I’ve been friends with Sharon since college (about 30 years) and we keep in touch infrequently but consistently over the years. I’d say we are close friends. She married a guy who seemed nice enough and they have 2 young kids. Sharon is pretty easy going and sharp. In August, I called Sharon on her birthday and learned she was on her way to the shrink and being driven there by her mother because her husband didn’t think she was stable enough to drive herself. She told me her husband thinks she’s crazy….’crazy’ is not a word I would ever use to describe Sharon, and as far as I know she has no history of mental illness.
Sharon and I got together a few weeks later on the golf course…so we had tons of time to catch up and she shared with me that she had taken some conflicting medications and was over the rough patch but that her husband and she were having trouble. She shared that he is verbally but not physically abusive and a control freak. Now, I’ve been successfully divorced twice and happily no longer married but I don’t try to convert my unhappy friends. I did tell her I worried about her safety and she seemed to have things under control. We played golf again a couple of weeks later and there didn’t seem to be any new developments.
Fast forward to this weekend…. I received a FB message for her husband as follows
“Sharon has been very sick since Mid August, You gave Sharon advice about me and my marriage. I would appreciate you sticking your nose out of my business. Sharon had a manic attack in St. Louis on August 10th and has been calling old boyfriends and not doing a very good job in taking care of her kids. I have been the best husband, father and provider for my family. I love my wife dearly and again would appreciate if you are going to give Sharon advice on my marriage, then don’t ever call this house again or email her. You have been divorced twice and I have no interest in you destroying my family..”
“Give me a call. I have a question for you.”
Fat chance I’ll call him but I’m afraid to contact her in case he’s monitoring her phone or emails. I could try to contact her mom, who I know, but don’t think I should get her involved.
I’m worried about my friend. What to do?
Your friend is crying out for your help and I do not suggest you stand down as ordered by her husband. Whether or not she is actually suffering from serious mental illness or if she is being manipulated and controlled by her husband does not negate the fact that Sharon needs a good friend to speak with who can stand by her in this difficult time. Either one of these scenarios is hardly ideal.
Let’s assume she is indeed sick. While this surprises you due to the length of time you have known her and the lack of any indication of mental health problems, it is conceivable that she has successfully hidden this from you over the years.
In the alternative, she may have been exhibiting very clear signs of her illness to you for years, but all such episodes occurred on the golf course. If she is anything like me, shouting profanity, throwing things, sudden crying jags and excessive drinking are all things that are de riguer on the links.
It’s also possible that any illness she may be suffering from has developed very recently. The reason I asked you the age of her youngest child in a follow-up email is because many women suffer from severe post-partum depression and for some this is their first experience with mental health issues and mood disorders. Post-partum depression usually lasts a few weeks or months, but for some unlucky women the issue can persist much longer. 2 years is not unheard of, especially if she gave birth to a really ugly baby.
The behavior described by her husband could be a bi-polar manic phase. Then again, she could just be looking to bone some old boyfriends. After all, it’s easier to assign a wandering spouse with the Crazy/Fucked-up label than it is to admit the marriage is in trouble and you have a role in the unhappiness of the union.
Clearly this marriage is in trouble. She told you this herself, and from your interactions with her husband you know things are fairly dire. He seems to think he can dictate who speaks to Sharon and on what subjects, which is extremely odd and controlling and leads me to believe the husband is either exaggerating or making up out of whole cloth his allegations that she is unstable.
Now why would he do that?
You describe yourself as “happily divorced,” from which I assume your two divorces resolved with relatively little drama and disturbance to The Force. However, many divorces do not go this way, especially when there are bitter and angry spouses on one or both sides and shit-disturber attorneys stoking the fires and encouraging bad behavior they think will improve their client’s position in a pending or assumed-to-be-eventual divorce.
Let’s say Sharon’s husband has caught her engaging in some naughty behavior and he knows she is unhappy in the marriage. His own anger, jealousy and desire for revenge could lead him to develop a plan: tell everyone Sharon is whoring around and crazier than Brit Brit circa 2007. This generates sympathy on his side when it comes time to divvy up the friends and lay the blame.
I have seen this happen many times and it makes me both sick and grateful. Sick, because it’s hard to believe people would go to these lengths to destroy those whom they once loved enough to marry. Grateful, because my former husband was so wonderful during and after our divorce and I am very lucky to still have him in my life. He’s the only one who understands how our remotes work and how to troubleshoot our computer issues, plus whenever he comes to visit he always reloads the dishwasher correctly for Tom.
Here are some of the more egregious examples of Divorce Groundwork Laying I have seen:
1. Soon to be ex-wife goes to the deathbed of her spouse’s sibling and tells that dying sibling horror stories about his repeated lying and cheating during the marriage. Here’s the thing: he didn’t do those things, and she knew that. She hated him so much that she did her best to ensure his sibling died thinking he was a cheating louse.
2. Ex-husband tells the children that their mom’s new boyfriend was her lover during the marriage and that she left the marriage for this man, even though he knew his ex and her new squeeze met for the first time after the divorce was final. That didn’t matter because it didn’t suit his victim narrative and his drive to alienate the children from their mother and to foment hatred of the man who would later become their stepfather.
3. Wife discovers her husband is cheating and planning to file for divorce via some super-sleuthing on his home computer (damn electronics will get you every time). In response, she spread a rumor around town that he gave her an incurable social disease and sent an email to roughly 50 people dictating his infidelities. I guess if she couldn’t have him she didn’t want anyone else to either, although the short-sightedness of advertising you’ve been infected with a hearty STD is breathtaking. That may explain why they are still together.
Even more sinister is when the really awful divorce attorneys get involved. I know one in particular who actually advised her client to take compromising photos of his wife that would bolster his argument for custody if she dared file for divorce. This lawyer pushed her client repeatedly to have his wife committed to an involuntary psychiatric facility, even though her only disability was being married to a fucking asshole.
The fact is this guy didn’t really want custody of the kids – he wanted to threaten his wife with a custody battle so he could pressure her not to file at all and to take less money if it came to that. But once he retained his “Bulldog,” (also known as an excellent way to drain your finances and lengthen the litigation of your divorce) his moral code, severely disabled though it already was, became utterly broken.
I tell these stories not just to fill space in the blog but to illustrate that for some people, desperate times call for desperate measures. In the worst cases that means telling some really big whoppers to ensure victim status in a divorce, ruin the reputation of someone who has rejected them and to unilaterally avoid any responsibility for the breakdown of the marriage. Maybe Sharon’s husband is doing just that. If she lived in Portland, I’d have a pretty good guess who was counseling him…
Here’s my advice regardless of whether Sharon is truly ill, not at all sick or somewhere inbetween: go pay her a visit. I assume this guys works so perhaps you should just stop by her home (or office if she has one). Tell her you are worried about her and want to spend some time together. You would normally do this by giving her a heads up first via email, text or call, but I’d assume all of her electronic activities are being monitored by her husband at this point.
I’d avoid getting involved with her mother yet, since she may be part of the problem.
Listen very carefully to what she has to say. Ask her if she thinks she is unstable and if so, how she thinks she got there. Inquire whether she is seeing a doctor and if she is making any progress, assuming there is anything wrong with her. Let her know that you have been admonished not to speak with her about her marriage – I think Sharon deserved to know that she is being treated like a child and her husband is attempting to censor her friends.
Bottom line is be there for her, figure out what is really going on and advise her to seek some legal advice if she is truly not sick but her husband continues to allege she is. She needs to protect herself. Stay in close touch with Sharon to the extent you can and help her through what sounds like a difficult situation.
Be prepared to deal with her husband eventually. If he contacts you again with a similar message, I suggest you respond with:
“Dear Husband of Sharon:
I have known Sharon longer than you have and I am afraid I cannot simply walk away from this friendship just because you are ordering me to do so. This type of controlling behavior is certainly not in her best interests and I hope in the future you will reconsider dictating to Sharon’s friends whether and how they can communicate with her. I want the best for her, as I hope you do.”
If you get a nasty response to that, and I certainly think it’s possible, try this:
“Dear Husband of Sharon:
Excessively controlling men often have issues with their mothers and a tiny peen. Sharon told me you refer to your mother as your “Egg Donor” and that you recently purchased a Ferrari. Case closed, n’est pas?”
It is possible she has indeed gone off the rails and her husband is rightfully worried. It’s also possible that she misrepresented your conversation to him and intimated that you were bad-mouthing him and encouraging her to divorce. In all, it’s conceivable that Sharon is very unstable and in need of close monitoring and some medical attention.
However, I’ve run out of time and that doesn’t fit with my preconceived notion of what’s actually happening here, so let’s all just assume the problem rests largely with her husband. My accuracy rate is pinging at 99.7 % these days so I offer this advice today with a good degree of confidence I’m on the right track. Please write again and let me know what is happening.