Dear Prudence

Dear Prudence Uncensored: The Miserable Marriage

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