Dear Carolyn: I have two very close girlfriends who live in the same town, "Emily" from college and "Jane" from high school. Both have children the same age as mine, both mean a great deal to me. Every summer I visit both, trying to split equal time between the two.
I can't bear to be around Emily's child. He is impulsive and defiant, has been outright malicious toward my son, and in one instance caused him physical harm. I have tried to confront her about my issues with him, but she becomes quite defensive and accusatory, and doesn't seem to see his behavioral issues as cause for alarm.
I try to be patient and understanding, but my husband refuses to come with my son and me on visits to see Emily. This summer, I have planned to spend most of my trip with Jane and her family.
Emily is offended that I am not splitting my time equally. I have no issues with her as a person, however, I can't handle the stress of being around her son and I don't know how to express this without hurting her feelings and ruining a 20-year friendship.
CONFLICTED AND STRESSED
You're tiptoeing around this thing because you're afraid of how Emily will react.
Fearing Emily's reaction, though, validates her defensiveness, because it reveals your tacit agreement that protecting your son and reducing your time with Emily are mean, terrible things to do to her. But they're not. You've seen how the boys (don't) get along and your actions are a rational way to deal with that.
So stop hiding your logic and instead be upfront about it. "Emily, this isn't personal; it's also temporary. The past few visits, Butch and Chachi haven't gotten along. I'm taking the pressure off. When they get older and settle down, we'll go back to the way things were."
Note, though, that this suggested script is just about the way the boys interact (fact) and not about her son or her permissiveness as monster-creator (opinion). Strong friendships can survive some creative scheduling, but they rarely withstand one friend's judging another.
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