Dear Carolyn: My wife is an amazing woman. She is beautiful and smart and a great mother. She also has a temper and does not take any slight – intended or not – lightly. She was, I guess, an alpha girl growing up.
Anyway, we weren’t invited to another couple’s party recently. We weren’t such great friends but we are in the same social circle. My wife went nuclear on the woman who threw the party, going off on her via text.
I’m fairly certain our friends know. People are starting to distance themselves from us. I feel like there is nothing I can say to my wife or to this other couple now to change the situation, and I’m worried that people will think my wife, who I think is amazing, isn’t. Is there anything I can do?
– Not Invited
A: Interesting choice of words, “growing up.” Someone who can’t or won’t brush off an insult, and instead unleashes her fury on perceived offenders, is a child who got off the bus to maturity a few stops too soon.
This is where it gets complicated for me: I love that you love your wife, frailties and all. I love the idea, at least, that she’s a great mother. (A temper leading to behavior as unhinged as rage-texting a hostess would seem to pre-empt maternal greatness, though you say nothing of how she behaves at home.) In asking me what you can do, you put me in a position to advise siding against your wife, and that just feels wrong. Maybe not in a literal sense, since tacitly condoning her outburst through silence is the strict wrong answer here – but wrong in the way it should feel when you’re basically trying to persuade a contented person (and spouse and co-parent) not to be.
There’s also the practical problem of easing your particular worry. Your wife is only as amazing to others as she chooses to behave in their presence. Any damage to her friendships from this or other lashings-out is, you must already realize, wholly deserved.
And, there’s the uncomfortable truth that you sound dishearteningly like so many co-opted mates of abusive or merely volatile people, out there making excuses for them and drawing smileys on their meltdowns in hopes of proving that they’re really, really not like this – no, really. Your wife’s outburst hurt her far more than it did her intended target, and when people are hurting themselves, their intimates must try to stop it.
This outburst hurt you, too, and not just by apparently costing you friends; volatility in general hurts loved ones by forcing them always to watch what they say. It’s a form of control. Children especially, since their health rides on the emotional safety of home. So if Mama’s temper makes any but the rarest appearances in your home, then it’s time for you to have your own conversation with a professional qualified to help.