It's not only hurting you, it's hurting me too
February 10, 2012 4:56 PM   Subscribe

Help me cope with the fact that two of my friends, victims of domestic violence, don't want help.

My longtime friend regularly gets hit or knocked down by her husband of 20 years. While they are getting a divorce, the attacks have become more frequent lately. She has needed stitches above her eyes more than 10 times in the last 4 years, and has countless bruises and pain. I have begged and pleaded with her to call the police, to call the local domestic violence shelter. I've given her the numbers and said "I'll call with you." She keeps saying "next time," which I always point out is what she said last time. I even tried telling her two sisters and her daughter, who are aware of the situation and try to talk her into it as well. Nothing will make her report him. She is still living in the house currently with him while the divorce goes through... she could stay with her daughter, but she won't. I realize she might be scared of him, but there's a shelter ready to help her leave. I know the guy and I don't think he would kill her, I think he just wants her out of his life so he can go on with his new girlfriend.

Today, a fairly new friend of mine made a comment, and I asked her if her husband hits her, and she said yes. I asked about it again but she just brushed it off like it was no big deal. I asked her why she stays married to him, and she says because he has nowhere to go, no friends, and she feels sorry for him.

It breaks my heart to think that someone is hurting my friends. I love these friends and I want to protect them, but there's nothing I can do, except tell them they deserve better until I'm blue in the face. They should be valued like gold and loved, not hurt. But they don't want to do anything about their situations.

How can I cope with the fact that my friends are being hurt and I can't do anything about it? It really hurts.
posted by IndigoRain to Human Relations (7 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
It might help to read this comment by Nattie from a few months ago, even though it was more about trying to not be judgmental in this situation than trying to not be hurt or upset.
posted by cairdeas at 5:06 PM on February 10, 2012 [4 favorites]

My comment from earlier today might help.

Sometimes women stay because it is the safest thing. They are not irrational. They are reacting based on experience and what their feelings tell them to do. Leaving is scary. It is the deadliest time for any woman. When I left two separate abusive relationships, I was terrified I was going to be killed. And these were not big hulking guys.

Pushing your friends to leave is too much too fast. It took me 6+ months of therapy to leave my last (final) abusive relationship. And it's taken much more therapy to have the strength to stay out, since my family felt I was committing a moral wrong and that I should work it through. They withdrew emotional support for me. And I had to go it alone as a single parent, suffering from having been in a long-time abusive relationship and all that that stirred up. A couple of friends shunned me for breaking up a marriage and putting my kids through that. Fortunately, all my other friends were 100% over the top supportive and got me through this.

Your friends may well have suffered trauma too. So the important thing is to help them feel safe, supported and connected. Then strong. Then good mothers (if relevant). If you can get that in line, they will be ready to leave. Or they won't. They aren't stupid. They are making the best choices for them. If they don't have control over the choice to leave, they will feel even more helpless and out of control than they likely already do. If I just think quickly about the women I know who've been in abusive relationships/marriages, I can count to 20 in no time and include doctors, executives, professors, entrepreneurs and more.

So, matter how hard it gets, never stop being open to your friends. Listen to them. Be a safe place. Because abusers cut people off, make them feel worthless and helpless, and then turn around and butter them up again. And there's this hope, always, that it's not going to happen again. Your friends may be dissociating too. They may not even be able to connect the events in their mind. I know that when I think of some of it, another voice comes in and tells me it's not true or I made it up or overreacted or it wasn't like that. A lot of work has helped me to see that's the abuser's voice, but it's still very difficult. Abusers fill people up with all sorts of pain.

And what Nattie says about history is spot on.

You're a good friend. Keep being that friend. And learn about abuse. Call a crisis centre and ask what resources they can give you. Maybe you can at least get your friends to consider making safety plans.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 5:35 PM on February 10, 2012 [12 favorites]

I think the best attitude to have about this is to regard their resistance to change as something akin to drug addiction or alcoholism ... it's sort of "addiction to a person" (although that may be less the case with the friend getting a divorce). You can't convince friends to stop drinking or drugging, nor can you stop their addiction to a person. Yes, it's going to be frustrating for you, but you have to accept it and be quietly supportive in the ways they will accept.

My work involves a lot of contact with alleged domestic abusers, and less, but still significant, contact with alleged victims. I've concluded that the reasons victims don't leave are more complex than many people think. I am not sure there's anything a friend can do to facilitate or accelerate the process of them leaving unless they've determined, themselves, that they need to do so. For many victims, the familiarity of the abuser -- and the fact that when things are good they're very good -- outweighs the uncertain and scary prospect of having to be alone and find a new partner. Some victims recognize that THEY are part of an abusive dynamic and partly blame themselves for the fights and the consequent physical violence. Some don't want the man to go to jail because he is a supporter of her and her children. Some feel a deep love for the abuser and consider the abuse a mere foible in an otherwise decent man, who should not go to jail. You, as the friend, and an outsider, cannot penetrate all these motives or convince an abusee what the right thing to do is. I think the best thing you can do is to say, in a very low-key way, "hey if I can ever help, or you need to talk, or a place to stay, you can always call me."
posted by jayder at 7:25 PM on February 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

Some discussion of this issue:

"Why doesn't she leave?"
"Why don't women just leave abusers?"
"Why does she stay with that jerk?" (written by an ER worker; blog NSFW)
posted by Lexica at 7:51 PM on February 10, 2012 [4 favorites]

I strongly recommend reading Why Does He Do That? There's a section on how to support an abused woman (pg 370) and how to deal with your own frustrations of seeing this happen to someone you care about.
posted by foxjacket at 8:52 PM on February 10, 2012 [3 favorites]

So this is going to sound silly, but: currently taking a course on family violence. The instructor is a woman that's a veteran of very many years on a large metropolitan police force. Just if you're wondering where my assertions are coming from.

To begin with, I'd recommend calling 1-800-799-SAFE, this is the number for the national DV hotline. They should be able to give you some help.

Second: do either of the men own firearms? Most intimate partner murders are committed with a firearm, and if the man already has one that makes the situation much more dangerous.

Third: the woman is at the highest risk when she is attempting to end the relationship. Women also attempt to leave an average of 5-10 times before they successfully end the relationship. It's really really difficult.

Most survivors of attempted murder and most people that knew victims and murderers didn't think the killer was capable of killing, so that's not really a good guide. Predicting lethality is very difficult.

One of the most important things you can do for a victim is to be a dissenting voice. Victims are frequently made to believe that they deserve their treatment, that they're stupid, and other untrue things. Being the person that always says "no, you don't deserve to be hit" and "no, you're not stupid" is really helpful.

Good luck. I hope everything works out ok.
posted by kavasa at 12:11 AM on February 11, 2012

It's really really really really important that the "no, you don't deserve to be hit" go hand in hand with the "no, you're not stupid." From my own dysfunctional but not abusive relationship, I remember the "you deserve better" talk, which was meant to build me up, making me feel like absolute crap. Why?

Because I was a smart and capable person who had somehow managed to get in, stay in and refuse to get out of a situation which I should have seen coming and/or should have treated differently (or a thousand other "should haves"). The self-abuse we pile on ourselves for making bad decisions -- even decisions whose consequences we never could have foreseen -- is a huge driver in these situations. How can we trust ourselves to make smart decisions when we have so clearly fucked up? He says I'm stupid and can't do anything right; well, in some areas, he sure isn't far off the mark... see how easy it is to fall into that trap?

Tell your friends that you know things are complex and that you don't understand everything that's going on... but you respect and support them and trust them. They need that so, so badly right now.
posted by Madamina at 10:15 AM on February 11, 2012 [6 favorites]

« Older Sex with a girl who's a virgin - what do I need to...   |   Tool me up, please. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.