My friend has just confided that her new husband is often verbally abusive, and occasionally physically abusive. I honestly don't know how to help.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (35 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
My friend (call her Leah) and her husband (call him Rob) have a fairly intense relationship. They argue a lot- he's older than her and has been single a long time, so his ability to compromise has perhaps been compromised- plus he has a bit of a "lose temper, then repress it and move on" way of dealing with conflict. On the other hand, she likes to talk everything out immediately, lengthily, and sometimes loudly, which means she sometimes gets in his face and forces him to talk even when he wants to leave. There's a bit of an ongoing power struggle in the marriage. She's physically tiny; he's large and a trained boxer who loves hunting and martial arts.
Several times during their 3-year courtship, and now almost 2-year marriage, she hinted to me that he can be a little scary when he loses his temper and that he can be cruel and sometimes call her names. I didn't take the hint (oh, the guilt). Last week, she hinted at it again and admitted that when he's mad he calls her a c*nt. Woah. I finally took the hint and asked if he had ever hit her and she just burst into tears.
So as far as I know, there have been only two moments of physical abuse:
Once, before the marriage, they were arguing and he shoved her so hard that she hit her head on a doorframe. The second time was very soon after the wedding, when they had a huge screaming match. He tried to leave the room, she barred his way, yelling & swearing at him (the first & only time she ever treated him the way he habitually treats her), and he slapped her.
He outweighs her by a good 100 lbs. Since the slap he hasn't hit her but they fight a lot, and she says she doesn't trust him and is scared of him. Understandable.
What do I do?
He has a gun license and a number of hunting rifles in a locked gun cabinet in their apartment. She believes that if she tells a therapist about him hitting her, the therapist will be obligated to have his gun license revoked, and she can't imagine being the one who takes away the hobby by which he defines himself. I don't think the guns are an obvious threat to her safety- they're in a locked cabinet and as far as I can tell, in his mind, they are definitely for hunting game- but I would hate to plan my next action on a hope like that and, God forbid, be proved wrong.
They've been married such a short time, and when their marriage is good they seem to be a perfect match. But he has a deeply chauvinistic streak and a violent temper, and she's a firebrand feminist whose method of dealing with conflict seems to really get his back up.
After the slap, he agreed to do an anger management home work program, but he let it fall away after barely making a dent in it. They saw a few marriage counsellors but as soon as each professional agreed with Leah, Rob suddenly didn't like that therapist any more. To his credit, she says Rob told her after the slap to take whatever action she felt necessary, and that he wouldn't be mad if she told people about it- but Leah was so ashamed that she didn't tell anyone until now, over a year later. Rob told only one person, their close mutual friend, who's a professional therapist- and for some reason, that woman never mentioned it to Leah at all, even though she and Leah are close friends.
Leah says I'm the only person she's told because she didn't want her friends to hate Rob, and she really wants to try to save the marriage. I believe she's deeply in love with him, and when things are good, I can see why. But on the other hand, I actually don't like him that much, even before finding out about the abuse- I think he's childish, petulant, selfish, and lacks self-awareness. For instance, when she told him, "Calling me a c*nt is verbally abusive," he responded, "Well you abuse me, too." (I honestly believe her when she says she doesn't; she says the worst thing she ever tells him is that he's acting like a child.)
So.... I really, really hope they split up, and soon. But that's her decision to make. In the meantime, how can I be a good friend to her?
So far, I've told her:
It's not her fault,
It's ok if the marriage doesn't work out, she doesn't have to tell people why unless she wants to, and nobody will judge her for it,
To think of the advice she'd give me if I told her my partner had slapped me (she'd have my suitcases packed inside an hour),
To let him leave the room during fights because it might be his last resort of self-control, and maddening as it is, it's better to be ignored than punched,
I gave her my housekey and told her my house was hers at any time, day or night,
and to take every precaution to avoid getting pregnant.
What else can I do? I can't stop thinking about this.
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