| Adviceline |

Adviceline: Issue 432

I feel caught between a rock and a hard place. I want to support my friend, but it can’t be at the expense of my husband. How can I draw healthy boundaries without hurting my friend’s feelings?


For years, I was an older single. I watched my classmates get married one by one, while I seemed stuck in place. One friend remained single, and we stuck together. She was the first one I’d call after a bad date, and when we both had enough of the grind, we’d take mini-vacations together. She was my sister in the storm.

Then, one wonderful day, I met my husband. We clicked right away, and within three months I, too, was sporting a sheitel. I realized how hard my marriage would be for my friend and did all I could to be available to her throughout my engagement. Once I got married, though, things got complicated.

I’ve tried to convey to my friend that even though I’m married, I’d still be there for her. And she seems to think that things should stay exactly the same. She’ll call when we’re smack in middle of supper. If I don’t pick up, or pick up and tell her I’ll call her back soon, she gets insulted. She doesn’t think twice about calling me at 1 a.m. to gripe about an awful date. She wants me to get together with her in the evening — but that’s the only time I get to see my husband. My husband is getting fed up with her neediness and feels like he has to compete for my attention.

I’ve tried to have an open conversation with her, but it went horribly. She told me that we’d always promised that we wouldn’t be one of those married girls who left her friends behind, but apparently I’d forgotten that. My dream came true, and I’m now abandoning her when she needs me most.

I feel caught between a rock and a hard place. I want to support my friend, but it can’t be at the expense of my husband. How can I draw healthy boundaries without hurting my friend’s feelings?

Rabbi Efraim Stauber

Wow, this is tough. The fact is, that despite your best intentions, you are no longer free to honor the pact of your youth.

Reaching this uncomfortable realization is also your first step toward healthy reconciliation. Conversely, the more you attempt to justify your new attitude, the more pain your friend will feel (perhaps that’s what went wrong in your last conversation). The first crucial step is to recognize that your friend’s feelings of betrayal make a lot of sense.

The good news is that you are clearly a kind and compassionate person who genuinely cares about her friend and this strength can pave the way toward getting your relationship back on track.

Allow me to explain.

The most critical distinction to make in all life experiences is between the external reality of the event taking place and our subjective, internal interpretation of those same events. Intuitively, we feel as if our pain is caused by those around us when, in fact, it’s caused by our own sensitivities and issues. Thus it can be said that no one can hurt us unless we were already in pain. The reason this realization is so important is that it can free us from being victims of circumstance.

Let’s apply this distinction to our scenario. The objective, external reality is that you can’t (always) answer the phone. However, this is not the source of your friend’s hurt. She is only in pain to the degree that she tells herself that you have forgotten her.

I’ll prove it to you.

Imagine if you had a career as a public speaker and you were in middle of giving a speech to 500 people when your friend calls to gripe about a bad date. You’d let her call go to voice mail.

When you’d explain why you didn’t answer her call she wouldn’t be hurt or insulted; she’d realize that you were unavailable at the time, and no matter how much you care for her, you couldn’t answer the phone then.

What your friend doesn’t (and perhaps can’t) know is that time with your husband is like that speech. While you know that you can’t answer the phone, she feels that you don’t care enough to pick up.

Now that we’ve clarified the true cause of her pain, it might be easier to alleviate. What if you could communicate to your friend the poignant truth that she so longs to hear. Let her know how you care about her.

She’s lonely. So initiate a call to her when you can be fully present.

She needs emotional support. Provide that support in any way that you can.

Now that your resources are more limited you will need to be creative to find new ways to show her that you care. Redt her shidduchim. Find a time you can get together for coffee. Buy her a card or a small gift.

Yet there is something better than all of these ideas. Far more powerful that any suggestion of mine is the genuine friendship that already resides in your heart. I’ll guess that recently it’s been hard for you to connect to those feelings and enjoy her company like the good old days. The stress her “neediness” causes you and the strain on your marriage has robbed you and your friend of something beautiful. Part of me wonders if this might have become a core factor in the current angst.

So how about investing some time focusing on everything else. In other words, aside from the negative feelings, what about all those shared experiences, the good times and the rough times. The stuff that helped you become “sisters in the storm.” Notice the natural flow of camaraderie that has been lying there underneath the whole time. What if you allowed these feelings guide you. After all you are her best friend. When you are feeling this again, so will she.

My sense is that once your friendship is reawakened your relationship will be able to flourish despite your new sheitel!

Rabbi Efraim Stauber is the innovator and rosh kollel of The Torah Center in Yerushalayim, an organization providing Torah education and emotional support for young re-inspired couples. He’s an accomplished teacher and lecturer — his classic Shabbos series is on TorahAnytime.com) — and has a private therapy practice for men’s and couple’s counseling.

Mrs. Elisheva Kaminetsky

Every stage of life presents opportunities for growth and increased sensitivity. Kudos to you for having strengthened your sensitivity during your single years, and being able to empathize with your friend’s pain. It can be so difficult to not only watch a close friend walk down the aisle you want to be walking down, but also to feel like you’re losing her.

You can probably now appreciate the maamar Chazal, “don’t judge your friend until you’re in his place.” As a single woman, it can seem as if marrieds are self-absorbed and insensitive — and that is, of course, a possibility. But until you’re at their stages of life it’s hard to understand that they can still feel close to you and even need your friendship, but they’re juggling other values and relationships at the same time. It’s easy to say “we’ll never be like them,” until you’re actually in their shoes. This realization of our inability to appreciate the challenges of later stages in life until we reach them is something you can internalize and draw from throughout life.

As we get older, we develop new relationships, and our circles widen to incorporate new people in our family, professional life, and community. We realize that our many relationships can compete with each other for time, energy, and focus. The more people in your life, the more complex the dynamics can become. Just because you’re not always able to be there for a friend doesn’t mean that you don’t value the relationship or that you don’t wish you could be there. It’s just not always feasible. The definition of a good friend as someone who is “always there” is a simplistic and unrealistic definition, one that may the case when we’ve very young but needs to evolve as we mature.

The boundaries you mention setting all sound very healthy. You shouldn’t be picking up the phone during supper or in the middle of the night. Of course, you should always return her calls as soon as possible, when you are able to give her quality time and focused attention. It’s important that you and your husband have time together in the evening, but perhaps occasional exceptions could be made if it’s your friend’s birthday or some other special occasion, and your husband is okay with you being out. You should also try to see if there are other times when you can get together — Sunday morning, lunch break etc. — so you can demonstrate to your friend how much you value your relationship and want to spend time with her.

It’s painful when someone we love is disappointed with us. I realize that setting these boundaries is difficult, but urge you to stay strong. “Vasisah hayashar v’hatov,” we’re enjoined to do what’s right and good. Even if the other party doesn’t currently appreciate it. Here’s another chance to judge favorably; this is very hard for your friend, and she’s not going to thank you for not picking up her middle-of-the-night phone call. She can’t understand the new demands on you this stage of life brings. She may even come to understand cognitively, but will still be stung emotionally.

Realize something: by drawing appropriate boundaries you are being a good friend. You’re modeling for your friend what a healthy marriage looks like. As you help her in her quest to get married by networking for her, trying to redt her shidduchim, and serving as a sounding board, showing her how a good wife acts is also invaluable preparation for the day when she will iy”H be in the same situation.

Rebbetzin Elisheva Kaminetsky has been educating teens for over 20 years. She is a teacher and administrator at the Stella K Abraham High School (SKA/HALB) in Woodmere, New York. She is also a kallah teacher and popular lecturer.

Mrs. Chana Levitan MSc

This situation requires several responses. The first is compassion for you friend. It’s very difficult to be an older single and feel like you just lost your closest friend. Your friend is suffering, drowning in her loneliness, and understandably so.

But when someone is drowning, you need to be careful, because you can drown with them. You can potentially drown your marriage; without good boundaries your marriage can be destroyed. You sound like you’re well aware of where you loyalty must lie, so it shouldn’t come to that. But appreciate that you’re dealing with a serious issue.

It’s true you had a pact before you got married that you’d hold onto your friendship, come what may. However, at that time, neither of you understood what marriage must be. You need to explain your new reality to your friend.

Your singlehood entangled the two of you deeply; now it’s time to untangle. It sounds like there was a level of codependency in your friendship. The extreme neediness your friend feels isn’t healthy; she’s relying too much on her relationship with you. And the fact that it’s so hard for you to put down the healthy boundaries that are normal for any newlywed shows the complex relationship you share. This may be why your husband is getting upset. The relationship is codependent, and you both need to learn how to have a healthy friendship.

You say you’re caught between a rock and a hard place. That may be the case emotionally, but it’s clear what needs to be done. It’s just a matter of being able to do it.

There are three words to keep in mind whenever you need to establish boundaries: nice, firm, and consistent. Tell your friend that you care about her very much, but there are boundaries in a marriage that neither of you knew about. Apologize for letting her down, but let her know that there’s a hierarchy of relationships in Judaism. The highest possible human relationship is husband and wife. And the time for a couple to spend together particularly during shanah rishonah is holy. Healthy future generations will be built on the emotional foundation you establish during this time, so it’s critically important.

When a husband and wife are eating dinner, especially during shanah rishonah, there should be no interruptions. Calling in middle of the night is completely inappropriate. Aside from the gezel sheinah involved, it shows an unrealistic expectation of constant availability.

Your friend makes these calls when she’s in pain and she wants a friend to help relieve her pain. Let her know that you realize how hard it is, but you can’t be available to her at that time. Again, nice, firm and consistent.

Once you have a conversation about boundaries, you need to follow through. It may take some time, but hopefully your friend will be able to come to terms with the new parameters of your relationship.

If your friend reacts to those boundaries with anger, or threatens to walk off, realize that she’s saying: either have this unhealthy relationship or nothing. You may need to let this friendship go.

But it will probably not come to that. Usually, if you’re consistent with boundaries, the other side may initially react with anger, but they usually calm down and accept the new dynamic.

It may be good for you friend to reach out to a rebbetzin or therapist. She’s clearly struggling with the void that was created when you got married. But her pain is also related to a deeper struggle within herself. It would be helpful to her to talk this out with someone. And if you find that you’re incapable of enforcing the boundaries, you should also find someone you can speak to who can help you work this through.

It feels mean to put down boundaries, but in truth, it’s a chesed — it is for the ultimate good of everyone. This new dynamic will be helpful for your friend as well. Dealing with boundaries and a less dependent relationship will bring her maturity that will stand her in good stead and may actually turn out to be the key to her readiness to get married, b’shaah tovah.

Chana Levitan MSc is an educator, speaker, therapist, and author with 25 years of experience. Her best selling book, I Only Want to Get Married Once (Grand Central Publishing, 2013) is a practical guide to choosing the right marriage partner. Chana lectures extensively across the globe and has counseled thousands of men and women on dating and marriage.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 432)

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