How do we deal with an abusive brother-in-law after my sister decides to take him back?
November 26, 2008 1:28 PM   Subscribe

My brother-in-law's domestic abuse is tearing my family apart and I really don't know what to do or how to handle the situation anymore. I need some advice.

I come from a relatively small family. It's my mom, two sisters and me. My sisters and I are all married (them with kids) and all live separately.

The story:
A couple months ago, one of my sisters (Sister A) was choked by her husband in front of the kids. She left, and returned a short time later with my other sister (Sister B) to get the children out of there. He wound up assaulting her as well and breaking her phone when she tried to call for help. They left, the cops got involved, charges were pressed, restraining orders were issued and he went to jail for a day. After about a week apart, Sister A decided to let him back into the house and her life on the condition that he attends anger management classes and counseling.

This wasn't the first incident. He has a history of violent and abusive behavior over the 15+ years they've known eachother and have been together. He's an alcoholic and drug addict and continued drinking when they got back together. Nobody in my family has ever liked him, even though we've always been friendly and accepting. Until now.

Both myself and Sister B have adamantly avoided being around him since the incident, which also means we've missed one of their kid's birthday parties.

Enter Christmas:
Christmas has always been a special time of year for my mother. It's when her Mom died and it's one of the rare occasions where we get together as a family - just us.

I really thought Sister A's husband would have the common sense / decency to excuse himself from showing up when nobody wants him there. But now it's turning into a 'thing'. Sister A told my mom that she doesn't know how to tell her kids that "daddy can't come to Christmas". And Sister B hung up on my mother when she made a plea to put it aside for a day so we can all be together. Personally, very reluctantly willing to go if he's going to be there, though I'm really not even sure how to handle it and afraid of what I might do to make it even worse.

And while I'm afraid it might be too late to do anything to save Christmas, this is something that I can't see an end to... unless she leaves him. But as long as she chooses to try and make it work, it's something the rest of us are going to be forced to deal with one way or another.

My mom has been crying about the whole thing for a month now. Tensions between everyone are through the roof. I can't help but feel like his abuse has extended beyond my sister and he's now abusing my entire family by virtue of his mere existence in our lives. To top it all off, my poor mother is in the midst of possibly being diagnosed with breast cancer. Everyone is so upset and angry about everything right now, I really don't know what to do.

Any advice?
posted by csimpkins to Human Relations (54 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Just be there for Sister A.

My aunt was basically put in this very position last year. My cousin was brutally beaten by her husband (to include broken bones)....months later apparently they got back together and lo and behold he shows up for the holiday meal. (My aunt holds a huge dinner and everyone comes-relatives, boyfriends and girlfriends, friends, etc.)

She was polite. People were polite.

It was one of the hardest things she ever did.

The only reason I suggest you all get together and do the biggest acting job of your lives? It is very probable that all this tension can trigger a very nasty episode for your sister. If they do come (and I assume no alcohol will be served) and everyone can act politely, it is doing a really good thing for HER. This does not mean you have to like him, and it does not condone what he has done to her.

I'm sorry, this is not what you want to hear. But all the other scenarios I am running in my head are much, much worse.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 1:39 PM on November 26, 2008 [2 favorites]

Well, as far as everything you've said, she has every reason in the world to Dump That Motherfucker Already- he assaulted her and broke her phone when she called the cops.
There isn't any 'making it work'. He could kill her.

So yes, she need to leave him, as in now-- and you shouldn't feel reluctant to tell her that. As far as Christmas is concerned, if your sister won't tell him he can't come with, you or your mother can tell him he's not welcome.
posted by dunkadunc at 1:44 PM on November 26, 2008

I think if your sister has accepted him, you have to go with it for her sake and do the best you can for her and her children; at least for one day at Christmas. Maybe, probably, it won't work, but you surely want to feel that you did your best. And who knows? Maybe (very much against the odds, I know) there can be a good outcome.

More realistically, perhaps, you want your sister to know that you were always supportive of her, so that once the relationship has collapsed, at least your relationship with her is intact.
posted by Phanx at 1:46 PM on November 26, 2008

As someone who used to be deeply involved in a verbally abusive relationship with a man, I can understand why your sister is trapped in the relationship. I am sure that she is driving herself crazy, and that the tension from your family doesn't help a whole lot. While I totally understand and agree that he IS basically abusing your whole family, there is not a lot your family can do besides trying to love her.

I would say that if she wants to bring him to Christmas, then it would be wise to let her. She needs as much support and love as she can get; I know I did. Someday, she may be able to break out of the cycle, but until she can, nothing you do is going to change her mind on it.

Just be super-supportive, try to be civil (this is not saying that you have to like him. at all. or even really converse with him too much) with her husband, and maybe Christmas can just be awkward instead of violent.

This is an extremely touchy situation, and my prayers and thoughts are totally with you on this. I really want to say "try to get him arrested and jailed so he's out of her life!", but really, the real change has to start with your sister, and no amount of outside force is going to remove her bonds to him.

If you want to better understand, try reading this. It's what got me to start realizing how badly I was being treated in my situation, and after reading it, maybe you can slowly recommend it to your sister or use the knowledge to help her if she won't read it herself.
posted by aliceinreality at 1:52 PM on November 26, 2008

Her life is in danger. I don't understand how people willfully ignore this - her life, and the lives of her children, if the asshole was willing to choke her in front of them. Please do everything you can to get them out of this situation... being a child in an abusive mom-dad relationship scars you in ways you'd never expect - take it from me, first-hand. And if they grow up thinking, knowing, that the rest of their family never tried removing this bastard from their lives, all while being aware of the crimes he's committed, there is going to be serious resentment. So for their sakes... Do what you can.

And really, do the kids WANT Dad there for Christmas, seeing him assault their mothrr?
posted by Bakuun at 1:54 PM on November 26, 2008 [9 favorites]

The problem here is that if your abused sister is forced to choose, she'll possibly stay home with her revolting husband. Which isolates her further from her family.... and she needs your support. You're not supporting the relationship between her and her husband, you're supporting the relationship between her and yourself and your other sister and the children.

When she finally gets the strength to leave, she'll remember your support and it will help her enormously. It's horrid but you're going to have to suck it up.... in order to keep your eye on the goal... which is to get your sister the hell out of there.

Best of luck to you all, it feels like a no win at the moment... but you do win if you keep your relationship with your sister stronger than her revolting marriage and can support her through this minefield.
posted by taff at 1:55 PM on November 26, 2008 [3 favorites]

People do not have to put themselves at risk because your sister wants to make everything all happy. The kids know daddy's crazy, so telling them means nothing.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:01 PM on November 26, 2008 [2 favorites]

You have a right to see to your safety, so your family is not wrong to ban him. If she can't see telling them that Daddy can't come to Christmas, in light of her being strangled in front of them, it's not like it's a big secret that their parent is bad, and since she agrees with your motive, only the fear of what to tell her kids, that shows a disconnect from reality. Right now your sister is trying to pretend that if she makes believe everything is happy everything will be okay. Her children know Daddy was bad, and shunning them is a lesson in the logical consequence of domestic abuse. A hard lesson, but one that comes with having an abusive parent.
posted by Phalene at 2:03 PM on November 26, 2008 [7 favorites]

Sister B was assaulted by this man. Regardless of the fact that Sister A has made up with him, Sister B has a right (perhaps a legal right - was she included in the restraining order - but definitely a moral right) to expect her ATTACKER to be kept away from her.

I would give a very different answer if only Sister A had been attacked.
posted by hworth at 2:15 PM on November 26, 2008 [7 favorites]

I fully believe that associating with people like this, caving into having Christmas with them, going to birthdays, etc etc on some level implies that you condone their behavior or at the very least that their behavior was forgivable. I do not believe in implicitly condoning your brother in laws actions or your sister's decision to endanger her life and her children's life and emotional health my staying with this man. Sometimes the way you love someone is standing up to them even when it is hard and endangers your relationship with them. I fully understand why people may disagree with me on this and that there is another side. But I don't think that this is something you should just to "keep the peace." Tell your sister that you love her too much to sit and eat turkey across from the man that choked her in front of her children, but that you'll do anything and everything you can to help her leave him.
posted by whoaali at 2:19 PM on November 26, 2008 [9 favorites]

When Sister B was assaulted, and charges were made and restraining orders put in place -- were the charges dropped? Did Sister A or Sister B drop the charges? And the restraining order -- was it an order to keep away from his wife, or Sister B? Is it still in place?

Those questions were a hope to find an "excuse" for you. Now, what I would do: I would love Sister A and her children more than I hate her miserable husband. Those kids are seeing a lot that they don't need to see -- alcoholism, drug abuse, physical abuse. They need to see some normal things, have a few good days, and have a lot of love showered over them.

That's not to say that just because he's there, you have to be friendly to him. I'd toe the line between icy and merely cordial.
posted by Houstonian at 2:26 PM on November 26, 2008

If I were in this situation I would look at different arrangements for celebrating Christmas. Perhaps this means that you won't have an extended family Christmas get together at Christmas. You all celebrate Christmas in your own respective homes with your own immeidate families, and your mother picks one home to go to. Then you have a combined family get-together for everyone after Christmas with the caveat that the abusive brother-in-law is not invited. Downplay the whole Christmas aspect of this get together.

Honestly, I just think there are times when you just shouldn't smile and pretend nothing's happening. I'd refuse to have the abusive brother-in-law in my house or to visit his home or any other event if he's going to be present.
posted by orange swan at 2:28 PM on November 26, 2008

Mom, and Sister A need to know, that sister B has the right to have christmas without sitting with the man who assaulted her, and that by having him there, they are putting his reputation above Sister B's needs. I'd phrase it that way to sister A.
And remember, it's not really about the kids, it's about his reputation with them.
If they really want, the kids & sister A can have Christmas breakfast, lunch, or dinner with their father, and a different meal with your family.

If it was just Sister A who had been assaulted, then, as screwed up as it would be, if she'd forgiven him then there might be some justification for the rest of the family keeping polite and staying out of it, under the guise of her life, her choice, and 'protecting her'.
But Sister B has not, is no obligation to welcome him, and the rest of the family... well, I'd say their obligation is to protect sister B.
posted by Elysum at 2:30 PM on November 26, 2008 [5 favorites]

As a survivor of familial and more personal domestic abuse, my experience says it is better to leave the abuser out of family gatherings, especially when they have abused someone outside of their household who was trying to help. It only leads to more tension, violence, recrimination, and spreads the trauma.

Telling your sister you love her very much and want only the best for her but cannot have the threat of violence hanging over the heads of the rest of the family (particularly the sister who was assaulted) AND telling Mum that as much as she wants things to be otherwise, no one else should have to spend their holiday in fear for the sake of appearances, to me, seems like the best way to handle things.

However, there may be a difference of opinion from the people who professionally support people in such situations, so how about giving them a call and seeing what they suggest as the safest, least traumatic option?
posted by batmonkey at 2:37 PM on November 26, 2008

I'm sorry for your situation. If it were my family involved, I'd inform Sister A that she just has to tell the kids that Christmas comes without their father this year. If he is indeed intent on turning himself around, he should understand that there is a certain amount of penance that needs to be done and he needs to prove he can be trusted again. Can he not go to his family for the day?

There is no way that I'd subject my mother, Sister B or my own family to the potential abuse this situation could degenerate into.

You love your sister and will always be there for her, but she has to understand that you have the rest of the family to consider.

It won't be a pleasant conversation, but it's how I'd handle it.

If he does end up coming over, then he has to be sober and no alcohol in the house. Good luck.
posted by arcticseal at 2:43 PM on November 26, 2008

I gave my advice with the goal of not having sister A get beaten either on Thanksgiving itself or on the days leading up to it.

Sister A is the only one that can decide to get out of this relationship. Isolating her from her family is not going to help her.

As an aside, since it looks like she is trying to save her marriage, someone needs to explain to her that a separation from him might be the better way to go about that. She and the kids are in a safe place, and HE has to do the work he needs to do to get his family back. If someone can suggest this to her, maybe she will have an easier time getting her mind around a separation. If he does what he needs to do, great! If not, she is safe, period. (Assuming he is not the kind of guy who would stalk her.)

Yeah, call an abuse hotline. This takes some expert advice.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 3:04 PM on November 26, 2008

Perhaps you could hire a security guard for the family dinner, plunk him down near the brother in law, and make it a point to treat the guard more like family than the BIL?
posted by Calloused_Foot at 3:11 PM on November 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm sorry for your mother's potential health issues, but she's asking you to make nice with a guy who's already assaulted two of her daughters. For the sake of a holiday. Oy.

You should be making alternate Christmas plans. All of you.
posted by sageleaf at 3:12 PM on November 26, 2008 [3 favorites]

I am very sorry you and your family find yourself in this situation.

I gently suggest that this is one of those complicated scenarios best left to experts to help you work through. The advice above to tell him not to come, dump him, keep the violence away from mom, bring the violence to mom, tell the guy off, tell your sister to do this or that, etc. could very well put your sister in more danger than you could ever imagine. It could take her life, no hyperbole intended. This is not an area in which armchair diagnoses from amateurs will help you come to a satisfactory conclusion.

Please call the domestic abuse crisis hotline in your area and talk to a trained professional. They are equipped with the knowledge and training to help you deal with the decisions that will best protect your sister and your family.

What I learned from years of training and then working with domestic abuse victims: Often, what seems like poor decision making or weak, stupid women caving in to an abusive partners' demands are women doing what they need to do to stay alive and safe.

More often than not, victims are best positioned and best educated about the whims and dangers of their partners to make decisions to keep themselves safe. DTMFA is not always sound advice when the MF is abusive. Especially when the advice is based on 'gut feeling' of well-intentioned internet strangers armed with anecdotes. This kind of advice can unwittingly escalate the danger the victim finds herself in.

That's somewhat tangential to the question. The correct answer is to seek professional help from a domestic violence advocacy group, hotline or shelter immediately. Someone will take your call now, at midnight or on Thanksgiving Day. Emergency housing can often be arranged for your sister and her children at once if necessary, depending on where you live.

Christmas season or not, mom's health or not, the most important thing is the immediate and continued safety of your sister and her children.

Best of luck.
posted by vincele at 3:19 PM on November 26, 2008 [8 favorites]

There are two different things going on here.

One is that your sister needs to make an exit plan and get out of the relationship before he kills her. The other is what to do about Xmas.

For the former, you can try to get your sister to visit support groups and get guidance from abuse survivors and abuse line professionals. It often takes time and support before abused women can come to terms with their decision about leaving. It's a very difficult place for family members to be - trying to support their loved one while not indulging her delusions about how the abuser is going to change.

Regarding Xmas, can *you* call your brother in law and just ask him to not come this year? Explain that feelings from the incident a few months ago are just too raw and that there's extra stress related to your mom's illness. Ask him if, as a favor, he could absent himself from the family celebration this year? Tell him that this idea just comes from you - it's not your sisters' or mom's idea - you personally are just trying to figure out a way to recreate a special intimate family time, and this was an idea you came up with.
posted by jasper411 at 3:21 PM on November 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm going to mention one more thing to consider when it comes to the children caught in the middle of this. Having this Christmas dinner will teach them:

1) That it is okay to hide your distress and pretend to be happy around those closest to you,
2) That abuse is to be tolerated and kept hush hush for the sake of the holidays, and
3) That having a dinner is more important than family safety.

Since Sister A is concerned about them, this might help drive the point home that this is a bad idea.
posted by Bakuun at 3:27 PM on November 26, 2008 [21 favorites]

I wish I could delete my response. I think batseal and vincele have it right.
posted by Houstonian at 3:30 PM on November 26, 2008

(batmonkey, I mean.)
posted by Houstonian at 3:32 PM on November 26, 2008

I have been in a physically abusive realtionship, and as a person who actually knows what they are talking about, I put all my chips on 'let him come'.

Others above have stated so well the reasons.

Showing your support of her, keeping her safer during the holidays when so many abusers go off their rocker, letting the kids see a 'normal', healthier family interact. He will be on his absolute BEST behavior around everyone (as they do), and besides uncomfortableness, is unlkely to do much else. If treated like crap, he will undoubtedly 'punish' her for it.

It's all well and good to tell an abused person to 'just leave' but that oversimplifies it. An abuser has layers and layers of manipulations going on, and you never know what a person may do behind closed doors. One thing a lot of people do when faced with this situation is to cut the abused person out of their life, as some sort of tough love exercise.

"if you stay with so-and-so, lose my number.""I'd just stab him, leave, kill him, etc." I hope these people NEVER have to understand how wrong they are. It's like wishing someone had cancer so they would understand how it feels. You wouldn't want that, so their ignorance is truly bliss, in this case.

All this does is slam one more door to help, and ultimately, escape, in the person's face. The more people told me to 'just leave', the more I 'knew' in my brainwashed, ravaged, exhausted mind, that everyone thought I was a fool, and yes, if I stayed, I "deserved it". An abuser tells you a million times a day that it is somehow your fault, and since the whole world is telling you basically the same thing, you come to believe it. If I wouldn't have done this, he wouldn't have done that, on and on. Day after day.

I'm sorry your family is going through this. There is no right answer, except to let her know you are there for her. Never shut her out or give her ultimatums. She's trapped, for now, and needs your help and support more than ever if she's ever to get away.

I'm going to jump off this topic since it is a bit of a trigger for me, but don't abandon your sister. She needs to know that it's not her fault, and that when she's ready to leave, you and her whole family will be there for her.
posted by Grlnxtdr at 3:56 PM on November 26, 2008 [4 favorites]

And of course, domestic abuse hotlines (which, incidentally, didn't do jack shit for me, sorry)
posted by Grlnxtdr at 4:00 PM on November 26, 2008

I'm with St. Alia and Grinxtdr. Until she leaves him, it's safer FOR HER if you let him come and make nice and pretend that Nothing Ever Happened. It's sick, yes, but at the very least, it lowers the odds that he beats the shit outta her in front of the kids during, before, or after dinner. Also, "taking a stand" and making ultimatums against the guy only isolates her more and leaves her with only him to rely on. If y'all are family feuding, drawing the us vs. him line right now is going to leave her picking him because she's trying to conform as best she can to his demands for her own and her kids' safety.

Yes, it's terrible to teach the kids everything bakuun said, but...they've already learned those lessons at home as is. They learn it every day right now.
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:04 PM on November 26, 2008

The guy needs, at the very least, to be asked to stay away.

I've been criticized here before for my opinion on this kind of thing, but I haven't changed it.

If I ever tried to harm my wife the way this guy tried to harm your sister, I'd fully expect her to press charges and leave me forever, and would think less of her if she failed to do so.

I still just don't understand why people stay in potentially fatal abusive relationships, and I guess I never will.
posted by imjustsaying at 4:06 PM on November 26, 2008

Please take my word here: growing up in a domestically abusive household is much, much worse than hearing that the abusive parent will no longer be around. From the child's perspective, facing a holiday with the abusive parent present is much worse than facing a holiday WITH that parent. I understand the concern regarding preserving the safety of the mother, but if the argument here is to protect the children from the father's absence, I say forget it. That is NOT protecting them; every day--including holidays--that they are subjected to the presence of such a harmful, volatile person will continue to damage them and put them at risk of very real danger. Every minute around that man puts them at risk of being hurt--not just physically, but also emotionally and psychologically.

I wish I could have all the Christmases back that were ruined by knowing that that person was going to be present. It contaminates everything, for everyone.
posted by anonnymoose at 4:15 PM on November 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

(Pardon, I meant that "facing a holiday with the abusive parent present is much worse than facing a holiday WITHOUT that parent".)
posted by anonnymoose at 4:16 PM on November 26, 2008

The danger is that if the family takes any action against him, that he'll take it out on your sister the moment he gets the chance behind closed doors. If he's banned and she boycotts the festivities in solidarity with him then that makes her and her kids more vulnerable - nobody there to intervene. On the other hand if he's tolerated then, yes you are teaching the kids that these things get hushed up in your family and that nobody wants to hear it if he's abusive.

So yes, you probably do need professional advice, but your sister who's been assaulted absolutely should not be expected to be there.
posted by Flitcraft at 4:18 PM on November 26, 2008

I agree with Bakuun. Never mind your sisters, think of the kids - do you really think the kids want their dad around after seeing him strangle their mom?

Sister A told my mom that she doesn't know how to tell her kids that "daddy can't come to Christmas".

Oh, please. How old are they? If they're old enough to recognise strangling as a Bad Thing, and especially if they also saw him assault their mom and aunt (it's not clear whether they saw that part) they're old enough to connect the dots and realize that maybe it's not a good idea for him to go to a Christmas party with Grandma and Aunt B.

It's not the same thing, but my mom and dad (verbally) fought constantly when I was a teenager and I was always perplexed when Mom insisted that Dad come along to the Christmas party with her side of the family, because it wasn't like they liked spending time with each other normally. (And yes, I do realize that Mom probably saw it differently, but from a child's perspective, this is the impression I got.)

Note: I'm not suggesting talking to the kids and giving them a "Mom or Dad" ultimatum. I'm just saying, Sister A using the kids as an excuse to bring her abuser is likely just that - an excuse. The kids aren't stupid. They realize what's going on.
posted by Xany at 4:34 PM on November 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

After re-reading all replies, I throw my support 100% behind vincele. Professional advice from a trained expert seems essential.
posted by anonnymoose at 4:36 PM on November 26, 2008

Some may not want to read this but I'm typing it anyway.

I was in the same situation as you with my own sister about a decade ago. Right down to the "take him back / anger management" bullshit. He hit her again. She left again. He tried to win her back again. She mentioned to me that she was thinking about it and that "he's really not that bad a guy".

I told him I would kill him if he so much as talked to my sister again or told anyone about our conversation. Because this was right after I kicked down his door and broke his right arm, left wrist, nose, and three ribs and left him in a bloody, crying mess on his living room floor, he knew I was serious. (Believe me, this fucker is still ahead of the game).

My sister managed to stay away from him (he was the one always calling her when she'd split). She'd heard through the grapevine of his beating but just assumed that it was unrelated to her as, being the cock he is, he had it coming.

She felt out of place not being with him right after but her family and friends helped her cope and she eventually met another guy who she's been with since and now has a kid with.

I confessed to my crime last year at a family gathering. My sister had honestly never been as thankful.

I'm not saying that this is the solution to your problem. Chances are it is not. However, it was the solution to mine.
posted by Manhasset at 4:37 PM on November 26, 2008 [11 favorites]

I just wanted to add that abusers *love it* when the family and friends turn their backs on the victim.

Isolate, isolate, isolate. Blame, blame, blame, abuse abuse abuse.

It's what makes them tick. It's what keeps people in.

The more alone she feels, the less strength she will have to do what *she already knows she needs to do. *

She doesn't need to feel like 'people think less of her' because she stays. That's one of the reasons she can't get out. The abuser counts on this, and has probably said it to her a million times.

"everyone thinks you're stupid, weak, it's your fault."

God, it's that very fucking attitude that makes it so hard to get real help.

When I was in that situation (mind you, people have said they would NEVER have thought I'd "put up with that") I felt like a piece of crumpled up paper, and when you opened it up, there was nothing on it. That's how much he fucked with my head.
posted by Grlnxtdr at 4:46 PM on November 26, 2008

Hm. I'll be more specific and much less guarded (and definitely less succinct + possibly more emotional):

I have been in a few domestic violence saturated relationships *myself* and learned by bringing violent people to family gatherings that their problems were more compelling than "making nice" for the family and, in one case, even ended up creating a whole new world of hurt that took a very long time to resolve and put me in a more difficult position as far as getting away.

Before that, I had multiple family members and family "friends" abusing other family members or even myself, and my universal experience was that having them present was not at all worth it if it could at all be avoided. And those who were addicts of whatever stripe were pretty much guaranteed to pull something no matter how hard everyone else tried to neuter the event of any temptation or drama.

There is no way to know what limits there are to his violence, if any, and guessing based even on what other survivors have lived through is imperfect at best and dangerous at worst. Bringing him isn't a guarantee this will make things better for anyone. And, if the sister he assaulted who is not married to him does not want him there to the degree that she won't attend, that's a pretty good encouragement to perhaps have separate celebrations this year.

Violence is messy. The fact that your sister is in a current relationship with a violent person who has shown they cannot control their responses to the degree of assaulting a witness and destroying their means of contact speaks to a level of willingness to hush things up that can go beyond messy and into irrevocably tragic.

Every year, I mourn a friend who thought she could "fix him" and ended up losing her life. I have family I will never see again because their abusers moved them far away from us so they could damage them away from our loving arms. There are friends I have had to run rescue because their "cured" mate suddenly lost it over not getting the last piece of pizza one night. I am not unique. We see it in the news constantly (recent example).

You cannot predict abusers. You can only do what you can to protect yourself and those you love. Keeping violent people away from them is a good start, if it is possible. If it is not, being prepared with advice from law enforcement and advocacy professionals is your next best option.

If that order of restraint is still in effect and the sister he isn't married to is on it, by law he cannot be in attendance and it can damage future attempts by law enforcement to curtail his behaviour or even charge him if it is controverted. Please encourage all family members to take that seriously, even to the degree of sacrificing a family Christmas this year so as to avoid unnecessary pain and repercussions while this works out.

Advocate groups and crisis lines differ, but most will at least know what the current legal ramifications are and can at least advise you on what to do if he does come and becomes violent. They can also tell you how to respond to your sister's various stages of acceptance. They can give you coping mechanisms and other resources, too. They don't work for all people, for various reasons. But that's why contacting more than one agency is a good idea, particularly if you feel under-served by any particular agency.

Finally, speaking from the viewpoint of the abused kid I can still see through the eyes of, Bakuun is predicting the very likely outcome from their perspective. Be there for them.
posted by batmonkey at 4:54 PM on November 26, 2008

I don't see anyone recommending that approach...? It seems like everyone here is advising him and his family to be supportive of the sister married to the violent person and not shut her out.

I'm sorry you went through that. I'm glad you're in a happy, healthy relationship now and can see it all from a remove (well, as removed as one can be after all that) instead of living it directly. May your continued healing be thorough and expedient.

Man. A lotta hugs need to be distributed, STAT.
posted by batmonkey at 5:03 PM on November 26, 2008

Bat, you're right, no one was telling him to turn his back on his sis...oversensitivity, much, grlnxtdr?

Thanks for the support. I just know I felt really alone when it was happening to me, (My family and "friends" didn't know a fraction of what was happening to me, I didn't want to scare and upset them) and if my family had said, it's us or him, I would have been pretty much forced to take his side, or pay dearly for it later. sometimes 'keeping the peace' is better than 'making a stand'. Only she really knows what he will do.

Csimpkins, your sis is probably wishing the holidays go by quickly and without incident. My advice is do whatever you all can do to make that happen. It isn't saying what he's doing is excusable, it's saying to her (and him) that she's not alone. She can draw strength from that, I know.
posted by Grlnxtdr at 5:37 PM on November 26, 2008

I agree very much with batmonkey. My father was an alcoholic, an addict, and very physically abusive. After we finally left him, the scars from years of everyone pretending that we were a big happy family took much longer to heal (and really, still haven't) than the ones he left on my mother and I with his hands. Everyone around us acting like the bruises weren't there for years told both him and us that his violence was normal and that we deserved what he did to us. Clearly, I thought then, if everyone acts like nothing is wrong then it means nothing is wrong. It puts mental shackles on that persist after the violence ends.

Of course, it's massively important not to isolate your sister as that would only make her feel more like she doesn't have options. And it's not unlikely that excluding him from the holiday would make him retaliate because it takes away some of the control he's so desperate for. That's why, step one is putting a plan into action that empowers, guides, and supports her to get out of this situation as soon as possible. Screw Christmas, screw good manners. The only important thing here is the safety of your sister and her kids. He is controlling all of you. You're all walking on eggshells out of fear of upsetting a violent tyrant who is a constant physical and emotional threat to all of you. This is what abusers do, and he'll keep doing it as long as everyone lets him.

It seems like your sister may not be ready to leave her husband, and no matter how much you love her, you can't make her do it. That said, again, her life and the lives of her children are at stake. Talk to some experts, to a lawyer, and get into counseling. Leaving him will be the hardest thing your sister will ever do, not least because of those mental shackles, but things will only get worse until someone finds the strength to make a change.
posted by mostlymartha at 5:47 PM on November 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

It sounds like your ideal scenario is that Sister A and kids come along for Christmas, without him, and that you'll have a lovely family Christmas, and they'll go back and there will be no repercussions.

Unfortunately, it also sounds unlikely that this is a realistic scenario. If he's not welcome, then either she'll come along and face the consequences afterwards, or that she'll not come along at all (and not have the support of her family at a time which is possibly most dangerous for her). Or he can come, and face a probably tense, hopefully "barely civil" response, and Sister A will be protected, at least during the Christmas period.

I take the point about Sister B - but don't know her perspective. Obviously she'd prefer to not have him around, but if it's a choice between him being around and Sister A being safe, or the alternative, how does she feel?

The other thing I feel compelled to comment on is that you mention that he was apparently going to go to anger management classes and counselling, and that based on your post, no incidents have occurred since the point that he returned and agreed to attend classes. I'm not convinced that these classes always work, but if they are working, then you as a family will need to find it within you to accept that people can change.

Yes, in an ideal world, Sister A would have left this guy a long time ago, but she hasn't, and while that's something that frustrates you and makes you feel helpless, it's the reality at the moment and you have to work within that and support her.

Good luck - I hope it all works out for you and your family.
posted by finding.perdita at 6:16 PM on November 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

Manhassett, I wish my brother would have done that for me :)

That's a future Askme, though, so no derail.

Getting Free by Ginny NiCarthy was one of the best books for me, they give these out free at the DV center near you.

Hugs to your sister, hugs to you.
posted by Grlnxtdr at 6:29 PM on November 26, 2008

finding.perdita raises a good point about the possibility of classes and workshops doing good. However, not every bit of abuse or violence can be revealed, and people are excellent at hiding these inner demons. You'd know your family best, of course, and their ability to be either honest or dishonest with themselves and their relatives, but my mom and I for example have been masters at smiling while there is hell going on. Once something this awful and this direct comes to your attention, your mind races to think about the layers and layers of other things that no one ever talks about. My point is, it's easy (and sometimes it becomes perfectly natural) to build a mask and pretend that nothing is wrong, and that anger management has just been working wonderfully.

Professional advice, and therapy, and intervention is by far the best idea in the long run. Definitely take the suggestion written here about talking to someone who specializes in such cases and can offer the best option, but be prepared to take it to the end - not just Christmas dinner, but a possible messy separation. If you'll be talking to good people and notifying them about what happened, they won't leave this alone until your sister and her kids are truly in a safe environment, where they don't have to deal with that looming threat of physical violence in their lives.

Just don't leave this alone. In the scheme of things, the issue of a Christmas dinner is a triviality.
posted by Bakuun at 6:36 PM on November 26, 2008

I gave my advice with the goal of not having sister A get beaten either on Thanksgiving itself or on the days leading up to it.

But the OP and her family can't prevent him form beating her.

I vote for not letting him come for three reasons 1) Sister B. I would be absolutely fucking livid if my family invited a man who had physically assaulted me to Christmas. I wouldn't speak to them for years. 2) Sister B's husband. This man attacked his wife and you want to put them in the same room for hours? No chance of trouble there! 3) by treating him even civilly you are feeding into this idea that you can placate his violent impulses by letting him get his way. great example for the kids there.

That's just imho of course and I freely admit I have zero tolerance but for real: if that happened in my family and the guy came to dinner, face to face with other male relatives? That would be quite the scene. Not to mention the legal issues with the restraining orders and what I'd legally do to everyone if I was sister B and put in that position.
posted by fshgrl at 7:32 PM on November 26, 2008 [2 favorites]

Manhassett FTW. I'd cripple him if I knew this sort of thing were going on with my sister.
posted by Scoo at 8:39 PM on November 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

If my blood relatives invited an unrelated man who had assaulted me to Christmas dinner, I would never attend holidays at their house ever again. I might not even speak to them again.

Different holiday plans need to be implemented, then working with counselors after the first of the year.
posted by winna at 8:41 PM on November 26, 2008

fshgrl, read what grlnxdtr said. She is spot on. These guys have triggers. I'm saying they either need to let this guy come to Christmas or the sister needs to get the heck out of dodge NOW. Because this is what I am thinking-she is scared to tell him he's not welcome.

And I don't blame her.

It's not an unreasonable fear.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 8:42 PM on November 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

If you do not understand the dynamics of a sociopath and how they manage to entrap women and families, then please do not comment on the thread. The judgement, based on total ignorance, is completely hurtful and not helpful.

DTMFA doesn't always guarantee an end - I got hit once. I left. It was a year of threats and police visits and restraining orders and even then it only stopped because he left the country.

Its not so cut and dried, so black and white. Walk in someone else's shoes for a change.

echoing: abusers thrive on isolation. this is not about condoning anything. this is about protecting the family member who needs to come to terms with this and get out or get help and get out. the more you are able to include all of them, all the time, the more protected your sister will be. a warning: once he realizes that you're not going to exclude him, the abuser will likely start throwing tantrums and insisting that she and the children stay home with him. if that happens, GO THERE. repeat: do not leave your sister alone for more than you can possibly allow it. there is safety in numbers.

abusers do whatever they can to isolate their prey so that they can continue to emotionally manipulate the person they are abusing so that that person can't see up from down or right from wrong.

and finally, if you're a smart woman who ends up with a sociopath, you feel stupid enough already. asking for help or admitting what's going on just makes you feel worse than you already do, if there's anything left after the abuser's taken his toll on you.

this is more for the people being judgemental than it is for the OP.
posted by micawber at 8:46 PM on November 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

I should also add that I think this is a terrific book on the subject.
posted by Manhasset at 9:06 PM on November 26, 2008

A violent, abusive alcoholic drug addict? Are you kidding me? Your sister and her kids' lives are in danger. If your sister doesn't get that something very serious can happen to her, tell her to think about the kids - you should let her know that her kids will grow up in this environment learning that this is normal, acceptable behavior in relationships & end up in the same thing. They need to get out of there. Do not let him know anything in advance about them leaving, that is the most dangerous time. And if (when) your sister gets out and gets the kids out, do not let her give in and go back. There should be women's shelters and domestic violence counselors in your community to assist, I would hope, especially with getting the authorities involved to make sure she is safe and protected from him once she leaves. For crying out loud, even if he wasn't physically abusing her it would be damaging ENOUGH for the kids growing up with an alcoholic drug addict for a parent.
posted by citron at 9:33 PM on November 26, 2008

this is not about condoning anything. this is about protecting the family member who needs to come to terms with this and get out or get help and get out.

This is also about another family member who was assaulted and who deserves equal consideration. Not to mention the very real possibility that people will NOT be civil and there will be a blow up anyway. Only the family involved can tell how likely that is but in my family, for example, it would be 100% likely to happen given the circumstances.
posted by fshgrl at 9:45 PM on November 26, 2008

I just wanted to clarify that by counselor I meant someone akin to a volunteer trained to listen, or in "options counseling" meaning they cannot tell you what you should do. The counselor does not judge you, her function is to listen and to sort out your legal options. Hotlines can put you in contact with free services like this in your area.

But then I wanted to expand on those points. My group strictly followed these guidelines. Counselors never "told the victim what to do." We explained options, legal and otherwise, but most importantly we listened-- ten minutes or three hours, however long it took. Then we helped the client sort out what she wanted to do based on her comfort level, and her short and medium term needs. This free service took place at the police station.

I mean no disrespect, truly, and admire those of you who have shared so many painful memories. It takes an amount of courage I doubt I myself could muster to share such personal and horrible episodes from my past.

However, blaming the home life of the children on the victim who stays is unfair. It is the abuser, not the abusee, who creates the environment of fear and violence. Victims stay at home because they need money to feed and clothe their kids, and they need a roof over their head. They fear they will lose their children to their husbands who earn enough to gain custody, they fear becoming homeless with kids. They fear escalated violence, or violence redirected to the kids. These are just some of the many fears clients communicated to me over the years.

In short, there are many, many complicated considerations that we cannot even begin to guess at why this woman stays.

Even if you had a childhood of shitty Christmases due to an abusive home life, making this victim feel worse about her kids having a shitty Christmas will not improve the situation for anyone in this family. (Hell, my parents are 40 years happily married, but my Christmases have always been shitty due to my parents' crazy unprovoked anger towards me.)

This is what a trained dv counselor could offer that we cannot: she would listen to the victim, or the sisters' concerns never tell her what to do, ever. That's the first cardinal rule. The second rule is that the counselor would never, ever, make her feel guilty for decisions she had or had not made for her kids' sake.

Of course, the kids' welfare would come into play early on. The counselor would want to know upfront if the children had ever been the target of violence, for instance.

But in the time I did this, I saw very few women make piss poor decisions. I saw a lot of women constrained by money, because violence usually preceded men stealing hard-earned cash from the women they lived with. (Cash, because the clients were poor and had unstable jobs that paid cash.)

In this thread, both those cardinal rules-- "don't tell a victim what to do" and "don't guilt a victim into a decision (in this case) about kids and Christmas"-- have been violated repeatedly, though obviously with good intentions. But in doing so, I worry about the consequences for the victim and her family. Again, I mean not to disparage any member nor belittle anyone's personal experience. I sincerely wish to only highlight the fact that no two dv experiences are alike, and drawing comparisons based on personal experience and scanty knowledge about this case is irresponsible.

The advantages of calling a hotline is that it can put the family in touch with multiple groups in their area. Someone mentioned talking with several groups above-- that's a fine idea.

If she is ready, the victim does sound like a potential candidate for emergency housing because there are children involved. That means the location remains anonymous from abuser

The best dv groups are there to listen and help you sort out what you want to do-- not tell you what to do. The process usually leaves clients feeling somewhat empowered. Knowing there are non-judgmental people who care enough to listen is a powerful thing.
posted by vincele at 9:57 PM on November 26, 2008 [6 favorites]

This man is a violent, drug-addicted (what drug(s), btw?) alcoholic. Violence will happen again and the target will be the kids, and I'm sure that that has already happened. Your sister A wants to dump this motherfucker, but doesn't know how. You (and sister B and your mom) can help in that area. Maybe they can stay at your place for a while? Can you help them out financially she can move out?

I don't see Christmas dinner as a big deal one way or another. Much more important is that your sister and her kids are out of danger, and out of future risk of abuse, both physical and mental. If that happens before or after Christmas is kind of beside the point. And yes, if it comes to that, you can fake civility for an afternoon with this guy. Just be sure you all have a plan for after Christmas.
posted by zardoz at 11:03 PM on November 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

This is going to be a bit of a scattered post. My apologies.

I've worked at a domestic violence shelter for going on nine years, and if there's one thing I've learned, it's that there is never, ever any easy way to handle things. This has a lot to do with the abusive mindset.

That mindset says "Whatever I want to do, is right, because I want it." It says "To make me happy, you have to do exactly what I want you to do at all times." It says "When things go wrong, it's YOUR FAULT. When things go right, it's because I'm so great." It says "I have a right to whatever I want, whenever I want it."

It says "If I'm unhappy, I have the right to blame YOU for it. And punish you for it." And "you" is everyone but the abuser.

You can absolutely try and minimize the trouble and danger, but please understand, in the end, the only way to handle these guys is to terminate contact; and as plenty of other folks have already said, that will NOT be the end of the trouble, especially with the involvement of children.

As several others folks have also said, if there's a current restraining order, and B is included, it is in her best interest to simply not be where he is. It's in your BIL's best interest (and his legal responsibility) to stay away from her, too, but he won't voluntarily do so. Keep in mind, in his head, the problem is that the cops got called; he doesn't get that the cops were called because of his actions.

Finally, I understand wanting to support A, but B has the right to make decisions, too-- and if she refuses to interact with him, then she has every right to do so.

I wish I could give a concrete answer, but there isn't one; every DV situation has its own unique, terrible aspects, and there's no such thing as one size fits all.

This is a heartbreaking situation to be in, and I'm truly sorry for you and your family.
posted by ElaineMc at 8:49 AM on November 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: First of all, thank you to everyone for the thoughtful and often very personal responses. Just knowing that there were so many people out there willing to listen and invest a small piece of their day into helping has been emotionally uplifting.

I've been reflecting on the situation since last night after reading the answers and advice here. Everyone has been incredibly helpful. Seriously. The varied approaches have helped confirm that the situation really isn't as cut and dry as I'd like it to be. You've brought up things that I hadn't considered and for that, I'm extremely grateful.

I have a clearer idea of how I need to handle this on my end now and be there for my sister. Thank you for helping me make some sense of the situation and thinking of my family.

This Thanksgiving, I'm thankful for Ask MeFi. :)
posted by csimpkins at 5:08 PM on November 27, 2008 [2 favorites]

Thank you from me too. It wasn't my question but almost the exact situation is tearing apart my family this Christmas and hearing everyone's opinions (especially those that validated I was right to not cut my sister out of my life years ago when when she wouldn't leave her abuser) have really helped. Thank you.
posted by saucysault at 12:53 PM on December 8, 2008 [2 favorites]

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