Question: A few of my close friends have recently gone through difficult breakups. Meanwhile, I'm newly in love after many years of being more-or-less-happily single. I'm balancing grad school, being a good friend and developing this great new relationship. But a couple of comments from my girlfriends have made it clear I'm not really balancing the last two very well.

One friend recently admitted to being distant because she's not eager to see/hear about happy couple stuff so soon after her own breakup. Another was angry with me for canceling a date with her because she assumed I'd canceled to hang out with my boyfriend (not true; I had a school issue, which she knew about).

I thought I was doing a decent job balancing these things - not constantly talking about the boy, no kissing/snuggling in front of people, no pitying looks - until these friends told me otherwise.

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How can I figure out where the line is so I don't cause pain to these friends? I tried sincerely asking them what they'd like me to change, but that only yielded assurances that they're happy for me and that I should continue being happy. - K.

Question: Consider this permission to take them at their word. You're not causing them pain, their circumstances are. Merely by being sensitive to this, you fulfill your primary obligation to them as their friend. It is not your job to tiptoe around as if they're unexploded ordnance.

Maybe you aren't balancing well, and your friends' remarks reflect that, but it seems premature to draw that conclusion from just two incidents.

The first was an admission that being around your happiness is hard. You leapt to take responsibility for her feelings. If you say instead, "I understand, take any time you need," you accept her feelings without trying to fix them.

The second was a misunderstanding - one you were apparently in a position to clear up by reminding her of your prior school commitment.

There also is kindness in letting problems retain their natural size.

Question: I have battled a jealous streak my whole life. That said, I am jealous of my husband's ex-wife because he still gets in touch with her. He admitted he talked to her "just occasionally, maybe once a month." But I can't understand why he wants to talk with her, and I wonder what they talk about.

She left him wounded from her serial extramarital affairs, and he lost considerable savings to support her career moves. When she stepped into a brilliant and high-paying career, she left him behind. He knows I don't like him contacting her, and he knows it infuriates me when he speaks highly of her. Am I being a control freak? - Weary of Ex-Wife

Answer: You are expecting your husband to fix your jealousy problem. In that sense, yes, your stance on his ex-wife is a controlling one.

It's also illogical. Doesn't it sound more bizarre for two people who used to spend every day together just to stop talking, forever? I don't doubt the ex put your husband through a wringer, but people are complicated, as are the relationships they form. He could remain justifiably annoyed by her infidelity and opportunism while still valuing her opinion. They can be "over" without snipping every last thread.

Another point of illogic is the idea that your forbidding their contact would somehow cure what ails you. You don't like that he wants to talk to her? You don't like feeling that your marriage is vulnerable to other women? Neither will change if they stop talking. That's life. No one lives in a vacuum, everyone is vulnerable to loss.

Since you've had a "whole-life" jealous streak, please see the irrelevance of the ex - and your husband, or any one person - to your feelings of possessiveness and insecurity. They're systemic, and all the relevant information is inside you. It may be time to call up competent reinforcements in this recurring fight with yourself.

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