February 26, 2012 in Features

Carolyn Hax: Threatening ex’s friends of no use

Washington Post
 

Dear Carolyn: I have a close friend whose husband left her over 15 years ago for another woman. At times she threatens the husbands of her friends (who were also friends of the ex) that if they have a relationship with her ex she will not speak to them.

I understand her hurt and anger, but don’t think it’s OK to expect others to end their friendship with her ex, especially after so long. I know everyone is different, but at some point isn’t it healthy to move on? – Trying to Be an Understanding Friend

Her expectations aren’t OK, and of course it’s healthy to move on – more specifically, to release the anger. But your friend is in no way bound by what you and I think.

Conveniently, these husbands aren’t bound by what your close friend thinks, either.

Where your opinion reigns is in your own response. Next time you witness one of her threats, consider gently reminding her that you understand she’s hurt and angry, and then saying – one on one, over coffee maybe – that you question the utility of her request.

Specifically: The people who don’t hold her husband accountable aren’t going to hear her threats and then rush to her side in sympathy. On the contrary: By calling attention to a 15-year grudge and holding others hostage to it, she might be ginning up (much) sympathy for the ex. That can’t be what she has in mind. At best they’ll just ignore her.

The people who believe her ex-husband wronged her, on the other hand, are her allies here – and the most meaningful thanks she can give them is to trust them to act on their beliefs. Not as she sees fit, but as they do.

I have no illusions that a grown woman who threatens people with the silent treatment will respond maturely if you do this – or let you finish your sentences, for that matter.

But you say she’s a “close” friend. Since she stands to lose the most from her punitive ways – peace of mind, primarily, but also the respect of these friends, if not the friends themselves – it’s time for somebody who cares about her to have her back.

You’ll be less likely to inflame her if you avoid the value judgments of “OK” or “healthy” and stick to the universal language of effectiveness: Has she asked herself whether her scorched-earth approach to loyalty has yielded anything good?

Email Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ carolyn.hax or chat with her online at 9 a.m.each Friday at www.washington post.com.


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