I have a friend who I generally get along with really well but lately she and her husband have been having problems. She said they were getting a divorce but when we hang out as couples they are very loving and seem quite happy. Lately her attitude has changed quite a bit. She is moody, depressed and very jealous. A year ago when we would all hang out, her husband would always give me a hug and my husband would give her a quick hug. It was never a big deal. Now, every time her husband looks my way, talks to me or gives me a hug, it causes problems in my friendship with her. She gets very irritated with me even though I never initiate the conversations or the hugs. I’ve tried to avoid the hug from him but its impossible without being rude. How do I not be rude to this man who has never offended my husband or myself but also stop the hugs that are causing her such insecure feelings? (These are brotherly, one-second hugs, mind you.) She still hugs my husband and it doesn’t bother me in the slightest. It’s to the point where I have just distanced myself from them as a couple.
I once heard someone say, “people respond in ways that make sense to them.” When a friend or loved one behaves in a way that doesn’t make sense to us, instead of making assumptions, it can be more helpful to enter their world and make sense of their response.
In the case of your friend, you already know she’s having serious marital problems. Throwing around the word “divorce” is no small thing, so it’s probably safe to say there are things going on between her and her husband that create shaky ground.
You are judging her strong reaction based on your good intentions. Obviously, you have no interest in being a threat to her marriage. You only want the best for her and her husband.
Instead of making sense of this through your perspective, start by looking past your good intentions to see if you can imagine why she might feel threatened by you, or any other woman, for that matter. Secure relationships aren’t threatened by these kinds of insecurities, so slow down and recognize that something significant has changed between them. This likely has nothing to do with you.
If you have the kind of friendship that would allow more candid conversation, don’t be afraid to address this observation with her. She might appreciate your sensitivity and efforts to help her feel more secure in her marriage. Sometimes addressing these unspoken, but obvious, interactions can provide great relief when there are real insecurities.
You might consider saying to her something like this: “I want to reassure you that I’m not a threat to your marriage. I realize things feel unstable between you and your husband and I don’t want to add to your insecurity. Is there anything I can do or not do to help support your marriage and help you feel safe as my friend?”
If your efforts to better understand her new response don’t lead to any change in your relationship, and you still value her as a friend, then you might consider looking for ways to support her in her crisis. Sometimes people are in so much pain they can be offensive in their asking for understanding and support.
You might back off from your previous ways of responding to her and her husband and continue seeking opportunities where you can learn what she needs. It’s easy to write people off as immature, reactive, and silly. However, true friends give each other room to figure out their reactions and support each other in times when things simply don’t make sense, hanging on until they do make sense.
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are solely his and not those of St. George News.
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