Q. Miserable Wife: I have been married to a wonderful, brilliant, funny woman for about a year. I love her so much and can't imagine life without her. Lately, she's had a string of unfortunate incidents in life. She had to move away for a few months on assignment for her job. We see each other once a month. She absolutely hates the job and hates the city she's based in, but can't leave because it would be "unprofessional." And the money is good. On top of all of this, a member of her immediate family has become extremely ill and has lost the will to fight. As a result, whenever we speak on the phone, my wife only complains and all we talk about is how miserable she is. I am doing my best to be understanding, but it's really damaging our marriage. She pays no attention to me and lashes out when I try to suggest that she stay positive. I know she feels safe venting to me, but I don't know how much longer I can stay supportive. She's become mean-spirited and hostile. It worries me because I wonder if she will always handle unfortunate situations this way. I am a very positive, optimistic person, and her refusal to stay on the bright side is really troubling. I'd appreciate your advice on how to stay loving despite all of this.
A: You're right that you are a safe place for her to vent. You should also recognize she doesn't really want your advice or cheerleading, she just wants to let off steam. But a spouse's job is not to be a black hole for their partner's discontent. So tell her, preferably when you're actually together, that your conversations have become increasingly painful because you are left feeling the burden of her unhappiness without having any sense that you can help. Say while you want to be there for each other, you are partners, so that means you have to respect each other's limits. Explain you can only hear so much of her frustration before it sends you spinning downward. Suggest she find a counselor so that she can vent to her heart's content and also get some neutral observer's perspective on dealing with her work unhappiness and a failing loved one. Then try to make an agreement that you'll both put a time limit on complaints over the phone and be able to shift your conversation to other topics. And if she gets nasty to you, you have to be able to tell her that you need to talk some other time when she's feeling less hostile.
Q. Re: Attending doctor appointments: In cases of serious illness, most doctors encourage patients to bring a companion. Patients are often too unwell to take in what is being said or to remember issues they wanted to discuss. A recent WaPo story told how a man's extremely serious illness was only diagnosed after his wife mentioned to his back surgeon that in addition to back pain, he was having episodes of extreme confusion.
A: Thanks. And that story was so chilling and a good reminder that if you think something is really wrong with a loved one to keep pushing if the treatment appears to be failing.
Q. Have a Thing for a Good Friend's Boyfriend: I have a thing for one of my good friends' boyfriends, and he appears to have a thing for me too. Of course I'm not going to act on it, and neither is he, but is there any way I can keep the friendship I have with him (which is fairly independent of my good friend)? Although it's certainly frustrating not being able to act on our desires, I'd be very sad to lose him as a friend. But is it betraying my friend to hang out with her boyfriend? I've certainly read things by you and others that say I should cut him out of my life, but I really don't want to do that. But this crush is also not going away.
A: I assume you all through your early life you had various crushes on boys in your class. I'm also assuming these crushes went away. Your assertion that this one won't sounds more like a manifesto of, "Watch out, girlfriend, he's mine" than a legitimate desire to find out how to not cross the line. It doesn't sound as if you're actually friends with this guy, but that the supposed friendship is composed of heavy flirting. I hope you're a person with many friends, so your friendship with this guy will just have to go by the wayside. That means you don't see him one-on-one but only when you both happen to be at some social event. Shift your focus to finding someone who is delightful and available.
Q. Re: The prejudiced people should be ashamed, not the porn actress: "I think your concern about this coming out should give you pause about your line of work, no matter how lucrative." It seems to me that concern about "coming out" about something that is legal and harms no one should only give pause about societal prejudice. This young woman is doing nothing wrong, so why should she be ashamed? It's awful that our society is full of people who watch porn behind closed doors then turn around and shame the women who act in it. It takes courage to come out as part of ANY group that is discriminated against and it may not be right for everyone to do. But the fact that people are prejudiced and hypocritical is their problem, NOT hers.
A: I said if she's thought through the implications of her career choice, then it is hers to make. That doesn't mean I or anyone else has to think it's a good idea without lifetime consequences. To make a blanket statement that the people who would shame her are secret porn addicts is just silly. I'm going to assume the young woman's mother would be stricken, yet the mother may also not be a consumer of porn. I cannot imagine anyone would want their child to do live sex shows on the Web. That doesn't make them hypocrites.
Q. Mother-in-Law: My mother-in-law of less than a month wants a copy of our gift list, as in who gave us what. I don't think it is appropriate to give it to her. My husband says there's no harm in it. What do you think?
A: It's not her business who gave you what, even if it's harmless to accede to her request. Because I've heard about this before, I'm going to assume she doesn't actually care what your college classmate Morgan gave you. She wants to know if her friends the Poindexters gave you two a gift as expensive as the one she gave to their kid. I think you should tell your mother-in-law that you and her son will be prompt and effusive with your thank you notes. Say if she has questions about gifts from specific people, you'll be happy to tell her. But explain you just prefer not to make a list of what you got from everyone you know. That's a reasonable boundary to draw with a mother-in-law who may need some reining in.
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