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High on Life

Dear Angela,

I hate my husband’s friends. Okay, I don’t hate them, but I just don’t want certain people in my life. They are a group of about six people (about ten years younger than us) and though not terrible people, they are high-functioning alcoholics and drug addicts. In addition, they seem to only be able to talk about drugs and alcohol, and make constant rape jokes and other comments about women that I find demeaning (even the women among them do this).

My husband and I went through some challenging times in the beginning of our relationship because although he is not an alcoholic, drinking is an issue. He is what my therapist calls a “problem drinker,” and I definitely had a problem with it. We have come a long way but we always get into arguments when the subject of hanging out with his friends comes up. These people are nice to me and I am nice to them, but I always feel dirty after I see them. And my husband always drinks too much with them and then we get into arguments because it takes him days to recover. I enjoy social drinking, but I’m a cheap date and usually fine with two. I just don’t understand getting wasted on a regular basis. I have too much going on in my life and don’t need to spend any time “recovering” when I prefer engaging with life in a more participative manner. I am also forty-two and no longer think it’s cool to waste time. Help!

—High on Life


Dear High on Life,

I’m hearing in your words an urgent longing for a community with aligned values, who support you and your husband in living an engaged, healthy, productive life. Breathe into that beautiful vision until you can feel it take hold in your body.

Now let’s translate the emotionally distancing labels of “alcoholics,” “drug addicts,” and “problem drinker,” into the less-charged observable that your husband and his friends sometimes drink and take drugs more than you. And when that happens, you feel worried, lonely, and angry, because the discrepancy doesn’t meet your needs for companionship, shared values, comfort, and fun. If I’m getting you right, place your hand wherever you feel pain around this situation and breathe into it. Take your own needs seriously by tending to yourself.

Then shift to your husband. Relinquishing any “shoulds” you may have of him, get curious about which needs he’s trying to meet by partying with his friends. The aim here isn’t so much to guess accurately, but rather to warm your heart by remembering that he has the same universal human needs we all have (even if you’d ultimately prefer he chose different ways to meet those needs). For instance, might he be hoping for fun and release from other stressors, connection and a sense of belonging, autonomy and choice around his body and who he spends his time with, and possibly a sense of continuity and familiarity? And can you relate to and care about those needs in a general sense?

Once your heart feels simultaneously warm to your needs and your husband’s, see if you can open still further to his friends’. Quite possibly, they share many of the same needs as your husband in this situation. See if you can find some understanding for their underlying motivations, separate from their specific choices.

From this place of compassion, you can open creatively to new strategies. The words, “I just don’t want certain people in my life,” suggest that the primary approach you’ve focused on so far is ending the connection, but that approach doesn’t include the needs of your husband and his friends, so it raises conflict. When we clutch onto our preferred strategies, fighting and disconnection result. When we hold everyone’s needs dear, harmonious strategies arise.

Perhaps ask your husband if he’s willing to set aside some time where together you can dream up new approaches to this situation that genuinely work for you both. Start by each sharing your top few needs, then brainstorm strategies that can touch all of those needs, with a spirit of empathic mutuality.

You may also want to begin sharing more of yourself with his friends: Rather than being “nice,” perhaps you can be vulnerable. When someone makes a joke that feels awful to you, you might choose to say, either in the moment or later when you’re alone or even over email, “Wow, I felt really uncomfortable when I heard that joke. Are you open to hearing my concerns, with the hope that it brings us closer?” That’s just one option, of course, and ultimately what’s most important for a healing outcome is that everyone in the situation matters, no more and no less than you.

With love and empathy,

Angela

 


Angela Watrous

Angela Watrous is the author of five books on relationships and spirituality. She supports her Restorative Empathy clients in her Oakland, CA, office and worldwide over Skype. Learn more at www.RestorativeEmpathy.com, join her on Facebook and Twitter, and send her your questions for possible response in this column.

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