Q. My husband and I have become friends with another couple, and have gotten together with them several times, either at one another’s homes or by going out.
Each time, over the course of the evening, the wife begins trying to pick a fight with her husband. She speaks to him in a belittling manner, her voice dripping with sarcasm, and points out what she sees as his shortcomings, and though he ignores her, she doesn’t stop.
As you can imagine, this makes for an intensely uncomfortable time for my husband and me, to the point where we no longer want to socialize with them as a couple.
My husband thinks we should just continue to ignore her venting. I want to tell her either that we now charge for couple’s therapy or that if she’s going to continue in that vein, she’ll have to go home (or we will, if we’re out together).
I’d like to get your thoughts about how to handle this.
At a Loss for Words
A. This social dynamic sounds like your own unfortunate staging of a living room production of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” so I’m going to refer to this couple as “Martha” and “George.”
Martha is creating an uncomfortable situation for everyone at the table. Why would you ignore it? She’s not shy about belittling her partner in public, so maybe you should be less shy about reacting honestly to it.
Because this is a pattern with a clear perpetrator, you should call her out. Before agreeing to see them again, one — or both — of you should tell Martha, “We enjoy spending time with both of you, but Martha, the way you speak to George when we’re together makes us very uncomfortable. We are bewildered by it and feel bad for him.”
If alcohol seems to be a factor in fueling her rage, then you should also bring this up.
Ideally, your husband would try to speak with George privately, to check in and ask how he feels about this verbal abuse, and the relationship overall. Men often seem to find this difficult (your husband obviously does), but they must find ways to discuss their relationships and support one another.
Q. A month ago I was diagnosed with an ovarian mass. I will be having surgery to have it removed in two weeks.
When this was announced my boyfriend started acting weird and started to pull away. He was more distant and wouldn’t even touch me sexually or romantically anymore.
He said that between work and this stress he needed space. Two weeks went by and he then broke up with me. He said he doesn’t feel the same love-wise anymore and that he likes being alone, but that he wants to come to the hospital to see how I’m feeling and come over to my house to see me when I’m recuperating.
I don’t want him to visit me, and I told him so!
If he doesn’t care, then why would he want to swing by to see me?
I’m so hurt that he broke up with me two weeks before my surgery.
A. Your ex wants to see you in the hospital because HE wants to feel better about his own obnoxious reaction to your illness. This likely has very little to do with you.
Your diagnosing physician has given you two gifts: The surgery that will restore you to health, and the knowledge that the guy you were with is not the real deal.
People respond to illness in a variety of ways; your ex might have been thrown by what he interpreted as a sexually related or sex-adjacent health problem. But pulling away when you’re uncomfortable or don’t understand something is what little children do. Functioning and loving adults push through their own discomfort for the sake of their loved one.
Let the hospital know that you will not accept a visit from this person.
Q. I read the letter from “Hurting” with great interest and sympathy.
Hurting was bullied during her school years, but I offer a bit of hope regarding her reunion.
I recently attended my 54th high school reunion. We didn’t have nametags, and most of us didn’t recognize each other.
Hurting’s idea of “not knowing” the bully might turn out to be prophetic; he might not know her either!
A. Reunions are minefields, where each of us has to navigate around previous versions of ourselves — and one another.
Amy Dickinson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.