Supporting a partner in an ongoing, arguably abusive relationship
February 26, 2013 6:36 AM Subscribe
Looking for resources for supporting a partner (and my own mental health) in an ongoing, possibly abusive relationship with a family member.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (8 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I have found myself in a relationship with a wonderful woman who is a great match for me in every way. However, she is in an ongoing relationship with an abusive family member, and I have not been doing a great job of dealing with it.
My partner (20s female; I'm a male in my early 30s) has a family member who has been abusive to her and members of her family for many years - physically, sexually, and emotionally. The physical abuse has stopped, but she has maintained a relationship with this person, and has often had negative emotional reactions to interacting with him. She is currently in therapy, and is recently "out" about the details of this abuse to her therapist and to her mom. However, she has generally not discussed these issues with other people, including the abusive family member. She maintains a relationship with this person, and sees him regularly, but does not discuss it openly.
Fortunately for me, I have no direct experience of abuse. I have dated several people who had experienced abuse previously, but never someone who was in a seemingly unresolved relationship with someone who had abused them. I have had a very difficult time adapting to the situation, and have caused more drama than I would have liked. Specifically, there have been a few challenges that I have struggled with:
- Maintaining the secrets of what happened, and acting cordially with and about this person;
- Ignoring or dealing with the abuser's isolating behaviors (e.g. saying strongly negative things about me behind my back);
- Maintaining secrecy while having some (small, but non-zero) concerns that this person may be abusing specific others;
- Dealing with feelings of anger in a productive way;
- Feeling helpless to stop behavior that seems very wrong to me;
- Reacting to stories from my partner about past AND present problems, without freaking out;
- Dealing with reactions from my partner that seem like defending the abuser, when I react emotionally to some piece of information;
- Dealing with resentful reactions from mom, who thinks I am making this issue all about me, and not supporting my partner;
- Being able to let go of the topic if it comes up, without stewing or going away from my partner.
I'd really appreciate any references to books or other resources that could help in dealing with these issues, specifically in the context of an ongoing relationship as I have described (vs. "survivors" of abuse). I am planning to join in on my partner's therapy session at the end of this week. I think a logical next step from this will be therapy sessions for me alone. However, I am from the school of LET'S RESOLVE THIS ALL RIGHT NOW OK and feel listless without clear next actions.
(posted with my partner's permission, although I asked her not to look at it for now so that I can ask for help without censoring myself)