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"A Friend's Unwanted Attention"

Also: "He Doesn't Like My Sister", "I Feel Manipulated"

I've noticed that when my husband and I get together with another couple, the other husband seems a little too chummy with me. I think he's coming onto me, and it makes me feel uncomfortable. Should I tell my husband?

A. It's important to listen to your internal alarm and pay attention to your discomfort, but don't automatically assume your interpretation of this friend's behavior is accurate. What you feel is "chummy" may just be a highly extroverted male with poor boundaries. Or he may be looking to ruin a marriage.

You definitely need to tell your husband what you're feeling and get his perspective on it. Let your husband know the specific behaviors causing your discomfort, and ask him to observe his friend's behavior the next time you're together as couples.

If you and your husband agree there's a problem, you have a couple options. The first and least confrontational would be that when you spend time with these friends, make sure you and your husband are "chummy" with each other, such as being complimentary and expressing appropriate affection. Send the clear message that you and your husband are very much a couple who love each other.

If that's not helpful, you and your husband may need to meet together with this friend and confront the issue. Express your appreciation of his friendship, then be specific as to what the problem is and what your boundaries are. This may cause some short-term conflict, or it might end the friendship. You'll want to think and pray about the best time and place, and how to approach this in ways that would honor and assume the best about him, yet at the same time address your concerns.

He doesn't like my sister

Q. My husband refuses to be part of my family gatherings if my sister is present. He feels my sister has treated him horribly in the past with rude remarks. Although my sister can be outspoken, she's apologized to him. But he still won't reconcile. What can I do?

A. It's difficult to watch people you love make foolish choices that continue to hurt themselves and others. Unfortunately, there aren't a lot of things you can do to make this situation better without putting yourself in the middle, which is exactly where you don't want to be.

Clearly your husband has been hurt. Some of the most difficult wounds for a man to overcome are those caused by criticism and humiliation, especially when it's in front of family or friends. The tragic part is that his attempts to protect himself are only causing more hurt. You might listen to him talk about the experience and his hurts, and then challenge him—without putting a guilt trip on him—as to what a more healthy and mature response might look like.

Can he put into words what more he wants from your sister in order for him to enter back into the family? Was her apology specific? Has she really changed? Does he believe her apology is real? Is he afraid she'll repeat the bad behavior if he starts coming to functions again?

Have you told him that his choice to harbor a grudge is hurting you and your relationship with him? Does he know he's letting your sister's behavior control his behavior?

You're wise to stay out of the middle. Let both of them know you love them and are praying for the situation. Don't be a messenger. Don't speak for either one of them to the other.

This is a difficult and painful situation over which you have little control. What you can do is listen well, encourage, share scriptural principles, confront when appropriate, and then pray that your husband will choose to take the high road in ways that will bring healing for him and for the family. The good news is time can be a great healer.

I feel manipulated

Q. When my wife gets upset about something, she shuts down. If I ask her what's wrong, she just says, "Nothing." But I know that's not the truth. After I almost beg her to tell me, she says, "You should know what you did." I'm starting to feel manipulated, and it's getting old. How can I make things right if she won't talk to me?

A. It does sound as if you're being manipulated, and you're the one who's letting it happen. Her behavior may not be intentionally manipulative, but it's clearly unhealthy, immature, and destructive to your relationship.

The reality is that you can't make things right. You can't control whether she does or doesn't talk to you. All you can do is take responsibility for yourself and choose to respond in loving, kind, responsible, and mature ways that will make it much more likely for positive change to take place. Chasing and begging her make things only worse.

When there isn't an issue on the table, let her know that you love her and that you're committed to her. Tell her that in order to have a great marriage the two of you are going to need to find a new way to deal with her being "upset." Let her know the specific behaviors that you interpret as indicating she is upset, and how disappointing and frustrating it is when you try to reach out and she criticizes you for not being a mind reader. It's okay to share your hurts around this issue with her.

When there is an issue, let her know what behaviors you observe that indicate she might be having a problem and that you're open to talking about what's going on. At the same time, gently and kindly tell her that you will not chase her or beg her anymore to tell you what's wrong, and that you understand she may need time to think about things before she talks to you. Let her also know that you aren't a mind reader and you will love and honor her by letting her choose if and when to talk about what's going on.

You might say, "I hear you say nothing's wrong, but my eyes and ears say that something is. But I'll choose to believe what you've told me and trust that you're being totally truthful with me."

When she does open up, be sure to listen with your ears and your heart. Try to understand what she's feeling as well as what she's saying. Her emotions may be confusing for her, and if you can provide a safe place for her to talk, she's more likely to take more risks in the future.

Gary J. Oliver, Ph.D., co-author of A Woman's Forbidden Emotion (Regal), is executive director of The Center for Relationship Enrichment at John Brown University. www.liferelationships.com

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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