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Discuss estrangement with perspective rather than anger

Discuss estrangement with perspective rather than anger

Q: A few years ago, my boyfriend cheated on me and left after I found out. At the time, he was struggling with depression and a drinking problem.

After a couple of years of therapy, he worked things out and got better, and we decided to get back together in January. We're really happy.

My best friend and her husband really helped me through the tough time after he left. I also became close with their daughter, now 5. She's a wonderful kid, and I was honored when my friend and her husband asked me if I'd raise her should something happen to them.

But since my boyfriend came back, the husband doesn't agree with my choice and refuses to see us. My friend will see us, but rarely, claiming she's really busy. This Saturday, my boyfriend, my friend, her daughter and I all had lunch. It was the first time I'd seen the kid since January. She no longer remembered my name. She knew me on sight and hugged me wordlessly for a long time. It absolutely shattered me and made me even angrier with my "friend" for cutting me out of her life. Her daughter must be thinking I abandoned her.

I want to convey to my friend how unbelievably hurt I am. I understand their caution and skepticism, but this is nuts. I haven't really said anything directly to her. I guess I've gone along thinking this is just ridiculous and of course it has to end soon. What do I say? I'm feeling like this friendship is pretty well dead, but I love that kid and don't want her thinking I don't care about her.

California

A: You've been shut out since January. Why are you just now declaring the friendship dead, after the first stirrings of life in a year?

I realize you're distraught on principle; the degree of shunning does appear excessive.

But you need to think in practical terms. If you confront your friend with just righteousness and emotion, you'll be making the same mistake her husband did.

Start by trying to understand why they went "nuts." Let's say the husband, instead of shunning you, merely distanced himself after saying: "I feel angry, even betrayed, that after months of mopping up your emotional mess, you went right back to the guy and expected us to be happy for you." Or: "We thought our guardian in waiting would make choices with our child in mind, and yet you're involved with a guy who we fear, given what we know about him, is a time bomb." Would you see these as legitimate? Could any explanation be? If they had legitimate reasons but bad execution, would you feel as angry?

Then ask yourself: Do you want to be included more, or just heard? Where are their feelings justified, and where are yours? What can you realistically expect? What will encourage healing, vs. deepening the estrangement?

Also consider: Are you asking for an apology? Do you owe one? Did they know you missed their little girl?

By going through such practical exercises, you can approach your friend not with expectations or demands, but instead with perspective. It's disarming. The last thing you want is to barge in swinging just as your friend cracks open the door.

Discuss estrangement with perspective rather than anger 12/17/09 [Last modified: Thursday, December 17, 2009 3:30am]

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