Dear Margo: Turning the Other Cheek — in Spades

Margo Howard’s advice

Turning the Other Cheek — in Spades

Dear Margo: My husband is very reticent about emotion other than affection. He’s a very nice husband. I’m concerned, however, that he may be depressed. What’s immediately troubling is that when someone treats him badly, he swings around and tries to understand their point of view. This has happened more than once, but the most recent example is that we were blindsided by the foreclosure on our apartment building. We found out on the last day of the month — and by that time the landlord had left town with the next month’s rents and all of our deposits. It amounted to about $6,000 from us, and who knows how much from his other tenants?

We can’t recover our money — the guy is in bankruptcy. My husband keeps excusing the man. I, too, can see how it probably happened. The guy fooled himself about his finances, had an extravagant wife and lied to everyone in hopes that he could somehow pull the chestnuts out of the fire. But I’m still very angry and feel violated. (We were fairly friendly with him and his wife.)

My husband says he was a fool for not checking up on the guy, but he didn’t mean to hurt anyone, and he just couldn’t say no to his wife. I say that lots of forgers, check kiters, embezzlers and so on operate out of desperation, but that doesn’t justify their behavior. My husband says we should be nice to the couple if they show up again. I want nothing to do with them and wouldn’t let them in the door. I also doubt they would ever come back. Is this a sign of depression? It doesn’t feel normal to me. — Don’t Know What To Think

Dear Don’t: I suggest you go online and look up the symptoms of depression. Forgiving being screwed by a friend is not one of them. At the very least, your husband is a good schnook. I happen to agree with your anger about the situation, but your husband is clearly conflict averse. (And he probably doesn’t have a stomachache about this; whereas, I’m betting you do.) It would be good if you two could discuss the differences. Do you find him a passive wimp in other areas? Does he feel you have a short fuse? Both of you have a psychological source for your attitudes, and exploring them should give each of you a better understanding of the other. — Margo, attentively

A Suggestion  

Dear Margo: This is in response to the woman who doesn’t cook but wanted to invite several couples over for dinner. I suggest ordering whatever food you want to serve. If someone compliments you (which is only polite), laugh and say, “Thanks, I made it myself. The hardest part was opening the packaging in the (insert brand here) containers.” This works whether you are ordering from your favorite pizza joint or a gourmet take-away restaurant. People will laugh, and everyone can get down to the business of enjoying themselves while enjoying dinner together. — Helena

Dear Hel: Thank you for this. I love humor as a way to deal with all kinds of things. Your suggestion reminds me of many years ago when my mother asked a renowned hostess for the recipe for the stuffed cabbage she served. The woman demurred and said, “Oh, it’s an old family recipe, and I don’t give it out.” A few weeks later, the hostess wrote again, probably prodded by a guilty conscience, and said, “Regarding the stuffed cabbage, the family is Stouffer’s.” — Margo, entertainingly

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Dear Margo is written by Margo Howard, Ann Landers’ daughter. All letters must be sent via the online form at Due to a high volume of e-mail, not all letters will be answered.


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27 Responses so far.

  1. avatar D says:

    LW1 just wants her husband to be mad but at this point she wants to be mad for the sake of being mad, which accomplishes nothing. There is a difference between someone who is conflict averse and someone who just gets mad. Be careful what she asks for because she just might get it. Besides, what is wrong with someone who takes a lot to get mad?

    • avatar David Bolton says:

      Actually I don’t believe this is the case at all. LW1 wants her husband to agree with her anger all right—but it’s because 99.995% of everyone else would also be angered by this situation if it happened to them. She’s married to one of those strange people who have a misplaced sense of empathy and will let others screw them over at every turn. My father was like this—when I was young, our neighbor’s son came in and stole a number of albums and other things from us. It was obviously him, and his sister even mentioned the missing items being in his possession. Rather than confront his parents, my father ended up justifying the boy’s behavior to the point where my brother and I were basically told to shut up about the matter and not to mention it again. It was four or five years later when I was a teenager that I went to the boy’s house myself and collected the stuff myself and brought it back home again, myself. And I never forgave my father for this.

      LW2: My, what an original (CTRL + C) idea (CTRL+V). Thanks so much.

    • avatar mayma says:

      I don’t think she wants him to be mad. I think she doesn’t want him welcoming them in the door if they show up again. A long fuse is one thing, but involving others (wife or, as David describes, your kids) in your extreme version of “forgiveness” is quite another.

  2. avatar Skyblonde says:

    Margo, if I cared what other people think about the letters, I would read the comments (which I sometimes do). I love reading your column because I think you give good advice and other people’s problems are interesting. I don’t want to read “Dear Helena.”

  3. avatar martina says:

    There are people out there, like me and since I’m a pretty nice person, who really find it hard to believe that someone would want to do them harm and need to excuse their bad behavior especially, when it happens to them. I do know they exist and I do watch out for them and am actually pretty cynical. It’s embarrassing to know you got screwed and screwed on purpose so, it’s easier to live with being screwed by trying to justify the screwer’s behavior. This is definitely not a sign of depression.

    It also takes a lot of energy to remain angry at someone. Let it go unless you know you can recover the money. Though, I would also not want to have anything more to do with them or see them unless it was in court.

  4. avatar htimsr40 says:

    I would probably be as angry as LW#1, but the husband’s response is MUCH healthier than hers (or mine). Being angry will NOT get your money back from a bankrupt deadbeat who no doubt has creditors with a greater claim on his insufficient monies than you do.

    The hubby’s acceptance of the situation with calm equanimity rather than cold animosity is a huge sign of his emotional maturity and health.

    • avatar judgingamy says:

      I agree. I would be beyond pissed, but the husband is right in that they can’t do anything about it so why spend all their time discussing how angry they are?

      I am curious about the foreclosure thing though. Something similar happened to a friend of mine, where his landlord not only stopped paying the bank, but all utilities he was responsible for (my friend paid X amount of rent, which was supposed to cover all utilities still in landlord’s name. Not the smartest idea, but he preferred to write just one check a month vs. 10). So, the electricity was shut off, as well as a few other things. The foreclosure came out, but my buddy still had several months of notice where he was aware of things and stopped paying the landlord.

      This guy sounds like he was a regulated landlord (as opposed to taking cash under the table from a tenant and no one knows about it), so why were there not steps in place? Generally, if a residential building has a mortgage and tenants, the mortgagor has some kind of paperwork in place and as soon as they stopped getting mortgage payments, the tenants would be made aware of the situation. The lender would want to know, are we not getting paid because you’re not getting paid, or are you pocketing your tenants money?

      So what happened? Was every single family just thrown on the street that day?

      • avatar David Bolton says:

        “I agree. I would be beyond pissed, but the husband is right in that they can’t do anything about it so why spend all their time discussing how angry they are?”

        Because that’s how some people work through their anger and get to the other side. It would be as if someone wanted to write a letter detailing their anger to get it out of their system, and their spouse said: “why bother, you’re not going to send it anyway.”

        The most frustrating thing about being screwed over by someone (and this is definitely the case here), is having a sig-o whose complacent attitude towards the whole thing deflates and invalidates your own emotional response. As I said before—virtually everyone would be angry at being placed in a situation like this, and LW1 isn’t overreacting in my opinion at all. That means the husband is either a much faster emotional processor, or doesn’t care. But either way, asking his wife to essentially suck it up and play nice if they encounter this person again is uncalled for and unrealistic. If anything, he should tell her that she has every right to feel violated and used, and that they will work together in the future to make sure that something like this doesn’t happen again. At least, that’s a decent start and would be what I would want to hear myself.

        • avatar mac13 says:

          I agree, but in this situation, how do you even begin to make sure it never happens again. How do you know if the mortgage is being paid? I guess that is an open question, but I don’t know how you would ever know, unless there was a law or regulation that required the renters to know if the payments weren’t being made. I have never heard of any such.

          • avatar KL says:

            At the very least, you’d learn not to rent from this landlord. This husband sounds like he wouldn’t even learn that lesson! He wants to be kind to the folks that screwed him over next time he sees them — not a bright guy.

            Anger is good in some situations and justified. The wife seems to have a normal response to this; the husband doesn’t. You should be angry, hurt, etc. when someone wrongs you. Don’t go overboard, but if you always excuse others’ bad behaviors, you’ll just be the perpetual doormat — which sounds like exactly what the husband is.

  5. avatar Cindy M says:

    L #1: Was your husband raised in a highly religious home? This ISN’T meant as a snide question. I was conditioned at an early age to forgive, try to give benefit of the doubt, put myself in that other person’s shoes…etc.; on and on. Those sentiments are good to a point, but only to a point. I learned some bitter lessons (no surprise). Your husband probably dismisses you as being too emotional and angry about it (that’d have been my response 20 years ago). Calmly try to reason with him about the situation; you guys got ripped off. He doesn’t have to hate their guts or wish them dead, but an injustice did occur at other peoples’ expense; that is WRONG and should be acknowledged as such.

  6. avatar lebucher says:

    LW#1:  It’s one thing to forgive a transgression and let it go, but quite another to invite the transgressor into your inner circle afterwards.  I’m a big fan of excommunicating those who deliberately screw me over.  Or put another way, “Screw me once, shame on you… screw me twice, shame on me.”

  7. avatar Diane Nakashian says:

    Before you decide you can’t do anything, check with your attorney general’s office. Whether he has filed for bankrupcy or not you may still have recourse. I was screwed out of my pay by a restaurant owner who filed (after he had not paid any taxes – AGAIN) and I was able to file a claim and get my lost wages. Please check into this – $6K is a LOT of money to lose.

    • avatar fallinginplace says:

      Whether the AG’s office gets involved or not, they can always file a claim with the bankruptcy court.

  8. avatar mac13 says:

    LW#1: I was taught from early on there is no use crying over spilled milk. So, I look at pretty much every situation that goes bad as a learning situation. First, your husband isn’t screaming mad, but you are. You can’t scream at the ex-landlord that ran off with your money, so to vent you are mad at your husband. This is displaced anger. It is very common. Bad day at the office, come home and smack on your wife. WAY too common. Second, your husband says you should be nice to them if they ever meet up. This is when you should get angry. Accepting and moving on from a bad situation is one thing. Being nice about it later to their face? Not so much. I would be curt and they would know why of course. If your husband doesn’t like that? Let him have it. But until that happens? Peace out!

  9. avatar Katharine Gray says:

    I’m with those who say let go of the anger but don’t have anything to do with these people again.  Not that you shouldn’t BE angry and work through it but at some point you have to let it go.  Saying you would be civil to these people, as opposed to cutting them dead (figuratively) should you cross their paths again is taking it a little too far in the *forgiveness* vein.  The worst thing is to let this good for nothing landlord cause a rift in your marriage in addition to severely depleting your finances.  I think Margo’s advice is good about a couple of counseling sessions to talk this out with your husband if you are to the point of resenting your husband as opposed to the wrongdoer.   Also, if you haven’t already, check into filing a claim in the guy’s bankruptcy case as a creditor.  There may be nothing to claim but you never know. 

    I’m going to cut LW#2 some slack.  While her advice is not particularly original, she did not choose to publish her letter here…Margo did.   And perhaps Margo did because her column appears in places where the readers cannot comment immediately (like an old fashioned newspaper!) so all of her readers did not get the benefit of our wise and clever comments on the subject!




  10. avatar The Wild Sow says:

    OK, husband is Bishop Myriel of Digne; LW is Javert (or possibly, the baker whose bread was stolen in the first place!); whether the landlord is a Valjean or a Thenardier we do not know.

    But of those characters, who had the better life and better outcome?

  11. avatar Deborah Key says:

    Everybody knows the plot to Lez Miz at this point, whether she wants to or not.

    • avatar David Bolton says:

      Lez Miz: The Miserable Lesbian.

      Well hell—that’s all of them.

      • avatar bleeble says:

        Clearly you need cheerier lesbians in your friend group if you think the whole lot of them are miserable.

  12. avatar JCF4612 says:

    LW1)  I was once incensed over something long forgotten with a guy I worked with, and my spouse while aware was not all caught up in the drama. When I complained about his lack of emotion, he turned to me and said me: “Well, what do you want me to do? Egg him?” 

    LW2)   Yawn.  

  13. avatar bleeble says:

    I can see why the first letter writer thinks this is a sign of depression. I had a close friend who was very similar, and it wasn’t because she was just selfless and filled with empathy, it was because she was extremely depressed with low self esteem and figured that there was no point to being upset when people screwed her over because they must have had a good reason, and she wasn’t important enough respect. I wonder if there are other signs she hasn’t mentioned, because depression wouldn’t be my first (or third or fifth…) guess.

  14. avatar Claire Saenz says:

    Re: LW#1–generally, debts arising from theft can’t be discharged in bankruptcy. Don’t give up on that so quickly!