Dear Amy: Recently I told my wife that I planned to reach out to “Sharon,” a former co-worker who is an industry expert, for advice about changing jobs.
My wife angrily and immediately accused me of having an affair with Sharon, and insisted that I wanted to get a job near her to continue the affair.
I have never, ever cheated on my wife. I’m a homebody who works from home. I don’t travel for work and rarely go out with friends.
Sharon lives over four hours away. I haven’t seen her in over six years, haven’t spoken on the phone in years, and we exchange business-related text messages every few months.
I worked with Sharon for three years and my wife never voiced any suspicions. I never saw or talked to Sharon outside of the office when we did work together.
In the 15 years I’ve been married to my wife she’s never acted so irrationally, or accused me of having an affair.
The next day all my wife said was, “I’m sorry. Can we please not talk about this again?” She insists that we should act like nothing happened and that counseling is unnecessary.
I’m deeply hurt that she would even think I’m having an affair. I’m also worried about her mental health because her accusations didn’t even make any sense.
Do you have an explanation for my wife’s irrational behavior? Should I join her in pretending it never happened?
– Baffled in Baltimore
Dear Baffled: Your wife reacted in a way that was irrational and unprecedented in your relationship. Your wife is embarrassed by her own behavior; of course she doesn’t want to discuss it further!
But I agree with you that it is important that you two discuss this in order to come to a resolution that will satisfy both of you.
Resolving a challenge is the opposite from pretending it never happened.
Your wife may admit to having long-standing suspicions and insecurity about this previous work relationship.
She should also be asked to understand how hurtful it is to absorb such a serious, unfounded and unfair accusation.
I agree that because this behavior was so outside the norm for her, there might be an underlying medical, hormonal, or emotional trigger.
Talking further with a calm and mutually compassionate attitude might help to reveal what is really amiss.
Dear Amy: I’ve reached the age when more and more people I care about are sick, ailing or dying.
I’m sympathetic and want to offer words of comfort, but most of what I can think of to say is stilted, shallow and sounds insincere to me – even as I’m saying it.
Where can I find more eloquent speech for these unfortunate situations?
– Tongue Tied
Dear Tongue Tied: Hang eloquence. Just say … something.
Here’s a start:
“I just found out. I don’t really know what to say.”
“Oh no! I’m really sorry you’re going through this.”
“I’m just checking in … I’m thinking about you so often. How are things going for you?”
“Can I drive you to your treatment next week?”
“I made some soup; are you OK if I drop off a container?”
“I just found this picture of us from high school. We haven’t changed a bit!”
Compare one person’s illness or loss to another person’s. (“My cousin’s husband had lymphoma. No big deal!”)
Tell someone that God or the universe won’t give them more than they can handle.
Make their hardship or suffering about you or your own experience.
Do: Be natural, compassionate, and adopt a listening stance.
When someone is suffering, simply having a calm, stalwart, and undemanding companion can help a lot.
Readers will want to weigh in.
Dear Amy: There’s an old saying that goes: “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”
I am constantly amazed (appalled?) at the comments people make about other people’s lives.
If you don’t approve of an unplanned pregnancy, the name chosen for your new grandchild, the choice of clothing, the color of anything, or the choice of what vegetable your friend wants for dinner, keep your mouth shut.
Unsolicited opinions, like “constructive criticism,” are rude, unnecessary and sometimes hurtful.
There’s a very old-fashioned quality called tact. Use it.
– An Old-fashioned Grand
Dear Old-fashioned: I have a Post-it over my desk saying, “Unsolicited advice is always self-serving.”
Given my day job (and personality), it can sometimes be challenging to keep quiet, but I agree wholeheartedly with every point you make.
(You can email Amy Dickinson at email@example.com or send a letter to Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068. You can also follow her on Twitter @askingamy or Facebook.)