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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?

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.

Help!
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (40 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
Stay out of it.
Countless healthy relationships have been ruined by "righteous" meddling.
You assume "N" is clueless and incapable of defending herself - this is a demeaning attitude towards a grown woman.
posted by Kruger5 at 9:07 AM on November 25, 2012 [11 favorites]


Can someone tell B to cut it out when it happens? "Hey, back off," "Hey, chill out," "Hey, relax, it's fine," "Dude, not cool," etc. said fairly lightly in the moment could let both B and N know that B's behavior is over the line without forcing a huge confrontation.
posted by jaguar at 9:10 AM on November 25, 2012 [22 favorites]


I like jaguar's advice. A little feedback from others may help him see the error of his ways.
posted by eq21 at 9:13 AM on November 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


"Privately, some have insisted B needs to DTMF"

Why? Because you think N is just too weird? B's decision to stay in a relationship with someone you think is an oddball isn't one iota of your business.

None of you really know what's going on in their relationship, and no one involved seems to respect N enough to actually have a conversation with her about how she actually feels instead of talk behind her back about how much of an odd duck she is. The most anyone can do without being meddlesome here is to take jaguar's advice and leave it at that.
posted by thisjax at 9:15 AM on November 25, 2012


Depends how close you are to them. I was in a very similar situation. The girl was IMO verbally abusing and berating the guy too much, and they had been together about 7 years. Their relationship was otherwise good. The girl was also within my top 3 best friends.

I took her aside and said, "I just wanted to mention something because it's been on my mind. I really don't want to be either rude or misinterpreting but I thought I should say something. I have now noticed [the behavior] a lot of times. Here are some examples. It has actually made me so uncomfortable that I have hesitated to come over. If it is having the impression on me, it might be having that impression on other people. I just wanted to let you know and see if there was anything you wanted to talk about."

I focused in part on how seeing it made ME feel, like not wanting to spend a lot of time there.

She was actually clueless that she was doing it, and she felt really bad, and realized that she had developed some bad habits out of stress. She cut out the behavior pretty quickly.

One anecdote, FWIW.
posted by kellybird at 9:15 AM on November 25, 2012 [19 favorites]


Therapy for the abuser or couples' therapy won't actually help with the abuse. The best way to deal with this is probably to reach out to N and just say something like "hey, I've noticed that B is hard on you, it doesn't seem fair, if you ever want to talk about it let me know". Then, if she ever reaches out for support, you need to throw all your weight behind supporting her.
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:19 AM on November 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


Also, you're looking at it as "helping your friend" who is abusive. He's absolutely, absolutely not the one who needs "help". She does.

For more information on this you can check out "Why Does He Do That", it's written by someone who works with abusive men. He sees his primary goal as helping and supporting their female partners and ex-partners.
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:21 AM on November 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


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.

That doesn't have to be the case. It really depends how you word it.
posted by kellybird at 9:25 AM on November 25, 2012


So, are you worried about N being subjected to B's behavior? Or does it make you uncomfortable to be around? If it's the former, I have to say - based on your description of the situation - just keep it to yourself. N seems like she has figured out a way to handle it. If she reaches out to you, help her, but don't rush to her aid. If it's the latter, take B aside and tell him that his behavior makes you uncomfortable.

People have to decide what works for them. This might work for N, for whatever reason. It might not seem healthy to you, but you're not dating B - she is.
posted by k8lin at 9:26 AM on November 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


When my dad was getting remarried, she introduced him to her children. My dad says things similar to B above, and he's been that way for.....all my life as far as I know.

Anyway, the kids pulled my stepmom aside, and they told her that, boy, this guy is MEAN! They told her, he doesn't treat you right! He should be nice to you!!

And she laughed!! I believe she told us she said, "Oh no, that's not him at all!"

He is sweet, loving, and sarcastic. Until they were both put in separate hospitals for poorly-timed illnesses, they never spent a night apart in 12 years. They love each other tremendously. They also were high school sweethearts who met later in life.

If you don't see any manifestations of abuse, you may not be the person to judge if there is something wrong. You claim that are not close enough to have a meaningful conversation with EITHER of these people, so maybe you should let their relationship govern itself. Watch it, but keep your distance.
posted by China Grover at 9:27 AM on November 25, 2012 [15 favorites]


I have several thoughts about this. One is that I have, in the past, pulled back from friendships with couples who had a similar dynamic. I can't control their relationship, but I can make choices about what I expose myself to, and I have made that choice.

Another is what kellybird said--You can't make people change their behavior, but I do think one honest conversation, with either or both parties, is fair game. Tell N you're concerned about her, and/or tell B his behavior is troubling to you. That might lead to change, or to a conversation in which you get to hear why and how this is OK with them in the context of their relationship.

I wouldn't assume that it's OK with N. Just last week, my brother started making fun of me, and I stood up and said, "Well, it's past time I was going," and left. He often makes fun of my sister-in-law, both quick one-off jokes and what I think of as his "comedy routines," in which he delivers monologues ridiculing things that are important to her, like her artwork. She just sits there; she never says anything. I've never understood why she takes it.

Well, a couple of days after I walked out on my brother's ridicule of me, my sister-in-law told me that she was really impressed that I had done that. "I never know what to do," she said. "I just sit there." So, she's not OK with it, but she hasn't known how to respond to it with my brother. So my action gave her ideas, and an opportunity for us to talk about it a little. N might be in a similar situation. Giving her an opening might be helpful to her.
posted by not that girl at 9:31 AM on November 25, 2012 [11 favorites]


I am not sure how anyone has given advice in response to this question; I don't know how any of the advice would really be useful to the asker. On a skim, and if I jump to conclusions, it seems like an academic guy is putting down his girlfriend. But on a close read, I don't know what to think (It may be partially because the "B" and "N" initialisms are confusing everyone, including the asker).

"But N is regularly verbally abusive to B, in small, sarcastic ways."
"B is frequently verbally/emotionally abusive to his partner."
"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"

Can some of this be clarified with a mod?
posted by lesli212 at 9:52 AM on November 25, 2012 [10 favorites]


From a commenter who wants to remain anonymous:
Here is why I recommend you say something to "B."

I was in an emotionally abusive relationship, and because I was so in love with the guy, I really respected what he said and felt like he was right. This destroyed my self-esteem, etc., but also had the side-effect that I subconsciously acted a bit like him in future relationships without realizing I was doing anything. My most recent ex pointed this out to me after we broke up (gently) -- basically I would make fun of him in front of my friends, and it made him very uncomfortable. In private, we would gently tease each other, but it was actually something I was doing pretty exclusively in front of other people, and he didn't feel comfortable saying anything. It was stuff like "Oh, we were late because [partner] isn't good at alarms." And I had no clue I was doing it, but when he pointed it out I felt terrible. Now, it's still something I do subconsciously -- BUT -- because it's been pointed out to me, I keep a bit of attention on what I say and am getting out of the habit.

So yeah, it may not exactly be your place -- perhaps you can get someone closer to her to say something.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:55 AM on November 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


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.

The only thing that sounds way out of bounds is the "just cut her down generally" part, and we don't know exactly what's going on with that.

Other than that, you know-- couples who have been together for a long time eventually start calling each other on their quirks. "N" might be a serial exaggerator when it comes to storytelling, and "B" has probably heard N's version a million times, and B was probably there when it happened, so he's possibly exasperated at hearing this exaggerated version. You say N is a bit of an "odd duck", possibly loud and over-expressive, and his retort to her to "keep it together" is only a bit different than jaguar's (very good) advice to tell "B" to "back off"/"tone it down."

I am not defending "B", exactly, because it could be much worse than described: I don't know, and I wasn't there, but it's obviously making their friends uncomfortable. But it isn't necessarily part of some cycle of abuse. They may just have a weird relationship that works ok for them.
posted by deanc at 10:02 AM on November 25, 2012


I'm really sorry about this but your story is very hard to follow with N, B, gender swtiching, role switching and a random A.

If one partner is being an asshole to another partner in public, call them out on their shit. "Dude, why would you speak to / make fun of / shoot down your partner or anyone else like that?" (I'm not making an assumption about the gender of the offending partner here - I call everyone dude.) Regardless of gender, I'm going to be slower than some previous poster to ascribe to abuse what seems to me from your description to be rudeness.

You don't have any way to judge the full dynamic of this relationship. You never know what it looks like on the inside until you're let in. You haven't been. You can offer, though, and the young rope rider's suggestion of ""hey, I've noticed that B is hard on you, it doesn't seem fair, if you ever want to talk about it let me know" seems perfect to me.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:04 AM on November 25, 2012 [18 favorites]



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


Someone in your group of friends who IS close enough to them to ask should do so, immediately.

If it's problematic enough that a bunch of you are talking about it, it's either a real problem, or y'all just like to gossip.

But know that honestly I don't think it's overstating it to say that this is verbal abuse.

Then you need to ask her if she's okay. Or him. whoever's receiving the abuse. If they were punching their partner in the face at parties, you wouldn't say, "oh, i thought they might not be my friend if i asked if they were okay, so i just never said anything."
posted by dubold at 10:10 AM on November 25, 2012


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.

So he doesn't say these sort of things behind her back, but instead to her face, in public and she doesn't appear to be bothered by them. They're clearly in love, by your own words and have remained together for years, despite long separations enforced by his job.

Perhaps the problem is not them, but others perception of their relationship. The idea that B is a problem or has a problem is understandable, but not everyone or every relationship fits into a neatly organized category. Not everyone or everything needs to be fixed.

At best, talk with N one on one. Yes, you're not close, but frankly if everyone is worried that he's being abusive, then whether you're close or not shouldn't matter. And there's nothing preventing you from attempting to forge a closer friendship with her.

Finally, either say something or put it behind you. If I were in B or N's position and found out that A) Friends thought that I was abusive or being abused and B) did nothing but gossip among themselves about it, I'd be royally pissed off and reconsider my relationships with the whole lot.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:20 AM on November 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


I really can't tell from your description if this is verbal abuse or a bunch of uncomfortable exchanges.

I also notice that however much you all purport to respect N you haven't talked TO N about this, you've only talked ABOUT N.

Plus, the committee has voted that N should DTMFA, but hasn't informed N of their decision? Do you realize how controlling that sounds? I think you need to take a look in the mirror.

All that said, I don't blame you for being uncomfortable in the presence of this behaviour. I don't know if you have grounds for intervening in an abusive situation, but I do think you have every right to protest at social behaviour that treads on your toes and makes you uncomfortable.

I would take up the suggestion of announcing that it's time you left, and just going. However, if B is really abusive, or even just dense, he'll assume that you're leaving because you're as embarrassed by N as he is. That could have bad consequences for N if the worst is true.

So I would recommend protesting as soon as B says something critical: "What, B?" "Cut that out, B." "What kind of a thing is that to say, B?"

What you shouldn't do is present this as defending N or speaking for N when you literally have no idea what N thinks of all this. That would be disrespectful and controlling. Focus on what you do and don't want when you're trying to have a hangout with friends.

N: and the fish was this big...
B: [sneer]
YOU: What, B?
B: [blank puzzlement]
YOU: How big was the fish, N?

If B escalates, you could explain, "I don't like it when you talk to N like that." That doesn't dictate to N what N's likes and dislikes should be or presume to defend someone who hasn't asked for it. It only refers to that which is your own business. And if N has never liked it, now N's not the only one and knows the rest of the world isn't simply on B's side. If N doesn't mind, that's N's prerogative, but then N can't dispute that you find it disagreeable independently of N's tastes.

Lastly, don't talk to either of them as if you're the representative of the committee, as if you're just the one saying what all the people are thinking, and you wouldn't have said anything yourself but public opinion drove you to it. Don't say "It makes people uncomfortable when you talk to N like that." This isn't The People Versus B. Say "It makes me uncomfortable when you talk to N like that."

Speak for yourself.
posted by tel3path at 10:30 AM on November 25, 2012 [6 favorites]


I was with a guy who had some great qualities but sometimes he was not very nice at all. My friends knew. One became angry at me for dating him. Didn't help. One friend said, long after the breakup, that he wasn't very nice. I felt like a fool and was totes like why didn't you say something at the time, friend?

I would talk to the one on the relationship who is getting the put-downs. Do not judge. Gently voice concern and offer support if appropriate.

If you are close to the sarcastic/mean person, as others have suggested, describe to this person how the behavior makes you feel.
posted by angrycat at 10:35 AM on November 25, 2012


I think the committee has actually decided that B should dump N because she's... odd? But B's the one who makes the asshole comments to N, and no one's talked to either of them about the asshole comments? Asshole comments that may, or may not, actually bother N?

The only take away I can finagle in all of this is that B and N are in a solid, loving, committed relationship. If their interactions bother you either back away from the friendship with them as a couple, or let B know and back away from the friendship with them as a couple if nothing changes.
posted by lydhre at 10:37 AM on November 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think that regardless of who's who in this situation, a well-timed, "Guys, the way you nitpick at each other in public is really gross and makes me embarassed to be around you. Love each other a little and knock it off" might do the trick.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 10:44 AM on November 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


yeah, I think your focus here should be on protecting YOURSELF, not on protecting either of the adults in this consensual and loving relationship. But just because they're both OK with it doesn't mean you have to be; if someone is doing something that makes you uncomfortable, you can say so. You just have to own your own discomfort instead of pretending that you're doing it for someone else's sake.
posted by KathrynT at 10:51 AM on November 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


Oh, I see that you're not close. Yeah, why not a casual calling out of the behavior at the time. But the end of your question is a bit worrisome, with all the people possibly getting angry and ending friendships. If this is a situation where the person being a jerk responds to crit with anger and ending friendships, that's a bit scary. So I guess if you casually say, "Hey, that's not cool" and the person responds with GRAR you have your answer, which is do not hang with them until they get their shit dealt with.

And somebody close to the other person, the one who possibly really needs help, should be there to offer whatever she/he needs.
posted by angrycat at 10:52 AM on November 25, 2012


You're always allowed to talk about what makes you uncomfortable. "Jesus, B, give it a rest; I want to hear N's story!" or "That's a douchebag thing to say, B. N's chocolate cake is delicious" or whatever. B doesn't get to control other people's responses to N.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:54 AM on November 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


I think that versus calling something out in public ("hey, cut it out"), having a one-on-one with a person you're close to can be more effective.

If you call it out in public, that can be forgotten as part of the flow of the conversation.

However, a one-on-one can be more memorable and give the person more to think about, and also more chance to reply and talk it out if they feel like it.
posted by kellybird at 10:55 AM on November 25, 2012


One of my dear friends has a partner that snaps at her in a way that I am super uncomfortable with. I brought it up once - during a more general conversation about what things we liked/didn't like in a partner, I just said "your partner gets snippy in a way that I could totally not live with" - and she was genuinely surprised, and explained that she actually likes it better that way because she doesn't feel like either of them have to hold back or conceal anything (which is totally foreign to me.) But it's her relationship, and she's happy with it, so I just don't hang out with them as a couple much.

This doesn't totally map to your situation - publicly embarrassing your partner is not really the same as getting shirty when she asks if you've taken out the trash - but I know I felt much better understanding my friend's position on the subject, because now I don't worry about her at all and I can just act in my own interests.
posted by restless_nomad at 11:22 AM on November 25, 2012


It is hard to think of examples of this behaviour

The Honeymooners?
posted by rhizome at 11:38 AM on November 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


I find a good loud "MOMMY AND DADDY STOP FIGHTING, I'LL EAT MY BROCCOLI" helps clear the air in situations like this, as it draws attention to you in a silly way but also reminds everyone of how fucked up it is to snipe at eachother in public. I extra-recommend it if the bickering couple are in fact your parents.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 12:14 PM on November 25, 2012 [10 favorites]


Call it out - as it happens - for yourself. Don't do it "for" her. You don't know what their relationship is like and how it works.

But if it makes you and others feel awkward, call it out. "B, it makes me feel uncomfortable when you are mean like that. [then soften the blow:] N has the patience of a saint!".
posted by smoke at 1:58 PM on November 25, 2012


I read the first sentence of this and thought instantly of a pair of people I knew who had the exact same dynamic. It was horrible and it got to the point where our friend group was uncomfortable hanging out around them. We tried most of what has been suggested in this thread: telling the N-equivalent that B was being unreasonably mean and that they should not take any of it to heart. We made it awkward by not letting B's comments go un-noted in group settings and standing up for N. We never confronted B specifically about it, but they must have known how we felt since we would short-circuit comments they made about N whenever it happened.

In the end, nothing really changed the behavior. I think the only potential moral imperative here is to mention to N at some point that this looks somewhat abusive to you (or whatever word you think is appropriate) and that if you were them, it would make you really uncomfortable and unhappy and that from your perspective it's groundless. That can make a world of difference. When we had that conversation with N, they were appreciative and I'd like to think it helped them manage.
posted by heresiarch at 2:24 PM on November 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Not sure why people are calling this bickering. Bickering sort of has to be mutual. Also, the fact that she doesn't say anything at the time doesn't mean she's okay with it. Doesn't mean she's not okay with it either, but it's not a good way to tell. The best way to tell is generally to be supportive and give them a listening ear.
posted by the young rope-rider at 3:56 PM on November 25, 2012


I want to disagree with the young robe-rider on this:
"Therapy for the abuser or couples' therapy won't actually help with the abuse."
and this
"Also, you're looking at it as "helping your friend" who is abusive. He's absolutely, absolutely not the one who needs "help".

On the first point I really don't see why therapy for the abuser or couples' therapy won't help Seems like this option has been dismissed without sufficient consideration - perhaps the young rope-rider can let us in on their reasoning?
On the second point I do not dispute that N needs help, but I think there is nothing wrong with looking at it as "helping your friend" who is abusive. Both abuser and victim need help.

Good on you for trying to help either of your friends in this situation.
I hope you find a solution!
posted by EatMyHat at 7:27 PM on November 25, 2012


The reasoning is a ton of research about abuse in intimate relationships. Couples' therapy is particularly dangerous for the abused party and for that reason, many, many couples' therapists refuse to work with couples if they suspect abuse. As for individual therapy...there's nothing to suggest that he has any sort of mental illness that would be helped by therapy. Most abusers are pretty happy and well-adjusted, actually. They're just assholes. Therapy is not actually a cure for being an asshole. Nor do people need help and support because they're being assholes.
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:35 PM on November 25, 2012 [5 favorites]


I mean, if this were anyone but his partner, would we be talking about supporting him? If he randomly told acquaintances "holy shit, keep it together" because they dared to laugh, we'd be writing him off as a toxic asshole, not thinking about how we need to hold his hand and treat him like the victim when he's obviously not. The person to support here is the person who he's being consistently nasty to. If she's genuinely okay with it, fine, no harm no foul. "Supporting" the abusive partner in an abusive relationship is beyond pointless, in fact it might actually be harmful to the victim. There are a lot of myths out there about the (usually male) partner being really sad and in need of help etc. etc. but it's largely bullshit. Like I said, they're usually happy and they usually get a lot of benefits from their abusive behavior and that's why they do it. They are by no means out of control or mentally ill just because they behave abusively.
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:51 PM on November 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


You're always allowed to talk about what makes you uncomfortable. "Jesus, B, give it a rest; I want to hear N's story!" or "That's a douchebag thing to say, B. N's chocolate cake is delicious" or whatever. B doesn't get to control other people's responses to N.

Based on my own experiences I agree strongly with this advice, but you'll have to judge in your circumstances. I agree for reasons related to what the young rope-rider has said-- pretty much, if he was acting like a jackass to ANY of your friends, a public "what the fuck, man" would be warranted. Just because it happens to be his partner doesn't mean that normal social rules of not being a jackass in front of everyone go away.

But I also agree with it because it gives her an out and a model of not putting up with his bullshit if she doesn't like it, and if she doesn't mind, then it's still valid as a criticism of him butting in and making things uncomfortable for you (and others). If she really wants your help, then you can intervene

And seriously, abusers really don't need your support. They're really good at working up sympathy and support for themselves because they're broken, they can't help it, blah blah, but no one would accept this as a valid excuse in an abusive relationship with a parent, or an abusive friend. If he's really just shitty about a few things he does in public then you telling him to cut it out might be really effective, or he might just be shitty like that, and for now you can just be there for her if she needs you.
posted by stoneandstar at 8:55 PM on November 25, 2012


IMHO, therapy isn't only for people with mental illnesses, it is for anyone going through a tough time, or anyone who has behaviour they are wanting to try to change. It can be challenging and confronting as well as supportive. I can't agree that abusers are well adjusted at all, in fact saying that seems to condone their behaviour. If abusers are happy, they must be a bit sadistic, because they make their victims rather unhappy.

I would not dismiss an abuser as an asshole. I would say they are exhibiting asshole behaviour, but saying they are just assholes removes their responsibility to do anything about it, as though it were an innate part of them rather than a behaviour which they can alter.
posted by EatMyHat at 9:05 PM on November 25, 2012


Well, EatMyHat, generally research into treating abusers tends to disagree with you, so we'll just leave it at that.
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:21 PM on November 25, 2012


Ha, my friend was in this exact situation. She hated it, but couldn't get her partner to stop -- he didn't seem to recognize what he was doing, or why it was a problem. Apart from that one thing, she said their relationship was good.

In that case, his close male friend told him --privately, kindly-- that him saying dismissive things to his girlfriend was making everyone feel awkward, and seemed odd given how happy they seemed otherwise. My friend told me afterwards she was really grateful. They (the couple) talked about it, and I gather that this was the pattern he'd seen with his own parents, and it had never occurred to him that it was not normal/okay --- his friend telling him that was an important signal. He did then try to stop, and mostly succeeded.

Plus, once it had been named as a thing (and people knew she was not okay with it), that gave everyone around them social permission to call him out in future -- in a variety of ways: jokey, serious, whatever. That was good, I think -- he wanted to behave differently, and the people around them helped him stick to it.
posted by Susan PG at 11:21 PM on November 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


The young rope-rider: Can you recommend me some of that research to read?
posted by EatMyHat at 5:35 AM on November 26, 2012


If anyone wants insight into why abusers do what they do, Why Does He Do That is a great book.

I'm also not clear on the difference between being an asshole and exhibiting asshole behavior, but that's getting a bit off-topic.

That said, I don't know that we can infer that N is abusive - that's kind of up to B, really. But if she does come to you for support, give her whatever support you can.
posted by k8lin at 10:30 AM on November 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


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