Every week, Danny M. Lavery and Nicole Cliffe discuss a Prudie letter. This week: the miserable marriage.
Danny Lavery: so I have a take here, which is that I totally believe you are not attracted to either of them — but that you seem to think the only way you’re entitled to say to your friend “You have to stop giving me every single detail of your unhappy marriage” is if you call it an emotional affair, take on half the guilt, and try to make it your fault
and that’s not to say that i don’t think you should have drawn a line with him sooner - I definitely do!
but your problem here is “my friend won’t stop using me as a bad marriage escape valve, it dominates our every conversation, and he ignores my attempts to talk about other stuff, AND he refuses to actually deal with it with his wife by either getting a divorce or telling her how unhappy he is”
Nicole Cliffe: I could not agree more that you do not need to be having an emotional affair (which I do not think you are, at least not on your end) to drastically change this exhausting state of things.
You are not a therapist.
Danny Lavery: yes!
Nicole Cliffe: And obviously we all can and should lean on our friends when things are hard in our lives, that’s great
Danny Lavery: but this has been CONSTANT
Nicole Cliffe: you are just being an unpaid underqualified therapist right now
and you can say “look, your unhappiness in your marriage is completely dominating our friendship right now and has for a long time, I can be your friend but not your therapist, I strongly encourage you to look into couples and individual counseling”
and failing that, separation
he is clearly miserable but you do not have to spend every interaction absorbing that
Danny Lavery: yes! it is great to be able to turn to our friends when we’re struggling with something
but when someone is doing it constantly, nonstop, and telling you stuff they’re not telling their partner
it’s too much! and you get to lovingly tell them to stop
Nicole Cliffe: I honestly think the LW is hoping for be told it’s an emotional affair to have an excuse to pull back
Danny Lavery: right
Nicole Cliffe: and we need to be able to have different words for this situation
Danny Lavery: but you actually have the right to draw the boundary on your own behalf
Nicole Cliffe: this happens when you have a totally non-romantic friend who always has to talk about their horrible job or bad boyfriend and never asks about you
Danny Lavery: and it hurts!
especially when it’s a longstanding friend
and it’s like, i’ve been helping you SO MUCH but it’s not…actually…helping and you’re not reciprocating
it’s also fucked up that he’s putting you in this situation where he’s like
Nicole Cliffe: you can say “hey, I know you’re in a lot of pain but right now this is a one-sided friendship, and it is not helping you, and I can’t be the person you dump this on constantly and I miss being able to talk about my life as well”
he so clearly needs a therapist
Danny Lavery: [complains about his wife for 40 minutes] want to get dinner with me and my wife and pretend i didn’t say any of that just now?]
Nicole Cliffe: or to take 76% of this and bring it to his partner
Danny Lavery: that’s really insensitive and disrespectful
Nicole Cliffe: you can do this for a period of time and it’s great!!! important! Part of being close friends!
but you are being his free therapist
and it’s not helping, bc why would it?
you are not in a situation where you can provide meaningful advice and he doesn’t want any
he really needs to talk to his wife and to a professional and then probably separate
Danny Lavery: and she’s doing it too!
like, not as often
Nicole Cliffe: but I feel like you are his alternative to having to meaningfully change his own life
Danny Lavery: but i actually think it’s fucked up that both halves of this couple are using you in this way
Nicole Cliffe: oh very much
Danny Lavery: that doesn’t mean they’re monsters or that they don’t care about you
Nicole Cliffe: I bet you are a WONDERFUL listener
Danny Lavery: but they’re both treating you like Honey in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Nicole Cliffe: TOO TRUE
Normally, when I get a question that’s like “all my friend does is complain about work”
I say “airily tell them ‘all the work talk is bringing me down, we can both talk about work for ten minutes and then we have to move on’” but that is not this
and we are well past that
Danny Lavery: yes
and it’s not sustainable! what if you got hit by a bus tomorrow?
how would they deal with their shitty marriage then?
Nicole Cliffe: so you can start doing “what did Jenny say when you told her this?” until it becomes clear he never tells her about his frustrations
or you can just be honest
Danny Lavery: i think the time for hints and redirects is totally over
i’d do that if this were like, eight months ago and it was just starting
Nicole Cliffe: “This is too much. Our whole friendship is about your failing marriage. You need counseling. I need a break.”
Danny Lavery: but i think it’s bringing a knife to a gun fight
Nicole Cliffe: also it’s very likely the wife is going to start SEEING it as an emotional affair and that will be a mess on its own
bc I think he is absolutely using you as a wife/therapist surrogate and it’s not improving
you need to drop a firm boundary
out of LOVE
it’s not helping! he is just wallowing
a good therapist will give him three sessions to wallow and then start, you know, probing his inaction
also he should prob separate from his wife
But that’s not your job
Danny Lavery: right!
whether they split up or not, they need to talk to EACH OTHER about what’s making them unhappy
often couples can DEAL WITH the things that make them unhappy
but they have to be honest about them! and TRY to solve them
Nicole Cliffe: There’s literally no other option