Right to resent pressure to participate in friend's relationship issue?
December 18, 2017 3:15 AM   Subscribe

I need some perspective on a situation that has come up with a friend couple. The way the situation unfolded, I was left feeling uncomfortable, like I was being asked to participate in their dynamic when I didn't want to, but I am not sure if I'm overreacting.

Context: I was at a small party with other middle aged people--we have all known each other for many years. The friend and husband in question were guests, not the hosts.

At one point my friend's husband brought up something in front of the group that would be appropriate in a private conversation with a spouse, but not fit for public consumption. It was an awkward overshare and a cringeworthy comment, but not offensive. When my friend told him to drop it, he did (after first making the mistake of trying to explain why he had brought it up in the first place--stop digging, buddy). There was a slight pause, but the conversation moved on and the party resumed.

My friend and her husband spoke privately and (they explained to all of us later) although he apologized to her, she felt he needed to apologize to the rest of us too, because in her view he had offended the rest of the guests and ruined the party mood. So he came back to the group and started apologizing to each of us as she had requested. This was very awkward. Some people responded by saying they didn't feel they needed an apology because they hadn't felt offended, and it was really an issue between him and his wife. My friend was listening to this and got angry when she overheard, because she felt these responses made light of the situation.

As you can imagine, the party ended on a weird note. I felt uncomfortable and slightly resentful at being brought into a relationship issue that didn't seem to be my business. I thought her husband needed to apologize to her (which he did) but not to the rest of us, and that it made the situation worse rather than clearing the air. I also thought she was inappropriately policing the other guests' responses to the apologies they hadn't actually asked for. But then maybe my friend was right since she had felt publicly humiliated? I honestly don't know.

So, my questions: 1) Am I overreacting in thinking this was inappropriate, or out of line for feeling resentful? 2) If not, how can I kindly and gently push back if she brings it up to me (as I think she might)? She is a dear friend and I know she is genuinely hurting. I just don't want to normalize what happened if it's actually inappropriate.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (18 answers total)
You are not over reacting. Your friend didn't make the husband apologise to the rest of the guests because she thought they deserved it, she did it to make him eat humble pie or embarrass him. We know it wasn't because she thought the apology was necessary, because when the guests said they weren't offended, the natural response in that situation would be to be relieved - you weren't upset, great! Instead she got angry - they didn't back her up and agree with her assessment that her spouse was out of line! You're on his side!

That's why I think she was being inappropriate, she tried to drag guests into her marital drama and use them as an audience to force her husband to prostate himself in front of. I'm sure she is hurting, but I wouldn't engage with her any more on the topic. Tell her you hope they sort it out but you'd rather stay out of it.
posted by Jubey at 3:28 AM on December 18, 2017 [56 favorites]

If she's a much better friend than her husband, you could say? "I could tell that was really uncomfortable for you. How are things going between you two, generally?"

And be prepared to hear about the real fight.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 5:15 AM on December 18, 2017 [8 favorites]

This was super duper weird on her part and your feelings are entirely appropriate. It sounds like you were not the host of the party? If I were in your place and she brought the situation up to me I would tell her that she owes an apology to the party host for making the evening all about her and smothering the good mood.

She and her husband could have done a few different things. They could have both left the party after speaking privately. They could have come back and focused on the other guests and the host and whatever activities/food/whatever was going on at the party. Additionally if your friend really needed her husband to apologize to everyone, he could have done so after the party with each person individually in private. That would not only have been more polite and less party-ruining but also have been more work for the husband and something that he could have done to show just how contrite he was and how well he understood what he'd done poorly. Of course, coulda shoulda woulda, it's all in the past now.

As it was, I agree with Jubey that this was about her wanting to hurt her husband in a way similar to how he had hurt her without much thought to the actual feelings of the other guests, including you. Probably everyone other than her and her husband will be happiest if everyone just doesn't bring it up. If she insists on doing so, however, you could point out that if it's a recurring and unresolved thing that there are professionals who specialize in couple's counseling and that you are not one of them.
posted by Mizu at 5:17 AM on December 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

Well, he publicly humiliated her.

After that happened, she probably wasn't very calm or thinking clearly. She's married to someone who publicly humiliates her when they are having a disagreement. Her barometers for what's normal and not normal is probably a little off.

The truth is everyone does weird embarrassing stuff on occasion. Find a way to help her move through this moment into a better one, be kind. That's my advice.
posted by jbenben at 5:30 AM on December 18, 2017 [42 favorites]

I love jbenben's advice.
I thought this question was going to be about a pattern where the friend always tries to drag you into her relationship. This was a one time faux pas. She is a dear friend. Let your resentment go, she messed up and put herself in a bad light. As jbenben said, be kind.
posted by velveeta underground at 5:36 AM on December 18, 2017 [2 favorites]

I'm completely with Jubey on question 1.

For question 2, if she just brings up the original issue - "I can't believe my husband talked about XYZ, I was mortified" maybe you could sympathise but reassure her "Yes, I really felt for you as I could tell you were embarrassed/upset but honestly no-one was offended". If she brings it up as a complaint about the husband - "I can't believe he made you all feel so awkward by talking about XYZ" then you could say kindly but firmly that you found the apology much more awkward than the original conversation.
posted by *becca* at 5:37 AM on December 18, 2017 [2 favorites]

And I think jbenben's advice is great but could also be applied to dealing with the husband. Unless its part of a pattern or was really obviously a deliberate attempt to humiliate his wife then I think it's reasonable to say that everyone says thoughtless things occasionally and the best thing to do is move past it.
posted by *becca* at 5:39 AM on December 18, 2017 [9 favorites]

"I could tell that was really uncomfortable for you. How are things going between you two, generally?"

And be prepared to hear about the real fight.

This is where I come down. Unless people make a habit out of this--and I do have some friends who do this enough so I sometimes speak up and say "Guys, don't drag us into this"--I'd assume it was a one-off carrying over from something else that is going on.

I think you are not overreacting, this was inappropriate. It's awkward enough when someone overshares but then having the couple go into "This is how you make it up to me" mode by dragging everyone else into it is red-flaggy. It sounds like your friend might feel unsupported by your friends group so some of this is actually acting out against you? And I guess that is the question I would be asking your friend if she brought it up.

I think it's fine to say something about your own feelings like "Gee Sarah when you got angry when Bob was apologizing to us it made me think this is about something other than his comment about your problems having a baby. You made me really uncomfortable and I'm pretty sure that wasn't your plan. Want to talk about what is going on?" You don't have to get into a big "Now YOU have to apologize to ME for what happened at the party" thing but it might be worth in some way explaining that this seemed out of character.
posted by jessamyn at 6:06 AM on December 18, 2017 [3 favorites]

How did she police your responses? Anger that her husband humiliated her, then everyone blew it off (in her view-- not saying you really did) is a feeling; a feeling isn't policing responses, it's just a reaction. One I understand, given my experience with an ex who loved to publicly humiliate me and rely on my shyness/unwillingness to rock the boat to get away with it.

I do think you are entitled to feel uncomfortable and unduly involved in a private matter, and for sure she could have handled this more gracefully in a ton of ways. But, not to sound like a seven year old, he started it so I wouldn't judge her reaction too harshly unless she makes a habit of looking for a ref (inappropriate role for friends) rather than support (appropriate role for friends.)
posted by kapers at 7:34 AM on December 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

So he came back to the group and started apologizing to each of us as she had requested. This was very awkward. Some people responded by saying they didn't feel they needed an apology because they hadn't felt offended, and it was really an issue between him and his wife. My friend was listening to this and got angry when she overheard, because she felt these responses made light of the situation.

It seems like this is the point where things got especially weird. It's one thing to have an awkward moment and embarrass your spouse - that stuff happens in all relationships [1]. The demand for the one-by-one apology is unusual, but not necessarily out of line, depending on how awkward and how embarrassing the initial offense was.

But I think the others, who were receiving the apology, were spot on: it's not they who need the apology, it's the wife. It sounds like the wife was doing some mind reads about "I felt awkward, therefore the other guests feel awkward" and decided the husband needed to apologize to the other guests. Maybe there's some good way for him to make amends to her, but it doesn't sound like that was it, even if it's what she requested.

My guess is that he knew he was out of line, and so was going to agree to do whatever she asked to smooth things over, even if it was kind of an irrational or unnecessary request.

[1] Not a big deal, assuming it's not a repeated pattern or done maliciously.
posted by theorique at 7:50 AM on December 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

Haven't seen mentioned so far that anything is possible really, unless you're the two in the relationship you don't know the dynamics thereof and really can't get the full picture from isolated incidents.
It could be.. any or none of the above
He could have deliberately antagonized her then further humiliated her by acting aloof/dumbfounded too, that's common in unhealthy or abusive relationships too, but that's a personal bias perspective so it's of no more weight than any others offered here. I personally think your friend feels invalidated in this case.
If she's a true friend perhaps just offer to listen without judgement and let it go, all couples have their crap to work out no need to get involved with it yourself. Alcohol, the stress of the busy holidays and much obligatory socialization tend to bring out the worst in people anyways.
posted by OnefortheLast at 8:14 AM on December 18, 2017 [2 favorites]

If it was only an ‘awkward overshare’, I find her actions pretty reprehensible, actually. Public humiliation is emotional abuse. If she brings it up to you, I would suggest you say something along the lines of, “I feel for you, but I think this would really be better shared with a therapist.”

(If this was a one time section from stress/overwhelm, etc. then it’s fine to let it go.)
posted by Vaike at 9:10 AM on December 18, 2017 [5 favorites]

You have the right to feel any way that you do. But I think that what you might be asking here is whether you're justified in calling her out for it, and if this is not part of a pattern, then I don't think you should. As she may have overreacted inappropriately to her husband's gaffe, you may be overreacting to hers. Let it go. Everyone makes mistakes.

If she brings it up to you, then shift the conversation to the issues between them if possible. It's unlikely that you'll need to comment on her response. If she explicitly asks, "Do you think it was okay for me to do that?" you can tell her that it seemed like she wanted people to take sides, and that it wasn't the appropriate place for that, but she probably won't do that. If she explicitly asks whether she was right to be angry with people for not taking her side, you can tell her that you all understood why she was embarrassed but that none of you were "offended" and felt that it was something for them to work out.

Bringing up your own resentment, assuming that this was a one-time thing, would not be helpful and could be harmful, so don't.
posted by metasarah at 10:33 AM on December 18, 2017

The women had been embarrassed by her husband, and consciously or unconsciously felt he should be equally embarrassed. You do not know their relationship dynamics, you do not know how often he does this shit to her or she does it to him, you don't know what issues triggered her need for him to apologize, or why he was so willing to do it to please her. This is not your relationship.

If it comes up, you can simply state it's not what you would have done. If she wants to talk about it, maybe listen instead of voicing how you feel about the issue. Such a strong response from her most likely means she was very embarrassed when it happened so adding that you were made uncomfortable to that is only going to make this more of an embarrassing issue for everyone concerned.

Honestly to me though it sounds like he's the controlling one, making a big deal out of apologizing like that was just a way to embarrass her further. It's a lovely passive agressive, "but I apologized why are you still angry" bs way to control a situation.
posted by wwax at 11:35 AM on December 18, 2017

My friend was listening to this and got angry when she overheard, because she felt these responses made light of the situation.

This I think is really kind of telling. An apology is for the offended, not the offender, and getting offended that people didn't need or want the apology makes it clear that it was about humiliating your friend's husband.

You're certainly not overreacting in thinking this is inappropriate. Your feelings are your own, of course, but I would also feel resentful and grossed out. Your friend is disciplining her spouse(!), in public, and was using her friends as props to do so.

I don't know if this seems like part of a pattern or what is going on generally in your friend's life, but if she brings it up and you want to push back, I would say something about not wanting to be asked to participate in a relationship discussion without being asked or listened to.
posted by The Gaffer at 12:02 PM on December 18, 2017 [3 favorites]

1) Being uncomfortable is not an overreaction. How you feel should not be purview to social rules. Your actions are what are important when considering overreaction in a social setting. It sounds like you just tried to be polite and say it was ok. I can't imagine that as an unacceptable reaction.

2) I would just let her know that you don't feel comfortable getting that involved in their relationship. She should understand this, as the whole thing is about her husband getting a bunch of people involved in their personal business. There is nothing wrong with setting boundaries in a friendship, as long as you clearly set those boundaries. If you friend keeps breaking these boundaries after you have clearly talked about it, that might be time to be upset.
posted by Oceanic Trench at 4:13 PM on December 18, 2017

Mod note: From the OP:
Thanks to everyone for your insightful comments. I appreciated the different points of view and it gave me a lot to think about. It was such an odd and jarring situation, it helped to have others to process it with, because I didn't want to rehash it with the others who were there--it would have felt too much like gossiping. And I never intended to call her out on her actions, just needed to think about how I'd respond if she brought it up and wanted validation, which I didn't want to give.

I tried contacting my friend the day after the party, but wasn't able to reach her. I left a couple of messages and she eventually got in touch--it turned out almost immediately after the party, she had a non-life threatening neurological event. She experiences them occasionally but has never reacted this way before (though it's apparently not that uncommon in people who experience this issue). She is better now, and we got together for a visit. When I asked how she was doing, she said she was better and things between her and her husband were fine now, but she expressed regret and embarrassment over her actions. His comment was a brain fart moment, not part of a malicious pattern of humiliating her in public, and she is very embarrassed at her own reaction and she wishes she could go back and change what she had done. I hugged her and told her we are all just glad she's okay, and that things are okay between her and her husband. And that all of us have done things we aren't proud of, so she is certainly not alone.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 5:20 PM on December 19, 2017 [8 favorites]

Now I'm wondering if the neurological event has anything to do with her reaction to her husband's faux pas.
posted by DrAstroZoom at 9:25 AM on December 20, 2017

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