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Carolyn Hax: Friend’s hurtful statement may be sign of struggle with contradiction

Washington Post

Dear Carolyn:

One of my best friends committed suicide two years ago, devastating both me and our group of friends. It’s been an incredibly hard healing process.

In the immediate aftermath, another friend in our group, “Beth,” got emotional support from and eventually started dating someone else in our group. They are still together. A couple of nights ago Beth told me that, as much hurt as our friend’s passing caused, she has to “thank her” for bringing her and her boyfriend together.

I don’t believe she meant that statement in a malicious way, but it really hurt me. I was in so much shock when she said it that I didn’t respond in the moment, but I feel like I can’t just let it go. I’m wondering what’s the best way for me to talk to her about this with minimal hurt feelings.

– Confronting a Friend

That’s awful about your friend, I’m sorry.

Stemming from a very different kind of death – my mother’s, of ALS – I have some understanding of what your friend was saying. People who have gained something valuable from the unthinkable live with the awkward truth every day that their loss was also their gain. Were my mother alive and healthy today, my children wouldn’t exist. No question. I have life because of her death.

An awkward truth like this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, in part because the human mind seems to have unlimited capacity to host contradictions. I can be glad for my children without being glad my mother suffered and died, even though logic would say one follows the other. I can grieve and celebrate at once.

But people who have to process awkward things sometimes say them out loud, and I’m (admittedly) guessing that’s where your friend was a couple of nights ago.

Did Beth express herself poorly, and/or to the wrong person? It does seem that way. And if it’s important to you – the future of your friendship with her – then by all means say something.

She’s your friend and presumably not a monster, though; instead of “confronting,” maybe follow your opener with an effort at understanding her. “It must be difficult for you,” say. Or, ask her to understand you: “That was jarring for me to hear.” See whether there’s comfort in her reply.

One neutral, accessible way to start a conversation like this is just to say you’ve been thinking about what she said the other night. Establish your state of mind instead of reaching to challenge hers. By not triggering her defenses, you give both of you a chance to grow closer from having this talk.

—0— —0— —0—

Dear Carolyn:

My parents have been married for 35 years. Over the last 15, there have been numerous instances of both my father and mother being caught cheating. My brother and I (both married with families) are the first to receive the 1 a.m. call from either parent screaming and crying on the other end of the phone.

Inevitably, they make up, and the circle goes on.

Meanwhile, our respective families are in turmoil from the night’s revelation. To make matters worse, there is deep-seated resentment between the two that manifests in public arguments and blatant disrespect for one another. My brother and I are to the point where we are completely numb to their blowups and have decided our families are better off having limited contact with our parents. This is hurtful to both parties.

How can we make amends with our parents while letting them know their dysfunction is disruptive to our families?

– Cheaters’ Child

To field one 1 a.m. call is support. To field routine 1 a.m. calls is a boundary screaming to be set. You are not responsible for your parents’ marriage! By any measure.

And while your decision to limit contact suggests you’ve come to that conclusion, you’re asking how to “make amends” when there’s no hint that Mom and Dad have made changes for the better – which directly undermines any boundary you’ve set.

Yes, it hurts to limit contact. But you’re doing it to protect your families’ emotional health, and to tell your parents it’s not OK for them to drag you into their mess. Behind every boundary is the calculation that the pain of not drawing one is worse.

So hold the line kindly and firmly: “Mom, I won’t discuss this with you at 1 a.m. I am hanging up now.” And the next day: “This is a matter for counseling. I won’t be your referee.” Either they respect that line, or you enforce it by walking away from drama.

When they do respect it, that’s when you make amends.

Counseling of your own would make sense given the models you’ve had in your parents. It’s tough to disengage, but emotional health is also a skill like any other in that much of it can be learned. If therapy isn’t an option, then “Lifeskills for Adult Children” (Woititz/Garner) is a solid $10 start.

Email Carolyn at, follow her on Facebook at or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at

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