I need advice about how to help a friend in a non-violent yet intensely abusive relationship, and about how worried I should be for her young daughter and what to do for her too. (We're all in a major Canadian city, we're not all Canadian.)
A friend of mine is a divorced mom of 4 year old girl. Her marriage was very problematic and abusive (a violent thieving cheating husband with a drug addiction), and her ex-husband now lives in his home country. She's been separated from him for a few years, the divorce went through recently. She's been seeing a therapist for a few months to deal with some of issues from that marriage, but i think she filters out a lot of the 'current life' issues from those discussions.
This friend, who is from another western country, moved to our city for her job about a year ago, and plans to live here for a couple of years. When she arrived, she had two close friends here (myself and another person), and a few acquaintances, but for the most part she needed to reconstruct a new social life for herself. (For various reasons that aren't very important, she didn't really mesh that well with some of our friends here.)
Very soon after arriving, she met the guy who is now her boyfriend. They've been together for about a year. He is terrible terrible terrible to her. Screams obscenities at her on the street, that she's a whore, a terrible person, an idiot, ugly, a terrible mother. Requires her to give him her phone, ipad and computer on a regular basis so he can monitor her emails, calls, and texts. Makes her take photos of the friends hanging out with her, so he has proof she's not spending time with men. Forced her to send texts or emails to several men (a lifelong friend, a cousin, her daughters' cousin) telling them they were no longer allowed to communicate with her. Forbids her from doing anything - going to church with her daughter, or taking her daughter out of town to visit her immediate family, even - because she's a slut who can't be trusted. He screams at her while they have sex. (Her daughter's nanny is the source of some of this information, some of it she told us directly during one of their many 'breakups'.) She has to lie to him when she spends time with me or our other friend, since we are 'the enemy' (because we hate him.) During each break up (there's been 5 to 7?) he spews the kind of vitriol at her, then she apologizes for provoking him, then he begs her forgiveness via expensive lavish weekends in luxury hotels (while her daughter stays home with the nanny.) So, to summarize the background info: she is in a tremendously controlling, jealous, emotionally abusive relationship, and her 4-year old is alternately a witness to this or is being raised by the nanny. My friend and her abuser don't live together, but he spends enough time at her place that that's sort of a technicality. My friends parents don't live here, so they know the boyfriend exists but not that he's a monster.
THE QUESTION: WHAT THE HELL CAN WE DO? We are a wreck (and honestly, i know this is awful: fed up) trying to help this friend who alternately (and briefly) acknowledges the problem, and then goes back to him for more. (I know that's pretty textbook.) She's pulling away from us (which is exactly the boyfriend's endgame) in part because she's embarrassed, or doesn't want to hear our disapproval, or because her boyfriend just forbids it. I know the best thing to do is to 'be a supportive friend' so that she'll know she has support when she's ready to leave him, but being supportive is starting to get frustrating. It's frustrating to watch her do this over and over and over and over again.
- What can we do to help her get out of this relationship? To either gain the mental/emotional wherewithal, or to... force it?
- How can we be supportive friends when there's so little to SUPPORT? (I try to remember her behaviour is more equivalent to a mental illness than a rationale choice, but it's hard.)
- Should we call her parents and tell them what's going on?
- I'm concerned about the lessons her daughter is learning (about how men treat women, about the value women have), and about how this boyfriends behaviour is affecting her, and about having her mother be, essentially, an absentee parent much of the time (because she needs to focus more on her boyfriend than her daughter, it seems.) What can we do for the daughter, short of getting her taken away (not an option!)? How worried should we be or is she young enough to bounce back?
- Generally: WHAT SHOULD WE DO TO HELP THIS PERSON WHO'S DROWNING?