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#961: My friendship is being suffocated by my friend’s overbearing spouse.

Hi Captain,

I have a friend of 20 years who got married a few years ago to a man who has a total lack of boundaries. Their marriage coincided with a lot of bad things happening in my life (horrendous breakup and various other life circumstances), so when I relocated back to my home state I started seeing a lot of them. I’m an introvert, but at that time I really needed to have some people in my life, so it was nice to reconnect with my friend and get to know her husband.

Flash forward a few years and her husband is obsessed with me and considers me a really close friend. He doesn’t have many friends of his own and it’s easy now to see why- he’s intense, demanding, and expects a lot. As in, he sulks if I don’t visit with them for hours every weekend. If I tell him no or I’m busy, he makes catty remarks about it the next time I see them, and tells me he cares about me more than any of my other friends would.

It’s really gotten to a point where I’d rather avoid them both entirely than deal with him. I miss my friend, but I don’t even get to see her without him around because he gets mad and jealous if she does “too much” without him, especially if I’m involved. Surprise of all surprises, he also dominates the conversation 100% of the time, leaving me almost no time to just connect with my friend. All they do is fight and complain about each other, which is exhausting. And if they don’t fight, they pat themselves on the back about it.

What I’m struggling with is guilt- I love my friend, and I do care about her husband. But I’ve reached a point where I am angry and resentful and feeling suffocated and possessed. How can I draw boundaries when I want to maintain a relationship with my friend and they’re a package deal?

Signed,
Third (and fourth) Wheel

PS I’m single, there’s no way any significant other I would have would enjoy this behavior. not that it matters because I don’t either.

Dear Wheel,

There’s no perfect way to handle someone who won’t respect boundaries, so, get ready for some trial and error.

If you want to fade out on listening to their arguments and being talked over and sulked at by the husband, I’m sure you know how to do that. If you’d like to salvage this friendship in a way that works better for you, here’s some stuff you can try.

Start with your friend. The husband is the one annoying you, but the friend is the one who is important to you. She’s the one who is gonna have to sign on if you start enforcing boundaries here.

Aim for face-to-face or a private phone conversation with her. Don’t use texting, instant messaging, email, or anything that can be easily monitored/read/snooped on and/or easily forwarded to the husband.

Have an honest conversation with her. “Friend, sometimes I want to see you and not you + husband. Can we try alternating group hangouts with solo plans?

See what she says. Maybe she’s hungry for solo plans with you, too! Maybe she hasn’t known how to bring it up and needed your help and permission to do it.

Maybe this request will make her really uncomfortable. If she fusses about how her husband will feel left out, that’s unsurprising. He puts a lot of friction around her doing stuff without him, and it’s reasonable that she’d feel anxious about such a request because he’s groomed her to react that way.

Give it time. Be gentle and remember that she doesn’t know this is has been an ongoing problem for you. This might be a series of conversations.

Try to stay positive. Don’t get sucked into a discussion of whether you like husband or how he’ll feel, and don’t fall into a trap of complaining about him (see above re: not using a textual medium). She’ll feel obligated to defend him if you do, and it will go nowhere. Keep regrouping back to “Okay, I don’t want to hurt his feelings or make him feel left out, but also, sometimes I just want to hang out with you and only you. That’s not something I’m doing at him or about him. How do you feel about that? Is that something you’d be interested in?

Be flexible. See if you can get her to agree to alternating solo & group hangouts. Or agree to checking with you to make sure he’s specifically invited to something before assuming that he is. Or maybe just get her to agree to think about it and put the topic down for now. Planting the seed might be its own victory at the start.

Ultimately, she’s the one who has to make this work for herself and inside her marriage, but if the husband does consider you a friend you could try talking to him, too.

“[Husband], I need to talk to you about something that’s bothering me. I care about you and consider you a friend, but sometimes I just want to hang out with your wife, solo, like we’ve done for years. Last time I invited her to do something solo, you [insisted on coming along][made it really hard for her to accept][said some very strange and hurtful stuff to me afterward][implied that I was doing something to hurt your feelings on purpose]. That was not okay! What’s going on with that?

He’ll say some stuff. One possible response, depending on what he says, is “I shouldn’t have to ask the permission of one friend to hang out with another. Can I count on you to be cool about this going forward?

Once you’ve had a conversation or conversations, the rest is finding some ongoing tactics for setting and enforcing the boundary. Stuff like:

Lower the dose. Every weekend is way too much to spend with these friends. Howabout once a month for a joint hangout and once a month for a one-on-one outing?

Change up the venue. Stop going to their house to hang out. That seems like the default thing that you do with these folks, and you don’t enjoy it, so, stop for a while, or stop going so much.

Issue specific invitations. “Friend, I’d love to see you on Saturday. Could you meet me for lunch, or a movie?

When the invitation includes him, be specific about that, too. “Friend, do you and Husband want to join me for _____?

Accept that he’s part of her package…sometimes. If you can be more intentional about including him sometimes and not other times, he may grate on you less over time. Whenever he’s involved, definitely schedule something with a defined beginning and end time rather than “come over and hang out.”

Issue very specific invitations. Get a theater or concert subscription for two for a nice night out every couple of months, or snag only two tickets to an event. “Friend, I have one extra ticket to [event], can you join me?

Make the invitations *even more* specific and directly refer to your conversation about solo hangouts. 

You:I’ve got an extra ticket to a show Thursday night, want to join me?

Her:Sure, can we get a ticket for husband, too?

You:Huh, I’d really rather spend one-on-one time with you this week. Is that cool?

If it’s not cool and she insists that husband be included, here’s where boundary enforcement becomes a thing. You could cave in and have husband tag along and grind your teeth with resentment the whole evening, or you could say “That’s okay! I’ll find someone else to take the other ticket (or go solo), and we can all do something together another time.

Anticipate some friction and some weird feelings after you enforce a boundary. She will be bummed out. You will be bummed out. Compare that bummed out feeling to the feeling of yet another night of conspicuous sulking by her husband, and hold fast. Their feelings aren’t yours to manage, especially since you’ve already asked her specifically not to automatically invite him along to stuff.

Once you’ve had a conversation or two and started changing up how you interact, here are some possible scenarios and troubleshooting tips.

Best Case Scenario: Your friend agrees to hang out with just you sometimes. It’s easier to hang out with her and her husband when you do include him because you get breaks and feel like you have a choice. Over time things smooth out to a place that is manageable and happy for you.

Awkward Scenario 1: Your friend is not down for solo hangouts and is defensive of husband at your expense. 

If this happens, comfort yourself with the knowledge that you tried. Stop trying to fix or manage the situation. Think instead about leaving the door open for things to change in the future. If you throw a party for people you know, invite them and see if things are less intense in a big group. Send the occasional card or letter to her. Wait a few months for things to die down, and then issue the occasional solo invitation to her and see if she picks up what you’re putting out.

Awkward Scenario 2: The husband continues and/or escalates his sulking, catty remarks, and/or strangely competitive statements of how much he cares about you.

Ugh.

giphy (11)

“What’s wrong?” “Nothing.” Gif from a black and white movie, where a woman sinks slowly down the banister of a staircase and collapses on the floor. Ugh. 

Respond but don’t engage.Heh. I had other plans last week, but I’m glad to be able to catch up with y’all today.” Act as if he said something very mundane, like, “These potato chips are crunchy.”

Respond and engage briefly. “I wasn’t aware it was a competition.” Or I care about you and friend very much – you’re not in competition with my other friends. “I like having lots of different friends.” “That’s a very strange thing to say.” “That makes me feel uncomfortable.” Keep whatever you say pretty short, but indicate that you don’t think his statements are cool.

Ask him exactly what he’s looking for. “You’ve said that a couple of times now. What is it that you want me to say in return?” “It’s clear that something is upsetting you. Want to talk about it?” 

In my experience, adults who sulk want attention, soothing, and compliance with their (unstated) wishes but do NOT want a real conversation. Hence the “What’s wrong?” :GIANT SIGH: “Nothing.” cadence of the Official Sulking Call And Response Ritual.

Awkward Scenario 3: When you do see your friend and her husband together, they continue to have arguments and complain about each other in front of you.

Cut the visit short! Unless I am in a theater, I would rather chew my own leg off than watch people performatively argue with their spouse. Actually, even in a theater, this is one of my least favorite genres of movie or play. Sounds like you feel this, too!

So, what if, when the arguments start, it’s time for you to go home?

It’s tempting, probably, to sneak out the back door and then text them later: “You seemed like you were in the middle of an important conversation. Catch up soon!

Instead, try standing up and saying “Good seeing you, this sounds like a private conversation, good night!” Move toward the door. Never sit back down or stop moving.

What will most likely happen is that they’ll stop arguing and beg you to stay. And as soon as you sit back down, they are gonna passively-aggressively snipe at each other all evening – each blaming the other for making it weird in front of “company,” and pretty soon they’ll be back at it like you never said anything. Or the husband will decide to take whatever it is out on you, with more snark and sulking. Once you decide to leave if they start arguing, commit. “That’s okay, it’s time for me to head out anyway. We’ll catch up soon, take care.

The first time you do this will be the hardest. There will likely be some mopping up of hurt feelings in the aftermath. But if you say you’re leaving and actually leave, chances are they will be a lot less likely to argue in front of you going forward.

Awkward Scenario 4: Your friend agrees to meet you solo but the husband insists on tagging along and whoomp, there he is!

Your friend will want you to just roll with it. She will be silently begging for this with her eyes. She likely did her best to get him to stay home and he sulked or browbeat or otherwise manipulated her until it was easier to let him join. His needy ass will be watching you like a hawk, too, for any sign of weakness or any excuse to form a grievance.

This is so hard.

I think you gotta address it somehow in the moment, just, for your own sake, but you don’t want the blowback to get all over her.

What if you said, neutrally:

[Husband] what a surprise. I didn’t know you’d be joining us.

What if you cut the outing pretty short?

What if, throughout the meal or whatever, what if you kept directing all conversation to your friend? I’m writing this out like a scene in a movie, in which you’d keep asking her questions that are about your shared interests – “What did you think of The Book of Joan?” “Did you see that [mutual friend from when you were growing up] posted photos of his new dog?” 

If the husband tries to dominate the conversation, say “Interesting!” to whatever he says and then change the subject back, like, “Interesting! [to Husband] [To your friend] How’s the planning for your work conference going? Will you get a day to yourself in Atlanta before or afterward?

In the movie in my head, this is gonna make the husband stew and try to butt in again aggressively, and your character would keep doing the same thing. “Neat! But [Friend] was in the middle of saying something. What are you planning for Atlanta, again?

If he doesn’t get the hint [he won’t get the hint], and he says something about y’all being rude by not including him, that is the opening you’ve been waiting for all this time.

“[Husband], sometimes I want to hang out with you and [Friend]. Sometimes I just want to hang out with [Friend], and hear what she has to say, unaccompanied and uninterrupted by you. That is a completely normal thing to want, and it was my plan for today! It doesn’t mean I don’t like you or care about you, but I am very annoyed that you tagged along on what was supposed to be a solo outing. You’re putting [Friend], who loves both of us, in a really awkward and embarrassing position! How can we solve this in the future?”

If this sounds like a lot of work, it is. This entire question is about him trying to displace the emotional labor of feeling lonely and wanting attention and connection onto his wife and onto you. He’s not a bad person for having those feelings: It’s okay to feel lonely. It’s okay to really really want your friends to pay attention to you and to want to hang out all the time. It’s okay to feel left out and weird if people do stuff without you. It’s just really not okay to use those sad feelings to manipulate and dominate others. He’s gotta learn how to self-soothe and how to manage those awkward feelings without trying to reserve every one of your weekends and trying to make you a constant audience for his marital show.

You don’t have to facilitate that healing and soothing for him. It’s also not your job to fix their marriage. It’s completely okay for you to figure out your own threshhold of how much of That Guy you can tolerate in your life for the sake of your friendship. As long as you are clear and consistent in communicating what you need with your friend, you’ll have done the best you can.

 

 

 

 

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131 comments
  1. zardeenah said:

    I have a super hard time confronting anyone – even when it’s important and I rehearse over and over in my head, so I know how overwhelming to advice might sound!

    All my best wishes to you LW. I’m sure all of us here will be sending loads of bravery and strength your way so that you can resolve this in a way that works for you!!

    • Viva said:

      I rehearse scripts/scenarios in my head too – makes a BIG, BIG difference for me. I don’t immediately have snappy comebacks when people make me uncomfortable although from reading Captain Awkward I’ve gotten better at it. Improv theater would be a nightmare for me.

  2. Amy said:

    I want to highlight this sentence, because it was at the end of the Captain’s response and I really think it’s the core of the whole thing: “This entire question is about him trying to displace the emotional labor of feeling lonely and wanting attention and connection onto his wife and onto you.”

    That’s what this is. This guy isn’t sure how to get his own needs met, so he pushes all of them on a couple people who he feels like can’t run away–his wife (who married him) and you (who a) is close to his wife, and b) has put up with this so far). He will keep doing that for as long as it’s easier to do it than to figure out how to get what he needs on his own.

    The only way you can encourage him to do that is to make his current methods supremely unsatisfying for him. If using these tactics is unsuccessful and makes him uncomfortable, then he’ll stop using them. If they keep getting him what he wants and no one calls him on his bratty behavior, he’ll keep doing it forever. So: Look through the suggestions the Captain made. Pick one or two that you think he will hate the most. (I’m going to bet that ‘Directly tell him that what he’s doing isn’t acceptable’ is high on the list, closely followed by ‘make plans for just two that he can’t force his way in on, e.g. by just buying two tickets’.) Then do them, and see what happens.

    I also think it’s worth considering telling his wife what you’re doing. You don’t have to do this, but in her shoes, I’d appreciate a heads up: “Lately, I’m feeling like Bob is really pressuring me to be a bigger part of his life than I can be. I’m going to be setting some boundaries with him as a result, like not hanging out every weekend, trying to find some times to hang out with you one-on-one as well as hanging out as a group, and calling him on it if he throws a tantrum about those things. I don’t need you to do anything; I just wanted to let you know so you wouldn’t be caught off guard by it.”

    • peregrinations said:

      “This entire question is about him trying to displace the emotional labor of feeling lonely and wanting attention and connection onto his wife and onto you.”

      Yes, I agree this is the key point in the Captain’s point. I recently dated someone who sounds like Bob’s emotional doppelganger, and I really liked the guy and sympathized with his clear neediness and insecurity. But being manipulative, clingy, and defensive and dominating all conversation has the opposite effect – it drives away the very people you’re trying to hold close. It’s sad really, but still not the duty of the people who are the objects of attention of the Bobs of this world to put up with that.

      LW you sound like a caring, considerate person, and it’s hard to set boundaries – especially when you believe the person is acting from a place of insecurity and obliviousness rather than malicious intent. But you deserve to be treated with respect as a friend rather than a prop, and to have one-on-one time with his wife as well. Best of luck!

    • “He will keep doing that for as long as it’s easier to do it than to figure out how to get what he needs on his own.”

      THIS X 1000

      Nothing will change until something forces him off the path of least resistance. The fewer options he has to wriggle his way back into his comfort zone the less drawn out and frustrating this will be.

  3. I hope the husband is not sexually obsessed with the LW as well. That word gives me pause.

    • JenniferP said:

      I had that thought too. Drawing & enforcing some boundaries and pulling back on hanging out with him is the smart course of action whether or not this is true?

  4. Rhoda said:

    I wonder if the husband is attracted to LW in some way?

    • JenniferP said:

      It crossed my mind as a factor, but ultimately, it’s not the LW’s problem to deal with it at all. If he says or does something in appropriate, address the behavior. If the friendship is not working in its current form, redraw the boundaries to make him less of the center of attention. Speculating about this, or addressing it with him or the friend in the absence of him expressing these feelings directly, probably isn’t gonna help the situation.

      • sayevet said:

        This resonates with me… I helped gaslight myself a few years ago because I felt increasingly uncomfortable interacting with one of my friends and couldn’t figure out why. When we eventually sat down to talk about it, he admitted that he considered me a potential romantic partner and I had to end our friendship because I couldn’t handle the way he was making me feel. Looking back, I can see that the time and energy I spent agonizing over WHY he was making me uncomfortable could have been much better spent on understanding and asserting my boundaries when our dynamic started to change. So many lessons learned!

        • OMJ said:

          It’s funny how tempting it is to think that you can only dislike someone if you have a concrete, provable reason for it. Like, sometimes you’re just not comfortable with a person. Kinda like how sometimes you just really get along with a person. It took me a really long time to be OK with the idea that I could just decide I didn’t want to be around certain people and it didn’t really matter why.

          • sayevet said:

            Indeed! Especially with “nice guys” 😦

          • Exactly. My husband has had a hard time cutting ties with his very-jerky half brother (who has tried to drain his own mentally-disabled son’s trust, of which my husband is the sole trustee) because Ted, the brother, is occasionally nice. As if the occasional non-demanding, non-screaming, non-invective-filled communication negates all the others.

  5. Dana said:

    I had almost this same situation, and when after years of tolerating the husband, I finally screwed up my courage and spoke to my friend about it, she was all, “Oh, sure! We can meet alone some of the time. No problem at all.” My relief; it was huge!!!! The difference was the husband had not glommed on to me as a friend to the extent that the letter describes.

    Good luck, LW!!!

    • Yes! I had a similar situation. My friend was happy to see me one on one

  6. Mango said:

    You must be very frustrated, LW to have even got to the point of writing at all. That’s what I hear, like a big Let Me OooouTT! sound. You sound like you feel trapped by your friend’s need and the husband’s neediness and reproach. Remember you are the treasure, the wonderful person, no matter what judgements you feel may come from these two in response to you having (very reasonable) limitations and (pretty inevitable) revulsion as well. I’m glad you are listening to gut here. It can keep you around. I’m glad there is part of you that wants to take care of LW. I want to guide you to your mirror for you your earnest kind goodness and to watch you give yourself a big old no-matter-the-fucking-what self-to-self kiss, and leave any lipstick on the surface for a week. Mwah!!

    • LW said:

      Thank you so much ❤

  7. Katia said:

    LW, I feel for you. I just want to note that the “he cares about me more than any of my other friends would” got my hackles up because it sounds a lot like what my emotionally abusive ex-friend used to do to me.

    When I first started hanging around my new friend group, he would tell me that all the guys in the group of HATED me and said the meanest, most horrible things about me behind my back, and nobody else cared about me like he did. This was when I was first meeting everyone so of course it made me really insecure. As I became closer to certain female members of this group, I was able to put out feelers to see if this was true and they countered back that it was absolutely ridiculous, going so far as to actually check in with the guys about it. Of course the whole thing was totally untrue.

    I don’t really have advice beyond the Captain’s, but just like, this kind of thing is deeply icky and if you can I would really think about seeing less-to-none of this guy. My ex friend hovered around the corners of my life for a long time, making me uncomfortable and being a squeaky stair, and frankly, it also eventually soured me on the group a bit, that they were inviting him out when they knew about what kinds of things he had done. Granted, at the time I also didn’t think it was as serious as I do now, but your friend is seeing his behavior toward you and not batting an eye, and I do think it’s something to think about — whether you want her in your life if it means you have to deal with this dude on the reg.

    I totally, TOTALLY understand the way they were a life preserver to you when you were in a bad place. It can make you feel like you owe them something, but isn’t it also likely that your neediness in the moment was also something he looked at and wanted to exploit to make you dependent on him?

    • Thanksforallthefish said:

      I want to second that last part. “but isn’t it also likely that your neediness in the moment was also something he looked at and wanted to exploit to make you dependent on him?”

      I currently know someone who made a new friend when moving to a new town when she was in a super bad emotional place. He is possessive and needy and many problematic things but since he was “there for her” when she needed it most, she thinks she will never put him aside and they are besties…but also she can’t really date anyone ever because he puts up such a sideways sulky stink about it if she even stays out late and he doesn’t know where she is. ugh.

      Just because a person helps you wen you’re down and vulnerable does not exonerate them from any crappy behavior carte blanche moving forward. You can still African Violet someone if they once saved your life.

    • B. said:

      “Isn’t it also likely that your neediness in the moment was also something he looked at and wanted to exploit to make you dependent on him?”
      DING DING DING DING

      LW, it sounds to me like you don’t much like this guy, and for good reason. He’s acting really creepy and controlling!

      If this were me, I’d try to limit my contact with him to the minimum ammount needed to hang out with my friend, as long as I could stand said ammount. The Captain’s advice for making it easier to meet one on one with your friend is very good.

    • Ditto, I had a BEES UP TO HERE reaction to that. It’s a classic abuser’s isolation tactic, and paired with the verbal/emotional punishment he doles out if the LW doesn’t comply with his wants, I would be hoping that the LW would nope the hell away from him.

      • Betsy-the-muffin said:

        Yeah, I’m concerned for the LW’s friend, too, myself. We know that Friend’s Husband is pulling isolation tactics on at least one person (LW). I see Husband’s insistence on tagging along with Friend as (potentially) a subtle isolation tactic as well. Him insisting that LW only see Friend if he’s along is him damaging LW + Friend’s individual friendship and pretending that the replacement friendship of LW+ Him&Friend is the same thing.

        Maybe that’s not the situation. Maybe that’s the situation but it’s not deliberate. But it doesn’t have to be deliberate to be seriously toxic for his wife.

        • pixieish blonde said:

          I see I’m not the only one worried about Friend here. When I was reading though LW’s comments, I was asking myself “Is Friend in an abusive relationship here?” Because I can definitely see how that might be the case. Domineering husband who inserts himself in all her business? I can just hear him telling Friend “LW likes me better than you, anyway” + additional gaslighting creepy weird vibes.

          I know Friend isn’t the one who wrote for advice, so the Captain’s right to focus on LW’s problems, but I sure do feel like Friend ought to write in. “My husband insists on attending my every event and has monopolized a friend of mine.” Blech.

          • LW said:

            He will begrudgingly “let” her see groups of friends (ie college friends he doesn’t really know too well) every so often, but when it comes to me he doesn’t understand why he wouldn’t be included because “she’s my friend, too!” I’ve talked with him before about why he feels that she shouldn’t go out with friends and he says he just feels that married people should spend all of their free time together, basically.

            I have personally been in an abusive relationship in which my SO controlled who I talked to and monitored my activities etc, So I have inevitably injected my own baggage and interpretation to the sitch as well. But yes, I am concerned about friend and I can’t imagine that she is happy with this, but she has allowed it for this long and probably doesn’t know a way out.

        • Kelsi said:

          The insistence on tagging along was one of the ways my emotionally abusive ex kept me from catching on that he was isolating me. I was well aware that telling someone they couldn’t see their friends/family was a major warning sign, so I kept a sharp lookout for it…but I didn’t realize that insisting that he liked my friends and making it so an invite to me was an invite to both of us, but then making himself INCREDIBLY UNLIKABLE to those friends so they would stop inviting (or I would stop accepting because I couldn’t handle the stress of trying to mitigate his unpleasantness) was another side of the same coin.

          He’d insist on going to family functions also, but performatively huff and sigh and act uncomfortable until we went home hours early.

          In short, I think Friend is in trouble.

    • LW said:

      These are all really good points. I’d never even thought of the prospect of that last part, honestly… and I can’t automatically refute it, really. It’s valid and a little terrifying.

  8. Greg M. said:

    Captain’s advice is pretty good. It is time to get the mental power tools and start building a boundary. This is a guy who probably needs a strong boundary with enforcement. I’ve dealt with sulky people before and it drives me up the wall. the part that would really bug me: he gets catty when you don’t give up half your weekend to be around him? so sad for him. “I am allowed to do what I want with my personal time. I don’t need your permission. Stop the comments or I’m leaving.” and be ready to do so. Address the behaviour directly and make it clear it won’t be tolerated.

    You don’t get to lay claim to my personal time.

    • Jill said:

      And to follow up to Greg M.’s comment, don’t feel any need to tell the clingy people WHY you can’t spend half a day with them, because they’ll plow right through that, like a clingy guy I once dated:
      “Oh, you’ve gotta clean your apartment? I’ll help!”
      “Oh, you have errands to do? I go with and carry stuff for you!”
      “Oh you’re visiting family? I’ve been wanting to meet them. I’ll go with”

      Um…no. Just no!

      • peregrinations said:

        Did we date the same guy, Jill? I heard all that, plus “Oh, you have to work the next day? Ok, I’ll bring my laptop and work with you [while making lots of loud dramatic sighs and hand motions to try to get your attention, then sulk when you ignore me]!”.

        Nope!

        • MJ said:

          Sorry, boyfriend. You sulking = me immediately puking on you.

          • Judas Peckerwood said:

            Hadn’t considered that as a tactic, but will file it away for future use.

      • Greg M. said:

        oh god, reminds me of this one time when I was a kid and someone I was aquaintances with called me up and asked what I was doing and I said not much, then we chatted and hung up. 20 minutes later his parents are dropping him off at our place…..

      • johann7 said:

        Giving other reasons when the real reason is “I don’t want to spend [this particular] time with you” can be ineffective for exactly this reason. Whether the other person is acting in good faith (taking you at your word and missing other cues that this is meant as a soft no) or bad faith (intentionally pretending not to notice/understand other cues), the end result is the same. I know people, especially women, are often socialized to be polite over being direct; in cases where someone has a history of arguing with or trying to solve a polite excuse, I recommend being clear and direct. This has the added benefit of sorting the good-faith actors, who will accept your preference without additional argument or sulking once that preference is made clear, from the bad-faith actors, who will attempt to argue with or guilt you about your preference. Hard no’s exist for exactly these situations.

      • Anon, Goodnight said:

        Reasons are for reasonable people. People who treat your “no” as the beginning of a negotiation are not reasonable.

  9. hbc said:

    Oh, I would sooo go for addressing the catty and competitive statements. “I used to think you cared for me more, but my friend Pat just promised me a kidney, so you’ve got some catching up to do.” “How can you be sure you care the most? I haven’t scheduled the Olympics of Caring yet.” “Yeah, I was busy visiting friends who *don’t* waste the time we have together making me feel guilty about the time we’re not together.” All completely deadpan to underscore how ridiculous it is to treat his statements as normal conversation.

  10. Is it just me, or is Husband’s statement about “caring about LW more than any of their friends would” read as a neg? Because it certainly read that way to me, as if LW’s lucky to have Husband as Someone Who Really Cares, v. the friends who apparently don’t care as much.

    I guess if it was said to me I’d be insulted, but.

    • lowbudgetcyborg said:

      It could be a neg, but it’s also likely to be a controlling tactic meant to convince the LW to over-value her relationship with Husband so she will be more willing to put up with his bad behavior.

      • I was under the impression that negs are kind of controlling anyway (to get women to prove themselves to men, afaik), so I agree with that.

        • Or, to put the most sympathetic interpretation on it, he genuinely believes it because he has trouble separating ‘depends on’ from ‘cares about.’

          • Yeah, I can see how that would be the case. Pretty bad too.

      • johann7 said:

        Yes and yes – your “or” is a description of negging.

    • LW said:

      I could see that, and it certainly could be.
      It’s usually said in the context of some discussion about his “intensity.” As in “well yeah, I’m pretty demanding, but I care about you more than any of your other friends ever would.” So my read on it is that he knows I’m not a fan of his behavior and injecting a “but… here’s why it’s worth it and here’s why you should put up with my nonsense.”

      • In my world “I love you, so you should put up with my annoying habits” doesn’t make much sense.

        He has it absolutely backward. The position is “I love you, so I also tolerate your habits.”

      • ladybear said:

        Wouldn’t caring about you at least a little bit, let alone the most of all your friends, mean prioritising your feelings and making sure you were happy and comfortable in the friendship? Like, if I don’t go out of my way to accommodate someone’s preference, that’s because I don’t care about them?

        That said, I wouldn’t treat a stranger off the street in this pissy, selfish way. Being allowed to spend your weekend how you choose, or having one-on-one coffee with a good friend are not big asks. They aren’t even asks, they are nothing to do with this guy! Where does he get this entitlement from? I am annoyed just reading it, you have been beyond gracious putting up with this crap. Does that framing help at all? You are not suddenly changing the rules here, he has just burned through the goodwill that has kept you from pointing out how rude his behaviour is.

      • Oh, the context is really helpful, thank you! But at the same time, still icky that he’s trying to manipulate you into putting up with his shit.

        My initial read was more of “you’re lucky to have a friend like me because your other friends aren’t so caring” and the implication has usually been that whoever this is being said to isn’t really good enough to merit very caring friends, which is why I read it as a neg and was insulted on your behalf. I’m sorry for the misunderstanding!

      • BigDogLittleCat said:

        That’s less creepy than the “no one else likes you” reading, but it’s still bogus.
        His affection for you benefits him, not you. If there’s a warm glow there, he’s feeling it, not you. Why put up with his bs when he’s the one getting the payout?

        More I think of it though, that attitude is creeier than hell:
        “I love you more than anyone, no one loves me as much as I do, so you should return my affection despite my weird obsessive behavior” is chapter one in the Stalker’s Handbook.

      • Tonner said:

        I’d reply with “I don’t like this. Stop.” In as flat a tone as possible, with eye to eye contact.
        He’s attacking you, LW. Show him your teeth.

      • Raptor said:

        The only thing I can ever think to say to that is just…”Nope.”

      • Tonner said:

        These people always invent new definitions for words! I have tuned my antennae to hear this clue.
        “That’s not what ‘care’ is, dude. What you are doing is ‘controlling.'”

  11. tabbykat said:

    The husband in this letter reminds me a lot of a former friend, who was needy, controlling, and abusive. I had to block her this year. I loved her to death in a lot of ways, and yes she was there for me when I needed her, but she wouldn’t stop sending me angry and abusive texts (often more than 30 a day) no matter how many times I asked. Unfortunately I didn’t establish boundaries during the first five years of our friendship. When I finally tried to she lashed out at me even more, and I had to walk away.

    • Nanani said:

      None of that is your fault, eh?
      You didn’t somehow fail to protect yourself by not establishing boundaries. She choose to be an abusive dingdong. It’s not on you.
      *internet hugs*

  12. attica said:

    As a person whose brother and sister in law were champion public-bickerers, I can attest to a) the riotous discomfort; b) how nice it was when I stopped staying with them during visits and got myself a hotel. So freeing to get up off the sofa and say, OK, that’s me done for the night! Shall we meet at the IHOP at 8 for breakfast, my treat?

    Sure, they put up some initial ‘but you should sleep heeeeerrre!’ resistance, but a couple of hand-wave jokes about how much I fart or how the SIL is really not a morning person put paid to that.

  13. MJ said:

    I can understand not wanting to hurt the friend’s feelings or alienate her, because LW wants a relationship with her. But when Cap said, “I think you gotta address it somehow in the moment, just, for your own sake, but you don’t want the blowback to get all over her,” it made me a little uncomfortable. With respect to LW’s friend, this reminds me of so, so many people I know who are horrible and narcissistic and use a sweet, wonderful person as their front-man. Sometimes setting boundaries with the abusive person MEANS setting boundaries with the sweet person you love. I know that LW’s friend can’t control what her husband does, exactly, but does that mean we go to great lengths to keep her from getting her feelings hurt by this? I’m not making a statement, I’m genuinely curious.

    Example: My landlady is also a good friend who happens to have a narcissistic daughter. The daughter has been trying to get her mother to kick us out of the house for quite some time so she can live here (rent-free). We have been excellent tenants and landlady tells us all the time how glad she is to have us. So I know she feels torn between us and her daughter. But what happens is that she lets her daughter leak into our lives because she doesn’t know how to tell her no, and her daughter has begun to cross more and more of our boundaries in what, I presume, in an effort to make us uncomfortable enough so that we’ll leave.

    Recently, I found the daughter’s outgoing mail in my mailbox. I called my landlady and asked what was going on (I don’t have Daughter’s number or a relationship with her); she said, “Daughter’s postman has stopped coming and she wants to use your mailbox, so I told her that was okay. Is that okay?” I had to to tell landlady a firm No, even though that made things really hard on her because she had to deal with her daughter’s whining and complaining and unfairing, and it made things uncomfortable between the two of us. But my logic was this: SHE told her daughter she could use the mailbox. Yes, she was manipulated into it, but that’s not my problem.

    How does this relate to LW’s friend? Maybe it doesn’t. If Husband follows Friend against her will, then there’s really nothing Friend can do. But if Friend enabled the situation by giving in and then begging LW to tolerate it…I don’t know. Maybe this is victim blaming, but maybe it could just be a great example of setting boundaries. Like, “I’m sorry it turned out this way. My date was with Friend. Sorry, Friend, maybe we can get together next time.” Maybe that’s over-the-top A-holery. I don’t know.

    • Twitchy said:

      I agree with this. If Friend wants to keep a relationship with LW, and LW wants to set reasonable boundaries with Friend’s unreasonable Husband, then Friend is going to have to do tolerate some discomfort from Husband. It may not be fair, but I don’t think it’s avoidable.

      • If Husband is abusive, then it’s not quite that simple. Friend may feel unable to set the boundary.

        That’s why events that require tickets are such a good idea.

    • B. said:

      I don’t think it’s assholery if you don’t let people, be they nice or rude, walk all over your boundaries. If telling people “that’s not my problem” when they try to get you to solve their problems for them at your expense makes you an asshole, we can be assholes together.

      • MJ said:

        I guess I’m mincing words because we really don’t know HOW unhealthy Friend’s relationship is with her husband. Maybe it is just a case of Friend having bad boundaries, but if she genuinely felt unsafe telling her husband “No” then I wouldn’t want to jump right into blaming her.

        • B. said:

          Not blaming her, of course, but that doesn’t mean that the LW has to put up with spending more time in the husband’s company than desired.

    • flynnthecat1 said:

      ” does that mean we go to great lengths to keep her from getting her feelings hurt by this?”

      I read it more as not making her the bad guy in her husband’s eyes. Return the awkward directly to him, not c/o his wife. LW doesn’t want to hang out with him? LW should be the one to say that, rather than being all ‘so… uh *we* agreed to do this without you’ and implicating/hiding behind the wife. Given he’s going to react poorly, it’s not really fair to paint a target on someone else who’s actually more vulnerable to his reaction than the LW.

      Ideally his wife will set her own boundaries and they can present a united front, but that just means both of them are consistent, not that LW just acts as spokesperson for their ‘joint’ excluding.

      And that bit was specifically for the group conversation boundary setting. Elsewhere in the answer the captain spells out quite clearly options for boundary setting for use *with the wife*.

      • Muffin said:

        Yeah, I think this is a really sharp way to put it. Returning the awkward to sender is the goal here, as is allowing the wife to retain as much agency as possible.

    • Kelsi said:

      Coming from someone who was in what seems like a similar situation to Friend, someone else enforcing these boundaries could be a GODSEND. I didn’t feel like I could enforce boundaries for myself, but “blaming” those boundaries on someone else made it harder for him to try and negotiate them. I would often be wishy-washy in telling him the reasons (i.e., what Sally actually said was “I don’t like your boyfriend, he is not invited,” and I’d tell him “I don’t know why, she said you’re not invited, Sally’s weird about people, you know how she is…anyway I really need to go to this otherwise things are going to be weird at work forever.”)

      However, my situation was obviously not universal–he was a manipulative manchild, who did not present an immediate physical danger to me. I can certainly see how Friend being responsible for communicating the boundary could be far more of an issue/danger if that relationship has a different dynamic than mine did.

  14. Polychrome said:

    being dragged in as audience to bickerfests is sooooooo boring. Oh god. As a divorced woman, I find way too many of my female friends cast me in this role: like second junior wife to their husbands, or something, like I’m also made very impatient by their terrible parking choices, stupid placement of their chair at mealtime, or horrible recurrent conversational habit, sort of nudge nudge don’t we hate this? We both hate this so much, let’s roll our eyes together!

    I always feel like, no , no! you don’t get to take away from me the fact that a great blessing of my life is that I am now a woman who doesn’t have to give a shit about any of that kind of thing, ever. Some things about my life are hard but that part is glorious.

    sorry. only obliquely relevant to the LW’s exact situation but I get how squirmy she is feeling, for sure.

    • MJ said:

      I agree, though. They only get to do that to you if you get to sleep with their husbands.

      • Aris Merquoni said:

        As a woman who sleeps with married men (in consensual open relationships), I have to say it would be weird then, too. Maybe weirder!

        • ashbet said:

          Hah, I was going to say the same thing!!

          (I’ve been in a poly relationship for more than a decade, and my partners are married to each other.)

        • B said:

          It honestly sounds like a nasty way to treat any partner.

        • MJ said:

          I guess i don’t have enough poly experience to know for sure. 😄

          • ashbet said:

            *grins*

            FWIW, I also don’t like being around a bunch of bickering (between friends, relatives, or my Dearly Beloveds), so I’m either going to say “Hey, guys, cut it out,” or leave the room, or occasionally ask if I’m invited to share my thoughts on the matter (if there’s a solution I can see that they’re missing.)

            But, yeah, regardless of who is in a relationship with whom, pretty much nobody enjoys being around people who are arguing/snapping/bickering!

    • Lady J said:

      As someone who is preparing her exit strategy in case I decide to pull the plug, this sounds like a glorious bonus.

    • Lady J said:

      As someone who is preparing her exit strategy in case I decide to pull the plug, this sounds like a glorious bonus.

      • Heather said:

        oh dude, Not having to deal with a man’s bullshit is quite lovely.
        All day everyday no bullshit.

  15. I would like to point out the Captain’s advice on having 2 tickets to something (or a table for 2 reservation at a busy place, or something like that) can help shut down the “Oh I’ll just tag along” attempts.

  16. EllenS said:

    Can I just offer a bit of reframing? I see it, not just that you have a friend whose husband is bad with boundaries.

    You are friends with a couple who are both bad with boundaries. Wives who have strong boundary skills can and do socialize without their husbands. They refuse to fight in front of other people. They express themselves in conversation and don’t just let their husbands talk over them.

    You didn’t mention that you suspected control or abuse, so her lack of boundaries is just as relevant here as his.

    That’s part of what makes this so hard for you. She is not behaving in a healthy way either, so there is a big fat boundary-vacuum for you to fill.

    • Heather said:

      yes, she’s having to put boundaries right into someone else’s relationship. that’s super weird.

  17. Twitchy said:

    I respectfully disagree with this advice. The Captain’s right that this is a lot of work. It would be a lot of work even for a relationship you valued with someone you liked, and it’s way too much work for someone you’d rather not see at all.

    What you want (to see your friend without seeing her awful husband) is a reasonable desire with a low chance of success (because your friend’s husband is so controlling and demanding, and because your friend generally goes along with what he wants). You won’t really increase your chances of success by inviting him along to half your hangouts. He’s made it pretty clear that he won’t be satisfied by a relationship that falls short of total enmeshment. You may as well just invite your friend to hang out with you alone. At least that way you’ll be putting effort into something you actually want.

    • Marthooh said:

      Yeah, it sounds to me like LW doesn’t want to hang out with husband at all. A continuing relationship with Friend may have to involve Husband occasionally, but not half the time!

    • B. said:

      I agree, but I think it would be easier to reduce the contact with the husband little by little instead of all at once, so as not to alienate the LW’s friend (the wife, I mean). Though I would only suggest the smaller doses way if the LW actually wants to put in all that work.

  18. My best friend and i had to deal with a similar situation.

    We worked with a woman who was pretty great. Smart, funny and driven.

    But her boyfriend was… very special.

    He didn’t appear to have any friends of his own (which didn’t surprise us). So he constantly invited himself along on our plans. She felt bad if we suggested not inviting him, saying that she didn’t want him to feel lonely.

    So we’d sit in the restaurant talking, trying to ignore the fact that we were sitting next to a grown man who thought his farts were hilarious. Seriously, his entire contribution to the conversation was farting, and then giggling about the farting.

    We never had to make a decision about what to do, thankfully, as not long after it became a real problem – she married him and moved away. The friendship just faded away as a result.

    So i don’t have any helpful advice (the captain has you covered there), but wanted to let you know that you’re not alone in having this happen to you. And that an internet stranger hopes that you’re able to change things for the better. Even if that involves pulling back on the friendship and searching for new friends.

    • SingHallelujah said:

      “She married him and moved away” Ahhhhhhhhhhhh! I mean, glad you don’t have to deal with this anymore, but ahhhhhhhhhhh! (screaming noise)

  19. DropTable~DropsMic said:

    “He’s not a bad person for having those feelings: It’s okay to feel lonely. It’s okay to really really want your friends to pay attention to you and to want to hang out all the time. It’s okay to feel left out and weird if people do stuff without you. It’s just really not okay to use those sad feelings to manipulate and dominate others.”

    This is very wise.

    Luckily I think OP knows this on some level–i am getting less a vibe of “I feel guilty” and more of “I don’t know how to push back without losing my friend.” But I’m guessing Wife doesn’t really get this if she defends Husband’s behavior, and in a larger sense society as a whole doesn’t get that it’s not women’s job to mop up men’s sadfeels when they barf them all over the room. So I’m glad you said it.

    • and in a larger sense society as a whole doesn’t get that it’s not women’s job to mop up men’s sadfeels when they barf them all over the room.

      This needs to be on a throw-pillow. I need to throw it. Hard.

  20. Elektra said:

    Yikes. What an uncomfortable situation this is. There’s a reason you’re feeling exhausted and encroached on, LW, and it’s that the husband’s behaviour is completely unacceptable. Not to mention bizarre.

    I think the Captain’s advice is really good. I had a few suggestions as well. They are:

    1. Feel free to take a break to refresh yourself and reset the dynamic with your friends. At least three weeks, if you see them every weekend. Sometimes when we’re caught in a bad dynamic, it exhausts us to the point where we’re too tired to actually challenge and change the way things are working. A couple of weeks of being busy, having a cold, seeing other friends etc might give you the space you need to reclaim some energy for yourself. At the very least, I think you deserve some time seeing what life is like without a giant bag of sulkiness sniping at you for living your own life.

    2. If you try the Captain’s advice, and it doesn’t work, do not feel guilty about fading out the friendship or cutting off contact. This is a bad situation, and both parties are trying (consciously or not) to enmesh you in a bad relationship dynamic. It hurts to realise that some friendships can’t be saved, but sometimes you gotta walk away to save yourself. The husband’s behaviour is 100% not ok and he is not a presence you need in your life. I know you feel guilty, but really, when you give someone a chance to have a healthy relationship with you and they say… ‘nope, we’ll have a toxic relationship or no relationship’, then frankly it’s on them if you choose no relationship.

    3. This is speculation, but happened is that the friend and her husband are in a pretty bad place, relationship-wise. Perhaps they’re clinging on to you so tight because having you round validates their toxic dynamic somehow, like it must be normal if you, a friend, are sticking round for it. Well it is bad, and they need to realise that being a friend isn’t the same as buying a front-row ticket to their relationship issues. ‘Guys, can you save it for later? I was really hoping to talk to you about…’ is a good segue if you need a script.

    P.S. If I accidentally posted a half-written version of this comment it would be amazing if someone could delete it, thanks so much 🙂

  21. LW said:

    Hi there – this is the LW. Just want to say I so appreciate the advice given by Captain and the compassionate, understanding comments. I’ve read Captain for awhile but have only recently come out of lurking status and have to say, this community is just lovely.

    I really appreciate the scripts and the awkward scenarios (at times, I felt like you must have known this guy too! Alas, people like him have so many similar traits). I have had many conversations with my friend, mostly in whispers or when he is otherwise occupied with someone else in another conversation, about how they fight whenever she tries to do something on her own. She knows that this worries me for her. And a lot of this situation is on me, for not doing any of this earlier. For tuning out, allowing him to think his behavior was okay, and for not trying to get her one on one earlier on. Of course, it’s only escalated, never improved, the more I avoided it.

    Forgot to mention in my original letter that they have small children, so anytime she goes out without him and he ends up watching the kids, he is Not a Happy Camper. Basically if she wants to get out on her own, she needs to find him alternate plans and get a sitter for the kids. I love the kids, but I’m a single, childless queer. So on top of the possessiveness, I am in a very different life place from them, which I have tried to explain, and not in a position to be at their beck and call every weekend. Not that it would be any different if I were straight and married or had kids, but neither of them can seem to wrap their head around the fact that I can adore their kids and at the same time not spend my weekend figuring out baby proofing and nap schedules.

    So.. I think what i needed was some ideas of how to broach this topic with her, when she already knows my opinion on it. However, I have never specifically say “Friend, I haven’t seen you one on one in the years since you’ve been married. Can we do something about that?” And I really love the approaches given here. While I don’t hold out much hope of this panning out exactly the way I’d find ideal, I would really like to assert myself and try. And these scenarios, and script examples, were invaluable. So thank you, Captain and readers.

    And the reminder that he is ultimately in charge of his own self soothing… it was needed. I’m sure it’s not surprising that I feel far too responsible for the feelings of others. I’ve explore this in therapy and understand it, but it comes up in strange ways. Like this one.

    Again, thank you for taking the time to help me.

    • MJ said:

      Good luck to you, LW. 🙂

    • ashbet said:

      I have zero sympathy for fathers who treat taking care of their own children as “babysitting” or a huge special favor they’re doing for the mother — they’re his kids, too, and both parents deserve to have a social life.

      Making her find a sitter if she wants to go out with friends is a deliberate barrier he’s putting in front of her — he likely hopes that (between the sulking, the sitter, and demanding that she make plans for HIM to have a fun diversion for the evening), she’ll decide it’s too exhausting and will stay home or invite you over.

      Ugh. What a prince :/

      • Nanani said:

        Thiiiis

        He’s also got entitlement issues and a big glaring bag of patriarchal bullshit to sort through.

      • B said:

        I have a little sympathy in that I have small children (2) and it is fairly exhausting to have them both by myself for an extended period of time. I do tend to react negatively to requests to doing that more than I already do, which isn’t actually very much (about 6 hrs a week; the rest of the time I have either him or a nanny around to help, plus preschool/daycare/etc); part of the reason is I have a job that can be fairly demanding too so it ends up being zero tiem to ever relax which kind of sucks.
        Anyway, just saying I love my kids and spend a lot of time with them and I think it’s a significant thing to ask. It’s not unreasonable and it’s best to work out a system where each parent gets certain hours to go out on their own once a week or hire a sitter (he can do that too).

        • Anonyish said:

          That’s a fair point if you aren’t spending lots of time away from the children while your partner looks after them alone. But in practice, a lot of the men who resent “babysitting” their children have female partners who themselves are spending large amounts of time alone with the children, whether that is caring for them in the day while the man is in paid work, or in the evening or at weekends while the man is out having fun. The term goes hand in hand with the idea that the woman caring on her own is normal and to be expected, and the man doing so is something that is rare and his wife should be especially grateful for.

        • notnow said:

          “it is fairly exhausting to have them both by myself for an extended period of time”

          which is something you just have to suck up when you’re coparenting. either you take on some long periods of time alone with small kids or you make the arrangements for childcare or you are a garbage person who is dumping excessive amounts of responsibility on your partner. You have made those arrangements via daycare and a nanny, the problem guy in this letter hasn’t done that.

          • Sarabeth said:

            Not exactly. I mean, yes, I make arrangements for childcare during the work week. But my partner and I try pretty hard not to leave the other home with all three kids more than absolutely necessary, because it’s exhausting. The idea that if I go out, it’s my job to find a babysitter, is not necessarily an indication of bad coparenting. The difference is that, in our case, it absolutely runs both ways – if my partner wants to go to the climbing gym over the dinner hour, he will find the babysitter to make that possible. When I stay late at work for a networking event, I find the babysitter. In practice, if we go out solo, we usually do it after 8 pm, when the younger two kids are asleep. But it’s totally possible to have a healthy coparenting relationship in which neither partner is expected to do bedtime with three kids.

    • I see where you’re coming from, but one thing: I hope you’re not saying that you object to the very fact of having to fit around their kids’ schedules. Because if so … well, those really aren’t negotiable. Kids are kids; those friends of mine who expect my time to be as flexible as it was pre-parenthood are those friends I no longer consider real friends, because friends don’t expect friends to do the impossible. The friends I love even more than I did pre-parenthood are the ones who accept that there are a lot of things I just can’t do now; it’s wonderful of them and I’ll never forget it.

      Of course, it’s fair enough to expect them to work out when they’re available and what they can do, and then let you be free to decide if that fits with your schedule. Or if you mean you have a limit on how many baby-proofing conversations you want to sit in on, fair enough again, as long as you tolerate the fact that small children do sometimes create situations that need to be discussed on the fly even if you do have a guest, so the odd kid-convo is unavoidable. But your friend is herself at the beck and call of her kids’ needs (more so if their dad can’t be trusted with them), and the knock-on effects of that can’t be eliminated completely.

      Which makes her partner even more tiresome, of course. Just bear in mind that if she can’t get a sitter and doesn’t think they’ll be okay with him, then her saying she can’t hang out with you won’t be choosing relationship dysfunction over friendship. It’ll be choosing her kids over friendships – and if she doesn’t do that, well, twenty years from now Captain Awkward will probably be telling them, ‘Yes, of course it’s okay to stop visiting your mother if that’s how you feel.’

      • Elektra said:

        I didn’t read the LW’s comment in this way at all. I read it as suggesting that LW has been dragged in on parenting conversations as if LW was somehow responsible for making things work, and as if the couple weren’t respecting the LW’s time and needs.

        Also, I didn’t think LW had any issues with the children or the impact of them on the friend’s schedule. I read the LW’s issue as being more about the fact that it’s hard for the friend to get out because the friend is responsible for pacifying the douchebag husband while also needing to find care for her children.

        Depends on the age of the kids, but maybe LW and the friend could meet up at a playground, plus the little ones. If the kids are at the point where they can play safely without too much supervision, LW and friend can sit on a nearby bench and chat and keep one eye on the kids. No d-bag husband and you can bring coffee and donuts (or whatever treat tickles your fancy).

        • LW said:

          Yes, intended in the way you interpreted (but certainly can understand why it would also be interpreted another way, there are a whole lot of parent/nonparent potential misunderstandings within frindships!!)

          I adore the idea of kid/mom/friend time at the playground! Thank you.

          • Heather said:

            my best single friends generally invite me and my kid places. I am a single working mum, so i can do stuff without my kid sometimes, but I super appreciate my friend hanging out with my kid and myself.

            it is totally ok if you don’t want to hang out with kids, and it’s definitely ok to not want to childproof your house to have the kids at your place. I don’t even like other adults in my house, let alone other children

          • Hi LW. 🙂 If playground meet-ups appeal, are there local kids’s activity clubs your friend might be interested in checking out? Those would have the same advantages as a playground, plus other kids to play with and keep her kids happy, plus they’re indoors (which is a consideration, especially in winter – adults get sick of being out in the cold way sooner than children do!) … plus they’re probably not the kind of thing her husband would insist on joining as they come under the heading of ‘chore’ – or at least can be presented as such.

    • B. said:

      Thank you for checking in! I wish you all the good luck in the world. I’m sorry you’re having to put up with this situation, but I just wanted to say: it’s not your fault it’s gotten this bad. You’re not the one behaving badly.

    • Tonner said:

      Wow, LW. Knowing this about him has really reset me from Meh to Repulsive Person. He’s just as high maint as another child! The job of fixing this is squarely your friend’s to fix. I would nope myself right out of being used to triangulate their relationship, and I’d be putting a lot of distance between me and him. It would be a rare event that had me going to their home, where he’d be freer to pass off his behavior as normal. My time with their family would be at a park or a museum’s Family Day.

      What if you and your pal signed up for a painting or coding or swim class or some such, where he can’t come with, and additionally is needed to take care of the kids? It’d be a gift to his wife and additionally, those kids deserve it.
      He sounds like a boring friend, an unsupportive partner and an emotionally abusive, neglectful parent.

      If you can manage to spill some grape juice on him for me, I’d appreciate it.

    • clorinda said:

      Oh honey, this situation is not ‘on you.’ You got drawn in but by bit, but you’re not the one making it uncomfortable. That’s him.

  22. Would it work, when he makes catty remarks, to make a regular point of saying, ‘Okay, I’m out of here,’ and then just leaving? Make it clear that he doesn’t get to schedule all your time and that you get to be busy as and when you see fit, and if he’s gonna snipe about it – well, the price of being unpleasant about seeing you less than he wants to is that he sees even less of you.

    • Emma9 said:

      That was my thought. Incident one: ‘I don’t appreciate you making remarks about my other friends [or doing whatever other assy behavior]. Please stop.’ Incident two: ‘I asked you to stop [doing x] and it makes me really uncomfortable that you won’t. I’m going now.’

  23. tehomet said:

    Does the husbandit of the LW’s friend have any hobbies or interests? Could the LW perhaps suggest to the friend that the husband be encouraged in the direction of having some? After all, if he’s off spending time enjoying the parking ticket collectors’ society or the guacamole appreciation club, his wife is then free to hang out with other people, such as the LW, without so much stress. I appreciate that boundaries need to be set with him, and that is of course the main issue; I’m just thinking if the guy can’t come up on his own initiative with ways to occupy and enjoy himself without being in the presence of his wife and his wife’s friend, it might be helpful if he were given a gentle nudge towards finding new interests or rekindling old ones.

    • Nanani said:

      IDK, it’s bad enough he thinks parenting his own kids is babysitting, does Friend really need to make playdates for a grown ass adult?

      • Vicki said:

        It sounds like Friend is already making playdates for her husband, and telling him that he should find a hobby, join a club, or reconnect with some of the people he knew before Friend married him, has a chance of getting him to start making some of the arrangements, or letting them happen as part of a pattern–once he’s in the Guacamole Appreciation Society, it’s a given that he’s busy the second Thursday of every month, and starts being invited to guacamole tastings, and classes on avocado-growing, and so on.

        • flynnthecat1 said:

          But of course, he may then just assume that his wife and/or LW *obviously* should come along too.

        • winter said:

          IME this still falls in the realm of “you cannot make people do things”. I did have the experience of being complained to about loneliness and a lack of friends, but the person still didn’t want to make any efforts to join a hobby group/… . When we were no longer in contact, they went out on their own to find something.

    • Your suggestion reminds me of Mr Collins in Pride and Prejudice – he’s a useless waste of space BUT his wife will have a nice house, so Lizzy’s friend marries him and encourages him to spend aaaalllll his time in the garden. This gives her time to spend with her friends.

      BUT! This does not take into account that times have changed. Husband here does not seem to come with a large monetary contribution. Friend might be earning her own income. And the kids! Friend has two little kids, she does not need a grown-up kid who can’t find his own hobby. No wonder he is glomming onto other people who seem to actually have a life.

      Life would be better if we were actually allowed to call people Mr Collins and everyone understood the situation at once.

      • tehomet said:

        “Life would be better if we were actually allowed to call people Mr Collins and everyone understood the situation at once.”

        Oh yeah. 🙂

        I did comment with 99 per cent intention of recommending Charlotte’s method of dealing with her husband in Pride and Prejudice, purely as a method of coping with LW’s husband. But I can grudgingly spare 1 per cent of my compassion for the actual husband. He, like a lot of people who behave badly, is behaving badly in order to manage his unhappiness, I would imagine. A loving spouse encouraging him to pursue separate interests occasionally isn’t a bad way of making him happier in the long term, as well as getting him out of his spouse’s and therefore the LW’s hair. If he was mature enough to cultivate a broad range of leisure interests, he would be mature enough not to be causing the problem LW is writing in about.

  24. Vasha said:

    The strategy in scenario four, “directing all your conversation to your friend” so her husband doesn’t monopolize, only works if your friend cooperates, which unfortunately I feel she is unlikely to.

    I had something similar happen lately though with strangers not friends. I was having a very interesting conversation with a woman I happened to meet at lunch in the cafeteria, when a man sat down next to us and expected both of us to pay 100% attention to him. He tried to hook me in with would-be jocular comments, I’m sure you know the sort. Anyway, I kept shutting that down but the other woman didn’t. I would say “Bill, I was talking to Anna. Anna, what was that you were saying about the spotted dog–?” But Anna would switch her attention back to me for about a nanosecond before Bill would barge in and say something to bring the focus back to him, And Anna would immediately give him her full attention. Oh well. On the second repetition, I said to Anna, I look forward to talking to you again, and left.

    So anyway, I would suggest cutting a conversation short if husband dominates it with attention-getting tactics that work on your friend, for the sake of your own sanity. Make eye contact with friend only, say in a pleasant neutral tone talk to you later, leave. Hopefully it will dawn on your friend that if she tunes you out to focus only on her husband, you go away.

    • Nanani said:

      *applause*

      I’ve had this happen too and it’s dismaying when the friend reacts as though I’M the rude one for telling manly interloper (a stranger in each instance) they are intruding.

  25. Yolanda B. Cool said:

    LW, I don’t believe that you stated your gender, but in the event that you are a lady or lady-identifying person, you might consider using the patriarchy to your advantage here, and insist on some of your outings with Friend as ‘Girls’ Days/Nights Out.’

    It’s a little cringey and problematic, especially if you identify as a feminist, but the benefit it has is that it’s a pretty bright line boundary. Usually clingy, possessive dudes will pause before intruding on this, either because of toxic masculinity beliefs, or because of the potential to be called out… Which you can totally do, if Hubby tags along uninvited: “Wow, Bob, did you really invite yourself to Girls’ Night Out?”

    (Also, framing it in this way might give your friend a little leverage to push back against Husband’s insistence on being always included.)

    It’s not perfect, but not every solution has to be. If you get more time with Friend, and less with Husband, it’s a win.

    • Celestine said:

      I have been in a very similar situation to LW and I have tried the “Girls night!” thing before… only to have Friend respond with, “Husband can come, right? He’s just like one of the girls!”

      Funnily enough just last night I saw her alone last night for the first time in years, because I had one free ticket to a sold out show – so, can confirm that that one works! And – it was amazing. I’d totally forgotten how well we got along, because I was so used to having an antisocial, bored Husband there too.

      • In at least one instance of “SO can come, right?” the response was, “Nope, no boys, including SO”

    • I had this thought too, (before reading the above note from LW that Friend and Husband also have kids. That could make the logistics a little more complicated, but yeah-) LW, can you and Friend make plans to go do a stereotypically ‘female’ activity? One that Husband would not be the slightest bit interested in and it might seem ‘weird’ if he tagged along for? I’m thinking…manicures, help you shop for a dress to wear to an upcoming event, shop for fancy lingerie, get a facial/makeover, etc? You could make plans to meet up with him and the kids afterwards, so he’s not left out of the whole day, but you get *some* time alone together. This does assume that both LW and Friend would enjoy such an activity and Husband would not…

    • Phospher said:

      I was coming to say something similar. It’s not a perfect fix, but as long as binary gender norms exist you might as well make them work for you occasionally. “Oh friend, let’s get fancy manicures/learn to press flowers/go to the Frills and Ribbons museum.”

      • LW said:

        Hahahaha at ribbons and frills museum!

        Yes, he would definitely try to say he was “basically one of the girls” but I really do think this would work. So many good ideas!

        • As I said above, I’ve actually said “Nope. SO is not a girl, and not invited.”

      • “Frills and Ribbons Museum”—Oh, I LOVE this. We should add it to the Captain Awkward glossary/lexicon

  26. Friend’s husband needs to be introduced to a little thing called Meetup. Sheesh, dude.

  27. Excellent advice as always, Captain. None to add from me, but peeps here helped me a few months back dealing with a lover who has an avoidant attachment style by recommending I read ‘Attached’ by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller. It was enormously helpful in understanding him, if somewhat biased against ppl with an avoidant attachment style and defensive of those with an anxious-preoccupied attachment style. I’ve since come to realise that guys (and gals too probably) with extreme anxious-preoccupied attachment styles are desperate to be in a close relationship and can be very needy and I’ve always steered clear of them as I find them suffocating. Not much in that book tells you how to deal with them, though, other than to give them the constant reassurance and attention they so badly need. Setting boundaries is tough.

  28. MJ said:

    You know, something just occurred to me and I’m not sure if it’s been covered in the comments already, but LW referred to herself as “queer” in the comment above and it made me wonder if Husband is actually jealous of her. I used to work with a gay woman who was good friends with many of the other women at our workplace, and a surprising number of husbands were uncomfortable leaving their wives alone with “the lesbian.” Like, it was an actual problem when they tried to go out and do things.

  29. morticia said:

    LW, he sounds awful and I used to know someone awfully like him. His “friendship” with me was in fact grooming me. I still have nightmares. Please be careful, and back away for your own sake.

  30. Letter writer I am so sorry I feel for you. The most similar situation I have been was with a classmate in college. She was clearly not on the same mental development as other students and was very very lonely. She would friendship stalk everyone in my grade to the point that some girl got the school involved so they won’t be in the same class ever again. This lonely girl did not understand the word NO. Pharses “no I am not interested” would just bounce right off her and she would keep trying to involve herself in the friendship.

    The only time she stopped was when she was pushing really hard into my boundaries and I told her “I don’t want you around me because you make me uncomfortable. I have told you on multiple occasions not to do that, and that’s why I don’t want to be around you”. Which was not fun for either of us. I could see her break a bit inside and I felt awful that I caused her pain. But she went way to far.

    My interactions with that lonely girl where way lower stake because I didn’t care if we didn’t have a functioning relationship. I actually preferred that. But if none of the captain’s brilliant plans don’t work (and I think they would. Because they are brilliant). And you all ready told friend about how her husband makes you feel maybe you need to tell the husband where things stand.

    If husband says “but why don’t you want to hang out we are best friends?” You can respond with “actually I don’t think we are that close. I really care about friend so I care about you by proxy. But if you want closer friendships you should try Meetup.com to meet new people”. But that’s again what I would do in a last ditch effort.

  31. Katamari said:

    My advice for LW is – re-evaluate your friendship with old friend. How much is it doing for you, and how much is it draining from you? (and yes, the husband is part and parcel – you can’t expect to be good friends with someone and never interact with their spouse. Especially considering his fixation on you). Add up the effort of having to deal with this awful snarky clingy dude, the creepiness of his weird obsession with you, the stress of worrying what he will think/do/try to do every time you try and hang out with your friend, the awkwardness of the bickering… How much JOY and FUN is this friendship bringing you? Because it’s also bringing you a truckload of shite. Friendship shouldn’t be stress, it should be stress relief. I suggest dialing this friendship WAY BACK and replacing it with some other lovely friend-people who won’t exhaust you mentally and emotionally.

  32. Tennia said:

    LW, my only advice echoes the commenters’ above, which is to be explicit and perhaps a little rude and strongly and explicitly disinvite him from things progressively.

    Honestly, situations like this are why I have a strong policy of not being friends with my friends’ SOs.

  33. Britta said:

    Dear LW I related to your letter – from the POV of your friend. Long story short, when my marriage was at its worst point I spent a lot of time flailing around with my friends looking for a liferaft to help me manage a relationship that was becoming toxic, dangerous and destructive. I pulled just about every stunt your friend has done, as well as many of those mentioned above in the comments. It was definitely not my finest hour, but I was so busy flailing I couldn’t see how it looked from the outside. To the surprise of no one except myself, this dynamic was not what my friends were interested in being a part of, and one by one they all ghosted me.

    It would have been a kindness if one of them had sat me down and said “You are my friend but your husband is not, I don’t like that he does XYZ but those things are not my problem because he is not my husband, and if you keep trying to make XYZ my problem I won’t want to keep being friends because this is not fun for me. I am not your therapist, I am not responsible for your feelings or your marriage and it’s uncool for you to try to make me.” Instead I had to slowly realise no one was returning my calls and it was all my fault. It was awful – but I got out of that marriage and things are much better now. I just wish I hadn’t burned up all of those friendships in doing it. (I reached out to a lot of those people after my divorce but that was a dead end, and an unpleasant lesson for me, but I hope I’ve learned it. I have much better friendships now because I am in a much better emotional place.)

    You, dear LW, are in the position of the liferaft. Your friend’s marriage sounds terrible, but it’s not your responsibility. It’s not your job to manage her husband or her own feelings about managing her husband, and I think you can tell your kindness is on its last legs. You should listen to your feelings on this, and put on your own oxygen mask first.

    Good luck.

    • JenniferP said:

      Thanks for this perspective!

  34. purlandcrystal said:

    LW, are any of you polyamorous or familiar with poly terminology? Because what this couple are doing looks an *awful* lot like a common (abusive) pattern in poly circles called Unicorn Hunting – essentially when a (usually straight) couple goes shopping for a (ideally bi) woman to act as junior wife/sex toy/maid. The ‘unicorn’ is supposed to love both members of the couple equally, so that they never feel left out or jealous, and to accept that she will always be subordinate to the needs of the ‘real’ (i.e. straight, married) couple.

  35. spookycatlady said:

    I’ve also been the friend in the marriage to the guy that glommed on to everything. Not only was he a bore and behaved very similarly to Husband in the OP, but I can confirm that my ex was also abusive, manipulative, and was using his glomming as a way to try and make sure I didn’t have a safety net.

    But my friends are amazing and they just never let that happen. Suddenly, I had running buddies (Ex did not run/exercise), I would be invited to stitch and bitches, craft nights, and photo excursions; things he found mind-numbingly dull. We were still invited as a couple to weddings, dinner parties, movie nights and such because we were a social unit, so he never really suspected he was being shut out by my friends. Fun tactic to make sure I wouldn’t enjoy myself: he made every outing (both solo and couple) miserable for me by either picking a fight just before or just after to ensure I would be on edge and dreading the next one.

  36. JessN said:

    I am still focusing on the first paragraph of your letter. I am getting that you are/were relying on this couple as friends at a time of change in your life. I suggest you channel energy into growing new friendships with new people who unequivocally want you in their lives. You know the drill—clubs, classes, political groups, volunteering—there are so many place where you can meet those who appreciate you. Nurture these new friendships and soon this problem will be history.

  37. kwallio said:

    I’m not seeing what exactly you are getting out of all this. Like, your friends husband is making an idiot out of himself, and your friend is somehow making her shitty relationship your problem. None of this is actually your problem. If your friend can’t/won’t meet you in a way that doesn’t irritate you, then maybe this friendship has passed. I sympathize with couples with small children, but if Mom can’t get even a few hours to herself without making plans 3x than maybe this isn’t just a small children problem. I’m a childless person in my 40s and my weekends are precious to me. If I had to spend several hours of my weekend dealing with other peoples relationship issues I’d be pissed. I’ve had friends where all of their problems were everyone else’s problems too, and when you end these friendships its like a swirling maelstrom of suck just…goes away. Give yourself permission to just Not Give A Fuck and get one with your own life.

  38. V said:

    Since they are an heterosexual couple, you could take advantage of that to plan activities that separate by sex. Like an “onsen/spa” (people share a bath but are separate by sex), cosmetics demostration, etc. Or activities that treat people in couples, like massages and “just happens” that he gets his turn separate. But “don’t worry, we¡ll wait for you”. Sure, you can’t do that all the time, but it gives a non confrontational way to get some time alone with your friend.

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