You are viewing this article in the archives. For the latest breaking news and updates in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, see
Posted on Sun, Feb 26, 2012 : 5 a.m.

Woman expects others to end relationship with ex-husband

By Carolyn Hax

Dear Carolyn:

I have a close friend whose husband left her over 15 years ago for another woman. At times she threatens the husbands of her friends (who were also friends of the ex) that if they have a relationship with her ex she will not speak to them.

I understand her hurt and anger, but don't think it's OK to expect others to end their friendship with her ex, especially after so long. I know everyone is different, but at some point isn't it healthy to move on?

-- Trying to Be an Understanding Friend

Her expectations aren't OK, and of course it's healthy to move on -- more specifically, to release the anger. But your friend is in no way bound by what you and I think.

Conveniently, these husbands aren't bound by what your close friend thinks, either.

Where your opinion reigns is in your own response. Next time you witness one of her threats, consider gently reminding her that you understand she's hurt and angry, and then saying -- one on one, over coffee maybe -- that you question the utility of her request.

Specifically: The people who don't hold her husband accountable aren't going to hear her threats and then rush to her side in sympathy. On the contrary: By calling attention to a 15-year grudge and holding others hostage to it, she might be ginning up (much) sympathy for the ex. That can't be what she has in mind. At best they'll just ignore her.

The people who believe her ex-husband wronged her, on the other hand, are her allies here -- and the most meaningful thanks she can give them is to trust them to act on their beliefs. Not as she sees fit, but as they do.

I have no illusions that a grown woman who threatens people with the silent treatment will respond maturely if you do this -- or let you finish your sentences, for that matter.

But you say she's a "close" friend. Since she stands to lose the most from her punitive ways -- peace of mind, primarily, but also the respect of these friends, if not the friends themselves -- it's time for somebody who cares about her to have her back.

You'll be less likely to inflame her if you avoid the value judgments of "OK" or "healthy" and stick to the universal language of effectiveness: Has she asked herself whether her scorched-earth approach to loyalty has yielded anything good?

--0-- --0-- --0--

Dear Carolyn:

I have a friend who has been using me as a sounding board for issues with his ex. I have no problem with this, I try to offer a compassionate ear, advice, etc.

Got together with a group of people, including the friend AND his ex, and the ex made a comment about something personal in MY life that I had shared with my friend.

I should have realized that if my friend is comfortable sharing details WITH me, he is also sharing details ABOUT me. Do I call him on it, or chalk it up to a lesson learned? For me, it changes the complexion of our friendship considerably; does he have a right to know why?

-- Seattle

I think so, but that interests me less than the idea that you have a right for him to know why.

A few reasons: (1) These are your secrets. Why not at least try to secure them? You can't stop him from blabbing if that's his intent (or if he's impulse-control challenged), but it's also possible he has no idea you regard these things as private. If he's worth your time, then he'll regret having spread, even inadvertently, what you regarded as personal news.

(2) This is your friendship. Why not at least try to preserve it? If his privacy threshold is just naturally lower than yours, then establishing that could help both of you be better friends -- to each other and beyond, by sharpening the way you communicate and by deepening your understanding of the ways people share.v (3) The way you treat your friends reflects your character, and it's just as important to treat people well when no one is looking as it is when you have an audience. But: You do have an audience here, and cutting corners could have consequences beyond this one friendship. Doing the right thing isn't just good for him and for you, it's also good for your mutual friends.

Last thought: Consider that you do have a problem with his "using me as a sounding board." You say you don't, but if the "using" has you feeling a bit used, then that can act as a finger on the scale when you're weighing the value of the relationship. The first step in acting on your feelings always has to be telling yourself the truth.

Email Carolyn at tellme(at), follow her on Facebook at or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at

(c) 2012, Washington Post Writers Group