[Two Pronged] Should I mind my own business?
Rappler's Life and Style section runs an advice column by couple Jeremy Baer and clinical psychologist Dr Margarita Holmes.
Jeremy has a master's degree in law from Oxford University. A banker of 37 years who worked in 3 continents, he has been training with Dr Holmes for the last 10 years as co-lecturer and, occasionally, as co-therapist, especially with clients whose financial concerns intrude into their daily lives.
Dear Dr Holmes and Mr Baer,
I need your help, please. A wife in distress would like me to talk to her husband. They are good friends of ours but we had no idea that their marriage was in discord until recently. The wife told me that it has been this way for two years now. The husband is an ex-seminarian and really a nice guy and a good family man. He is a respected figure in our community. He is a good leader and in fact an elected officer in the village association of homeowners.
Financially, the family is sufficient. The wife said that her husband is having an affair with a high school ex-girlfriend he reconnected with on Facebook.
They are still living together under one roof but do not eat and sleep together any more.
The other woman is a widow with 3 daughters and currently employed as clerk in a firm. The husband took over the handling of the finances since that time that he had an affair.
The wife had encountered the woman already on several occasions. Even the children have become estranged from their father. The wife had a promising career in a pharmaceutical company when asked by the husband to give up her work and attend to the children instead while they were growing up, and somehow helped in the family business. The husband now would say that she hasn't achieved anything.
I thought of talking to the husband until I read his post on FB that goes something like "falling in love again" so I backed off because he might not like the idea. I can't also ask my husband to talk to him because I don't like my husband to change his impression of this friend of ours.
Please help me. I really don't know what to do but I 'd like to be of help in any way I can. I’ll be waiting for your reply. Thank you so much.
Thank you for your letter.
The bare facts are that the wife of this ex-seminarian, this nice family man, this respected community leader, has told you that in fact he is also a confirmed and unrepentant adulterer and you want to know what you should do as a friend of the family.
You have told us a little about this couple but almost nothing about yourself yet you, not they, are the one wanting advice. Clearly, how you should act now will be heavily influenced by who you are. If you are a psychologist, or counselor, or lay preacher, for example, you would have some training and specialist knowledge which could be brought to bear on the situation.
Since you have seen fit to remain silent on the subject, it is perhaps reasonable to assume no such knowledge. Given that, the simple answer seems to be that you should do nothing. Friends are wise if they do not proactively involve themselves in the domestic disputes of others, offering unsolicited advice to allegedly guilty husbands based on the uncorroborated testimony of the supposedly wronged wife.
The fact that you yourself admitted that you had no idea until recently that this couple had problems should give you a clear indication that an outsider can have so little understanding and knowledge of other people's marriages. Instead, friends are there to offer support, a shoulder to cry on, even help if help is needed perhaps – but not amateur marriage counseling between eating dinner and reading the kids a bedtime story.
Finally, and to end on a more positive note, I think your decision not to talk to the husband because "he might not like the idea" is an excellent one. At a recent seminar my wife and I asked a similar question of the audience and the vast majority agreed that a friend should not approach the supposedly errant spouse, with "Mind your own (expletive deleted) business" one of the milder responses!
All the best,
Thank you very much for your letter. It is a truism in therapy (and, I would think, even in writing a column that seeks to help others, like this one), that it would not be helpful to do so second hand. Mr Baer and I, for example, hardly answer one that has “I am writing for a friend.” One reason is that it comes across (at least to me) as having an element of prurience and a “there but for the grace of God go I”).
Your letter, however, asks advice for yourself, and that is a different matter. It is clear you want to know what you can do to help your friend (let’s call her Susan), who needs help dealing with the behavior of her husband (let’s call him Richard).
Dearest Ida, what a lovely, supportive friend you are.
IMO, the only time you can talk to her husband is when he wrote on his FB wall about "falling in love again,"simply becausethis is the only time you have directly experienced Richard’s behavior, but happily you have chosen not to do so in this instance.
I also feel that best thing you can do is to continue what you already are doing: listening to Susan as she pours her heart out to you. As a friend, you are allowed to be as indignant as Susan, perhaps even agreeing that Richard’s supposed new found love is actually a b*tch. As a friend, you might even suggest that this “supposedly helpless widow is really a rabid she-wolf ripping Richard’s heart from the bosom of Susan’s embrace. It is your friend Susan you should be present for, and not for Richard.
If you think the timing and situation don't seem awkward and judgmental, you might also consider the most helpful reply when Susan asks you to intercede for her is to suggest she seek a professional. Hopefully, Susan would not feel a sense of betrayal from this professional should s/he expect honest answers from the probing questions she asks.
I realize holding Susan’s hand, going with her for a mani-pedi etc. is not as dramatic as speaking to Richard directly. However, oftentimes it is this gentle
listening that is far more helpful than confronting Richard when he hasn’t asked for your insights.
All the best,
Need advice from our Two Pronged duo? Email firstname.lastname@example.org with subject heading TWO PRONGED. Unfortunately the volume of correspondence precludes a personal response.