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Dr. Irene S. Levine Headshot

Friendship Advice: A Troubled Marriage Can Lead to Troubled Friendships

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QUESTION

Dear Irene,

I am so happy I have come across this blog and your book, Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup with Your Best Friend. It is nice to know there is a place to go for understanding and support when female friendships go awry.

I, too, have a story. I met a friend at work. At first, we both took lunches together. We laughed all the time then. She used to come to my house often and we went to a few comedy shows and she and her husband joined me and my husband for some New Year's Eve dinners and nights out. We have even shared family vacations.

My friend is in her second marriage and has a 17-year-old and a 4-year-old. The marriage is troubled. My friend used to text me all the time and even call. Now, something has changed. I rarely hear from her via text and my attempts to invite her over (once in a while) are met with excuses. All of this is very painful for me because we became fast friends and she quickly pronounced me her BFF, which initially felt surprising after only knowing her for three years.

Now, I find myself being less tolerant of the excuses and on our last vacation, she mentioned that she, her husband and her 4-year-old really get along much better when it is just the three of them. She mentioned also that when her 17-year-old daughter is around, it just creates more friction (the 17-year-old has made it very clear she does not like my friend's husband).

My friend told me she would like to spend time with me but she can't: When her husband is around other people he is a different person, which makes her a different person. We were both sitting by the pool together, just the two of us (which is rare because she always has her family in tow), and I would have pursued it but both our husbands and kids came to the pool.

This has been bothering me a lot, but I decided not to pursue it and to give her space. I reached out once again to invite her and her family (I have stopped asking for girl time) to the beach with my family. She blamed her husband and said he was being difficult. Today at work I asked her what was going on and she said her husband was giving her a difficult time about going and berating her and she had no groceries and on and on. Again I hear the theme her husband is a different person around people.

What does this mean for our friendship? Is she trying to send me a message or end the friendship? Or is there something genuinely going on in her life and I need to try and be a more supportive friend? I am confused, hurt, scared and not sure if I should approach her and try to talk with her. Is this the beginning of the end?

Signed,

Tara

ANSWER

Hi Tara,

Like you, I can't be sure about what has happened, but I would venture to guess that the schism between you and your friend has more to do with her relationship with her husband than it has to do with her friendship with you.

It's very sad when someone can't be oneself with a spouse. Your friend may be having a difficult time with her husband, who appears to be controlling and possessive. She has told you outright she would like to spend more time with you and can't -- it is probably due to the circumstances of her marriage. The fact that she has no money for groceries is particularly worrisome; her husband may be putting a financial noose around her neck as well.

Try not to take the growing distance between you and your friend personally. It sounds like she needs you more than ever. Since your relationship started because you were office colleagues, might you try to scale back the friendship to one of close co-workers and see each other at lunch for the time being? Be a good listener and perhaps you'll get a better sense of what is going on in her life and how it impacts your friendship. Your friend will probably welcome the opportunity to confide in someone who is concerned about her and knows the people in her life.

Asking her to plan activities (with or without her family) may simply be too burdensome right now -- and may even be something her husband won't allow. As she begins to work through her family issues, it may change the nature and course of your friendship again.

Hope this helps!

Best,

Irene