My best friend and wife are fighting. Should I try and mediate or stay out of it?
November 19, 2009 8:29 AM   Subscribe

My best friend and wife are fighting. Should I try and mediate or stay out of it?

My best friend of ten years is a former boss we can call her FormerBoss/Mentor. FormerBoss/Mentor and I have a great deal of common interests and even though she can be a bit prickly we have always gotten along and enjoy each others company.

My wife of five years is a professional house painter and recently did some painting work for my FormerBoss/Mentor. The work was suppose to be only painting, but my FormerBoss/Mentor called my wife and asked her to supervise another person doing work in the house while she was there, be there to let in other workers, etc. This wasn’t part of the work but my wife did everything that was asked. There were also a couple of pictures left out to be hung and a smoke alarm to be installed with a note, saying “would you please…?” and those things were not part of the agreement and my wife did not do those things. During the week the job ended they were to see each other at an event on Friday evening and they established during a phone call that my wife was to get paid for the job that evening. That evening came and my FormerBoss/Mentor said nothing but “Sorry, I forgot my checkbook.”

No other discussion, no thank you for the work. My wife handed her the keys to her house. The next day they saw each other at another event and there was not any discussion of the work or how my wife was to be paid or any thank you for doing the work. On Sunday my girlfriend emailed my FormerBoss/Mentor and said she was hurt, she felt unacknowledged and unappreciated and wanted to know how she was going to get paid. My friend sent an email saying “I had no idea you should have said something I don’t carry my checkbook with me everyday”.

A few days later a check arrived in the mail. There was a housewarming party where my wife chose not to go because she was still really angry with my friend and I didn’t go because something deep inside told me that no matter what I should stand by my wife. My FormerBoss/Mentor called me on Monday and asked why I wasn’t there and I said because she needed to work out this issue with my wife. My friend says she has done nothing wrong and that she has been very good to my wife and my wife won’t accept her part in it, she never provided an invoice. My partner says this has nothing to do with money or an invoice it has to do with acknowledgement and that my FormerBoss/Mentor should have thanked her for the work and acknowledged the job she did, painting + many extras.

I am so upset that they are fighting like this. Should I call my FormerBoss/Mentor and ask her to please just say thank you for the work my wife did so this can be over? Should I try and stay out of it? Before this happened we were all very close almost like family. I think personally that my former boss was upset that my girlfriend didn’t do ALL the extra things she left out for her and that not saying thanks was a small passive aggressive dig at her. Any advice is appreciated. I really don't know if I should try and mediate or stay out of it. I feel as if my water dish has been moved very far away from my bowl. Any thoughts are appreciated.
posted by washateria to Human Relations (34 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Stay out of the middle of this. It simply sounds like a breakdown in communication. Neither of these women are psychic, so they couldn't possibly know exactly how the other wanted them to act/react in the situation. One of them needs to be the first to extend the olive branch so that they can discuss what happened and get over it.
posted by scarykarrey at 8:36 AM on November 19, 2009

You may not be in a particularly thankful mood, but consider being thankful that your own experience with FormerBoss/Mentor was as positive as it was, because her behavior toward your wife was not only incredibly rude and unprofessional, it wasn't how most people would behave toward the spouse of a friend, even if they weren't friends with the spouse, as well. That whole "as long as you're here..." routine is generally a danger sign, IMO.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:37 AM on November 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

It sounds like his wife and girlfriend must be supportive of each other, since they seem to be helping each other out.

Your former boss sounds like she was rude to your wife. That said, i'd stay the fuck out of this. You don't want to be in a position where you have to pick sides, etc.
posted by chunking express at 8:39 AM on November 19, 2009

I'm of the mind that if someone pays you for something you're supposed to thank them for giving you business.

Yeah, your former boss/mentor was wrong to ask your wife/girlfriend to do all that extra, non-painting stuff but your wife/girlfriend at that point should have either said "Sorry, I don't do anything but paint" or else sucked it up and accepted the extra tasks as part of the job.

Your former boss/mentor is kind of rude for not saying "thanks, good job" but your wife/girlfriend probably should have thanked the boss/mentor as well.

I think you need to get them both in the room and tell 'em to knock it off. This sounds liek a petty misunderstanding that isn't worth destroying a friendship over.

This is why you never, ever, ever do business with friends.
posted by bondcliff at 8:46 AM on November 19, 2009 [4 favorites]

They'll either patch it up and it'll blow over, or they won't be friends any more. That will be up to them.
posted by amethysts at 8:47 AM on November 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

I think the best way to handle this situation is to learn from it. First and foremost, stay out of it. If your wife was having issues with a client you weren't friends with, would you jump in and try to solve the problem? Stay out. Not your problem.

What's to learn? Never do business with friends. Ever. If you MUST, then you need to have a clear contract on the outset, with strict guidelines to what is to be done, how payment is to be rendered, etc. That really should be done as part of every business transaction, but sometimes it's difficult to draw up papers every time you paint someone's living room.

Fault falls on both sides here, but I think that concentrating on your buddy will not be all that productive. Your wife shouldn't be taking things personally that are related to her business. 'Thank you' comes in the form of cash, check, or charge. Who cares if they appreciate your work? If she wants to retain her sanity, she must realize that some people are slow at paying their bills. It's not a personal affront, they may be busy, cheap, or just don't care. I don't always pay my electric bill on time. I'm sure Public Service doesn't take it personally. Secondarily, your wife should be more responsible with how she handles her business. She should bill in a timely fashion, and not do things 'as a favor', especially if she expects some sort of renumeration for it later without making that clear. Expecting payment for services rendered but not invoiced will probably set someone up for disappointment.
posted by Geckwoistmeinauto at 8:50 AM on November 19, 2009 [3 favorites]

I don't know why you wouldn't side with your wife. She's your wife. If she's a girlfriend you don't anticipate having a future relationship with, then that would be a question. But siding with your wife would be the best bet. Also, your "best friend/Boss" sounds really rude. She should have been more respectful.
posted by anniecat at 8:52 AM on November 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

Let it go and don't shit where you eat anymore.
posted by bunny hugger at 8:54 AM on November 19, 2009

I think personally that my former boss was upset that my girlfriend didn’t do ALL the extra things she left out for her

I don't get that at all from your description. When Boss/Mentor says she forgot her checkbook, I'm inclined to give her the benefit of the doubt and say she simply forgot her checkbook, not that it was some passive-agressive dig at Wife. And Boss/Mentor did subsequently send a check in the mail, which would be the appropriate thing to do if she had legitimately forgotten her checkbook. If Boss/Mentor was trying to act out passive-agressively, she wouldn't have been so prompt to send the check.

and that my FormerBoss/Mentor should have thanked her for the work and acknowledged the job she did, painting + many extras.

Well, since the painting was the agreed-upon job, as I see it the payment is the "thanks" for the painting itself. Boss/Mentor should have said thanks for the "extras," but I don't know Boss/Mentor well enough to know whether the lack thereof is more likely to be an intentional slight by Boss/Mentor or just an unintentional oversight. If your knowledge of Boss/Mentor's personality leads you to believe it may have just been social cluelessness, and not an intentional insult, your wife should let it go.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 8:54 AM on November 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

Echoing the Mentor boss person being inconsiderate and asking your wife/girlfriend/partner to do work that wasn't part of the arrangement and then make getting paid a pain in the butt.

But you should try to stay out of it except by being supportive of your wife/girlfriend/partner unit. Unless one of them actually asks you to intervene and then proceed with great caution and realize that you will likely have to take a side and risk losing the other person's friendship (hint, take your wife/girlfriend/partner's side).
posted by fenriq at 8:59 AM on November 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

You say your wife is a professional house painter, but it doesn't really seem that way from my reading of the question. Is she new to being out on her own and dealing with clients? All of this is pretty common for contractors including not being thanked/acknowledged, late or deferred payments (excuses included), and requests for work out-of-scope.

There are many possible reasons for a lack of a "Thank-you," only some of which are malicious. Sometimes, even though I'm grateful, I forget to thank the barista for making my latte. If your wife is out painting on a regular basis she's not going to have time to try and decipher every client's reaction.
posted by ODiV at 9:09 AM on November 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

Nthing stay out of it entirely.

That being said, it really seems like all 3 (4 if you count the girlfriend) parties are doing a lot of assuming and not just talking it out.

Mentor assumed Wife would do extra work.
Wife assumed Mentor would pay her at first opportunity.
Mentor assumed Wife would provide invoice.
Wife/You assumes Mentor is being stubborn because extra work wasn't done.

Furthermore, Wife seems to believe that Mentor is obligated to provide verbal "thanks" for the job. While I agree that would be nice, in a professional world that doesn't always happen. Wife should accept that "thanks" may just not be coming. She did get paid - that's the thanks.

You're assuming it involves you at all.

Good luck.
posted by ish__ at 9:11 AM on November 19, 2009 [2 favorites]

Your wife is a professional, yeah? Professionals don't email their customers to talk about their hurt feelings, and they provide an invoice for their services.
posted by padraigin at 9:14 AM on November 19, 2009 [18 favorites]

Getting paid = thank you.
posted by Sassyfras at 9:14 AM on November 19, 2009

I'm seconding padraigin's comment that it is unprofessional (and tacky) for your wife to e-mail a client and talk about hurt feelings. Your wife needs to develop a thicker skin.

Why did your wife not bring up the topic at the party? She could have been assertive and said, "What do you think of the work I did?"

As a professional, she should be doing this anyway (checking in with a client to see if they're satisfied). As a person, she needs to learn that expecting something without asking is a recipe for disappointment.
posted by cranberrymonger at 9:22 AM on November 19, 2009 [2 favorites]

Does your wife get personally offended and huffy when her other house-painting clients don't explicitly say "Thank You" in addition to PAYING her for the JOB she did?

If so, that's not very professional. She's not painting houses out of friendliness, right?

posted by General Tonic at 9:26 AM on November 19, 2009

You have to stick up for/support your wife, no matter how wrong she is. You don't need to get involved directly but you do need to be supportive.

Your wife should have provided an invoice and included her fees for the extra work done. Professionals are thanked in $$, sure its nice when a client is grateful and appreciative but it shouldn't be expected, it certainly shouldn't be cause for avoiding parties and childish emails about hurt feelings.
posted by missmagenta at 9:30 AM on November 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

Stay out of it! Sounds like your wife is taking things personally, whereas it is entirely likely that FormerBoss forgot her checkbook, plain and simple, and was happy with the job but didn't realize that your wife was hoping for some praise in addition to payment, because it sounds like she never directly asked for feedback on the job. She did get paid, right? And fairly? Hopefully, it will blow over on its own. And as mentioned above, the lesson to be learned is Don't Do Business With Friends.
posted by emd3737 at 9:31 AM on November 19, 2009

I'm going to say, challenge your wife to be the bigger person, but make her fully aware that you are totally siding with her, whatever happens.

I personally like being challenged by my SO on matters like this, and to be pushed a little bit to be the bigger person even when i don't really feel like it.

So why not say to her, "Honey I love you, and I'll be with you on this whatever you do, not her, but why don't you call/email her and say sorry, I overreacted. I didn't realise you were going to ask me to do those other tasks, and we didn't communicate very well about it did we. But lets be friends. I'll help you out again in future if you want/need me to. "

Tell her you know it's a hard thing to do, that she'll have to grit her teeth, but it would be a tremendously mature and dignified way to behave and you'd be proud of her.

Worth a try?
posted by greenish at 9:33 AM on November 19, 2009 [3 favorites]

[a quick return to the use of synonyms. You've got a wife, a partner and a girlfriend who all supposedly are one and the same person, and you've got a former Boss/Mentor who is a friend, also one person. Right?]

So you're upset because two persons to whom you feel various sorts of loyalty are fighting about mutual manners and done work and checkbooks.

1) To my taste, loyalty towards one's partner means private support when she is working through something problematic. It means not trying to solve the conflict for her, it means listening, sympathizing, perhaps comforting, and only occasionally problem-solving-in-conversation. Other than that, perhaps you have an opinion about the more objective sides of that conflict (checkbooks, invoices), but in it's subjective corner (hurt feelings, defensive reactions) you have to place at all, and your agony about their fighting doesn't give you that place.

2) To handle this gracefully towards your former boss/mentor, you can point out that you've heard the story, that you really hate hearing that they fight because you like them both, but that you have nothing to say because you weren't there: these things are always and again about how someone said that she didn't always have her checkbook with her, and how your wife was interacting with her in response.
posted by Namlit at 9:36 AM on November 19, 2009

In this economy, many tradespeople are happy to do extra work, and be paid for that time while they are at an existing job. Many people are very thankful to have work available. And she should definitely have provided a bill for her services. I will say, as a professional procrastinator, that anybody who provides me with abill and a pre-addressed envelope gets paid a lot faster. If payment was arranged for that evening, it was lax of Boss/ mentor not to bring the checkbook. And everybody likes to have their work appreciated.

Going forward, ask your wife what kind of support will help her. You are on her side, want her to be happy, and also want to repair the friendship. Would your wife like you to call Boss/Mentor and ask her to thank wife profusely for excellent services, above and beyond expectations? Is there any other problem that is complicating the issue?

I think the best way to resolve the problem is to stay out of the middle, maybe coaching your wife on ways to resolve a business/friendship conflict. This is one instance where inviting your wife to the thread might be useful.
posted by theora55 at 9:40 AM on November 19, 2009

Did your wife charge the friend less than her normal fees? In this case, she is certainly deserved a thank you, otherwise: well, thank yous are nice, of course, but payment is really the thing. That said, I generally thank anyone who does any sort of work for me. Did she charge extra for the extras? Would she normally charge extra?

The payment thing is all a little weird. They agreed that your wife would be paid Fri, the friend forgot the chequebook that but sent the cheque out promptly. Or was the friend reminded before paying?

Anyways, this all seems like a tempest in a teapot, frankly. Your wife should apologise for being snitty and thank the friend for the prompt payment. Your friend should apologise for forgetting the cheque the first time and thank your wife for the job she did, including extras. This is a friendship first, so it's not time to stand on ceremony about who is right.
posted by jeather at 9:40 AM on November 19, 2009

n Sunday my girlfriend emailed my FormerBoss/Mentor and said she was hurt, she felt unacknowledged and unappreciated and wanted to know how she was going to get paid. My friend sent an email saying “I had no idea you should have said something I don’t carry my checkbook with me everyday”.

A few days later a check arrived in the mail. There was a housewarming party where my wife chose not to go because she was still really angry with my friend and I didn’t go because something deep inside told me that no matter what I should stand by my wife. My FormerBoss/Mentor called me on Monday and asked why I wasn’t there and I said because she needed to work out this issue with my wife.

Your wife or girlfriend (whichever she is) handled this unprofessionally (sending an email that she was 'hurt' and not sending an invoice) and then you compounded the error by passive-aggressively serving notice to the former boss that your wife was mad at her.

This is kind of an embarrassing story. It's okay to be annoyed that someone didn't say thank you, but this is not how grown-ups handle things. You and your wife are more in the wrong than former/boss, and I think you should do your best to pave this over socially if you value the relationship. I don't think the former boss even got much of a chance to say thank you before this escalated, and after it escalated, was kind of resentful.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 9:41 AM on November 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

It doesn't matter who's right in this situation and wanting to smooth things over because it's socially convenient for you isn't a good enough excuse to get into the middle of it. It sounds like you've got a couple of women staking a claim to you and if you want a happy marriage, then keep listening to that deep down feeling and shut up and side with your wife.

On one hand you've got "former boss/mentor/best friend of 10 years" and on the other, your "wife/girlfriend of 5 years". You made a mistake allowing the the former to be put into a position of power over the latter. It's ok, we all make mistakes. Learn from it now and don't make it worse by discussing the matter privately with your former boss. It's sure to make your wife feel threatened and it'll only make you look weak in both their eyes.
posted by bonobothegreat at 9:44 AM on November 19, 2009

Your Boss/Mentor asking for your wife to do things outside the scope of the job is somewhat crappy and is definitely presumptuous, but since this didn't effect how much she paid your wife, she didn't complain that it wasn't done, and she kept to the original agreement & paid her, I think it's a non-issue. While a thank you and compliments about the job would be wonderful, being payment is the acknowledgment of a job well done. Future referrals would also serve the same purpose.

As for the delay in payment, your wife thought she was to be paid on Friday, the same week as the job ended. While it would have been nice for Boss/Mentor to remember her checkbook as promised, her expectation of an invoice is completely reasonable and would have served as a reminder to write the check. I don't think not bringing the check to a social event the next day is a grievous offense either. Again, it would have been better if she took care of it right away, but she sounds a little flakey, and flakey people need to be reminded or asked to do things. There is no point in this story when it sounds like Boss/Mentor was going to significantly delay or not provide the payment due. She sounds absentminded and a little self-involved, but not malicious or shady.

On the other hand, the email your wife sent sounds unprofessional and dramatic, but Boss/Mentor responded with apologies and writing the check, which your wife had in hand less than a week after she originally expected it. It sounds like your Boss/Mentor was truly chagrined that she messed up and made amends as quickly as possible. Boss/Mentor also invited the two of you to the housewarming, which was not only an opportunity for you to socially interact, but also presumably an opportunity for your wife to be acknowledged as the one who did the painting job, which could have led to future business. It doesn't sound like Boss/Mentor has held a grudge or was going to try to stiff your wife. So, I'm not entirely clear on what your wife's issue still is.

I thought I was going to tell you to stay out of it, but part of being a partner is offering a different perspective that the other person may not want to hear. I think you need to sit your wife down and gently tell her that while you understand why she's upset, this wasn't handled in the most professional manner, and she is the one who is continuing to make this an issue, even after her grievances have been addressed. For the sake of the friendship, your career, and any prospects of future painting jobs, she should let it go, chalk Boss/Mentor's behavior up to being clueless and inconsiderate, and realize there was nothing malicious about it. Then, you should invite Boss/Mentor over for lunch or something, not bring up the conflict again, and have a lovely time.
posted by katemcd at 9:48 AM on November 19, 2009 [2 favorites]

You're slipping and calling your wife your girlfriend. Newlyweds? Yet you've been married five years. I think you're not thinking properly about your wife. She's not your wife of however many years as opposed to a friend of a longer term. She's your wife. You're in it together, forever. Friends come and go, but your wife should be someone you stick by no matter what's going on. You can offer her an alternate perspective between the two of you, but as against the rest of the world, you're on her side. Not making her be on the correct side - you're on her side. So ask her if she thinks you can be helpful and in which way, and if she wants you out of it then stay out.
posted by lorrer at 10:21 AM on November 19, 2009 [5 favorites]

Stay out of it. Way, way out of it. Far, far, far away from it.

I know your impulses are to try and help, but I've found that in this case, separating out the world into "My Problem" and "Not My Problem" is really, really helpful. Sure, friends of mine fight - and my partner doesn't get along with all humans - but unless one of them has a beef with ME, I just leave it the hell alone. Works way better than getting involved and adding one more person to what is already an emotionally draining mess.

Should I call my FormerBoss/Mentor and ask her to please just say thank you for the work my wife did so this can be over?


Your FormerBoss will get huffy that you and your wife are being petty and someday, your wife WILL find out that she was only thanked because you got involved and then, this will be an issue in your marriage and she'll want to know exactly why you thought that she needed you to defend her when she's an adult fully capable of handling her own relationships.

(Yeah, I have this way of thinking things through to the very end limit of possibilities, and sometimes - every once in a while - it comes in handy.)

Also: you need to figure out if she's your wife or your girlfriend because those are very, very different things.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 10:41 AM on November 19, 2009

In this situation, I'd pull both of them aside and talk to them individually.

To the wife:

Aww babes, that truly sucks, sorry you had a tough time with this. She can be a bit prickly at times, yeah, so lets just not work with her in the future ok? I know it sucks how she treated you, but it's just her, not you, ok? Also, as long as you guys are fighting, all of us aren't able to hang out and have fun like we usually, so f you guys could work this out sooner than later, that would be great for all of us.

To the friend:
Hey, you know we're all kinda close so I think the wife was looking for more a friendly vibe instead of strictly professional one. I'm not trying to tell you want to do or how to feel, but just keep that in mind please. Also, as long as you guys are fighting, all of us aren't able to hang out and have fun like we usually, so f you guys could work this out sooner than later, that would be great for all of us.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:00 AM on November 19, 2009 [2 favorites]

Traditionally priorities should go family/spouse>close friends>friends>greater community>total strangers.

This is your wife, and I presume you want to stay married. This means that you can't stay out of it, and if you did, well, bad. You may admire your mentor/boss but your wife rates higher in importance and in your long-term happiness, period.

Yes, there is a mentality of "why should I thank someone for doing their job?" I think the mentality is where a lot of breakdowns begin - and end. These courtesies and appreciations matter so very, very much.

Your mentor massively overstepped and took advantage of your wife. This is NOT OK. Neither is your boss directly or indirectly pressuring you; she should know you have to put your family first. While your wife may have been immature, it does not sound like your ex-boss is being malicious.

So, unless this person can impact your future professional life, I suggest you calmly contact your mentor and say "Yes, my wife is still kind of hurt. If you can send her a personal note, it would really help smooth things over." Don't make this the core of the conversation - work it into the course of other discussion.

But if mentor/boss says no, you will be wise to take your wife's part.
posted by medea42 at 11:21 AM on November 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

Your wife is completely in the wrong. She got huffy for no reason about a client who was paying her for work behaving in a businesslike manner, while she behaved very unprofessionally. If anything, she ought to apologize to her client for failing to provide an invoice and for letting her personal feelings interfere with her business.

That said, you should not get involved in mediation. You also probably shouldn't tell your wife that she's wrong, since she seems to take ridiculous things personally, and it'll be unfortunate for you if this business stuff mucks up your marriage.
posted by decathecting at 11:58 AM on November 19, 2009

They both sound like they're being dicks.

Which means you can't really do anything, so that part's easy enough. And you seem to know where your default lies, so meh - I say don't worry about it and just leave them to it :)
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 12:45 PM on November 19, 2009

Just a vote here - you made a **vow** to your wife, not your friend. Your friend won't be wiping your drool when your 80, but your wife vowed she would. In situations where it seems a fair amount of wrong was done on both sides, you should always - always - ALWAYS SIDE WITH YOUR WIFE. No ifs, ands or buts. You are MARRIED to one of these women, and if you moderate, it should be to help her. Otherwise, keep them apart. They have no future business together, everyone has been paid, so keep them apart.
posted by eatdonuts at 12:48 PM on November 19, 2009

Side completely with your wife--by this, I mean don't complain about her to your friend.

Ask your wife to suck it up on your behalf, and at least act polite.

Demand that you be allowed to continue your friendship with no drama from your wife.

Yes, your wife is your wife, but don't let her estrange you from a friend over something like this. Friends are very, very important.
posted by kathrineg at 1:37 PM on November 19, 2009

Tell your wife that you understand why she's upset, and leave it up to her if she wants to heal the rift or not. Then stay out of it. If your friend brings it up, let her know it's between her and your wife, and you're not getting involved. Then stay out of it. Did I mention stay out of it?
posted by davejay at 3:13 PM on November 19, 2009

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