Dear Prudence

Help! My Husband Just Totally Embarrassed Me in Front of His Ex and Her Friends.

Each week, Prudie discusses a tricky letter with a colleague or friend, just for Slate Plus members. This week Jenee Desmond-Harris discusses her response to “Disrespected” with her husband and fellow Slatester Joel Anderson.

Dear Prudence, 

First, I wanted to give a little background on what happened. My husband and I have been together for two years, and before we started dating, he dated a girl for seven years. Within that time, he had become really close with her friends. When we started dating, he was still very close to her group of friends, which is just fine for me. I did very well in befriending them, and I’ve become very close to a lot of them. It was always inevitable that she and I would be in the same place together, and I had no issues with it.

The other night, we had plans to go to one of his friends’ birthday parties, and we knew she would be there. All day, my husband said that if I felt uncomfortable, we would leave immediately. No questions asked. He said that it’s me and him and that’s all that matters. I really appreciated his approach because I truly don’t do well in awkward situations as it is.

Well, we are there for about 2.5 hours. She’s been there as well and it was getting progressively more awkward because all of the people gravitated towards her, and it was just my husband and me standing near each other. After a while, I told him I felt uncomfortable and I was ready to go home. At which point he said that I “half-assed” this, that I should just “get it over with” and say “hi” to her, that he thought that I would be the bigger person, that he thought I would be stronger in this situation, that if we left it would look like she “won” … and then got visibly angry with me because I wanted to leave.

Eventually he storms out, and we walk to the car. I’ve begun crying and started defending myself saying that made me feel safe by giving me an out if I felt uncomfortable. He then yelled at me really loudly and got out of the car and slammed the door. He went back to the party without me while I drove home.

I have yet to hear an apology from him. What upsets me the most is that he’s told me that the opinions of those friends matter a lot to him. And it’s important to him for them to see us in a good light. He chose their opinions over how I felt in that moment. Keep in mind that we have nothing to prove with these friends, we have been around them for years, they were all at our wedding. The drama was only because his ex was there. He told me that if I went up and said “hi” to her, it would make things less awkward for the whole group. And it was my job to do that for everyone else. He obviously went back to the party and told people what had just happened because people started texting me asking if I was okay and asked what was going on.

Since talking to him, he has only gotten angry with me because I raised my voice and was angry at him while in the car … all while defending myself because my husband just made me feel so terrible and inferior to this group of people.

Please help. All I feel is resentment and anger towards my husband. Obviously I love him very much. But this is not how I imagined my husband treating me at all.

— Disrespected

Read Prudie’s original response to this letter.

Jenée Desmond-Harris: Okay, so I’m trying a new thing where I don’t share my response from the column with you, because I don’t want to prime you. But I think it’s clear and obvious that this guy was wrong. And bad. My question is: How wrong and how bad?

Joel: Well you didn’t have to do too much to prime me because, as you said, it’s “clear and obvious” that the husband is wrong and bad here. So let’s start with the fact that they’re married and it would be inadvisable to recommend a divorce at the outset lol. BUT … this is a pretty serious breach of trust, and the LW is right to feel angry and resentful to her husband. Not only did he break his initial promise and publicly embarrass her in front of their friends, now he’s got the nerve to be mad at her for pointing that out and responding accordingly.

There’s probably no other way to get past this but demand he accompany her to couples therapy, so they can walk through the many ways in which he betrayed their partnership. Because that’s the thing here: How can she trust him again? Why was he so indifferent to her discomfort and then her embarrassment? And it sounds like they’re going to need a mediator to get him to understand that he needs to fall back and consider what he’s done here.

Jenée: And where did all his anger toward her come from? She’s the one who’s extending herself to be friendly to his bitchy ex. Which is a lot more than many people (raises hand!) would do. He should have been falling all over himself to make it non-awkward.

Joel: Oh, for sure. I don’t want to be a mind-reader here, but I’ve got some dispiriting ideas about why he freaked out in front of his ex, why he returned to the party while his wife left in tears and, most importantly, why he’s spent so much time prioritizing that particular group of friends. Like, how good of friends are they really if no one—let alone him—is putting the burden on his ex to be a gracious person here? She’s getting away with being an asshole, and the LW is left to navigate this really strange dynamic.

Jenee: Yeah, I have some ideas too. He’s either up to no good or just mean. Which … neither of those are great! I also want to go back to what you said about dragging him to couples therapy. I just don’t know! Readers will tell me if I’m wrong, but I feel like couples therapy is something you do when both people are doing their best and want help, not when one person is a raging asshole.

Joel: Ok, fine insisting on couples therapy is one of a handful of possible options for a necessary intervention. Bottom line: She’s going to need to hold firm here, and demand that he make amends and then make some choices that prioritize his wife and her feelings. And if those friends aren’t pushing him to do the same, or lighting up his ex for being an asshole, then they’re not worth keeping as her friends. If he’s not up for doing any of this, then she’s going to have to consider if he’s ever worth trusting again.

Jenee: The truly diabolical option: Reach out to the ex, invite her to coffee, learn about whatever the husband is (obviously) hiding, and then be like “What? I thought you wanted me to be friendly to her!” But I can’t formally recommend that.

Joel: And of course, you’d never suggest that your current partner ever go to a party where an ex might be or anything like that! That’d be weird!

Jenée: You know what!? I knew you were going to raise this! Readers, we had been dating for like, six months, and it was an “ex” of like two weeks. And everyone was civil and normal.

Joel: He hugged you in front of me and no one ever introduced us and I stayed in the kitchen with my friends all night—shout-out Malik and Gene!—but we can relitigate this some other time!

Jenée: In couples therapy if you think that’s a good use of $150 or whatever they charge when they don’t take insurance (and nobody takes insurance). (Also I wish people could see how many times you went back and edited that response to try to make your case stronger and the story more dramatic.)

Joel: The edits were just for clarity but whatever! (I edited your grammatical errors too but you won’t mention that!)

Jenée: Okay now that you’ve disqualified us from giving advice on this situation we can end here.