Dear Richard Madeley: 'How can I stop my husband holding court at parties?'

Richard Madeley
Dear Richard Madeley: 'How can I stop my husband holding court at parties?' - Rii Schroer/Getty Images

Dear Richard

How can I stop my husband holding court at parties? My husband and I used to be extremely sociable: we went out a lot, and kept an open house. Friends used to visit us almost every weekend. That has changed in the course of time.

I recently began to notice that my husband gesticulates too much at the parties we still occasionally attend. He does it as if according to a pattern. First, he catches people’s attention and then holds that attention, raising his voice, speaking faster and faster, mobilising his hands to gestures, like tossing pancakes or throwing his arms like crucified Jesus. I believe he thinks his speeches, because that’s what they are, are extremely interesting: he tackles what I call “heavy problems”. When he is in full flow, I notice that people look around trying to interrupt, change the subject or say something themselves. But no, my husband must be the leader of conversation.

I feel we are invited out less and less and worry it’s because friends don’t want to subject themselves to his arm-waving and speechifying. How can I tell him to change his body language, to try to listen more and generally calm down?

Evita, Maidstone

Dear Evita

I mention Sherlock Holmes elsewhere on this page today; this one could come straight from his casebook. “The Curious Affair of the Windmilling Husband.”

What an odd development this is in your marriage. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of anything quite like it. Yes, some men tend to stray into “mansplaining” territory as they get older, but usually without the bizarre visual tics and theatrics you describe. You make it sound a fascinating thing to behold: I wish you’d sent me a video.

I suppose the first thing we must establish is if he knows he’s doing it. Is this unconscious behaviour, or calculated? If it’s the latter, it’s relatively easy to deal with – just tell him to stop because it’s making him look ridiculous. He’ll be a bit nettled and he’ll probably sulk for a while, but he’ll get over it.

But if he has no idea that he resembles (in your priceless description) a pancake-tossing Christ on Calvary, we’re in deeper waters. Such a bizarre display of attention-seeking implies buried anxiety. Is your husband worried that he’s no longer “relevant”, or that his friends have stopped taking him seriously? Why this growing compulsion to dominate and impress everyone with his “deep” philosophising? You need to find out if he’s had some sort of crisis of confidence. Then you might ask him if he realises how he’s behaving at social gatherings.

You may discover that he genuinely has no idea. Be gentle with him. Good luck, Evita. This is a deceptively tricky one.