Monday, February 4, 2013

He Said, She Said......

ROSEMARY HARRIS: It started with her texts. Followed by his call. Clearly the couple was in trouble.

I’d known the man for decades, the woman for the 10-12 years that they’d been partners. Something was up and it wasn’t good.
Although the man and I were childhood (teenhood?) friends we’d never shared the intimate details – good or bad – of our relationships. It was beers at bbqs, punch at holiday parties and the annual kayaking or x-country skiing outing. We’d welcomed the new love interests, celebrated triumphs and bucked each other up over setbacks in an arm-punching, buddy-like fashion.
In many ways maintaining a friendship with a man is easier than with a woman. The absence of a sexual relationship takes the pressure off. (Unlike the Billy Crystal character in When Harry Met Sally I do think that men and women can be friends.) And there aren’t the unconscious (or conscious) comparisons..boyfriends, jobs, husbands, houses, dress sizes….

I tried to be as supportive as possible during the texting phase (her side of the story) AND during the long, uncomfortable phone call (his side.) But the dialogue was ratcheting up. Other friends were taking sides. Perhaps unsurprisingly all the males were on his side and all the females on hers. I felt like the swing vote.

Interestingly enough, the woman admits to behaving badly. Not to be too mysterious about it, it was not infidelity, it was a shopping addiction that resulted in massive credit card debt. But either would be a betrayal of trust. This one is just going to take years to get over even if they do split up.
I know they may get back together, in fact, I’m rooting for it. But staying neutral has been hard. And it’s made me feel like I’m not being a good friend by not revealing my true feelings.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: AH, taking sides. IMPOSSIBLE. Someone always gets the friends. It is so difficult. I try try try to stay out of it, you know? I try to --listen. Just listen. But people always say: "Aren't I right? Don't you agree?" As if they're accumulating ammunition. Which they are. And it blows up in everyone's face.

A shopping addiction? I think--Hank answer here, but a real one--it depends. Could be medication-needed manic behavior. Could be psychological-treatment-needed behavior that's filling an emotional need. I mean--she's lying, hiding behavior, got to be feeling guilty, putting something SHE wants over what her family needs. Hope she's in therapy.

LUCY BURDETTE: Hear, hear Hank on your interpretation of shopping addiction. If it's gotten to the point of massive credit card debt, best to consult a professional to help understand WTF happened!

I think Ann Landers had a Q and A about taking sides sometime this past week. A person in pain should have a friend or two who aren't neutral. Who can say, you're right, she/he did you wrong. But if there's a chance the two might get together again, how about saying exactly what you said Ro? "I'm rooting for you guys to get back together. I hear you're mad and hurt but I'm uncomfortable taking sides"--or something like that.

ROSEMARY: I guess the woman has always been the "and one" for me. Is that horrible to say? And I have a hard time thinking of a shopping addiction as a serious ailment or condition.
I told her she needed to get help and I would help her try to find substitutes for the shopping (which she says is the only thing that makes her feel good about her life.) And I told him if he loved her and wants to spend the rest of his life with her, that he had to forgive her. They'd have to work together to get out of this incredible hole though and she seems to think "he's the man, it's his fault I did it, so let him fix it."

HALLIE EPHRON: I'm not a big confider or confidee, I confess(!). But I'm fiercely loyal to my friends. Individuals. Not in pairs.
But I try not to badmouth a friend's jerky boyfriend/partner because honesty is not really what the friend is looking for. Learned the hard way: I once lost a dear friend who asked me if I disliked her husband and I told her the truth.

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Oh, that's so right. When someone is in the throes of the relationship, anything you say can and will be used against you. Someone very dear to me was involved with a horrible jerk at her college. I mean, this guy was an inch shy of being outright abusive. All the people who loved her could do was remind her over and over that she was good, smart, pretty, and loveable. Did it give her enough sense of self to dump him? Dunno. They did break up, after she left the state for a job, and THEN we all told her what he thought about him.
Ro, I'd think that if shopping is "the only thing" that makes your friend feel good about her life, she needs professional help, pronto. That's not someone with poor money management skills or a lust for designer clothing. That sounds...broken.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Oh, I hate these things. I try for the "You have to do what's best for you," approach, because you cannot bad mouth a friend's partner without it coming back to bite you. Even if, like Julia's friend, they eventually dump the partner and you think NOW I can say what I really thought, they might get back together. Even after a divorce. And I've seldom come across a break-up (unless there was abuse involved) where it was strictly one partner's fault.

I should qualify the above by saying the one exception to the "neutral but supportive" position is a situation where there is physical abuse. Then you have to say what you think, regardless of the consequences, even if it ruins your friendship.

On the shopping addiction, I'm with Julia. It may not be a chemical addiction like drugs or alcohol, but there is something seriously wrong and this woman needs professional help.

ROSEMARY: So Red readers, please weigh in. Is it ever a good thing to get involved in this kind of conflict? Also, do you think a shopping addiction is a real disease or is it just an explanation for irresponsible spending?


  1. Oh, these things are so difficult . . . no matter how much you think you know, or how much you’re told, you never really know everything that plays into the situation --- and each “side” is colored by the person’s own prejudices and perceptions, so you never really have the whole story . . . best to support the friend without taking “sides” at all . . . unless there is abuse, which should never be ignored. But, as Julia pointed out, you can only do so much, even in that sad and desperate situation.

    Shopping addiction or irresponsible spending . . . oh, yes, I think it’s possible for the shopping to become a real addiction, but these days it’s so easy to let some “disease” take all the blame, so it may be it a bit of a toss-up . . . . However, it amazes me that the other partner never noticed she was doing the massive shopping thing until the credit card balances were up in the stratosphere somewhere . . . after all, she was bringing the stuff home, wasn’t she? In any event, I would think the poor lady is in desperate need of some intervention and, if it is indeed an addition, some professional help. At the very least, someone needs to cut up the lady's charge cards . . . .

  2. Over-spending to the point of serious debt problems is a fairly common symptom of bi-polar disease. This woman should be examined by medical experts, and encouraged by her husband to dig deeper into her feelings.This may not be about you, I would say to the husband were he my friend, it's about your wife's health. Stick with her, help her.

  3. Friends, these are hard issues to give a quick answer to. I liked your comments, but this kind of situation, especially with close friends, is very tricky to sort through. I'll have to give this more thought than just a quick comment! Thelma Straw in complex Manhattan, where relationships are really complicated!!!

  4. These situations are always tricky and dangerous to get involved in. Every expert advises couples in crisis to seek professional help (advice) and NOT opinions of friends. The asker is often looking to be "right" and will tell the story as he/she wants it told, usually not owning any role THEY might have played.
    These crisis have two contributors 50-50. I do believe compulsive shopping is an addiction of sorts; any compulsive behavior is about the need to fill an emptiness. She should get help. He should be supportive of her getting help in my opinion. And if there is love there, they should try. I don't envy you. At the end of the day these situations are very personal and no outsider (friends) are equipped to advise, when they don't know all the dynamics of the relationship. IMHO

  5. This is a no win situation. I like the "You have to do what is best for you" approach. That said, this does sound like a psychological issue more than just over-spending. If that is the only thing that makes the person feel good, then the relationship had other problems.

    While I can see the shopper bringing in the things at times when it would not be noticed, I'm not sure how a couple could not have seen the financial aspects of this before it got to be so drastic. Perhaps there was a credit card that was not spoken of, THAT is a problem. But again, it seems to stem back to some type of emotional void needing filling.

    I would encourage them to get counseling before making any major decisions. And then stay out of it.

  6. Joan is so right, there are three "sides" to every relationship story, and even the couple involved does not know everything about it, most of the time.

    Having just come out the other side of a serious marital rift that nearly ended our soon-to-be 31 year marriage, I have recent and raw experience with this. From the standpoint of the person in crisis, it's best to just listen and not judge. My mother started to give me grief at first, and I told her I needed her support, not her judgment. It's not as easy to tell friends the same thing, sometimes.

    Having good friends there to just comfort one with a validation that you're still the same person you were before the fit hit the shan is the most valuable gift of friendship. In the end, it doesn't matter what happens to the relationship of the couple; the relationship of the friends will never be the same if outside friends take sides. There's always the chance that the couple will reconcile their differences and be strong again.

    That said, shopping addiction would tear a relationship in two. My first husband plunged us into unmanageable debt within such a short time it made my head spin. Rosemary, think of it this way, if the male friend had a porn addiction. It's that same kind of sneaky, antisocial and juvenile no-control behavior.


  7. Hi Ro -
    Oh a shopping addiction is very real - and sometimes, but not always - tied to an eating disorder. It's all about seeking solace in the external.

    (I PAID for a shopping addiction once and ITS FREAKING expensive!)

    I think if you look at shopping addiction as a real, live, affliction, it's easier to not take sides. And Jack's right, it could also be a symptom of bi-polar disorder. She needs help!

  8. I remember reading that Salman Rushdie, discussing his time in hiding, said that one of his greatest and rarest pleasures was going shopping. Even if he was just buying a pot of jam, the feeling of control over his own life that simple act gave him was incredible...So maybe there's something of that in her shopping compulsion. For that short time, she's the boss...

  9. On a long drive over the weekend, I started listening to Charles Duhigg's The Power of Habit. He describes "the habit loop" of trigger, action, reward, and how habits -- including addictions -- can be changed by changing the action to something that produces the same or a similar reward. There's a science (and an art!) to reprogramming habits -- a recognized protocol that many psychologists and therapists use. Roberta might have more details to offer. Sounds like this woman could benefit from treatment with someone experienced in retraining habits.

    So far -- about half way in -- I'm enjoying the book and can recommend it.

  10. I'm in the camp that says this sounds like a symptom of bi-polar disorder or something similar, and that she should seek an evaluation. No matter what it is, it will require work(therapy and/or medication), and the moral support of her partner would be extremely helpful.

    I know someone who developed a shopping addiction after suffering a nearly fatal traumatic brain injury. The person got help, has a supportive spouse, and things are under control now. I hope for the best for your friend.

    As for taking sides, that IS a tough one. I think I would make it clear that "I am here to listen and not take sides because I love both of you." But that IS difficult in your case, because it's the guy that you really know.

  11. Jack, I think the "it's your wife's health" thought is so's not only true, it lets Ro be supportive to both.

    RO, you are a good pal...

    And our RHYS was just nominated for a Left Coast Crime award!! RHYS, tell us all!! And hooray..

  12. I really respect your neutrality because I, for one, have a terrible time keeping my mouth shut (or, keeping my opinions to myself)!

    Shopping addiction? I'm leaning toward medical problem.

    (I once helped a social psychologist write a book, and one of his findings was that in times of stress, people go out and buy themselves something nice)

  13. I think it's terribly sad when buying things (even books!) you don't need is the only way you can feel good about yourself or your life. And I think it's particularly sad when a person is in a supposedly loving relationship with a partner who can't see past the credit card bills to the pain. Why isn't her relationship with her husband, her work, her dog, her volunteer activities the thing that fulfills her? Why not writing or painting or dancing in the garden? And why isn't her husband there to help her find her way out of the very, very lonely and unfulfilling place she finds herself in? As a friend, I would make that argument to both parties, and I would make it every time we talked about this subject. Because, as a friend, I want the people I care about to be happy and healthy, and they both need to pitch in together, as partners who love each other, to get out of this mess.

  14. Ro, you're so smart not to take sides in this. I've had to learn the hard way. My daughter and one of my brothers (both Aquariuses) cannot be alone. They each fall into a new relationship the minute they get out of an old one (and too often before they get out of the old one). Both have come to my sister and me with tales of misdeeds by the jerks they pick, and we've learned not to agree because too many times they've turned around and gone back to the miscreant. And we turned into the bad guys.

    Jack is right. Shopping addiction is very often tied to bipolar and other serious mental illnesses. I would make the point to both of them that she needs therapy now. If shopping is the only thing in life that makes her feel good, she's in serious trouble. If bipolar, people with that problem have the highest rate of successful suicide of any mental illness. She needs help now.

    If this is the first he's seen of her problems, he should want to help her get well. If, on the other hand, he's been through this before--or other destructive acts--he may have to decide to walk away. It's dependent on their situation.

    I know from personal experience, though, that there's only so much you can do for a person with mental illness who isn't willing to get help. After a while, you have to separate yourself from him in order to keep from drowning with him.