Dear Carolyn • My husband has been friends since college with a woman who ended up marrying one of his fraternity brothers. Her husband is an alcoholic who will not go for help, even though all of his friends have urged him to. Since her husband is emotionally and physically absent from their marriage, she calls on my husband for companionship and advice. The last time they stayed with us on a vacation, she and my husband went on long walks talking about lots of things, including her marital problems. The dysfunctional couple will be staying with us again soon. If the unhappy wife initiates more talk-therapy sessions with my husband, what can he, or we, say to her without making her feel like her old friends are withdrawing support?
Dear Anxious Wife • It's he, not we, and he needs to keep it simple. "I appreciate that you want help, and I want to be helpful. But I can't be your therapist. It's not fair to my wife, because this is my vacation time with her, too, and it's not fair to you and (Husband), because I'm not qualified to give you the help you both need." And then you and he back it up.
Dear Carolyn • A friend of mine, "Sara," has many great qualities, but one thing is starting to make this friendship wear thin. We both have 8-year-old boys, and Sara seems to think her son can do no wrong. When I pick my son up from playing at her house, Sara will always have some tiny infraction to report that my son did "wrong." How can I salvage the friendship, but put a stop to this judging?
Dear Miffed • She sounds lovely. Certainly skip the play dates if your son isn't comfortable there. If he is, then, next time she presents you with a tiny-infraction report, say something to her along the lines of, "Right, I've been meaning to ask ... ," then, this: "When your son does stuff like this at my house, I let it slide, because I don't see it as important enough to report to you unless someone gets hurt. Would you rather know about things like thank-yous and feet on a chair, though? Or are you OK with our having different approaches?"
Carolyn Hax's column runs Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.