My brother is abusing his girlfriend, and I don't know what to do.
September 22, 2010 11:56 AM   Subscribe

My brother is emotionally abusing his girlfriend. What can I do?

My brother is a good kid. He's had a tough life, and hasn't had many positive male role models. Despite that, he has a good job, a house, and more charisma than you can shake a stick at. He also has a wonderful girlfriend. I adore her and secretly imagine they'll have adorable, artistic, incredibly loud children to be my nieces and nephews.

The two of us move in similar social circles, and I get along well with his girlfriend. Recently, she started approaching me for advice about some of his behavior. She's been describing a textbook case of emotional abuse. He brings down her self-esteem, isolates her from her friends, constantly accuses her of infidelity, insists that she "makes" him lose his temper, wakes her up in the middle of the night to yell at her, etc. I'm completely horrified - and it's beginning to dawn on me that his "crazy" ex-girlfriends that made such wild accusations about him might not have been so crazy. Two of his exes have accused him of being abusive - but neither seemed particularly stable, and I'm ashamed to admit that I brushed off what they were saying as lies. It doesn't help matters that my brother could talk his way out of anything; he's amazingly charismatic.

I have no idea what to do. I love my brother, and I wouldn't have believed him capable of something like this. I don't know what to tell this poor girl, and I don't know what to do about him. Can he get better from this? What do I tell her? What do I say to him?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (44 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
 
I was the girlfriend. I married this person, and even years after leaving him, I occasionally have moments where I dissolve into sobbing thinking about the pain of that relationship. His sisters knew he was this sort of person and didn't say anything. I wish someone had told me before I had no self esteem left that they believed me, and that it wasn't okay for him to treat me that way. I don't know the answer as far as what to say to your brother. I just know that it might have helped me to know that even people who loved him could see that I was being treated badly.
posted by Zophi at 12:11 PM on September 22, 2010 [13 favorites]


If this was my brother I'd be sitting him down for a good long Big Sister Tells Little Brother How He's Being a Jerk talk. I'd say that for his sake, her sake, and the sake of the adorable, artistic, incredibly loud future children he needs to get help and deal with the problem.

Of course I am the big sister, so that's how I'd handle it. I don't know what your relationship is to your brother but a "Dude, that's not cool." can't really come from a better source. You're family, you understand where he's coming from. You have his best interests at heart.

I understand you're in a tough situation, I really feel for you. Good luck.
posted by TooFewShoes at 12:12 PM on September 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'd suggest next time she approaches you, you tell her what you think . . . that this is emotional abuse and you are afraid she isn't the first person who has experienced this from him. I'd also suggest you have a sit down discussion with your brother and strongly recommend that he enter a domestic violence treatment program for perpetrators.

I am sorry to say that many DV perpetrators are charismatic. They still have a big problem. It is treatable in my experience, and I think your brother's life will be a lot easier and happier if he gets that treatment.
posted by bearwife at 12:13 PM on September 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


Put your nieces-and-nephews fantasy aside, and respond to her honestly. Tell her you've heard similar complaints from previous girlfriends, but were reluctant to believe them. Encourage her to do what she needs to do to protect herself. This probably means she ends the relationship. (It wasn't what you hoped it was anyhow.)

Your brother will only improve if he wants to, and if he takes responsibility for his behavior. If he's still talking his way out of these accusations then those prerequisite boxes haven't been checked yet.
posted by jon1270 at 12:13 PM on September 22, 2010


IMO:

Tell the girlfriend to DTMFA, even though the MF is your brother. Beautiful, happy children will not result from an abusive relationship.
Ask your brother to see a therapist.

Sadly, you can't control the behavior of others, so if your brother blows you off, there's not much you can do. :/
posted by kavasa at 12:16 PM on September 22, 2010 [16 favorites]


The first step is to recognise that your brother is likely, contrary to what you wrote, not a good kid. It sounds like this is beginning to dawn on you.

The next step is, keep believing he can be saved.

He clearly needs help, and you sound like you're an a reasonably good position to do so. You're going to have to talk to his girlfriend, who is no longer just some "poor girl", but likely a victim of abuse who sees you as worthy of her trust, despite the fact that she took a risk in confiding in a family member of the abuser. That's a heavy responsibility for you.

At some point, you're going to need to have a long talk with your brother, and you're going to have to resist his "charisma" and your familial bonds and really come down hard on him. He probably needs hefty counselling, and my gut feeling is that he'll be a tough nut to crack. The combination of astonishing charisma, abusive behaviour and the ability to mislead even close families who run in the same social circles - as well as the propensity to take one's way out of anything - makes me think of this as (at least) mildly sociopathic behaviour.

So I'd also contact some of the exes and get their stories a little more coherently into your head.

Personally, I would see someone myself, so I could get a better idea of how to approach him.

Good luck.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 12:18 PM on September 22, 2010 [4 favorites]


This may or may not apply - apologize if I'm drawing erroneous conclusions, but it seems like a possibility with a statement that you made OP.

My brother is a good kid. He's had a tough life, and hasn't had many positive male role models.

Was he possibly treated in the same way as a child (that's a conclusion that I'm drawing from this emphasis). If that is the case, remind him what it felt like to be treated that way. How did it feel then? Does he want to do this to someone else now?

Now as an adult, how does he feel about the people who did this to him when he was younger? Let him know that by mindlessly following those behaviors, he may be creating the same legacy.

He may need therapy to evaluate this behavior and make it stop. Be one of the voices telling him this.

posted by Wolfster at 12:22 PM on September 22, 2010


I think I'd say some variation of the following: "I haven't seen that side of my brother, and I hope you won't use my name in an argument with him (i.e., "Even your own sister thinks I should leave you!"), but in general, you deserve not to be belittled, verbally abused, isolated, blamed for another person's inappropriate anger, or otherwise manipulated. If my brother or anyone else shows that behavior toward you, you should leave, probably for good but at the very least until that person acknowledges his problems and seeks professional help. I'm shocked that my brother would behave this way and again, this is not something I've seen in him, but if that's what's happening you need to take care of yourself."

I would not approach my brother unless he, like the girlfriend, asked me for advice, and even then I'd be careful about what I shared from my conversation with the girlfriend in order to protect her privacy (and potentially her safety). Depending on the family dynamics, I might try to start a more general conversation with him, less about this particular relationship and more about his treatment of other people in general.
posted by Meg_Murry at 12:24 PM on September 22, 2010 [8 favorites]


First, encourage her to stand up to him. The longer she lets his behavior pass, the worse it'll get, but standing up to him consistently might nip it in the bud.

Second, if you have a reasonably close relationship with your brother, ask him how things are going. Not with her, not with his relationships in particular; just see how he's doing, if he's under stress, if there's anything he wants to talk about. If he asks why you're asking, just say that a friend of yours recently reached out for help after a long period of not realizing he needed it, and it made you realize that you want him to know you're there for him. Odds are he'll just grunt and say things are fine, but you never know.

Ultimately, if there isn't a specific thing stressing him out and catalyzing this behavior, the only thing that'll change it is him deciding it needs to change -- and so a long string of girlfriends standing up to him and leaving him over it might be the thing to do it.
posted by davejay at 12:25 PM on September 22, 2010


You must handle this with care, anonymous. Your brother will feel hurt and betrayed when he inevitably learns what you've told the girlfriend. That's why I recommend talking to him first.

Tell him what you've seen. Tell him it's abusive and you can't support his actions, though he's your brother. You have to make clear that this is a big deal, and not something he can charm, rationalize, or wheedle his way out of. Make it clear to him that you're reaching out to him of your own accord—no one put you up to it. He might accuse you and his girlfriend of conspiring against him, he might say awful things, but you have to stand your ground. Tell him that waking people up to interrogate them and belittle them is tantamount to torture, and he's got to stop it—or YOU will leave him.
posted by Mister_A at 12:26 PM on September 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Are you a sister or a brother, not that it matters that much, but if my kid brother were to treat any girlfriends this way, I would say, "Knock that shit off, or I will knock you off." He's got a bunch of pounds and height on me. He'd probably mumble something under his breath, but then he'd either stop his behavior or he wouldn't. I'd make sure his girlfriend knew how to reach me, and I'd make sure she'd know I was on her side. I would work hard to set by example how women should expect to be treated in a relationship.

If you are a brother, you can pretty much probably do the same thing. When the girlfriend is around, if your brother insults her, tell him to stop. Tell him you disagree with his assessment of the situation, and tell him if he can't behave nicely and kindly, he doesn't deserve a girlfriend like the one he has or one at all. Even when she's not around, tell him these things. Then set good examples for how men should treat women. And you let her know you're on her side. And if she ends up leaving him, don't play into the standard comments that people make about their exes shortly after a relationship has ended. Do tell him why she left and that he's going to have stop this behavior if ever expects to be with someone again.

And while you're at all that, tell him to get his ass in the chair of someone who can help him -- be it a therapist or someone else.
posted by zizzle at 12:30 PM on September 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


He's got a bunch of pounds and height on me, but I'm still his older sister and I've got five years on him.
posted by zizzle at 12:31 PM on September 22, 2010


If you really want to investigate this, it would be informative to talk to both your brother and his girlfriend at the same time, so they can reply to what the other one is saying. Of course, you would have to be able to moderate the discussion and make sure that everyone is allowed to speak, and that the discussion does not degenerate into screaming, threats, or violence. There is a real possibility that your charming, charismatic brother is a sociopath. But then, I wouldn't entirely rule out the possibility that his girlfriend is lying, either. That's why it would be good to talk to both of them.

If you come to the conclusion that the girlfriend is telling the truth, then she has to leave your brother. A relationship that has become that abusive is not really salvageable. And as for your brother, if these accusations are true, he needs therapy - and even then, there is no guarantee that therapy can help him (or that he would even be willing to get therapy in the first place). It is a terrible thing to have mentally ill relatives, because you can't really get rid of them, they will still be your relatives. But you may have to reduce your level of association with him.
posted by grizzled at 12:33 PM on September 22, 2010


Just to highlight something Meg_Murray said above, you need to be careful about bringing these private conversations with the girlfriend to your brother. You are indeed in an important and special position to talk with him about why his behavior is wrong, but clear this with the girlfriend first, and tread cautiously. If he has been successfully hiding this side of his personality from you, you don't know how he might react to the girlfriend 'betraying' him.
posted by heyforfour at 12:35 PM on September 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


I just want to add to what's been said that you shouldn't feel as though this is your responsibility to fix or even be certain that you can fix it. The abusive behavior may stem from psychological or physiological causes that go well beyond what a simple heart-to-heart from a sibling can fix. The heart-to-heart might fix it, but it could take an intervention from a parent or the entire family before your brother seeks help -- or perhaps (as sometimes happens) nothing can fix it.

It could be that your relationship with your brother is going to change in a permanent way for the worse over this issue and other issues related to his emotional instability; if things get worse, be sure to take care of yourself too, respect your own boundaries, and don't make his problems your own.
posted by gerryblog at 12:39 PM on September 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Can he get better from this?

Yes. But not everyone is capable of doing so.

What do I tell her?

She has two choices:

1) Address it head on. She should speak with him about his behavior. Teach him what a healthy relationship is and demand he treat her with respect. Stand up to him and not tolerate being woken up at all hours, accused of various things that have no basis in reality or shouted at. She must encourage him to seek out therapy, both on his own and with her as a couple. She needs to learn not to tolerate emotional abuse, and understand that it is his problem, and is absolutely not her fault or responsibility. She is not to blame.

People who abuse others often suffer from severe insecurity and fears. Their victims tend to blame themselves. And over time they may be so worn down by the way they are treated that they start to think an abusive life is all they deserve.

If he doesn't want to treat her respectfully, she should leave.

I would not personally follow this option. In my experience, it rarely works. Why?

Abusers don't usually view their own behaviors as problematic, even when faced with overwhelming evidence. They are not usually cognizant of the effect they're having on the people around them, and there is often a profound psychological block (fear, insecurity, narcissism.) that may need to be overcome before they will be capable of acknowledging they are wrong, to take action to make positive changes in their lives. In those cases, an abuser won't want to admit that what they are doing is destructive because then they will have to face some ugly, harsh truths about themselves.

So in her place, I wouldn't bother to try. I have been there and done that. I grew up in a home with abusive parents, and I dated a number of people who were emotionally and physically abusive. If it were me, I would instead:

2) DTMFA. Dump him now. And run like hell. I'm not joking. She's in a toxic relationship and needs to recognize that fact. She should leave. Before they're married. Before they have kids. Because you can be damned sure that the abusive behavior he's showing to her will extend to any children they might have in the future. Abuse trickles down. It will be awful and scarring for them. She is an adult. She has the option to leave. Their children will not. He'll always be their father, and barring extraordinary circumstances he will be in their lives. If he doesn't change his ways then she will be responsible for saddling her future children with an enormous burden.

I speak from experience on this.

What do I say to him?

I'm not sure this is a good option. If you speak to him about it, how did you find out about his behavior? He may view her speaking with you as a betrayal and take it out on her.
posted by zarq at 12:40 PM on September 22, 2010 [14 favorites]


If you really want to investigate this, it would be informative to talk to both your brother and his girlfriend at the same time, so they can reply to what the other one is saying. Of course, you would have to be able to moderate the discussion and make sure that everyone is allowed to speak, and that the discussion does not degenerate into screaming, threats, or violence. There is a real possibility that your charming, charismatic brother is a sociopath. But then, I wouldn't entirely rule out the possibility that his girlfriend is lying

This strikes me as unusually bad advice. An open confrontation (which the OP is not likely able to moderate in any event) won't magically reveal who's right or wrong, but it does have the potential to put the girlfriend in a very vulnerable position. Also, giving equal weight to the words of the charismatic brother despite a history of similar complaints seems patently unfair. I think the girlfriend deserves the benefit of the doubt here.

Besides which, this is a romantic relationship, not a corporate contract. Who's right or wrong is not a primary concern. It's far more important that the girlfriend feel safe, and be able to establish her own boundaries. Any solution that relies on an outsider to tell her whether her feelings are right or wrong is... well, wrong.
posted by jon1270 at 12:53 PM on September 22, 2010 [9 favorites]


OP, you seriously need to re-evaluate that first statement from a more neutral POV. Would you call anyone else a "good kid" if you knew that he was an abuser?

I agree with the standpoint that you should counsel the girlfriend, and not take on your brother right now. The lust for control will lead him to be at odds with you in a way that's going to cause you serious family problems.

Personally, I don't know if you can really change him. But, if you want to try, please make sure that the girlfriend's out of harm's way, first.

Once the girlfriend leaves, then you can maybe take some steps to help him by way of an intervention.

This one's a tough one. It's hard to accept that a family member who you love has this kind of awful character flaw that makes him so terrible. Good luck, man. I think you're going to need it.
posted by Citrus at 12:55 PM on September 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


DO NOT tell your brother what she has confided in you until you've warned her that you are going to do so, or you could be putting her in a very dangerous situation.
posted by hermitosis at 1:17 PM on September 22, 2010 [14 favorites]


I am going to explain myself a bit more, now that my reply has been described as unusually bad advice. First of all, it appears that you have already reached the decision that your brother is actually guilty of the abuses of which his girlfriend has accused him, given the title of your question, My brother is abusing his girlfriend, and I don't know what to do.
If you are already convinced of your brother's guilt, then I will agree with jon1270 that you do not need to investigate the matter any further. My personal inclination is that when I have an important relationship with someone, I would give that person a full opportunity to defend himself from accusations which could harm my relationship with him. And even though his current girlfriend is not the first to make such accusations about your brother, it would hardly be unknown for someone to be subjected to false accusations by more than one person. However, you believe the accusations, so we can proceed from there. Your brother, despite being charming and charismatic, is actually a terrible person. You and his girlfriend, and everyone else, should just avoid him. He is a monster.
posted by grizzled at 1:19 PM on September 22, 2010


I am going to explain myself a bit more, now that my reply has been described as unusually bad advice.

Your advice could put the woman in danger. That's why it's not a good answer.

The OP should under no circumstances be acting as a domestic dispute arbitrator here. Their efforts could backfire in very personal, nasty ways. He or she is not an objective, disinterested party. They are personally involved and inserting themselves into this situation could be viewed as a betrayal of trust, which then could conceivably be taken out on them and/or the girlfriend by the brother.

There is a reason why people are suggesting therapists and counseling. They are trained professionals who will be dispassionate and objective. They will not be viewed by the brother as his girlfriend turning his family against him.

You and his girlfriend, and everyone else, should just avoid him. He is a monster.

Sincerely and respectfully, this answer is not helpful. The OP needs thoughtful, experienced and constructive answers to his or her questions.
posted by zarq at 1:32 PM on September 22, 2010 [8 favorites]


I was that girlfriend for awhile. I seriously thought I was going crazy. I have always been a very strong, independent woman; solid career, loving family, etc. I chose to leave after 5 years and am SO glad I did. I don't miss the relationship, but am still struggling now to rebuild my self-esteem, friendships that were ruined, family relationships that were shattered...it's a HUGE process and it's terrible. I wish someone had recognized what I had been going through and said something to me at the time. A lot of times EA goes unnoticed because it's subtle and done behind closed doors.

With that said, you are doing the right thing by wanting to broach the issue, however, also understand that if you do say something and nothing comes of it, it's not your fault. As with a lot of different issues that you may see loved ones struggling with: you can say something, and they can hear something, but unless *they* want to change it may not happen. However, just letting her know that you're there and a confidential person to talk to might be enough to help her as well. Good luck.
posted by floweredfish at 1:37 PM on September 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


DON'T SAY ANYTHING TO HIM about what she told you unless she gives her enthusiastic and proactive consent.

As in she should say something like "I want you to talk to him." Not "well, I guess you can say something".

Even then, think twice. This might very well lead him to isolate her from you as well. He might let her see you because you're "safe". If that changes, it will have real repercussions for your relationship with both of them.

What to tell her? "I believe you. I'm so sorry. You don't deserve to be treated that way". And then go from there. Suggest that she get outside support. It's important that she have someone else to talk to. You're very, very close to the situation.

Don't insist that she do anything. Let her decide. It's her life, her mental health, her safety.

Here's the tricky part: you need decide what you can and can't offer her, and make that clear in a kind way. Can she stay with you? Call you if he gets crazy? Talk to you about his behavior on an ongoing basis? Think about these things before you commit to them, and then offer

What to do beyond that: get support for yourself.

What to tell your brother: Good question. When it comes to getting him help--from my personal viewpoint, there's not a whole lot you can do and not a lot of resources that focus on helping abusers.

If you're in Minnesota, let me know, I do know of one small program.
posted by the young rope-rider at 1:47 PM on September 22, 2010 [8 favorites]


Also, I'd like to register my disagreement with any advice to cut him completely out of your life, at least at this point, simply because he is abusive.

I, personally, maintain a distant but cordial relationship with my emotionally abusive sister solely because I want to be involved in the lives of my future nieces and nephews. That's something else to consider before you decide how to approach this.
posted by the young rope-rider at 1:57 PM on September 22, 2010


I avoided this when it was first posted because it was triggering all sorts of things. But then I saw there were braver people on the thread.

I was married to this person. Many, many people saw what he was doing, and no one said anything. Or they said other things that were not a direct "He should not treat you like that, no one deserves that."

I know you think this woman is awesome. If you do, you need to tell her that this is indeed emotional abuse. You should let her know that you are *always* there for her to come to if things get worse, or even if they stay the same and she runs out of patience. Not to give her advice necessarily, but the night he starts hitting her (or she's scared that it's about to turn to that), she can call you and you won't blame her. It will also be important for her to have someone on her side because everyone will be on the side of the charismatic handsome brother. Believe it.

If you confront him, he will deny it. If he agrees to go to counseling, he may charm the counselor into believing him and not her (happened to me). If she confronts him, he will also deny it, and then he will escalate it and it will end up being HER fault and will make things even worse. It will make them worse because he will realize people are onto him. So he will be more careful, more sneaky, more isolating.

I would tell her that you have heard these things before but dismissed them because you didn't feel the other women were trustworthy. I would tell her. I would not tell HIM anything. I would also not distance myself from him because sociopaths operate the best in the dark. I also might encourage her to talk to a therapist herself.

Don't try to moderate or get both sides - not because there isn't another side and that her truth is gospel - but because he will just talk his way out of everything and talk circles round her and then she'll feel that she's trapped and has nowhere to go. This has to happen with a professional or not at all, but I actually don't recommend it.

She doesn't deserve to be mistreated by anyone. That would be my final answer I would give her, I guess.
posted by micawber at 2:34 PM on September 22, 2010 [15 favorites]


I would favorite zarq a billion times if I could. I HIGHLY doubt having a talking to with an abuser about their behavior is gonna do much, if any, good. Usually they are 150% convinced that they are right, the girl is wrong, and bitch better shape up and do what I say.

Also, dude would have to WANT to change for a talking-to to do any good. Most of them don't.
posted by jenfullmoon at 2:53 PM on September 22, 2010


[A couple comments removed. If you've clarified your answer and people still don't seem to like it, please stop digging at that point and give the thread a pass.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 2:58 PM on September 22, 2010


This is serious business and I think you'll be best placed to help if you read this book from cover to cover before you do anything.

Fortunately it is an easy read and it does contain specific information about how to help.

I have to warn you that it contains information that will upset you. It won't be easy, because this is your brother we're talking about, after all. But I do think it offers your best chance of providing real help.
posted by tel3path at 3:02 PM on September 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Tell her that you believe her. Tell her that she's describing classic emotional abuse. Tell her it grieves you to hear it, because you love her and your brother.

You may want to do more, but interceding with your brother is likely to go very badly. You cannot change him, and you probably can't protect his future girlfriends unless they want your help.

But this girl, whom you obviously love, *has* turned to you. If you've never been abused, you may not know the awesome power of the Reality Check. There may be limits on your power to offer her material help, but just telling her what you've said here is huge.
posted by endless_forms at 3:21 PM on September 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


Wow. If this were one of my brothers, the first thing I'd want to do would be to sit him down and talk to him directly about it. With lots of references and kindly phrased reading material on hand. And personal stories to contextualize it for him. Because if it were my brother, I'd feel like the person with the absolute best odds of actually managing to get through to him. I couldn't bear to waste that chance, slim as it may be.

Now, that said, I do see the risk of talking to your brother ending up making things worse for his girlfriend. So I think the thing to do is to talk to the girlfriend about how and why you feel it's important to try to talk to your brother and see if you can help him understand why what he's doing isn't okay. But also offer to help her find a way out first if at all possible. For example, as his sister, you're probably in a great position to offer to retrieve her stuff for her later if she needs to just Get Out Fast. (And it sounds like she probably should.)

Ask for her permission to mention what she's told you before just running in there and blurting it all out. If she doesn't give it, don't break her confidence. But - and I suspect I'll get some disagreement here - in that case, try to think of disquieting stuff you've personally observed or heard from other sources that you can use as an opener in talking to your brother.

It's a huge responsibility, and if he really is abusive like that, you talking to him frankly probably won't help. But how could you not try? At the risk of getting all of metafilter angry at me, I really do think that it is your responsibility to try to talk to him if at all possible.
posted by Eshkol at 4:43 PM on September 22, 2010


I don't have time to write as detailed a post as I want to right now, but as someone who spent the past year working for a domestic violence agency, I want to quickly say a few things:

-please do not bring the girlfriend and the boyfriend together for a conversation to figure out the "truth." this is such misguided (and potentially dangerous) advice.
-you didn't say how old your brother and his girlfriend are. Perhaps they are well past being teenagers, but there is a lot of great advice for how to talk to someone who is being abused and how to approach someone who is being abusive on loveisrespect.org.
-if you are still unsure about how to proceed after looking at that website, please call the hotline listed there or your local domestic violence hotline. It's totally okay to call to ask the kind of question you've posted here. And, I think you will get much more informed advice, as well as possibly find out about abuser's counseling options for the future.
-please continue to believe the girlfriend -- that is the most important thing you can do for any victim of abuse.
-you may need to shift your thinking about your brother to "How can I help him in the long-term to have a healthy relationship?" and not worry so much about whether or not his current girlfriend ends the relationship. That will be her decision and hers alone. But you can play a positive part in getting your brother to see that there are other, healthier ways to be in a relationship.
posted by val5a at 6:29 PM on September 22, 2010 [7 favorites]


In the short run, it's unlikely you will change your brother's behavior. That's a long term goal, if a realistic goal at all.

In the short run, your priorities should be: validating her sense that things are not right, letting her know that she may not be the first, asking how to help and offering your help, and supporting her decision to leave.

To formulate a long term plan, I would sit back and think about how to proceed, and seek the advice of others who know and care about him. I would call a DV hotline and read the book tel3path recommends.
posted by salvia at 6:53 PM on September 22, 2010


By chance is your brother a youngest sibling in the family?

You say your brother's had a tough life that's lacked in positive male role models. His incredible power of charisma was probably his survival strategy throughout this time. Because it was his most successful coping strategy, he's still using it when he doesn't know what else to do.

If he's got a string of unstable ex-girlfriends, they're probably a reflection of how unstable he feels inside (hence, he's felt safe with them in the past). It does sound like he's trying to get a handle on it (hence, meeting a more stable, wonderful girl), but push come to shove, he still does not have the emotional skills he needs to sort his internal sh*t out. This internal sh*t is hitting the fan every time the relationships get real.

Be careful in assuming the lack of positive male role models alone accounts for his poor emotional behavior. Is it possible that he has unresolved anger from his *tough time* for women? Have you ever asked him about this - how he feels about his female role models? Could there be some unresolved anger towards women - whether rational or not - that he has yet to deal with? It sounds to me if he's projecting anger onto his girlfriends only, then there may be some complicated female-related anger driving his behavior. Especially if this behavior is repeatedly resurfacing in his romantic relationships.

I am not minimizing the logical frustration with the poor male role models of his life. I am suggesting that all of his anger is probably present, and a trigger for women-directed anger could be bringing it out in his romantic relationships.

Also, FWIW, I am a big sister with a younger brother. I've liked to think that I did a good job protecting him and compensating by being a good role model myself. But the reality is that I haven't been the only woman in his life. My brother is in his early 20s, does not date, and has a very hard time talking about anything serious seriously. My fingers are crossed in anticipation of the woman issues I know firsthand he was dealt by our mom.


If I were in your shoes, I would try talking to your brother first. Don't focus on this girlfriend but the pattern -- and do point out, he's with a lovely girl this time, which is why the pattern is bothering you so much. Don't push him to explain himself, because he'll probably have no rational explanation, which is a huge part of the problem. If he can agree with this (lack of analysis = problem), then follow your gut on what best to do next, whether it be get to therapy, get a good book, or just agree to some structured quality sibling time until this sh*t gets sorted out. If the latter is the case, just be calm and listen. Don't tell him his feelings are wrong - they just are. Good luck!
posted by human ecologist at 8:03 PM on September 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Besides which, this is a romantic relationship, not a corporate contract. Who's right or wrong is not a primary concern. It's far more important that the girlfriend feel safe, and be able to establish her own boundaries. Any solution that relies on an outsider to tell her whether her feelings are right or wrong is... well, wrong.

I love this advice. It applies to so many AskMe threads.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 10:39 PM on September 22, 2010


I can see the point of that advice, and I fully agree with the spirit of it, but actually, when you're being abused you do need outside validation of your feelings. This is because the whole point of abuse is to destroy your judgement about what boundaries are reasonable to establish and enforce.

Also, it's not a "romantic relationship" if abuse is taking place. Abusive relationships are like a corporate contract, except they're like the kind of contract where you think you've agreed to one thing - say, unlimited hours to be worked per week with no overtime pay - and then the terms keep changing to demand more and more of you and you're trying to take your annual leave but your boss keeps blocking you, and you only get paid intermittently, and now your boss is saying you've broken procedure and are subject to disciplinary action but you're sure this procedure wasn't documented when you started, and now somehow you're worried about losing your home because you can't pay the rent, and there seems to be a noncompete banning you from work that has anything at all to do with computers for two years after you leave the company, and how did you get to this point again? You can't think straight, but surely the terms of this contract can't be fair, can they? What if they are right and you should have known better when you signed it and...

"If he's got a string of unstable ex-girlfriends, they're probably a reflection of how unstable he feels inside" If he's got a string of unstable ex-girlfriends, it's probably because he worked hard to provoke and exacerbate whatever "instabilities" they had when they started dating him, and to ensure they were discredited in the eyes of others, so that when they tried to tell the kind of "wild" stories that the OP talks about, nobody would believe them.
posted by tel3path at 11:52 PM on September 22, 2010 [4 favorites]


Have you tried calling the domestic abuse hotline? Here is the link. I called for advice about a family member, and got some good general advice, plus a couple of good book recommendations. They can tell you what would be the best steps to keep her safe, which should be the highest priority.

If you don't want to call them yourself, please give the number to the girlfriend, or direct her to another resource. I am sure you can help her some, but she may need somebody objective to talk to her.
posted by annsunny at 12:03 AM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


I can see the point of that advice, and I fully agree with the spirit of it, but actually, when you're being abused you do need outside validation of your feelings. This is because the whole point of abuse is to destroy your judgement about what boundaries are reasonable to establish and enforce.

I can't agree with "validation of people's feelings" beyond being a patient listener. "[Telling the 'victim'] whether their feelings are right or wrong" is appointing oneself a moral arbiter for someone else and justifying this by saying that the 'victim' has lost their moral compass as a result of their abuse.

You are essentially taking the reins of their life and forcing them down a moral path based on your experience. And maybe in the best case, you save them from this affliction, but the reality of human drama is one repeatedly falls into the same traps, and escape is a question of finding the moral conviction in oneself, once and for all, to finally escape the traps.

This is the reason that leading people is poor instruction. You convince yourself that you're helping because you see them overcome this trial, but you end up instilling a habit of dependence and guidance-seeking, which cripples them in the long run.

In the worst case, you give bad advice, and then who is responsible for the result of your selective validation? What can be learned from such an experience beyond "don't listen to boyfriend's sister"? There is a bigger lesson here, and one needs time and space to make the most of it.

I have watched all kinds of people shed old behaviour; i have seen the abused discover self respect and moral courage, and I have watched abusers find empathy and respect for others. It never results from a firm hand telling someone "which feelings are right", but instead from time and understanding. Just as no student is developed by being force-fed correct answers, but by the patient company of a tutor.

My advice would be to be her friend. Go for coffee, whatever. Eventually, you'll know what to do, or she'll find her way over the problem. Unless there is mortal danger, the best one can do is to listen.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 12:32 PM on September 23, 2010


'"[Telling the 'victim'] whether their feelings are right or wrong" is appointing oneself a moral arbiter for someone else and justifying this by saying that the 'victim' has lost their moral compass as a result of their abuse.'

I would agree with that, except that often the 'victim' has lost their moral compass, or rather, is trying very hard to resist indoctrination that her compass is broken and the abuser's compass is the only accurate one. She may be explicitly relying on you to tell her that what she has experienced amounts to abuse. Even if you think it's in poor taste, it might be a necessary first step.
posted by tel3path at 1:05 PM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


"If he's got a string of unstable ex-girlfriends, they're probably a reflection of how unstable he feels inside" If he's got a string of unstable ex-girlfriends, it's probably because he worked hard to provoke and exacerbate whatever "instabilities" they had when they started dating him, and to ensure they were discredited in the eyes of others, so that when they tried to tell the kind of "wild" stories that the OP talks about, nobody would believe them.

Maybe. Or maybe unassertive women are attracted to him for his decisiveness, and after the initial novelty wears off, he loses respect for his clinging partner, and once respect is gone, it's very easy for decent treatment to slip as well.

There's so little diagnostic evidence, it doesn't make sense to suggest a course of action.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 1:06 PM on September 23, 2010


Sorry hit 'send' too soon: it's possible to say "you feel abused because you are being abused, and your intuition that you are experiencing abuse is right," without arrogating to oneself the status of a permanent moral authority in her life.
posted by tel3path at 1:06 PM on September 23, 2010


If several of his previous girlfriends are accusing him of abuse, it is supporting evidence of the current girlfriend's claim that he is abusing her.

Abuse often causes the target to appear, and be, unstable.
posted by tel3path at 1:08 PM on September 23, 2010


She may be explicitly relying on you to tell her that what she has experienced amounts to abuse. Even if you think it's in poor taste, it might be a necessary first step.

My feeling is that instead of saying "that's abuse", you listen to how it makes the person feel. Whether something is "right" or "wrong" in some absolute moral sense is immaterial. If she feels bad, then something has to give: either his behaviour or her interpretation of it. When you ask "how does that make you feel?" You are allowing the person to discover not just the conclusion ("that's abusive") but you are helping them find the well of feelings that proves the conclusion, and it's in that well that the moral courage waits.

People think moral courage is merely the result of good examples, but in my opinion, it's often the phoenix that rises from tragedy — all that time wasted with the wrong people, in the wrong job, in the wrong place. "Tribulation is treasure" and all that.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 1:15 PM on September 23, 2010


When I was trying to figure out the signs of respect and contempt, I turned to Miss Manners.

My abusive BF was horrified. No! Don't rely on some external authority! Think for yourself so that you can have the courage of my convictions! You've got to be yourself, doing what I want you to do! Thinking what I want you to think! Feeling what I want you to feel!

But I kept reading Miss Manners and I figured out that he didn't respect me and I stopped engaging with other people who were showing me signs of disrespect too.

Now I'm a mere sockpuppet for Miss Manners and have no mind of my own. On the bright side, I have lots of respectful friends.
posted by tel3path at 1:20 PM on September 23, 2010


Anyway, that was a tangent. My point is that the gf probably needs validation and a sympathetic witness right now in order to get started. It is very important to convey respect at all times to someone who is in this position, and the Lundy Bancroft book is very clear on how and how not to do that, so for practical purposes I reiterate the recommendation that the OP buy it and read it from cover to cover before taking action.
posted by tel3path at 1:26 PM on September 23, 2010


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