We had them over for a big cookout this summer, and they seemed annoyed. His wife (who I have always gotten along with) commented that they hadn’t seen us in forever. I laughed it off and said something about how busy everyone seems to be these days. But to be honest, it breaks my heart to have two arrogant and tone deaf—but ultimately decent—people realize that we’re snubbing them.
I desperately need some guidance on how to handle this situation.
Los Gatos, California
I can understand why your wife doesn’t want to hang out with your friend and his spouse—and why she’s probably confused as to why you’d want to hang out with them. What could the man she’s in love with have in common with people who behave this way? And, by extension, what could she possibly have in common with them? And yet, your wife does have one very significant thing in common with them: you.
When people get married, their spouses come not á la carte, but as a package deal: Family members and friends are integral parts of who they are. In fact, marriages tend to thrive when people come into them with full lives of their own, including strong friendships of their own. Friends provide emotional support and shared outside interests—and, as in the case of the friend in question, they often link us to our pasts. Having these outside connections often makes marriages more resilient than those in which people rely on each other to fulfill all of their needs.
Of course, because we acquire friends at different times in our lives—which is to say, when we ourselves may have been different people from the ones our spouses will meet years later—odds are that our partners won’t “get” some of these friendships. But here’s the thing: You don’t have to love these people, but unless they’re destructive in some way—like negatively influencing your partner’s behavior—understanding that your spouse’s friendships are important is part of being a supportive partner.
So, here’s what you can do: You can talk to your wife, you can talk to your friend, or you can talk to both.
Let’s start with your wife. To her credit, it doesn’t sound as if she’s asking you to ditch your friend. After all, she didn’t seem to mind when you hung out with him alone. At the same time, I don’t think she appreciates the untenable position she’s putting you in—that by turning down all plans with this couple, she’s essentially asking you to choose between maintaining your friendship and protecting her wish not to see them. You’ve chosen to protect her wish, but in doing so, you’re damaging both your friendship and your marriage (since you’ll likely feel resentment toward your wife).
A better option would be to talk to your wife about why this friendship is so important to you despite your friend’s obvious shortcomings. What are his attributes? What does he mean to you? What about his difficult upbringing might explain why he acts this way? Let her know that even so, you understand why she doesn’t like him. Then ask her what she’d hope you would do if she had a close friend or family member who was the “inadvertent asshole.” Would she want you to go out with this person occasionally because they’re important to her? How would she feel if you acknowledged that this person can be difficult and still refused to see them? Or would she hope instead that you’d find a way to tolerate and make the best of occasional plans with the person she loves because you love her and don’t want to put her in an untenable position?