By Esther Mann, LCSW
This week’s letter is being answered by Jennifer Mann, LMSW.
I have known my dear friend Sarah for over 20 years. We are “soul mates” who have been through everything together and have been each other’s support systems through the good, the bad, and the ugly. We have had our issues but have always been forthcoming and have never held back. You can imagine, I’m sure, that in an honest friendship such as I’m describing we have not always been on the same page and have had our squabbles. You can’t have 20 years with a girlfriend and not fight. Our relationship had always been able to recover until now.
I have not had the easiest marriage. My husband is a stubborn man and has not been easy for me to live with. I don’t share my secrets with the entire world, but I have shared everything with Sarah. She knows the ins and outs of my daily relationship with Shmuel. When the kids were young, Shmuel would leave for work and I would call Sarah like clockwork and cry my eyes out to her. Over the past five or so years, Sarah began joining me in my complaining about Shmuel. She would add her two cents to my litany. She had been telling me that she too notices these things and would make comments like, “I don’t know how you put up with him. I would have left him ages ago.” Excuse me!
Fast-forward to Sukkos. We had Sarah and several other families over for a lunch meal. I set a beautiful table and was excited to have Sarah and be entertaining in our sukkah. The company arrived and it was drizzling. Shmuel said we should all go in the sukkah. The drizzle turned into rain and Shmuel (in typical fashion) insisted it was fine. I felt my stomach begin to churn. It is one thing to deal with when we are alone, but when we are with friends or guests I am so embarrassed. I was quiet—as I usually am, because it is a losing battle with Shmuel. Sarah unexpectedly turned to Shmuel and said, “Shmuel, lighten up; make your wife happy so I don’t have to hear about this tomorrow morning.” I feel so betrayed. With those words, she let Shmuel know that I talk about him to her. She said this in front of other people as well. Both Shmuel and I felt mortified. After the company left I had hell to pay. Shmuel still has not forgiven me, but we are working on moving past this.
After yom tov I spoke to Sarah and told her how betrayed I felt. I said some horrible things in the heat of the moment and told her not to call me again. She was upset at how upset I was but did not really understand where I was coming from. I miss my best friend, and I think about her and about this whole debacle constantly. My friends are sick of hearing about this problem and someone suggested I write in to your column to get another perspective.
Missing My Friend
Each friendship has a different flavor. Some are casual or born out of convenience and never develop into anything more, as hard as one may try. They make for a pleasant Shabbos afternoon, fun lunch plans, or movie night. What you have with Sarah does not feel casual or “friendship light,” but more like an intense relationship that has weathered many storms and enjoyed much happiness. I would venture to guess that what you have with Sarah feels almost magical, untouchable, and indescribable.
Married couples and high-school sweethearts do not have the exclusive rights to chemistry. Chemistry can exist between friends. It draws you in initially and keeps the friendship going over time. It is a feeling of home and of being understood. It is a certain something that you may not even be able to put your finger on, but you keep going back for more. A friendship like this does not often present itself. There are many people who have never experienced this, and there are many people who may not “get it” and wouldn’t know how to partake in it. I may be wrong, but I believe you want to revive your relationship. That is why you are writing in and it is why you can’t stop thinking about this “debacle.” You described Sarah as a “soul mate,” which tells me that there is at least the potential to move past this.
I would describe Sarah’s behavior using the word “trespass.” I think there is an unwritten code amongst female friends that we do not speak negatively of each other’s husbands. Ideally, you should be able to tell Sarah everything about Shmuel without her adding her two cents. When a friend makes a negative comment about your husband, she has crossed a boundary. Telling you she would have left Shmuel years ago is hurtful and may have left you feeling judged. After all, your life choice would not be acceptable for Sarah. Furthermore, Sarah’s direct comment to Shmuel in the sukkah was outright wrong. With that one statement, she broke the trust you have built over the last 20 years. I can only imagine your anguish in that moment, having to juggle confusion, hurt, and possible dread or fear at what the imminent future would hold when your company left and you were forced to face Shmuel.
There is no question in my mind that Sarah’s actions are less than favorable, but I question her intentions. If her intention was to drive a wedge between you and Shmuel, then I would say, “good riddance”—and close the door behind you. There are women who say nasty things to their friends about their husbands, but that usually boils down to their own insecurities and not being able to see other people happy. I have a hunch, based on the flavor of your friendship, that her intentions were good and she was trying to validate and support you.
Let’s try to see this from Sarah’s perspective. Sarah was a shoulder to cry on for 20 years. She listened to your marital troubles for the first 15 years without a word of judgment. During the last five years, it is possible that she has grown to dislike Shmuel, based on your account of your marriage. She loves you and I’m sure wants your happiness. From where she sits, you have cried every day, married to a man who brings you incredible pain. She may be letting you know that should you decide to leave him, she would support you through that. Also worth noting is that in these last five years of her commenting, you never told her to stop. Perhaps her awful remark in the sukkah was her last straw and she lost control of her tongue. You may love Shmuel to pieces and think he is the most wonderful man in the world and be upset that she can’t see him for who he is—a wonderful man with many flaws. Or, it may be that her telephone remarks are hitting a nerve because you know that you want to leave Shmuel.
Should you choose to continue a friendship with Sarah, you can create new rules that are comfortable for the both of you. Rule #1: Create a boundary around your marriage. Let her know that her comments make you uncomfortable. Be prepared to hear that she may no longer want to hear about Shmuel. Friendships have their own lifecycle. They can be intense, and then slow down; one friend may withdraw for some time and then return full speed ahead. A good man is hard to find, but so is a good friend.
Jennifer Mann is presently working as a psychotherapist at Ohel. She also works as a relationship coach and can be reached at 718-908-0512.