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Heavy Meddle: Help! My Friend’s Husband Is A Possessive Control Freak

What to do when three's a crowd? Two best friends, one jealous husband.
What to do when three's a crowd? Two best friends, one jealous husband.
This article is more than 5 years old.

Welcome Meddleheads, to the column where your crazy meets my crazy! Please send your questions to advice@wbur.org. Right now. Not only will you immediately feel much better, you’ll also get some advice.

Hugs,

Steve

Dear Steve,

I have a super close friend of more than a decade. We have seen each other through crappy boyfriends, new jobs, bad jobs, the deaths of parents and, now, marriage. She married someone who is nice and is totally fine when we hang out. The trouble is that he doesn't like to hear about things she has done in the past, before he was a part of the picture. He doesn't want to hear about the trip to San Francisco, for example, even if we are just talking about the city, because he knows that the last time she was there was with her ex. We used to travel together a lot. Our talking about those trips together (as girlfriends — no boys involved) before he even existed in her life makes him jealous. Once home, he has an outburst, and she then comes back to me and asks me not to mention whatever it was that triggered the argument.

It just seems strange that my friend’s husband can't seem to cope with the fact that she had a life before she knew he existed.

This affects our friendship and makes hanging out with them as a couple difficult. I feel like I need to watch what I say all the time, since I have no idea what might spark an argument between them later. I also feel like I never see her anymore. When we get together for a drink, it has to be quick so she can make it home for dinner. When we make plans, they always seem to fall apart, because he wants to do something else. I want to talk to her about this, but I don't know how to approach it without making her defensive or totally ruining our friendship.

It just seems strange that my friend’s husband can't seem to cope with the fact that she had a life before she knew he existed.

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Signed,

The Other Woman

Dear OW,

What a drag. I’m only getting one side of this, of course, but it sounds like the husband’s extreme possessiveness arises from a deep well of insecurity. As someone with my own deep well of insecurity, I salute you for not blowing your stack already.

Given the obvious tensions here, I’m surprised that you haven’t raised this issue with your friend directly. She’s the one who told you about this huge argument she and her husband got into after you guys talked about your trips, right? Wouldn’t that be a natural opening? I’m left to assume you haven’t broached this issue because it’s simply too sensitive a topic.

The best way to defuse defensiveness is to lay your heart on the line.

Assuming that’s the case, my advice would be to get together with your friend one-on-one and simply tell her how you feel. Not that her husband is a possessive, controlling jerk — clearly, your friend already feels hamstrung — but that you miss her friendship. The best way to defuse defensiveness is to lay your heart on the line.

As for the question of her husband, hard as this might sound, given the conduct you describe, I would avoid making judgments about him. My hunch is that he may be trying to draw you into a trap. To wit: he’s behaving provocatively in the precise hope that you’ll say something about it to his wife, statements he can then use to suggest that you’re the one trying to drive a wedge.

I’d simply speak about how you feel — that you’ve come to feel self-conscious and anxious about saying the wrong thing around him, and that you sense that he’d prefer not to have you around. Assure your friend that you respect her husband and her marriage and that you simply want to be able to hang out from time to time without feeling on trial. You could gently suggest, as well, that it might be best for you and she to hang out on your own.

You should brace for a couple of possibilities.

The first is that your friend might not feel the same urgency to spend time with you, owing to her marriage or whatever other forces have changed her priorities. The second possibility (which may be linked to the first) is that no matter how sweetly you initiate this discussion, she may perceive you as asking her to take sides against her husband. This is clearly how her husband frames things.

…if your friend can’t stand up to her husband and defend the intense friendship you’ve maintained with her for more than a decade, it may be time for you to invest in other relationships.

Those are real risks. But I’d have the conversation anyway. Because what’s the alternative? That you allow this friendship to wither, and continue to feel all this unrequited affection? That’s no way to live, OW. Better to be forthright about your hopes and disappointments.

That’s all you can do, in the end. The rest is up to your friend. I hope for the sake of both of you that she’ll be able to listen with her heart and respond with an affirmation of your friendship. It would be a great disappointment if she sacrificed the love and support you’re offering her.

But it’s also true that if your friend can’t stand up to her husband and defend the intense friendship you’ve maintained with her for more than a decade, it may be time for you to invest in other relationships.

Onward, together,
Steve

Okay folks, now it's your turn. Did I get it right, or muck it up? Let me know in the comments section. And please do send your own question along, the more detailed the better. Even if I don't have a helpful response, chances are someone in the comments section will. Send your dilemmas via email.

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