• Resolving Problems

Stuck in a friendship with a married couple

May 8, 2016 | By | 9 Replies Continue Reading
A woman feels stuck in a friendship that turned sour for her.

QUESTION

Hi,

I have a friendship dilemma, and I am grateful for any advice.

I have known a married couple for a long time (multiple decades). I have stepped back to take stock of my friendship and found this one to be problematic from a social health standpoint. Love them dearly though I do, they are both tremendously negative.

Every visit seems to be a catalog of people they’re upset with, what went wrong at work, and absolutely all larger social gatherings involve drinking. I am medically not able to imbibe.

The goat-getter is: everything seems 80% or more about them, especially her, and 20% or less about me. I’ve become a master of synopsizing my experiences and dreams to near sound bites, while listening to soliloquies on why not to speak to this or that person who wronged them or someone else (often includes my family)—or what made them angry this week or they them berating each other.

All planned activities must be at locations of their choosing, usually their home or a drinking establishment; and all activities must align with their interests. They visited my home only for my housewarming, and that was more than a year and a half ago.

In short, I do not know how to unpack my discomfort productively when I cannot get a word in edgewise, and I am unsure how best to address the boundary issues as I am not eager to end up a target in our overlapping social groups.

I wholeheartedly believe someone like me that loves them should sit down and have a kindly worded discussion with them about their drinking, their tone, and their social demeanor. I worry that being that person will terminate the friendship, but am certain not addressing it at all will certainly end the friendship.

I have spent my life as a ‘take what I can get’ “haver” of friendships, as so many relentlessly bullied children tend to become. I know the relationship is likely unhealthy, but I have so few friendships at all, I feel stuck.

The easiest question is: where do I start?

Signed, Adrienne

ANSWER

Hi,

Sounds like this couple isn’t the best company. As you describe it, they talk ad nauseum vs. listening; drink too much; bicker with each other; are negative people; can be embarrassing socially; and are inflexible about how and where to socialize.

Yet, you say you have few friendships and feel “stuck.” Finding other couples to socialize with is always more challenging that finding a male or female friend because it entails four different personalities rather than two.

Given that you’ve known this couple and have been friends with them for multiple decades, my advice would be this:

1) Don’t dismiss the friendship completely. These sound like the type of friends that might be easier to see in small doses: once in a while rather than regularly. You might even just need a break from them.

2) If their behavior has been distressing for multiple decades, I think it will be virtually impossible to change them and as you suggest, criticisms aren’t likely to be appreciated. All you can change is your own reaction to them. Without invoking past injustices, perhaps, you can be more assertive about choosing a place for a get-together once in a while or initiating an invitation to your home.

3) Re: Drinking – Non-drinkers and heavy drinkers often aren’t a great mix (pardon the pun) unless one is tolerant of the other. If one partner has a serious drinking problem, you might mention it to the other and suggest that they seek help.

4) Despite your history of of having been bullied, it sounds that you now are able to distinguish healthy friendships from unhealthy ones. Are there ways that you can begin to cultivate other friendships that are more satisfying? Do you have any shared interests that are social (e.g., tennis, golf, bridge, volunteering, or joining a dinner club)?

Hope this helps.

Best, Irene

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Category: Friends who abuse alcohol and/or drugs, RESOLVING PROBLEMS

Comments (9)

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  1. Eddie Gamez says:

    I have a friend like this currently. I’m waiting to see if things change. He’s currently on vacay and addressed the tension via text and said he want to have fun with me again. However, I’m weary of the situation because he’s the type that’ll say things just to appease people and sweep a problem under the rug.

    My issue with him is very similar. He doesn’t want to do anything unless he can bring his boyfriend along, and if it’s a situation where his boyfriend can’t make it he just wants to lay around at his apartment and have me come over. This annoys me because we live in NYC. How could you not want to go out and do stuff?! He’s not very gracious when he does come to things I want to do and he has to make it known that he’s tired or wants to be with his boyfriend, etc.
    I’ve also lived in two apartments since I’ve met him and he only has seen each once.

    He’s also always talking about his boyfriend. I get that there is love there, but it’s become obsessive in my opinion. He’s always talking about it, oversharing, bringing up up his relationship when there was no lead into the conversation and it’s mentally draining. He can’t go one hour of talking to me without hearing about what they’re doing or what his boyfriend is doing.
    Even when I’m having a conversation with his boyfriend, he’ll be obnoxious like touching him inappropriately or something else to get his attention. It makes me want to throw up to be honest.

    I honestly believe he’s insecure about his relationship because I know of the problems they have had (which should have ended the relationship), but he’s too afraid to be alone. It’s obvious the relationship has consumed him, which concerns me because when I met him, he was independent and motivated. Now he’s become codependent and uninspired.
    I know he resents that his boyfriend is more passive and wants to be taken care of, and his boyfriend accuses him of being controlling, but he continues to hold on for dear life because he cares a lot about appearances and being able to say “I have a boyfriend” to family and friends. And believe me, he makes it known every chance he gets.
    He’s even said to me he “settled” for his boyfriend and now he’s trying to sell the relationship to me like he never said that before. I din’t think he gets that when you say something to friends and do something completely opposite, it makes us feel like you’re not consistent or authentic.

    Being friends has made me realize he doesn’t know who he is anymore and I’m praying for the day he will wake up and get his groove back. I don’t wish for them to break up because I am friends with his partner, but if that’s what is necessary for him to get back to who he was, then I’m not going to feel negative about a potential breakup.

    However, if things down change with how he’s treating me since he has addressed it, I won’t feel like I’m compelled to further the friendship. He’ll be bumped down to a drinking friend at best, and who knows if he’ll come out for that?

  2. Nadine says:

    It is really difficult to maintain good relationships with people who drink.
    I get the feeling that these people really have a problem with it too.

    That’s a very touchy situation, to tell someone about their drinking. If you do decide to go that route,
    be prepared for backlash and fall out.

    I had to leave a toxic friendship that involved this, and all I did was distance myself.
    I didn’t want to have to become some kind of police with this so called friend. This is more work in a friendship than I’m willing to do.

    Nadine

  3. Maddie says:

    And you say you “love” these people why?

  4. Denise says:

    What stands out most for me is this:

    “The goat-getter is: everything seems 80% or more about them, especially her, and 20% or less about me. I’ve become a master of synopsizing my experiences and dreams to near sound bites, while listening to soliloquies on why not to speak to this or that person who wronged them or someone else (often includes my family)—or what made them angry this week or they them berating each other.

    All planned activities must be at locations of their choosing, usually their home or a drinking establishment; and all activities must align with their interests.”

    If you’ve tried many times to suggest doing what you enjoy or cannot change the conversation to something positive, it really sounds like it will not happen. If you can find a way to say your interests are not being met and the conversations are negative and they listen and compromise, great. Still, it sounds like they are used to having their way 100% of the time. So I’d go with shorter, infrequent visits.

    • Sandra says:

      Denise, you made a really good point that I forgot to mention. There’s nothing worse than being in a one-sided relationship and/or conversation. It makes you feel invisible and used. If this happens all the time with those friends, it’s worth questioning the relationship. There are too many people out there who talk more than they listen. It’s very arrogant, selfish … and boring.

      • Denise says:

        Yes, when I think of a one-sided interaction, that’s just what it is, an interaction. It’s an imbalance where one side is dominant for whatever reason and I’d never use the word “friend” or “friendship” to describe the situation. When I think of “friend” and “friendship” the first term that comes to mind is “mutual respect and give and take”; also, balance, trust, feeling comfortable.

        Earlier you say, “There are some friends that are such a part of our history that we can’t just drop them entirely — even if their behavior isn’t what we want in a friendship.”

        Sandra, you may have history with them, but if their behavior isn’t what you want in a friendship, if their behavior has evolved away from what you want, you no longer have a friendship. They are people you know who you used to consider friends, isn’t that right?

  5. lottie says:

    You have been friends for decades so they must have something about them you like, and them you. Why spoil it because what they talk about is annoying you. Take a break from them for a while. I feel for sure a change of scene and a breather will do the trick,then give YOU something to say next time you meet. Could you invite them to a social “do” at your home along with some other friends.Or ask her out for a coffee or to something he won’t like. I wouldn’t go all serious on them. Can you imagine afterwards what they might say…”.Who does she think she is telling us”

    Just a thought. Good luck. Lottie

  6. Sandra says:

    In a previous post, Irene mentioned the concept of “Small Dose Friendship,” and it really hit home for me. There are some friends that are such a part of our history that we can’t just drop them entirely — even if their behavior isn’t what we want in a friendship. I have several friends like that too. A couple of my friends are married to men that my husband and I don’t care for, just for an example, so I try to limit the “couple dates” and instead spend time alone with these girlfriends. As Irene said, it’s not easy to find couples whose personalities blend happily with the whole group.

    So, if I were you, I would talk to my husband about having a firm plan to spend less time with these people, but not completely avoid them. Be busy. Say “yes” to their invitations ONLY when you’re feeling strong, healthy and up to the challenge of spending time with them. Take them in small doses. Given the situation, or considering that you have other mutual friends, you’d be better off to keep the peace but protect your own sanity by creating healthy boundaries.

  7. Amy F says:

    Since you and the couple travel in similar social circles, your best bet is to maintain a cordial relationship, to avoid making things awkward for everyone involved. I’m curious as to why you accept invitations from the couple, particularly socializing at bars. I rarely drink, maybe one or two a year, and not on the same day. There’s nothing that majes me feel less social than being around tipsy/drunk folks.
    As for sitting down with the couple and telling them how socially inappropriate you find them, I think that’s a terrible idea. Middle aged people generally don’t want to be confronted in such a manner. If you do decide to talk with them, use “I” statements and focus on your feelings and avoid overgeneralizing with words like always and never. Be specific and current.. “I feel frustrated and I couldn’t get in a word last weekend when you were talking about X.”
    Focus on your other friendships and meeting new people by participating in community events such as book clubs. Summer is a great time for outdoor concerts and festivals.

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