How can I help my friend who is verbally abusive to his partner?
November 25, 2012 8:57 AM Subscribe
My friends B and N have been together for years. They are happy together, supportive, and good people. But N is regularly verbally abusive to B, in small, sarcastic ways. It makes me (and other friends) uncomfortable. Can I do anything to help?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (40 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
B and N are in their mid-30s. They have been together for almost ten years.
N is a lovely - though admittedly very strange - confident woman who is very successful in a creative field. She is a bit childlike at times, but can definitely fight for herself.
B has struggled for years in academia but finally seems to be getting his break. He is very smart, generous and a little cranky. His parents had a fucked-up relationship which seems to have affected the way he sees relationships.
B and N have managed to hold their relationship together despite several long-distance breaks, when B was sent to work far away. During this time, they made frequent visits to see each other. They live together again now, love each other (clearly), go everywhere together, support each other and work together on marvelous creative projects and hosting events for friends.
And yet despite this otherwise healthy, supportive relationship, B is frequently verbally/emotionally abusive to his partner. N will be telling a story and B will say, "I don't know if that's what I'd say happened..." in a jerky way. She will exclaim with laughter and he will quip, "Holy shit, keep it together." If she teases him he will get super-defensive and act like she did something awful. He will tell her to calm down, or make fun of something she has said, or just cut her down generally. I do not know if he does this when it is just the two of them; B never insults N behind her back (he is in fact quite reverent). But when you hang out with them you frequently see a few of these uncomfortable moments, when he says something horrible, just plain mean, and N kind of blinks, nonreactive, and then everyone moves on.
It is hard to think of examples of this behaviour - the above feels relatively normal. But know that honestly I don't think it's overstating it to say that this is verbal abuse.
N does not seem stricken by A's behaviour - she rarely seems hurt, and rarely complains. But she herself is an odd duck... N's behaviour is severe enough that many of their friends have discussed it behind their back. Privately, some have insisted B needs to DTMF, but that seems so glib. Their relationship seems happy and healthy - except for this one really serious thing. (I don't know if anyone has ever discussed this stuff WITH N - if it was suggested that she dump B I think she would dismiss the idea immediately. They really are a solid relationship.) Really I just think that B could benefit from some therapy, or their relationship some counselling, but we don't know how to help this happen.
I'm friends with both N and B, but we are not super close; it would be uncomfortable and strange for me to have "real talk" with either of them. My girlfriend is closer with them both, but not just as "girls" - she is close with them both. If she talked to B about it, she fears that he would only be able to see it as an attack, an out-of-left-field harsh criticism. If she talked to N, we think N would probably defend B and get angry at us for stirring shit up. If she sat down with them and said "Seriously you need therapy" well, uh, she fears losing that friendship and not actually accomplishing anything.