Ask Amy Amy Dickinson, Ask Amy

Amy Dickinson is a general advice columnist.

DEAR READERS: I have stepped away from my daily column for two weeks to finish writing my next book, which is due to be published next fall. I hope you’ll enjoy these topical ”best of” questions and answers while I’m away. Today’s letters explore the subject of romantic complication.

DEAR AMY: I am in an ethical quandary. Three of my friends — call them “Trish, Bill and Janet” — have become embroiled in a romantic situation that has me perplexed over what I should do. Trish and Bill had been going out for about nine months when they befriended Janet. Janet is very lively and personable, and she rapidly became very close to both Trish and Bill. Bill gradually began spending more time with Janet and less with Trish, and about six months after meeting Janet, he broke up with Trish. Two weeks after that, Bill and Janet became romantically involved. The obvious implication is that Janet betrayed Trish, that she used her friendship to get close to Bill and steal him away, but the reality may not be so black and white. Anyway, I’m closest with Trish, and she is very hurt. How should I relate to Janet now? I don’t want to be judgmental, but if I remain friends with her, I feel disloyal to Trish. What should I do?

Confused in Connecticut

DEAR CONFUSED: In the old days, people could be cordial without having to disclose their every opinion, feeling and reaction. A person could be friendly without being intimate friends.

Let’s bring those days back.

If you are closest to Trish, then stay closest to her. You can be cordial to Janet and Bill without getting embroiled in their relationship and/or judging their behavior. When they became involved, surely they knew that their choice would have some fallout — losing you and Trish as intimate friends might just be it.

Trish has a right to expect you to be a loyal friend to her, but she should not insist that you stop interacting with these other friends. The best way to preserve all of these relationships is to maintain your position as the friendship equivalent of Switzerland and insist that everybody allow you to remain neutral. (February 2006)

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DEAR AMY: I discovered that my husband of 35 years has been in contact (for several years) with his high school girlfriend via e-mail. I happened to see an old e-mail that was saved on the computer, which had terms of endearment in it and referred to their recent times together. After asking him about the e-mail and his actual contact with her, he said that I was overreacting and that if he really wanted to be with her he would have left me. I’ve requested that we go into therapy, and he has said no because he hasn’t done anything wrong. Needless to say, I am so hurt.

Feeling Betrayed

DEAR BETRAYED: Your husband seems to have confused therapy with the penitentiary.

You don’t go to therapy when you’ve done something “wrong.” Therapy isn’t the last stop for incorrigible husbands.

You go to therapy when you want to understand yourself.

Obviously, your husband doesn’t want to understand himself better. His version of marriage is, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, and it ain’t broke unless I say it is.” What a disappointingly low standard. I can imagine how bad you must feel knowing that your feelings hold so little interest for your husband of 35 years.

Because you seem to comprehend what therapy is for — understanding, self-awareness and healing — you should go. You may never figure out what, exactly, your husband is up to with his old girlfriend.

You will figure out how you feel about it, however. Then you’ll be in a position to know what you intend to do about it. Ignoring your husband’s behavior is one option. Leaving the marriage is another. But there are many variations and gradations of reactions between those two extremes. Therapy will help you to sort this out. (January 2006)