Monday, January 16, 2012

Wag Vs. Angie: The Case of the Mistreated Spouse

Your friend is treating his/her spouse badly. Confronting him/her openly might ruin your friendship, but doing nothing might ruin the marriage. Do you talk to your friend, or sympathetically lend an ear to the suffering spouse?

Shane thinks you should lend your friend's spouse a friendly ear and a shoulder. You can see what he has to say over here

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Shane, you win. Hands down. I don’t even know why I am arguing this week. You are trying to guarantee that your friend thinks you're a meddling pain in the ass who is trying to start trouble, right? If that is your end goal, by all means reach out to their spouse with a little, "Hey, I see Bob/Susan is being a real jerk. Are you okay? Do you want to talk?" I'm anxious to hear the results of that plan.

I divide couples into primary and secondary friends. This is how you determine who gets who in the divorce. If I am friends with the husband because of my friendship with the wife, should they divorce (unless there is some heinously immoral act involved) I remain the friendship property of the primary friend. Secondary friend has to go back to his/her own group. Eh, it's just how I function.

I am a bit unclear on what you mean by “openly”. If we’re talking about calling them out in the middle of a dinner party, then perhaps we all need to learn a few more manners. If you just mean pulling them aside and saying, “Wow, you are being pretty harsh.” then pffft. Bad behavior is bad behavior. It’s never right to allow someone to be treated poorly. That being said, if you have a friend that would “unfriend” you because you called them on their reprehensible treatment of another person are they even worth maintaining a friendship with?

In my world you have to confront your friend. Going behind their back and supporting the spouse will do nothing to save this friendship you feel is so volatile that you might lose it by confronting the issue. Most situations like this come to a head between the couple eventually. You’re probably not going to be there when the proverbial shit hits the fan. How do you think your friend will feel when their spouse says, “Even Shane thinks you’re being an asshole!”

Let me tell you how that’s going to go... Your buddy is going to be thinking:

1. Why in the hell are you and Shane talking about me?
2. Nice friend he is going behind my back to get in good with my wife by playing me as the bad guy.
3. Funny he never mentioned it to me. What an asshole.

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When people are forced to face who they are or how they’ve been acting it’s not pretty. It’s often not even rational. Over time that moment of anger will fade, but your friendship is a lot more likely to be damaged because you weren’t confident enough to talk to them personally. It is almost an act of betrayal.

If you had confronted your friend directly, then he/she gets the chance to explain to you why he/she is acting this way, and ultimately your friend can decide if you’re worth maintaining a friendship with. If your friend decides you’re a jerk for poking your nose in where it doesn’t belong then by all means... offer the poor spouse an ear and your support. A kind smile to the spouse is enough to let them know that you understand the position is uncomfortable, but I don’t think that secretly offering your support will do anyone any favors. Perhaps instead of an instant confrontation, a subject change or a compliment thrown in the direction of the spouse will be enough to end the onslaught until you get a moment alone with your friend.

There’s an old country western song lyric that comes to mind, “No one knows what goes on behind closed doors.” If your friendship is so important to you, you owe your friend the decency of talking to them before you start batting for the other side. While treating someone badly is never acceptable, perhaps there’s something going on that you know nothing about. 

Talk to your friend first. That’s what friends do. Why not say, “Hey, bud. I don’t know what’s going on, but you’re being a real ass to _____. You can tell me to shut up and you don’t have to be my friend, but this isn’t cool. It’s making us all uncomfortable and you look like a jerk. What’s wrong?” 

What do you think? Have you ever been in this situation? How did you handle it? 

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