Virginia Ironside's Dilemmas

 

Dear Virginia,

I am friends with a couple and I get on with each of them very well individually. The problem is that they are always bickering. I know it doesn't mean anything, but I feel most uncomfortable when they do it. They've been married for more than 10 years, and it seems to be a way of life for them, but I hate the way he puts her down, and her spiteful responses. I don't know where to look, and I don't like to take sides. Should I say something? I'm an old friend of theirs and see them often.

Yours sincerely, Sally

Virginia says...

Something I've realised only late in life is how one's own presence makes a difference to the chemical mix of any situation. Take a family Christmas to which you, a lone outsider, have been invited. You have a marvellous time, everyone is considerate and kind, generations mix freely and you appear to have entered a magical world of harmony and affection. You leave, feeling sad that you don't have a family like that, and return to your lonely flat miserable and depressed.

What you think you've done is to witness an enchanted occasion. The truth is that your presence has actually helped to make it that way. You were asked specifically as a sweetener in a very bitter stew. Without your presence, the family would have been full of resentment, bickering, score-settling and tantrums. You were part of the enchantment. Without you, it would have been hell.

I think a similar thing is happening with this couple. Who knows how they behave when you're not around. But I suspect that, as couples feel free to say unkind and honest things about each other in front of a marriage counsellor, a third party, so they feel free, in front of you, to go further than they would in private life. On their own I should think they bottle up their feelings, anxious that they'll spill out of control. Your presence reassures them. Both know that the other isn't going to turn violent, so they can safely say what they think in front of you without fear.

But you don't want to be used in this way. Why should you? So in future I'd either insist on seeing them individually, or take one of three courses of action. First, leave the room when they start their sniping. I've done it myself. "I'll leave you two to it," I've said, sighing. "This is between the two of you. I'm going to the loo and I hope you'll have sorted it out by the time I get back."

If they haven't, and claim they only behave like this because you're "part of the family" say then that, speaking as "part of the family", would they please stop. Thirdly, if you don't want to risk them ganging up on you if you admit that you hate their public rows, say you're sorry but having had a troubled childhood (whether you did or not is beside the point) you feel nervous at the sound of raised voices. I can't see how they could fail to pay attention. They might not want to see you any more, of course. But that's the risk you'll have to take.

Readers say...

Leave them to it

My wife and I bicker playfully in public. Why? The reaction, of course. The look of disapproval or discomfort on the faces of those who like to judge and rate the actions of their "friends" is priceless. A friend would laugh and tell us to shut up; what Sally does is up to her.

Martin Canning

By email

It's just their way

Don't say a word. Some couples thrive on this kind of interaction. For example, I was a bit put out when my husband announced that he had not had a good time at a party we had just been to at the house of my friends (not his). I was even more upset when he asked, "How come all your friends are always crazy people?"

But I gave as good as I got. "You know, you could be right," I said. "After all, look who I married!" And we both laughed.

It doesn't mean they hate each other. We all have our own kinds of marriages. Let them have theirs. And if you are really uncomfortable around them, then don't visit so often.

Helen Bobuk

By email

Next week's dilemma

Dear Virginia,

I've been married five years and our sex life has never been very good but I love my wife very much. However, last week she suddenly dropped a bombshell. She told me there is a man she really fancies, someone she met at her yoga class, and that she wants to have an affair with him. She says why don't I find someone as well and then she won't feel guilty. I've told her OK, because otherwise it will be over between us, but what can I do? I don't want to lose her. But I don't like the idea of an open marriage.

Yours sincerely, Brendan

What would you advise Brendan to do? Email your dilemmas and comments to dilemmas@independent.co.uk Anyone whose advice is quoted will receive a £25 voucher from the wine website Fine Wine Sellers (finewinesellers.co.uk)

Life and Style
Small winemakers say the restriction makes it hard to sell overseas
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
News
Clare Balding
peopleClare Balding on how women's football is shaking up sport
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Sport
premier leagueMatch report: Arsenal 1 Man United 2
Arts and Entertainment
Kirk Cameron is begging his Facebook fans to give him positive reviews
film
News
i100
Sport
Jonny May scores for England
rugby unionEngland 28 Samoa 9: Wing scores twice to help England record their first win in six
Life and Style
fashionThe Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Jerry Hall (Hand out press photograph provided by jackstanley@theambassadors.com)
theatre
Sport
Tony Bellew (left) and Nathan Cleverly clash at the Echo Arena in Liverpool
boxingLate surge sees Liverpudlian move into world title contention
Voices
Neil Findlay
voicesThe vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
food + drinkMeat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Reach Volunteering: Financial Trustee and Company Secretary

    Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: A trustee (company d...

    Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

    £45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: Shopfitter

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a successful an...

    Recruitment Genius: Digital Sales Account Manager

    £25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Digital Sales Account Manager...

    Day In a Page

    Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

    Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

    Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
    Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

    The last Christians in Iraq

    After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
    Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Britain braced for Black Friday
    Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

    From America's dad to date-rape drugs

    Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

    The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
    Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
    Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

    Flogging vlogging

    First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

    US channels wage comedy star wars
    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

    When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
    Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

    Look what's mushrooming now!

    Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
    Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

    More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

    The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

    Oeuf quake

    Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
    Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

    Terry Venables column

    Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
    Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

    Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

    Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin