He Said, She Said: Couple’s toxic marriage turns friends off Print E-mail
Thursday, 23 March 2017
By Shaun and Pamela Collins
Special to GUIDON
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As a military Family, it’s sometimes hard to meet other couples to do things together.

When we got here my wife and I met another couple, Lynn and Tom, (not their real names) through her work. We all got along well and we would get together for dinner or playing cards now and then. The other couple started having some marital issues, so our activities together dropped off. They are working on their issues, but the last couple of times we saw them, they bickered with each other over simple things. My wife became uncomfortable and told me she didn’t want to do things with them anymore.

I agreed, but now it seems I run into Lynn all over post. At first I made lame excuses, like we were under the weather, or going out of town, but I finally broke down and confessed it was because their bickering made us uncomfortable.
Shaun and Pamela Collins

Apparently, Lynn had not sensed that and was quite hurt. Lynn is now making life difficult for my wife at work. My wife says she can fight her own fights, but I feel responsible. How can I fix this?

HE SAID:  Pam and I, too, find no enjoyment in hanging around with couples who needlessly bicker. We have friends and Family members who seem to deliberately take shots at one another and others who only one of the people seem to engage in this behavior. We find it intolerable to be around, and have diplomatically evaded social contact with them. On occasion they feel we are avoiding them (because we are).

 We have tried to tell them it’s just our schedule, but that only works for so long.

We can tell people they make us uncomfortable, but we don’t have any impact on their marital dynamic. They will communicate the same way no matter what we say.  It has been my experience that people may intellectually understand this, but are rarely able to break the cycle they have created unless they want to change.

I once told a Family member that I was uncomfortable with the way she talks to her husband. She readily agreed and said she is working on it. Five minutes later her husband walked out and the first words out of her mouth were another shot at him.  I shook my head and walked away. The lesson was mine to learn not hers — we cannot change other people, we can only limit the impact we allow them to have in our lives. Healthy boundaries can be our best buffer for toxic people. If they want to hang out with people, they will figure out why everyone avoids them, but if they refuse to treat each other with dignity and respect, you will not change that. Interfering with another couple’s life will never work out for you, or them; it will only create angst and hostility.  

SHE SAID:  Other people’s relationships are an enigma. It is amazing how some couples will treat each other and find no problem with it.  My husband and I have friends and Family that have been married for decades and talk to each other in a way we never would.  Everyone has their own boundaries, and couples establish their own boundaries, also. The reason Lynn probably did not notice the bickering is because it was common for them. They may have been “on their best behavior” the first couple of times you were together, but I suspect the bickering wasn’t triggered by their falling out and is commonplace. Otherwise, she wouldn’t have been surprised when you addressed it.

The question is, should you have addressed it? Relationships are a mystery and, like I said, other relationships are enigmatic. I would have refrained only because nothing good would have come from it.  As cowardly as you might have felt about continuing the dodge, I would have only because at some point they would have gotten the message (I suspect your wife told you the same thing). I would also had considered the fact that it was my wife who would have had to deal with the fallout.  Now that it’s out there, there isn’t much you can do to fix it.  

I’m not sure what Lynn could be doing, but your wife is right. Unless it crosses a boundary where Lynn is creating a hostile work environment, she will just need to ride it out.

 (Editor’s note: Shaun and Pamela Collins were both career Soldiers with a combined history of military service spanning over a half of a century. They have been where you are, so if you are facing a difficult situation, ask them. Send your question to This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it This column and other original content from Mr. and Mrs. Collins can be found at http://militarysuccessnetwork.com. The opinions expressed are those of the writers and not necessarily those of the Fort Leonard Wood Public Affairs Office or the GUIDON.)
Last Updated ( Wednesday, 05 April 2017 )