I think my husband likes his woman friend better than me

When she calls, he gets all excited, but I feel hurt and left out.

Published December 19, 2008 11:42AM (EST)

Dear Reader,

I hope I have not given the impression through sharing with you the details of my writing process that I am somehow shortchanging you by spending less time than one ought to on these pieces of writing. I do realize that yesterday I used the phrase "half an hour" in relation to the amount of time available to me for one segment of the writing process. I assure you I am not dashing these pieces off in half an hour. What I am doing, however, is trying to be present in the moment and give you only the words that come to me as I encounter and apprehend the phenomena before me. So, again, as I have indicated, it is a kind of experiment. It has many ramifications and implications that we might explore together at some point. And I may of course at some point return to the previous method, which involved a kind of reckless and feverish delving, much mumbling and stream-of-consciousness typing, many false starts and much gnashing of teeth.

But enough about that. I'm still traveling, still dealing with my dad in the nursing home, still staying with my brother, still eating lunch at the kitchen table. -- ct

Dear Cary,

Many years ago my husband was working in a company with a very pleasant group of people. One of them was a young woman our age who was very outgoing and friendly. She invited us over for the weekend a few times (she was married with 6-year-old twins and we had a 1-year-old baby at the time), and we all got on very well together. I felt that I had gained a friend. Over the years we stayed in touch even when they stopped working together, and we enjoyed each other's company. Nothing heavy, but we could chat and laugh about the same things.

What bothered me, and I suppose still bothers me, is that I feel my husband prefers her to me. I am the stay-at-home type. We both work long hours, we have four kids, and if I don't get my sleep then I don't function the following day. My husband would like me to lighten up -- to go out to a concert, to go out on a Friday morning (when we don't work) for breakfast, etc., but then I don't manage to do all the household tasks. His friend just had the twins and decided not to have any more children, so physically it's much easier. It was hard for me to hear, "Why can't you do this like Patty?" or "Patty does this, why can't you do it also?" It didn't seem to occur to him that we have more responsibilities and less time.

One weekend we invited them and another mutual friend for the weekend, and it was a disaster. This woman, whom I liked and considered to be a friend, ignored me the whole time, and instead of feeling like a hostess I felt like a servant. At the beginning I thought I was imagining things, but after I tried a few times I realized it was deliberate. Every time I would try to start up a conversation with her she would answer either rudely or in a brief sentence and then start a conversation with someone else. Only her daughter (12) noticed and tried to include me in conversations, which was embarrassing. After the weekend I told my husband how hurt I was and to my surprise he vindicated her and said I was to blame, and that I had imagined things worse than they were, and that Patty was the model of good behavior. Now he accepts that I don't like her, and doesn't press me to join up with them when they meet.

To my great relief they now live in another country, and even though I swore she would never set foot in my house again, I did agree for a visit, and she was just as she used to be. Every time she calls (usually to wish my husband happy birthday) I can tell it's her because of the way my husband's voice becomes animated and happy. After all these years I still feel that my husband would prefer someone like her though we are happy together and have built a good family with great kids. I, however, get all knotted up whenever I hear of her, and just pray that they never come back to live in this country. It just makes me mad that when he compared us, I came out the loser. I'm happy in my family, but it hurts to know that my husband would be happier with a woman with a different personality and attitude than mine.

In fact, I'm not even sure why I'm writing this, unless it's to get it off my chest. I would like to let it go, but I can't forget how she behaved, and how my husband verbally attacked me when I complained.


Dear Confused,

Your husband has not shown much tact or understanding. He seems to be a bit blind to the feelings involved here. I don't think it means that he prefers her to you. It's not that. You may feel that way but that's not the reality. The reality is that he and this woman converse well together. They click. They have a lot in common. For some reason, they click together. But he married you. He's raising kids together with you. You're his wife. He didn't marry this other woman. He doesn't want to marry her, as far as we can tell. He doesn't want to leave you. It's just that, like some people do, they click very well. It's good to have people in your life that you click with. Plus, if you don't see someone very often, then when they call on the phone you are naturally more upbeat and enthusiastic when you talk to them. That's how we talk on the phone with good friends whom we rarely see. It doesn't mean you want to marry the person.

But he's not showing much understanding. Your feelings are hurt. That's not a right thing or a wrong thing; it's not like you should be smarter so your feelings wouldn't be hurt. They're your feelings. They get hurt no matter how smart you are. So husbands should respond to that. Maybe he thinks if he responds to that by reassuring you or being kinder to you or showing you that you are the most important person in his life that he is vindicating your hurt feelings. Well, so what? Maybe he feels he would be in essence vindicating your suspicions. But that's ridiculous. In any relationship, feelings are going to get hurt. People are going to get wounded. It's silly to stand back and be cold and accusing when we could just as easily be warm and loving. We sometimes feel if we are warm and loving that we are giving in somehow. So I would say to the husband, give in already. Your wife is going to have certain feelings that don't make sense to you. That doesn't mean her feelings aren't important. She's hurt by your very friendly feelings toward this woman. It makes her feel insecure. So reassure her. Let her know that she is the most important person in your life.

Now if you really don't trust your husband, that's something else again. You might spend some time with this question: Do you trust your husband? Do you think he is having an affair, or that he did have an affair? Do you fear losing him? If you feel this way, it seems worth pursuing: Why? Is there some basis for your feelings? Have you been distrustful and overly sensitive throughout your life? Have you been left by men, or lied to in the past? What past experiences might his behavior be triggering memories of? If you cannot come to any clear idea of what is going on, you might want to see a counselor or therapist, who could help you identify patterns or experiences that might be relevant to this situation.

I know that we married men, when we feel we're being unjustly challenged or accused or mistrusted, can become stubborn and cold; rather than be loving and reassuring, we react with stubborn coldness. It's hard to overcome that but it can be done. If you can get your husband to loosen up and just reassure you about this somehow, that would be good. Maybe he doesn't see that it's not about what he's doing so much as about what you're feeling. You just need to know that you're the No. 1 person in his life. He probably takes it for granted that you know that.

Well, I sense that this isn't such dazzling, stellar prose, but as I've said, it's part of an experiment. I want to speak directly and plainly. I think I am doing that. So please know that your feelings are important, and deserve to be heard, but they don't mean that your husband actually prefers this woman to you. They're just old friends and they happen to click in a certain way. But if you are deeply worried, then I suggest you explore your feelings more fully to identify what basis they have in reality, and you may want to work with a therapist or counselor who can help you do this.

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By Cary Tennis

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