THE BLOG
05/30/2010 10:31 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Losing sleep over a betrayal by a a couple

QUESTION

Dear Irene,

My husband and I were very close friends with another couple who betrayed and hurt us deeply. They made twisted and false accusations about our marriage, my upbringing, my mental state, etc. They shared this with our neighbors and friends but luckily, it did not affect how our neighbors treated us. If we didn't have a strong marriage, I don't think we would have made it through this turmoil.

The husband's last conversation with my husband was about how his wife (my best friend) had feelings for my husband and didn't think I was good enough for him. She had a mental breakdown and was diagnosed as being paranoid (delusional) and alcoholic. She was very unhappy in her marriage so she came up with sinister and twisted comments. I think she was jealous of my happy marriage and life and convinced herself it was me that had everything wrong in my life.

This experience shook us to our core and we haven't recovered. My question is how do we get over this anger and hatred we feel towards them? We find ourselves lying in bed at night talking about it and getting our emotions all fired up. If their names come up in conversation, we starting thinking about them and get angry again and talk about them endlessly. We know we have to move on but we are not making progress.

Now summer is coming upon us when all of our friends come out of the woodwork and we all have parties and run in the same social circles. People are asking us where they are and what happened. We are trying to take the higher ground and just say we haven't talked to them in awhile. We don't say why but it's very hard to hold back sometimes. I am afraid I might have a few glasses of wine and talk a little too much.

To some extent, this has damaged our sense of trust with our current friends. We don't want to do much socially and we are wary of people's intentions towards us. We don't want to be this way because we are very social people and we entertain frequently. I don't want the essence of whom we are to change because of this couple. I have read your book and it has helped tremendously. However, any specific feedback from you would be appreciated and helpful.

Signed,
Judy

ANSWER

Dear Judy,

I am so sorry that you and your husband were victimized in this way. It had to be very painful both to lose close friends and to feel so betrayed. You are fortunate that you have a strong marriage and could count on one another for support.

While your girlfriend's illness doesn't absolve her from blame, it may be easier to forgive her if you accept that she probably didn't have control over her destructive behavior. Her husband may have felt that he had to defend his wife or may have actually been swayed into believing her (sometimes called a folie a deux).

Given what happened, it sounds like you are handling this as well as you can. You are right to take the high road to get over it; there's no sense in involving other people in this mess. It may take time to rebuild your trust but given that you like to socialize and be with other people, I think you will be able to get back in the swing of things and realize, with hindsight, how truly aberrant this particular situation was. It is unlikely to be repeated. One other suggestion: At this point, try to limit your bedtime conversations about this topic so you don't find yourselves losing sleep and ruminating about an unfortunate, once-in-a-lifetime chapter in your friendship history.

Hope this helps.

Best,
Irene

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Irene S. Levine, PhD is a freelance journalist and author. She holds an appointment as a professor of psychiatry at the New York University School of Medicine. Her new book about female friendships, Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup with Your Best Friend, was recently published by Overlook Press. She also blogs about female friendships at The Friendship Blog and at PsychologyToday.com.