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Relationships - October 2015

Jealous of best friend


Maggi Stamp is a highly qualified relationship counsellor and trainer who writes each month about emotional and practical concerns and challenges that many of us meet in later life. For 20 years, as well as running a private practise, Maggi worked with the organisation Relate to help married and single people, cohabiting couples, same sex couples, families, young and old people and the bereaved to develop, foster and enjoy healthy and fulfilling relationships. No less important, as she is herself a wife, mother and grandmother, she brings a lifetime of varied and eventful experience to enhance her empathy and understanding.  

Many of her examples are based on concerns that clients, family and friends have presented over the years. In the monthly articles where she responds to issues raised by readers, she strictly respects confidentiality and never identifies those who write to her. But the individual worries they raise are invariably felt by others, so her responses can help many.

You can write to Maggi at maggi@laterlife.com for her to respond in the column.


Jealous of best friend

My wife and I have known my close friend since we met as young couples moving into the same street.
We are all retired and occasionally visit each other, now we have moved to different parts of the country.
I’m not a practical sort of man but my old mate is a whiz at repairing or building things and it became a habit long ago that he was the ‘go to’ friend if we needed help of a practical sort. He was always ready to make time to help us and I am really grateful for his help. But now I am a bit wary of going to see them as it becomes uncomfortable for me, and his wife, when mine fawns on him so obviously. They laugh and joke in a way that shuts us out.
Just lately my wife has mentioned his name more often, especially when commenting on my lack of ‘manly’ skills. She talks about him so frequently and says how she wishes our friends lived closer again and how good a friend he has been, but doesn’t include his wife, who has stood by her through some pretty awful illnesses.
My wife is not as well these days, she tires and is becoming very vague and forgetful about everyday things, even getting dressed or eating if I’m out for the morning so not there to remind her. This worries me, though I get my head bitten off if I try to talk about her getting checked out by our doctor. She has changed and is a harder sort of person. This is very upsetting as she has been the love of my life and was always very loving towards me.
The thing is, do you think I should be worried by her focus on my friend or do you think this is a sign of her mentally declining?

How sad that your loving wife has changed so much. She seems to have become fixated on your dear friend and it must be painful to be constantly compared to him and have your differences pointed out - differences that could well be the secret of your long and affectionate friendship with him and his wife.

One of the first things to do in this rather sad situation is strengthen your self-esteem, because it sounds as if you are beginning to believe her. You have never been like your friend in the ways she now laments. And she loved you knowing that. She has loved you, and you her.

Your friend still appreciates you and enjoys your company, and is kind and indulgent towards your wife when you are all together. He seems to be acting as he always has; so does his wife. The person who has changed is your wife and that change is affecting you. You are being the strong one here and trying hard to accept her altered personality. That is why I don’t feel you need to be concerned about any intended infidelity. This sounds much more like the effects of her state of mind.

The sad thing is that it sounds very important that you find a way to persuade her to talk to her doctor soon. Her mood changes and forgetful phases could be an indicator of, as you put it, a mental decline. The sooner her doctor sees her the sooner he or she can offer medication to slow that process down.

Dementias are cruel illnesses and it might be that your wife is on the verge of one. In the early days, it can manifest itself with almost obsessive interest in another person, a pet, or an activity. An elderly friend of mine became such a stalwart of any fair or function in her village because she could not let a day pass without baking cakes or pastries. Another cleaned her flat obsessively – and anyone else’s if she was visiting them! But sometimes such intense activity or interest is not so gentle: that is when it becomes important to stay grounded and not be shy of asking for help and advice.

It might be a good idea to speak with your GP personally about your worries and mention things you have noticed such as her animosity towards you, her vagueness, forgetting to dress or eat if you are not there – as well as the extra attention towards your friend. Perhaps the doctor can find a way of inviting your wife to the surgery for a general check-up. She is more likely to accept if you are not directly involved.

The other people to talk with are your old friend and his wife. There is no doubt they will have seen a change in her. They might have felt awkward, and obliged to play along with her attentions - and certainly his wife will have felt, like you, a little excluded by the monopolising of her husband when you are all together. That will be difficult for you as your wife will generally be with you if you meet them. Do you ever meet for a ‘men only’ lunch in a neutral place halfway? Try to arrange something like it. Failing that, if your wife is shopping alone you could phone your friend and tell him of your fears for her health and express your feelings about her behaviour when you are all together. I have not mentioned email as it is always better to have this kind of difficult conversation face-to-face.

I do not feel that you have grounds for jealousy. But I do understand that your wife’s behaviour could leave you wondering if she has transferred her affections elsewhere. But you have noticed the other changes. Those are the indicators that say she is becoming unwell rather than infatuated. Try not to jump to conclusions – they might seem obvious when happening but when put alongside all the other behaviour indicate a need for medical checking rather than a need to cut off connection with your very best friends.


You can write to Maggi at maggi@laterlife.com for her to respond in the column.


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