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Friend or spouse?

Your marriage has been under stress, and your husband has planned a second honeymoon for Valentine's. Just before your departure, your best friend calls. It is the first anniversary of her spouse's death, and she says she really needs company. What do you do?

By Ruth McQuirter Scott and Ken Gallinger

Author's photo
Ruth McQuirter Scott is an educator and member of Port Nelson United in Burlington, Ont.

Most women describe their close female friendships as indispensable and life-giving. In times of crisis or simply after a bad day, we know our friends will listen, give advice and provide unwavering support. We don’t take these relationships lightly, and when asked to help a friend in crisis, we’ll leap from our beds at 2 a.m. and listen while she pours out her troubles.

Though our job is to support one another, it is also to know when to step back and let her find her own footing. If we fail to do this, our own lives suffer, and we are no longer in a healthy relationship.
My best friend knows that my marriage has been shaky. She knows my husband and I are trying to work things out and how hopeful I am about this upcoming “second honeymoon” for Valentine’s. She doesn’t want to sabotage our plans, but the anniversary of her spouse’s death has made it hard for her to see much beyond her own pain.

When she calls me, I listen to her and acknowledge that this anniversary is probably the toughest of a year filled with sadness. I agree that she should try her best not to be alone. I’ll brainstorm with her how she can enlist the help of others — her children, other friends, her church family, even calling a local helpline if she needs to talk. I will suggest she build in something pleasurable for herself: buy a new book, take a warm bath with special oils, go for a massage. She could also take out her journal and reflect on the past year. She may realize that in her great pain and sorrow, God has been with her in many forms. She has survived and will continue to do so.

I will end the call by assuring my friend that I love her and value our friendship. Then, my husband and I will head for the car and embark on our second honeymoon.

Tricky. First, I assume that, although I’m her “best” friend, the widow has other friends. Second, I assume that my husband has no other man in his life — I’m the only husband he’s got. So I’m going with him on the holiday: my five-year-old gay marriage, already under stress, can’t stand much more, I’m afraid.

Early on in my career as a “helping professional,” I figured out that I have to put some pretty high fences around my private and family life. This means that I make specific plans for time to be with my partner. Those times get written on the calendar and are as important as almost anything else that comes up. If dinner and an evening out have been booked for a couple of weeks and someone decides they “need” me at yet another meeting of the church’s flower committee, well, sorry. Love trumps geraniums.

This doesn’t mean I would never cancel a family commitment in order to help someone out, whether that person is a friend or a member of my congregation. Emergencies happen, and if they are significant enough, they take precedence. If someone
is dying and needs my help, I can always go to the ballet another time.

But this event my sweetheart has planned is more than a night out; it’s a genuine and touching attempt to save a struggling relationship. I’m deeply moved by his thoughtfulness. And my best friend’s situation, while very sad, is not an emergency. It’s been coming for a year, and we’ve already talked long and hard about its significance. I would explain that I’m travelling with my man at the time of the anniversary; I would assure her I’ll be thinking of her, even praying for her, on the day in question.

And I’d keep my promise.

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