Friday, January 18, 2019

The Case of the Unlikable Husband

As always happens in letters written to advice columnists, they are short on facts and long on sentiment. I will underscore, yet again, if you do not know the facts on the ground you are in no position to offer advice.

Today, the New York Times etiquette columnist, Philip Galanes, faces this problem. A trio of couples has been hanging out together for years. Recently, two of the women took the third aside and told her that they no longer wished to hang out with her husband. They had decided to vote him off the island.

You might be wondering why? The woman does not say why? So, Galanes is at something of a loss. He handles it adeptly, but still, we would like to have a better idea. And we would like to know whether the qualities that the women find repugnant are qualities that his wife finds endearing.

The Times headline suggests that the woman's friends do not like her husband. It's one thing not to like someone. It's quite another to say that you cannot abide his presence. At the very least, the judgment does not seem to have been taken lightly or impulsively. The two women must have been trying to deal with the situation for years.

Here is the letter:

For six years, my husband and I have been great friends with two other couples. We ate together, traveled together and hung out a lot. Recently, the other couples told me (separately, but within a month of each other) that they are no longer willing to spend time with my husband. No reason was given. Both couples said they are open to seeing me without him. This is going to break my husband’s heart! Should I tell him directly, or let him discover that he’s being ghosted over time? Is there any way to continue my relationship with these friends?

It’s going to break his heart. Does that tell us anything? I do not know. But, who speaks about her husband in terms that would be more appropriate to a female? Galanes is at something of a loss, so he sketches out an analysis:

I’m sort of astonished that you didn’t ask your friends (either time!) why your husband was being cast out into the desert. Does this mean you have a hunch? Or maybe it’s not the first time they’ve mentioned their difficulties with him. Either way, I would ask for a clear explanation of the problem.

I suspect that she knows why, but does not think that the offense is worth shunning. Perhaps, as noted above, the man has bad table manners. Perhaps he whines too much. One suspects that this is not the first time she has heard of the problem, and that preceding efforts to change things have not worked. I suspect that she had been put on notice, had mentioned it to her husband, and that he did not change. She might have thought nothing of his bad manners, but other people found them to be seriously disconcerting. 

In other words, if she does not mention the nature of the problem, she might not think that it's much of a problem. And if she does not mention it, the chances are that it has been addressed many times before.

Galanes sensibly looks toward self-correction:

We all have failings. But if we’re put on notice of them constructively, we can often make big improvements. If your husband is a conversation hog, occasionally snarky, or too strident in his politics, he can work on those issues if he is told about them. I also get that it can be hard to lodge complaints with friends, especially if they’re defensive. But six years of camaraderie should buy your husband some good will.

Of course, there are other problems that are much harder, if not impossible, to bounce back from: if your husband has been cruel, for example, or behaved in seriously inappropriate ways. So, find out what the beef is, discuss it with your husband directly, and decide together if there’s a feasible plan for rehabilitation.

Of course, if she negotiates a reprieve and tells her husband that he must stop slurping his soup or chewing with his mouth open… he is likely to become more self-conscious and resentful.

Galanes continues:

As for maintaining your own relationship with these couples, unless your husband’s offense is grave, could you really continue being friends with people who won’t let him apologize and try to do better in the future? And if his behavior was truly egregious, you have bigger fish to fry, no?

It might be the case that she has known the women for a long time, which would be one kind of problem. I suspect that he has already apologized and has failed to correct his ways. I agree that the woman’s relationship with her friends has probably been compromised. It feels as though the issue has been ongoing for years and that her husband has not changed. Perhaps it‘s a personality issue. Perhaps he’s an opinionated lout. Perhaps he does not know how to dress properly. We do not know. 

As for the possibility that the behavior was egregious, as in, he made a pass at one of the women or even one of the men, Galanes is correct to note that the letter writer has a bigger problem.

1 comment:

Sam L. said...

It's a riddle, inside a mystery, enclosed in an enigma. Which means, I don't know because there's nothing to go on, being clueless.