"I Can't Stand Her New Husband"
Marcia, 42, school nurse, Portland, Oregon: "Susan and I became close friends in college, and we both married our boyfriends shortly after graduation. Since my husband, Dave, always got along great with her spouse, Jeff, we were the perfect quartet. Even after our kids were born, the four of us would go out at least twice a month. Then, three years ago, Jeff left Susan for another woman. The divorce was awful. It came as a shock not just to Susan, but to Dave and me. We are both still angry with Jeff for the way he acted. Anyway, I helped Susan through that horrible time as best I could.
"Fast forward to last year, when Susan met Joe on Match.com and married him after a two-month engagement. I stood up for her at the wedding, but I already knew I didn't like Joe. Dave and I had gone out with the two of them several times. Joe is loud and tells dumb jokes, and he got sloppy drunk at his own wedding reception. I have no idea what Susan sees in him, and Dave doesn't get it, either. When I broached the subject, she said they have 'chemistry.' But the problem is that she wants the four of us to go out as often as when she was married to Jeff. Even if I were willing, Dave isn't thrilled. No matter how creative my excuses, Susan is going to figure out pretty fast I don't want to socialize with husband No. 2. How will our friendship survive this?"
The counselor's response: "Whenever the cast of characters in a small group changes, the dynamic shifts. In a very real sense, Marcia and Dave are mourning the loss of Jeff and their comfortable foursome. That may be the underlying reason that they are unhappy about going out with Susan and Joe. Marcia seems to have made a sweeping judgment of Joe, based on just a few encounters. Of course Joe didn't endear himself to anyone with his behavior, but being loud and telling bad jokes may reflect nervousness over meeting Susan's close friend. In any case, Marcia should try to see the situation from Susan's point of view. Being a divorcee with children isn't easy, so maybe Joe really fills an important role for Susan at this point in her life. Also, it's crucial to avoid comparisons with Susan's first husband. Over time, a new group dynamic might develop -- different from what they had when Jeff was in the picture, but satisfying in its own way.
"There is a chance, though, that Marcia and Dave will find Joe unbearable no matter what. This shouldn't prevent Marcia and Susan from getting together minus the spouses, but Marcia will have to level with Susan. Marcia should tell her pal that though she isn't clicking with Joe, their friendship is important, and she wants to make every effort to keep Susan in her life. Admittedly, this is painful for Marcia to say and for Susan to hear, but if the friendship is as deep as it sounds, they should be able to go on from there."
The story told here is true, although the names and other details have been changed to conceal identities. The counselor, Kathleen A. Brehony, PhD, is the author of Living a Connected Life: Creating and Maintaining Relationships That Last, and a licensed clinical psychologist with private practices in both North Carolina and Virginia.