• Keeping Friends

My friend’s son was sentenced to prison

Published: November 4, 2016 | By | 6 Replies Continue Reading
A woman’s friend’s son was sent to prison and it has affected their friendship.


Hi Irene,

My friend of over twenty years has become very distant after a family crisis. Her son was convicted of a white-collar crime and sentenced to prison. I accidently found out about this situation. My friend doesn’t know I am aware of this dilemma.

This happened about four years ago and my friend hasn’t told me a thing about what happened. She constantly tries to pry into my family business asking questions frequently. Before the problem happened with her son, I felt fine about divulging my family problems as a way to get her feedback, Talking about problems with a trusted friend helps put the subject to rest.

Since she hasn’t disclosed what happened to her son to me or talked about any happenings within her family, I decided we must not be as good of friends as I had thought. I think the friendship was mostly one-sided.

Her behavior changed 360-degrees over the past 4 years. Each year when she returns from a winter in Mexico, her behavior gets worse. She is extremely critical of me and always wants to one-up me in any thing we do together. Or, she will say, lets go to a movie or walk, but she is never available. I have quit asking her.

I don’t have many very good friends and don’t feel I need to be treated in such a disrespectful manner. I play bridge, ride with an Equestrian group, and belong to two pinochle groups and a book club besides taking care of my 97-year-old mother.

I hate to lose her friendship but I don’t like her negative behavior and critical remarks. Do you have any suggestions, or should I just try to distance myself until she leaves in the fall? My feelings were really hurt when she didn’t tell me about her son.

Signed, Anne


Hi Anne,

I can understand how hurt you felt when your good friend didn’t tell you about her family crisis and that her son was sent to prison. However, when a family member is convicted of a crime, it can be emotionally draining—in addition to being embarrassing and stigmatizing. Many lives can be disrupted.

Your friend may have withheld this information for a variety of reasons: For example, her son or husband may have asked her not to tell you or others, or your friend may have worried about being judged. Whatever her reasons, knowing about the situation and that she didn’t tell you about it, may well have affected your relationship. In terms of this situation, I would err on the side of forgiveness and compassion towards a friend who has a heavy burden to bear.

Concerning the changed way she treats you, this may or may not relate to this event. On one hand, it may be that as a result of this family trauma, she is a changed person. Or, as a result of you feeling upset by her withholding the information, you may have become be more sensitive to her words and/or critical behaviors.

Only you can weigh how aversive this friendship is and whether it is worth saving. If you still value this friendship and have few other friends, you need to let your friend know when she acts critically towards you, and tell her how it makes you feel when this occurs. Perhaps, she doesn’t realize how her words or actions affect you and the friendship. You may want to see this friend less frequently and branch out to other friends, such as the one you meet at pinocole.

Hope this helps.

Best, Irene

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Category: Communication, KEEPING FRIENDS

Comments (6)

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  1. jen says:

    Thank all of you for your advice and insight. There was an error in the original letter I wrote. It say “I don’t have any good friends” however I have many. But, this friend was more like the sister I never had. That’s why this break up hurts so much. On the other hand, I am taking a little of all your advice as I can’t tolerate the disrespect. I just don’t feel I can ask her to coffee to tell her I know about her son. I am down grading the relationship to casual as there will be an elephant in the room and I don’t want a one sided relationship.

  2. J says:

    Thank you for your evaluation and advice. I totally agree with you and aboutb3 weeks ago I took steps to move our friendship to a casual level. I have many friends so this decision will be fine. This decision was based on the fact that she no longer treats me with respect. In the future when she makes negative comments, I will immediately tell her how I feel. I think backing away will be best for both us.

  3. DJ says:

    There’s really 3 issues here. The first her right to choose whether to disclose her son’s incarceration. She has every right not to. So you need to respect that. And not see that as a reflection on your friendship or yourself. The second issue is her prying into your family business which you have every right to decide what is and isn’t discussable and respond from there (i.e. not going to discuss that, don’t talk about that etc) when she oversteps the boundary. The third issue which does impact on you enough to question the friendship is that evan after 4 years since this event she’s continuing to be very negative and critical towards you. That does place a friendship in question. And makes it hard to be supportive.
    So it’s making a decision on whether you want to hang onto this friendship or not. Or make it more on a casual level. And then depending on what you decide dealing with it from there. Do you respond when the behaviour occurs (letting her know her comment etc was unacceptable), do you initiate a general conversation on how her comments affect you and ask her to stop. Of course her son being sent to jail could be impacting on how she treats her friends. Do you bite the bullet and advise you do know about her son but haven’t raised it as you’ve respected her right to tell or not tell non family people but now are raising it because you’ve noticed a change in her since, would like to be supportive but finding it hard due to the critical comments.
    Yes fair enough to question the friendship based on her long term treatment of you but not because she chose not to disclose her son’t incarceration.

  4. Maria says:

    This isn’t the time to try to repair the friendship. Your friend is hurting, probably unaware of her own behavior. I’d shy away from is giving her anymore information about your life. I’d be supportive but keep things light. Maybe in time she’ll confide in you, maybe not.

  5. Amy F says:

    I’m hearing a stunning lack of empathy in your letter. Your friend’s circumstances aren’t about YOU. She has been through an unbelievable trauma, one which, even if you had a child sentenced to jail, you couldn’t understand her personal reactions. For whatever reason, she didn’t want to tell you, or probably anyone. Again, this isn’t about YOU.

    I understand you don’t like how the stress she has been under has affected the way she interacts with you. I get that you feel she has wanted more information from you then you believe she has shared with you, At this point, you need to decide if you can still be a good friend to her, because she needs good friends. Can you find empathy and understanding for her? Can you say, her stuff is greater than mine at this moment so I will be the friend she needs?

    If you can, then take her out for coffee. Tell her you know what’s going on and ask her, “What can I do to support you?” Don’t bring up your hurt feelings. You can do that down the road when she is in a better place.

    Friendships go through peaks and valleys. Sometimes one friend needs more leeway.

    Expand your social connections if you can, so that you’re not putting so much pressure on your one friendship.

    I hope you can be a good friend to your friend, she needs that.

  6. Sandra says:

    Anne, I had a similar situation with a good friend/neighbor several years ago. I understand how you feel. It is hard to be “all in” when in comes to a friendship with someone who is keeping you at a distance and keeping major secrets from you.

    A friend of mine (a neighbor) separated from her husband aa few years ago, and at the time, she told me only a scant few details. He had moved out and she knew it would be obvious to the neighbors. I didn’t pry and respected her privacy, though she clearly wanted my support and my company. Problem was, she was very cryptic in our conversations about what had happened. She was very upset and emotional — she wanted my support and my company — but she didn’t want me to know her full story. That made it hard for me to help her, and hard to feel emotionally close to her as well. There was always an elephant in the room.

    Of course, word got out around town — her husband was having an affair — but she still kept the details a secret from me. That made it awkward. I never knew if I should “pretend” I didn’t know about the affair and the gossip, or if it would embarrass her if I told her what I’d heard from other people.

    That said, I believe we all have the right to our privacy. We don’t have to tell our friends everything. But let’s face it: It’s harder to feel “close” to people who put up a facade and don’t share their emotional truth with you.

    Generally speaking, Anne, I find that people like your friend are best kept as “casual” or social friends. Let them keep their distance. Close friends share their truth with one another, and they let down their guard. They remind us that we’ve earned their trust, and we give them our trust and confidence and support in return. But you can’t have it both ways. You can’t keep major secrets from friends and expect them to open up to you. Just my experience, my opinion.

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