before my brain has time to process it.

      One of the good things you have going for you here *is* your husband, who may be able to help you calm down and not panic over his feelings if he is, in fact, handling them. What if, next time you fall into that pattern, instead of “rebuffing” you, he says gently, “Sweetie, it’s okay. I’ve got this. You can stand down?” Would it help to hear, from *him*, that he is handling things the way he chooses to handle them, and he doesn’t need you to smooth them over for him? Just a thought.

    4. That sounds like you and he are making some good progress!

      I wonder if it might be helpful in some of these moments (like the example: lunch with a close mutual friend) to just silently reach over and hold hands with husband or make some other tacit connection? Whichever direction the comfort needs to flow in, or both ways, that can be a little soother that doesn’t disrupt the dynamic or ick anyone else out.

  49. ” It’s like the three of us were in two totally different conversations: my husband and my perspective, and Evan’s perspective.”

    There are actually three perspectives here: Your perspective, Your husband’s perspective, and Evan’s perspective. The fact that you are conflating two of them seems to be part of the problem.

  50. I occasionally withdraw a little if I’m upset in a conversation, but the whole point is I’m withdrawing because I feel a bit too unsettled to make good positive conversation and I _don’t_ want to share my upset with others or talk about it. I just want a moment to calm my mind and am trying to do it as unobtrusively as possible and hoping it will fly under the radar and no one will notice, but am not a good enough actor to keep being outgoing in that moment.

    The LAST thing I’d want in that situation is for someone to draw attention to my seeming upset, when I’m trying hard to keep my feelings private. That would greatly add to my stress and embarassment. I’d feel like now I was naked in public. I’m being quiet because I _don’t_ want to talk about it. If someone can tell, it’s only because I’m not good enough at hiding it.

    Personally, if I was in such a situation and someone did notice I was upset, the only ‘help’ I can maybe imagine appreciating would be along the lines of changing the subject, or sharing an anecdote that gives me an excuse to be quiet and just listen for a moment.

  51. My boyfriend reads me obnoxiously well. We weren’t dating for very long when he started to read me well; he just senses every micro-emotion that I have. And honestly, every time he points it out, it kind of drives me crazy. I do get why he does it – if something puts him in a bad mood, he is often there for hours afterwards. However, my moods are much more fleeting; I’m grumpy for a bit, then I’m not grumpy any more – or perhaps more accurately, I get grumpy about something else. So when he asks me “what’s wrong?” a few times, because of course he knows something is wrong, it gets frustrating –sure, something is “wrong,” but it’s not worth mentioning, and it won’t be “wrong” in minutes. Friends who I have known for years either don’t notice my micro-emotions, or they have figured out the secret: ignore them. I don’t change the look on my face to be manipulative, I just.. change the look on my face because apparently I can’t hide my feelings. But said feelings will be fleeting, and just need to be ignored. I think this is great advice from the Captain and I just wanted to mention how in my own experience, I’d much prefer that no attention be brought to my mood changes.

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