Dear Dr. Hurd,
My husband and I have been married for 10 years. Recently, I’ve become close to an old high school buddy who moved back to our home town. This friend happens to be gay, so there’s no reason for jealousy or insecurity. My husband is not prejudiced or a bigot, as we have other gay friends in common, but my friendship with my old schoolmate annoys him nonetheless. Why does he feel this way, and what can we do about it?
It’s very likely that your husband feels threatened. Not romantically, but simply because you find something appealing about the friendship that he feels HE should provide. In short, he wants to be everything for you. As real as that may seem to him, however, his feelings are not realistic. No one person can meet all of another’s needs. This male, non-romantic friendship of yours obviously meets a need that your husband can’t fill. Be understanding of his feelings, and encourage him to discuss them in a reasonable way. But, in the end, he has to take responsibility for developing more realistic expectations. Your friend is not a threat. He simply adds something to your life.
If reasonable conversation doesn’t get your point across, and your husband tries to makes you choose between him and your friend, you might say, ‘Your feelings are important to me. But I don’t see how this friend of mine is in any way a threat to what we have together. Do you really want to make me choose? If I give up my friendship simply because you demand that I sacrifice for you, don’t you think I’m going to resent it? Wouldn’t you resent it if I made you sacrifice something important to you?’
He might respond by saying, ‘Am I entitled to any rights as your husband?’ And to that you might reply, ‘Of course you have rights. You have the right to expect me to be honest with you. And you have the right to expect me to listen to your reasons for feeling the way you do. But I also have a right to objective evidence — not just your feelings — that my friendship hurts our relationship. If you convince me of that, I’ll consider giving it up. You seem to be saying that I should give it up just because you want me to, and for no other reason.’
Let’s take it a step further. One reason you might be spending time with your pal is because, like many couples that have been married for a while, you and your husband have gotten into a rut and don’t do anything fun together anymore. As far as hobbies are concerned, you might actually have more in common with your friend, though you still love your husband. How can you put fun back into your marriage? He might not want to go to the movies with you, and you probably don’t want to go to ball games with him. So how can you and he spend time together without being bored silly trying to please each other?
One thing you might try is compromise; an attempt to reach an agreement which is not a sacrifice for either party. For example, if he goes to the movies once or twice, he might actually start to like it. You could still occasionally go to the movies with your gay friend, and just sometimes with your husband. The same might even apply to the ball games. You and he could experiment with doing things that neither has done before. If you like movies, and he likes ball games — then why not try skiing? Or traveling. It really doesn’t matter, because the very act of doing this will bring the two of you closer. In a way, it will become a challenge to see which of you can find an activity that you both like. Maybe even look around the house for a project that you can do together. Or start a business together. Or fight for a cause you both believe in — any common interest that can bring the two of you closer.
On the other hand, if you both know for certain that there’s no chance of being interested in the other’s activities, then you shouldn’t waste one another’s time. If all else fails, the final possibility is divorce. The simple fact is that many marriages cannot and should not last forever. Sometimes the truth hurts, but if life together becomes a struggle, couples have to face it. Divorce won’t resolve the problem, but at least in some cases, it ends up being a way of facing the truth. This is, of course, a major step and is obviously a last resort — especially if there are children involved. But unfortunately, love can’t conquer everything, and sacrificing ‘just because’ shouldn’t have to be the default in a marriage partnership.