Abuse, anger; how far should I go to support my girlfriend?
July 6, 2012 3:07 PM   Subscribe

My girlfriend has suffered a lot, and is very angry: she wants me to confront my housemate for his passivity to the abuse she endured. Should I? Long and complicated.

I've been seeing my girlfriend, Lydia, for about six months now. This time last year, she was with a distant acquaintance of mine, Jerome, and I think they'd been dating for a year. In the space of a month or so, two of Lydia's immediate family members committed suicide, Jerome raped her while she was passed out, and her housemates, Jerome among them, had her involuntarily committed for 72 hours. Upon being released from hospital, she cut off all ties with that group and moved in with some other friends of hers.

Several months later, I met up with her after we'd corresponded on the internet. I knew nothing about any of the above, but gradually she told me the story. At the same time, I fell for her pretty hard. For a time, we made one another very happy. As the anniversary of her family members' deaths approaches, however, she's understandably emotionally fragile. This is manifesting in some ways that I am finding pretty difficult.

Lydia will occasionally have periods where she is manic with anger. The subject of her anger is usually that I won't confront my housemate, who is a friend of Jerome's, about why he didn't condemn Jerome's behaviour towards her. She'll dissolve into tears, scream at me, storm out, slam doors, tell me she hopes my family members will be raped. She usually subsides after a while and tells me how sorry she is, but her rages are among the most difficult things I've had to deal with - I just don't feel like I have the emotional tools to withstand them. Generally her rage wells up when we're discussing how she is feeling, but sometimes it's in reponse to her feeling overwhelmed by external stimuli, like if we get lost looking for a restaurant or something.

I tell Lydia often how much she means to me and how much I value her happiness, but that I don't think that scolding my housemate will help. There is a selfish element to this, I admit, in that it would make living with him thereafter very difficult, but I also think that I won't be able to change his mind on the matter. Lydia says she feels worthless and as if it doesn't matter what people do to her - I think she doesn't care that a confrontation wouldn't produce a result, but just that it would happen, and thereby give her some measure of vengeance or make someone tangentially involved in what happened to her suffer. I wish I could make her realise how loved and cherished she is, not just by me, but by all her friends. She says she doesn't understand why I won't stand up for her, that by not scolding my housemate I'm reinforcing the idea she has that she doesn't matter as much as other people. Even were I to talk to my housemate about it all, the fact that I only know what Lydia has told me makes me feel like I couldn't back up what I was saying with certainty: I believe Lydia's account, but I don't know the chronology of events that well, or even the exact details.

I want to support her through a difficult time, but her abuse of me when she's in the throes of anger is corrosive to our relationship, and I find myself growing resentful and frustrated. I've told her how I wish she could communicate her feelings to me without being so hurtful, and in calm moments she promises to try, but her efforts never stick. These days I'm more often unhappy than otherwise.

Should I just allow myself to satisfy her need for revenge? Is that the only way I can validate for her that what happened to her was completely unjust? Can I assume that her corrosive anger will subside in time, once the deaths of her family members are easier to bear and the people who hurt her in the distant past? Any advice is appreciated, I really don't know what to do.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (52 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Therapy. You are not a trained therapist, there are people that are.
posted by msamye at 3:17 PM on July 6, 2012 [6 favorites]

I lost a close sister to suicide and I become increasingly frustrated, angry, and manic in the weeks leading up to the anniversary. Strangely, it seems to be mostly anticipatory and - when the anniversary passes, I go back to normal pretty quickly. Every year it's a little less.

I'm not suggesting that you stay or go, but I drove a guy off that I really loved on the first anniversary and I regret it every day.
posted by Raichle at 3:18 PM on July 6, 2012 [5 favorites]

t I don't think that scolding my housemate will help. There is a selfish element to this, I admit, in that it would make living with him thereafter very difficult, but I also think that I won't be able to change his mind on the matte

What do you think of his friendship with Jerome?

Do you believe that Jerome did this thing? Was it wrong of him, or is this a more complicated story in your eyes? And if it was wrong, what do you think of someone who is willing to be friends with him?

I mean, I think there is a huge amount of drama in this situation and it's quite messy. And I don't think your girlfriend is necessarily observing good boundaries here. She should most definitely be in therapy for all that past trauma, if she's not. Because the trauma is clearly still impacting her.

But it's not clear how you read all of this, and that's sort of important to a good answer, I think.
posted by Miko at 3:19 PM on July 6, 2012 [14 favorites]

Everyone is going to say that Lydia needs therapy, like, stat - but I do want to add that if my partner were friends with someone who was buddies with a person who had sexually assaulted me while I was unconscious, and my partner had sort of a "there's two sides to this story, so how can I bring it up with my buddy the friend of the rapist?" I would be pretty upset independent of other variables.
posted by Frowner at 3:19 PM on July 6, 2012 [62 favorites]

Her anger will not subside if you confront your roommate because he's not really, truly, deeply the one she is angry with. He's just a proxy.

She needs to be in therapy. What's she's been through is too mUch for most people to deal with on thier own.
posted by sbutler at 3:19 PM on July 6, 2012 [6 favorites]

So..... Lydia is pissed off because a completely innocent party, your roommate, is keeping his distance from the entire mess? And Lydia is extremely abusive TO YOU because this innocent third party hasn't apologized for someone else's actions?

Ya know, frankly I think you need to run, do not walk, as far and as fast as you can away from Lydia. (And honestly, do you have any evidence other than Lydia's word that ANY of this drama happened, and that it all happened exactly as she says it did?)
posted by easily confused at 3:21 PM on July 6, 2012 [36 favorites]

She'll dissolve into tears, scream at me, storm out, slam doors, tell me she hopes my family members will be raped

this is not acceptable. the fact that one suffered rape at the hands of a third party does not grant them right to say such abusive things to you, who have nothing to do with this.

What possible outcome would come of this alleged condemning by your roommate. What would be served.

I think she needs a lot of counseling. You need to determine if this is a person for you.
posted by Ironmouth at 3:22 PM on July 6, 2012 [14 favorites]

Wait a sec. Why was she committed? It's not easy to have someone commuted for 72 hours. Consent from many medical professionals is needed as is much paperwork.

Jerome, the guy who raped her had her committed? What? Am I missing something here?

I'm not doubting your gfs story. Seems like something is missing here though.
posted by shushufindi at 3:26 PM on July 6, 2012 [15 favorites]

Well, I think that you need to move out of your current house or ask the friend to leave if you're going to continue dating her. She's not going to be able to get over something so horrific. You seem like a very analytical person who is trying to be thoughtful of your girlfriend's needs but just can't understand her emotions. Confronting the roommate is, of course, not your responsibility. He may not even be close to the to the rapist or even know that it happened. She knows this. I don't want you to feel like it's your job to engage in that drama. However, you need to do something because you are implicitly minimizing what happened to her every day that you live with a friend of her rapist.

Also, she really needs to be in therapy. Consider going as a couple in addition to her solo sessions.
posted by 200burritos at 3:28 PM on July 6, 2012 [11 favorites]

What do you mean you won't be able to change your housemate's mind on the matter? What is his mind on the matter? When did he not condemn Jerome's behavior toward your girlfriend? I can't tell if the issue is that he knew about it at the time and did nothing, that he found out about it later and didn't condemn it (whatever that means), or that he continues to be friends with Jerome.

Look, as a general rule, it's not a good idea to allow your partner to treat you poorly and to put up with it, although it might make sense to wait until after the anniversary of these events and see if things change after that. But I mean, if your roommate was somehow complicit in Jerome raping her or wrongfully having her involuntarily committed or otherwise abusing her, and you won't even take her side, yeah, that's going to hurt her and she's not going to like it.

What do you think happened? It's hard to tell from your question. It seems to me that you think she's, maybe, exaggerating, or failing to disclose extenuating circumstances, or something. How do you feel about Jerome? How do you feel about your roommate? Yeah, you only have her word, but if her word isn't enough for you, why not? And what does that say about your relationship?
posted by J. Wilson at 3:29 PM on July 6, 2012 [4 favorites]

You really don't sound like you're happy with her, either. Ask yourself if you are just staying with her out of worry for her wellbeing.
posted by 200burritos at 3:29 PM on July 6, 2012 [4 favorites]

People have been suggesting therapy. Great idea. But I'm going to bet there is a very strong chance that someone who was involuntarily committed for 72 hours may have some trust issues with therapists. And I know from many personal experiences that people who are very angry about something often don't respond well to the suggestion of therapy, seeing it as implying that there's something wrong with them, not the rest of the world. I'm not saying she doesn't need therapy, she clearly does. I'm just saying it might not be that easy to get her there.
posted by ubiquity at 3:29 PM on July 6, 2012 [6 favorites]

[Folks, please try to answer the question without debating the veracity of the girlfriend's story.]
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 3:30 PM on July 6, 2012

Can I assume that her corrosive anger will subside in time, once the deaths of her family members are easier to bear and the people who hurt her in the distant past?

If she's not healthy enough to not lash out at you she's ready to be in a relationship with another person.
posted by edbles at 3:39 PM on July 6, 2012

Based on my personal experience in a similar situation, I strongly suggest you obtain the advice of a lawyer before you commit to any decisions regarding this woman and the role she plays in your life.
posted by Ardiril at 3:41 PM on July 6, 2012

You can't support someone who is intent on raging at you, because it essentially means accepting abusive behavior. But, considering what was said above about anniversaries, maybe you can wait until the anniversary is over.

I would absolutely not confront this person. If your girlfriend is seriously mentally ill one of the most important things you can do for her is refrain from rewarding this kind of harmful behavior (rages). It will do no one any good to give her the impression that the way to get what she needs is to rage at people. She does have needs that deserve to be fulfilled, but raging in order to get them fulfilled is maladaptive and will serve her very poorly in the future. Don't help her down that road.
posted by the young rope-rider at 3:43 PM on July 6, 2012 [8 favorites]

There are two issues:

The first issue is your housemate, who is a friend of your girlfriend's rapist. She cannot cope with that -- knowing that he believes Jerome, or believes her but just doesn't care, knowing that Jerome might appear any time she is at your apartment, worrying perhaps that you will meet Jerome and believe him instead of her. If you see this relationship lasting, or if you want it to last, you need to not be a housemate with Jerome's friend. (It would be, in my case, an absolute deal-breaker that you not renew the lease.)

The second issue is that your girlfriend is being emotionally abusive to you. Not the part where she is dissolving into tears within a year of having a pile of really traumatic experiences, coming up on the (actually very very hard to cope with) anniversary of these experiences. Maybe not even the part where she is yelling, or where she is slamming doors (hurting inanimate objects so you don't hurt yourself is not a bad idea, generally), but the part where she is yelling at you and wishing harm on your family members. She needs some way to work on this -- if a therapist isn't in the works, a support group would be a good idea. (There are probably support groups, at least online, for partners of people who have been assaulted, and maybe that will help you.)

It sounds like you don't take her feelings about your housemate seriously, and that she interprets that as meaning that you don't take her seriously either, and she's reacting terribly inappropriately but somewhat understandably to it.

There are things I would suggest to Lydia, but she's not asking here, so to you I suggest: walking away, calmly, when she is being abusive to you (note: crying isn't abusive) and agreeing to change your living situation. And also being as understanding as you can, that after the anniversary things are likely to be easier on her.
posted by jeather at 3:43 PM on July 6, 2012 [12 favorites]

Um, if I were your girlfriend, I would probably be insisting your housemate move out. I would not feel safe dating you while you live with the friend of my rapist who had me involuntarily committed. I think that is probably the root cause of her rages. If I were her, I would have long ago told you to choose between the two of us and if you couldn't I would have dumped you for failing to protect me.

I don't know what to suggest you do. I am hoping my observation helps you at least make sense of her seemingly irrational behavior. I don't think it is irrational at all.
posted by Michele in California at 3:45 PM on July 6, 2012 [14 favorites]

If her description of what she's gone through is accurate, she will need some help to deal with this. But, as jeather stated, you're being abused. My advice is to wish her well and move on.
posted by HuronBob at 3:46 PM on July 6, 2012 [4 favorites]

Should I just allow myself to satisfy her need for revenge? Is that the only way I can validate for her that what happened to her was completely unjust? Can I assume that her corrosive anger will subside in time, once the deaths of her family members are easier to bear and the people who hurt her in the distant past? Any advice is appreciated, I really don't know what to do.

You are attempting to take on a burden and weight that isn't yours to carry and its one you do not have the tools to deal with.

Your job is hug and hold her when she cries, listen to her without judgement, take/pick her up/take her to coffee after the intense therapy sessions and otherwise just love her and enjoy being with her. Your job is also to look after and take care of yourself.

That's it. That's all you can and should do. Everything you've described her is unhealthy. Sit her down and explain that her behavior is unacceptable and that you will tolerate it, period. Then discuss therapy with her. If she doesn't want to go into therapy, then I would suggest leaving her. You can not help someone who doesn't want to themselves and if you try it will wear you out emotionally, as you're discovering.

Your girlfriend isn't a bad person. But she needs help. You can not give her the help she needs to get better. You can not shoulder that burden without harming yourself. She will have to get some sort of help. If she doesn't, you should leave her. You deserve better treatment for a girlfriend.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:46 PM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

IANACounsellor. However, it sounds like your girlfriend has complex PTSD. She's been through more than one trauma. She's raging because she's getting triggered - I can't imagine having to keep seeing one of the people who had me committed after I was raped.

The way your girlfriend is behaving toward you isn't okay. I think you know that. You need to let her know it isn't okay and what she needs to do to change. It would really help if you could go to therapy with her, to help make that safe for her. She is dealing with some serious stuff.

And you need to move. Or get your roommate to move, although it's probably easier if you just move. Did the rape actually happen at this house? Then definitely move. It must be triggering for her to have to go there, see him, see you interact with him. You're living with someone who stood by the side of her rapist, had her committed, etc. Even if Jerome's intentions were good, it was no doubt traumatic for her and a huge betrayal, perhaps more than she can handle right now. Move. See if it helps. See if she will get into counselling. Get her the help she needs, if she'll accept it. Let her know what your boundaries are around her behaviour.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 3:51 PM on July 6, 2012 [5 favorites]

Generally her rage wells up when we're discussing how she is feeling, but sometimes it's in reponse to her feeling overwhelmed by external stimuli, like if we get lost looking for a restaurant or something.

You've been dating for six months? Dump her. She sounds like she's been through a lot, so I'm sure that she's not entirely to blame for her behaviour, but unless you're madly in love with this woman, you should get out.

That being said, you asked this question so I assume you've decided not to do that. The first thing you need to know is what exactly is up with Jerome and your housemate and what is meant by "condemn". Does your housemate even know about this rape? What exactly was his reaction?

I mean, if he believes it happened but is still friends with Jerome then that's fucked up and you should find a new place to live. If he doesn't believe it, then that's his prerogative as Jerome's friend I guess but you are not going to be able to carry on a relationship with her while you live with someone who doesn't believe she was raped and you will need to move out.

Here is what you say to your housemate: "I heard something very disturbing. Lydia told me that Jerome raped her, that's pretty fucked up, right?" If he tells you that he heard the allegation but doesn't believe it then you say "Ok. I understand that in the absence of a conviction, you choose to stand by your friend, but I can't continue to live here with you. Lydia doesn't want to be around people who don't believe her and I trust that even though you genuinely believe him over her you understand why she feels that way." Then you make arrangements to move to a new place.

It doesn't actually matter whether things happened the way she said (and I have no reason to disbelieve her) if you want to stay with her you will have to move out. The only possible scenario in which this is not the case is if your housemate didn't even know (as he might not in the absence of a prosecution) and reacts to the news by roundly condemning Jerome and refusing to have anything to do with him in the future.

Finally, I'm not going to get into the territory of questioning any part of what she's told you, but be aware that it is not easy to have someone involuntarily committed in the absence of any symptoms of mental illness. Those symptoms could be the result of a perfectly justified and non-pathological rage towards her rapist or they could be something else. I would urge you to take care of yourself and be careful.
posted by atrazine at 4:02 PM on July 6, 2012 [31 favorites]

There's a lot going on here.

The problems here are not problems you can fix, not the way you're trying to. Confronting your housemate isn't really likely to get anywhere constructive, honestly, and you already know this. It has nothing to do with who's right and who's wrong here.

Lydia needs to get into therapy. You need to be able to explain to her your reservations about confronting your housemate without her freaking out. You also need to set some boundaries and recognize when they're being crossed, because this:

She says she doesn't understand why I won't stand up for her, that by not scolding my housemate I'm reinforcing the idea she has that she doesn't matter as much as other people.

is completely beyond the pale to me, right up there with "I hope your family members get raped." She is leveraging her trauma to try to get you to do something. Regardless of how justified she is in wanting the thing to be done, that is really seriously not okay. It is one of a lot of not okay things going on here.

It couldn't hurt to ask her exactly what she wants you to do in terms of your housemate, and/or what behavior from the housemate would satisfy her. But even if it's perfectly understandable that she'd be this upset and argue this way, the fact that it's understandable doesn't make it okay for her to do to you, and it needs to stop. If I were in your situation, I'd point out that her promises to change her behavior aren't amounting to anything and either she goes to therapy or I walk. Pain from her past is not a license to take it out on someone who genuinely cares about her.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 4:05 PM on July 6, 2012 [4 favorites]

Lydia needs therapy. It is not okay AT ALL for Lydia to be taking her rages out on you. And, it is fucked up for Lydia to say that she hopes your family gets raped.


The subject of her anger is usually that I won't confront my housemate, who is a friend of Jerome's, about why he didn't condemn Jerome's behaviour towards her.

Assuming it's a known fact that Jerome raped her, and the roommate was aware of it, all the above does not change the fact that this is incredibly fucked up. To know that someone is a rapist and just keep being friends with someone like everything is hunky dory???

Also, I cannot imagine dating someone who was knowingly living with a friend of someone who raped me, as if everything was cool. LIVING WITH?? I can't imagine dating someone who was FRIENDS with a friend of someone who raped me. I'm really sorry that it would make things awkward. But, wow. That is really beyond the pale. I am honestly surprised she is even still dating you. If I were her I wouldn't even be able to look at you.
posted by cairdeas at 4:32 PM on July 6, 2012 [12 favorites]

I am not making a diagnosis but I would like to recommend Stop Walking on Eggshells which was written for people who are friends/family/loved ones of people affected by borderline personality disorder. My therapist lent it to me so I could learn some coping mechanisms for dealing with my mother, who is not BPD but who has some qualities of BPD. It sounds like you may relate to some of the behaviours described in the book and it gives some good advice about deciding where and how to set your boundaries (or decide where to draw the line). It's a short read and you can take or leave what relates to your situation.
posted by Felicity Rilke at 4:45 PM on July 6, 2012 [5 favorites]

You're aligning yourself with someone who essentially condones what happened to your girlfriend, ergo, you're aligning yourself with the guy who raped your girlfriend.

Having said that - I don't see how giving your roommate a serve will be of any benefit - he's not going to stop being friends with her rapist after you give him a piece of your mind.

And, your girlfriend is abusing you and doesn't seem to be doing anything to fix the problem - it's one thing to feel overwhelmed and act out but if it happens repeatedly and you're not getting therapy for it, then you're abdicating your own responsibility to yourself and to others.

So - you need to decide whether you want to stay together with her.

If you do - you need to leave where you're living or your roommate needs to move out. She needs to agree to go to therapy individually and you may need to go to couples counselling as well. Both of you seem to need far better boundaries than you currently have.
posted by heyjude at 4:49 PM on July 6, 2012

Is this like a constant argument between your roommate and gf, or is this just something looming and unconfirmed? If it's the latter, I don't see the problem with talking to your roommate and saying something along the lines of "hey, can I talk to you about my gf for a minute? She's going through a real rough patch lately with the anniversary of all this bad shit in her life that went on last year. It really fucked her up. She finds it especially hard that I live with a friend of Jerome's (you), because she thinks you don't give a shit about what he did to her. It'd mean a lot to me to know if you agree that what Jerome did to her was fucked up." If the answer is that he feels no disapproval whatsoever towards Jerome's actions, well yeah I think you may need to choose - gf or roommate.

But even a happy resolution of gf/roommate issues is unlikely to help her anger issues overall. It's a convenient trigger for her anger, but taking it away doesn't mean she won't find other triggers. Seems any little bit of frustration sets her off (like getting lost).

I gave this advice to another mefite a long time ago, same thing applies to you:

If someone's taking their bad mood out on you, stand up for yourself and walk away from them for a while, take yourself out of the line of fire. You look at the person and calmly say "You're in a crap mood and you're taking it out on me again. I'm going to step out for a while and wait for you to calm down and be nice to me again. I'll call you in an hour to see how you're doing, and if you're ready for me to come back yet. (Love you)." And you actually leave for said hour, and go do something - take a walk, go to the library/bookstore, take yourself to a cafe, visit a friend, etc. Don't let the person talk their way out of it, tell them they need this, and leave.

If the person cares about you like they should, they'll start to realize there are consequences to taking out their frustrations on you. If they get mad at you for not sticking around to take their crap, then this is where you should reconsider the relationship.

Modify as necessary, but don't give in to being an emotional punching bag.
posted by lizbunny at 4:56 PM on July 6, 2012 [9 favorites]

I don't think that you should "confront" your housemate, or that your girlfriend should expect this from you.

I also don't think your girlfriend should date someone who lives with someone else who, at best, brings up painful memories of a traumatic incident, and, at worst, has some culpability in the handling of the incident.

You should either make other housing arrangements or you should stop dating. And given her abusive behavior against you, you should seriously consider whether you want to keep dating. But the status quo is a bad situation for her.
posted by grouse at 5:00 PM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

that's a terrible situation. your girlfriend's completely, 100% right that it's fucked up that you're living with her rapist's buddy, and it's beyond reasonable that she's freaked out that you're passively contributing to her anguish. i'm guessing you guys are pretty young. your girlfriend needs a shit ton of help, like right now, immediately, stat. unfortunately it is clear that while you have pretty good intentions you have no clue how serious this situation is or how to deal with it (and how could you? you're not to be blamed). and on top of it, it's a total dealbreaker that she's abusing you. so there are maybe five independent and equally fatal reasons why this relationship cannot possibly work out. this might sound kind of brutal, but it doesn't sound like your girlfriend has learned how to take care of herself, and you don't know how to take care of yourself either. that can absolutely, positively happen for both of you, in the future, but for right now - man, i don't know what to tell you. it's probably not going to work out. your girlfriend is *in crisis*.
posted by facetious at 5:01 PM on July 6, 2012 [5 favorites]

it sucks that she's having a rough time being overwhelmed by her emotions, but she can learn how to control the way she reacts - like by not screaming at you and saying horrible things about your family.
posted by lizbunny at 5:02 PM on July 6, 2012

The crux of this situation appears to be the assumption that your housemate knows about her allegation. Your housemate may be as unaware of the situation as you yourself were when you met this woman.
posted by Ardiril at 5:03 PM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

"I can't come to your house because I can't cope with seeing your housemate Bob---I feel angry and betrayed because of his friendship with my rapist" is a statement of self-preservation and self-care.

"I don't think I can keep dating you if you're going to continue living with a friend of my rapist" is a statement of self-preservation and self-care.

"If you don't confront Bob with the evil of his ways, you are a terrible person and I hope your mum and baby sister get raped" is, at best, out-of-control lashing out, and at worst abuse.

If she is uncomfortable seeking therapy at this time, which might be totally understandable, perhaps she'd be more open to taking part in a peer support group for survivors of sexual assault? And/or a support group for family members of suicide?

You don't have to be her only support. I do have great sympathy for her anger and anxiety about feeling like her boyfriend's home isn't a safe place for her, given that a friend of her rapist lives there, but her way of addressing that seems out there. I would move if I were you, just as a gesture of respect for her peace of mind.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:06 PM on July 6, 2012 [21 favorites]

Dealing with the request (demand) only, it sounds to me like she wants to feel protected, defended, and in some demonstrated way believed. In response, you are hemming & hawing & trying to walk the line between loyal friend & loyal boyfriend. Well there isn't really any reasonabkle midle ground if you believe her: If he stood by & did nothing, or if he defended a rapist through silence, that's pretty reprehensible behavior, and that deserves some kind of acknowledgement. If you believe & are not willing to make some kind of ackowledgement (eg make plans to move out, or at the very least, call him on it), what does that make you? Another silent vote for "let's sweep this under the rug?"

I think there is some very real validity to her anger: You are letting her down in some extremely meaningful ways.

How she's handling herself in general, whether the specifics of what she asked will make a lick of difference in how she reacts to him, whether you even believe her story, whether she's actually capable of being healthy in a relatioship at this time, whether you should be with her...all separate questions in a very complicated picture.

figure out what you believe, figure out who mattrrs to you more, figure out if you are actually willing to cope with this level of drama on a sustained basis, and look for solutions from there.
posted by Ys at 7:29 PM on July 6, 2012 [9 favorites]

I cannot conceive of being in a relationship with someone who was even friends with someone who had supported my rapist. Living with them is beyond the pale.

She was out of line to say that she hoped your family would get raped - but honestly, I can see where she was coming from, if not the character of her statements. I can completely see why she would find it horrible that you are still living with (and refusing to confront) someone who was complicit in her rape and forced hospitalization.

Especially when your reasons seem to be that it would make you uncomfortable. She's right - you don't value her in the way she needs, and you don't seem to take her rape seriously.

FYI, it's fairly easy to get someone involuntarily committed - if multiple people said she tried to kill herself, she would have been held for that length of time.
posted by corb at 7:38 PM on July 6, 2012 [5 favorites]

To add on to what corb said, it can be even easier than that. Typically people can be committed even if they have not actually taken action on a plan to harm themselves or someone else, as long as you have a reasonable suspicion based on the evidence at hand (which can include interviews of friends and family) that they might be a danger to themselves or others if they are not held.

I do it as part of my job so I'm quite familiar with the process. If there is a strong enough suspicion that a person might seriously harm themselves or someone else, they're staying.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 8:07 PM on July 6, 2012

she wants me to confront my housemate for his passivity to the abuse she endured. Should I?

to answer your question: no, she should fight her own battles. yes, you can support her, but sending in big brother/boy friend to be big and tough is childish. imagine switching the gender roles and you can see how silly it is unless you're working in a framework of, and supporting, patriarchy.
posted by cupcake1337 at 8:40 PM on July 6, 2012

I'm sort of appalled at how many people have jumped to label your girlfriend as "crazy." Yes, she needs therapy, no, it is not okay to say that she wishes people in your family would be raped, but you are clearly doing an extremely poor job of understanding what it was like for her to be raped by not wanting to the rock boat and keep on living with her rapist's friend. No wonder she's veering off the rails.

Rape survivors often suffer from severe PTSD, especially if they're treated by proper counselors, and you're dragging her over the coals every day that you opt to live peaceably, unquestioningly, with Jerome. If you want to keep living with Jerome, that's fine, but you sure as hell shouldn't be dating Lydia. You represent someone who "loves and cherishes her" but also doesn't feel like suffering the inconvenience of, you know, hashing out some pesky details with Jerome. It's enough to drive a mentally stable person up the wall, let alone someone who's faced sexual assault, trauma and severe grief.

To be clear, I'm not justifying her behavior, but let's be open to a little more nuance than simply calling her a nutjob. You can choose to remain her boyfriend and help her through a difficult time in which she pursue therapy or group support, or you can keep living with the friend of Lydia's rapist. You can't do both.
posted by zoomorphic at 8:46 PM on July 6, 2012 [4 favorites]

I think she shouldn't ever have to be in a position to see this person if she doesn't want to.

I also don't think it's fair for you to have to alter your entire living situation based on the bad behavior of people you barely know, which you know practically nothing about, in order to remain in a relationship with someone you have known for so short a time.

Whether you choose to remain living and/or friendly with your current housemate is really up to you. It's okay for Lydia's input to be a factor, but it is not really wise to make major living decisions at the behest of people whom you are still getting to know and who are going through such a major (and ongoing, by the sound of it) crisis.

It sounds like Lydia isn't too clear about exactly what she wants you to do, and I'm not convinced it would actually assuage her for you to confront your housemate, if her rages are likely to recur anyway. If you can move without much trouble, then I guess sure, why not? But you need to keep an eye on people in your life who are willing/able to just uproot you at a whim, it's not a pattern you want to get in the habit of repeating.

If you are afraid of breaking up with her because of her problems and/or the risk of self-harm, for example, then you are really in a prime position to wind up rationalizing LOTS of abuse from her in order to be there for her. And she may be less likely to get actual help if you are there for her as a crutch. It's an inappropriate burden for you to carry at this stage in your relationship.
posted by hermitosis at 9:17 PM on July 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

She has suffered the shocks of the suicides of two of her family members, and was raped while she was passed out and then involuntarily committed by her rapist and "friends"--all the in space of a month or so and less than a year ago?

This poor girl is suffering waking nightmares. Suicide leaves the loved ones feeling, at the very least, accused and judged without the possibility of response or resolution; being raped is a violation of one's very humanity. Of course she is angry. She has so much anger and pain she probably really does seem crazy sometimes--and nobody is helping her with it. She has no tools to deal with such massive betrayal and assault to her being. She can hardly access any emotions beyond this painful rage. The very idea you live with a friend of Jerome makes her feel devalued and unsafe. But this is just one symptom.

It sounds as if she might also be self-medicating--with alcohol, perhaps. People sometimes drink too much to dull such emotional pain as this. It's unreliable medicine, of course, as rages and even addiction can result. It's little wonder she can't trust doctors--how can she when she's been labeled by those who should have protected her.

You cannot fix her. You can love her. Absolutely do not allow her to abuse you. That's not an answer for her. Explain that and tell her you won't accept abuse. She is only doing this because she hurts unbearably. Perhaps she doesn't want revenge so much as she needs someone to acknowledge that she is a human being who should never have been treated with such callous disregard and abuse. Because you also believe that, you might need to have that conversation with your housemate and part ways.

She needs a very good abuse and trauma counselor and perhaps group therapy as well. And definitely some compassion, trust and dignity. She might not be completely ready to have a trusting and happy relationship just yet. Perhaps you should also consider that she might need a good bit of healing before she is able to be the kind of girlfriend she probably can be later. I just hope you can help her to realize that she deserves respect and help.

You sound like a very nice person. I wish you well.
posted by Anitanola at 9:55 PM on July 6, 2012 [3 favorites]

to answer your question: no, she should fight her own battles. yes, you can support her, but sending in big brother/boy friend to be big and tough is childish. imagine switching the gender roles and you can see how silly it is unless you're working in a framework of, and supporting, patriarchy.

I am a dude, if my girlfriend was living with someone complicit in a terrible and life ruining thing that had happened to me, and then pretending that did not happen out of fear of social discomfort, I would feel pretty bad about that relationship.

Yes probably it would be good for me to tell that person to fuck right off, but really If my hypothetical girlfriend did not also tell that person to fuck right off, and stop living with that person I would continue to feel pretty bad about that relationship.

I really don't think this is a gender thing. I think that everyone pretty much wants the people who should be on your side, to in fact be on your side. Particularly in times when super terrible, nightmarish things have happened.
posted by St. Sorryass at 10:28 PM on July 6, 2012 [11 favorites]

you're only somewhat invested in the relationship now. Get out while you still can. The validity of what she's told you is completely beside the question; she needs to deal with these issues and there is no intervening you need to do. she is broken and you can't fix her. Only time and a willingness on her part to work through her issues will change it. (And really, it might be as simple as reporting the rapist to the police and pursuing legal action regarding the involuntary commitment and whether it was a valid commitment. i don't know. i'm not your attorney, or hers, and this isn't legal advice.)
posted by Happydaz at 12:43 AM on July 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

Why is it that her alleged rapist was able to get her committed? Why is it that she did not get him arrested for rape? Or, if she did not even try to do that, why not?

As others have said, this story is full of uncertainties and unknowns. What is clear is that your girlfriend is unstable, and given to huge, vicious anger. Perhaps that is indeed for the reasons she claims. Or perhaps not. Perhaps your room mate has just cause to believe Jerome's take over hers. Who knows? We certainly don't, from the story as reported here. My advice would be to tread very carefully and do not act on uncertain assumptions, especially when they may be clouded by your own emotions. There is almost certainly more to this than is currently meeting your eyes.

Have you talked to your room mate about this, but not from an accusatory standpoint? Just asking for his understanding of the situation, or what Jerome has told him about it? I would certainly want to do that, just to see if there is indeed another credible side to the story. Meanwhile, you should not be putting up with your girlfriend's abuse. If you truly love her enough to feel it is worth tolerating while you try to work through this you at least need to make her understand the seriousness of it, and that having been abused is in no way a justification for abusing in turn. If, having been made fully aware of this, she is still unable to control herself, she is not ready to be in a relationship, and she needs to understand that too.
posted by Decani at 3:31 AM on July 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

As a reminder, restless-nomad posted: please try to answer the question without debating the veracity of the girlfriend's story. (emphasis mine)

Decani, your suggestion: Have you talked to your room mate about this, but not from an accusatory standpoint?

is pretty much exactly what the girlfriend's been trying to get the OP to do:
The subject of her anger is usually that I won't confront my housemate, who is a friend of Jerome's, about why he didn't condemn Jerome's behaviour towards her.

Asking his roommate calmly, "why he didn't condemn Jerome's behavior", would do just what you're suggesting.

The doubts about the girlfriend's veracity are, by the way, exactly why so many rape victims don't report rapes, along with the sad reality that police often doubt victims. For all we know, Jerome did indeed rape her, and his friends decided to stick by him, scapegoating the victim. This happens more often than most people realize.
posted by fraula at 6:42 AM on July 7, 2012 [7 favorites]

I will add the girl was raped by her then boyfriend while passed out. Trying to prove that was not consensual is very challenging. Even assuming a rape kit was done, it would only prove sex occurred with her then boyfriend. That's it. I know of someone who went to the police after being violated with a broom handle while passed out by some guy she brought home. She had a drinking problem and picked him up at a bar. The police actively discouraged her from filing charges. Due to the circumstances, odds of finding him guilty were very poor. Odds of airing her dirty laundry were very high. It was quietly dropped.
posted by Michele in California at 7:31 AM on July 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Should I just allow myself to satisfy her need for revenge? Is that the only way I can validate for her that what happened to her was completely unjust? Can I assume that her corrosive anger will subside in time, once the deaths of her family members are easier to bear and the people who hurt her in the distant past? Any advice is appreciated, I really don't know what to do.

Your questions (above) indicate that you understand Lydia's traumas to be "past events to be recovered-from." That's a totally reasonable and totally common perception, but it's often wrong. It is how we tend to view most events: They happen, we process them, the end. "I played a championship game and felt physically excited, we won and I felt happy, and then the next week we went back to regular practice." "I got into a fight with my mother and felt upset and angry, and the next day I felt hurt about some things she had said, but after a few days I felt better and now it's kind of a vague memory." In other words, we view life as an ever-moving timeline with new events constantly replacing old ones as "the present," and those old events collectively blending together to form "the past," or "memories."

Based on what we know about trauma, this simpistic way of viewing experiences just isn't accurate for traumatic experiences. No, you cannot assume that her feelings will subside in time. She may continue experiencing those feelings—not just remembering them, but experiencing them—for a long, long time. But more fundamentally, when you talk about "satisfy[ing]" and "validat[ing]" her feelings...you need to understand that it is possible (only "possible"; I don't know Lydia, and everybody's different) that these feelings are not like a thirst that can be quenched, or a faucet that can be turned off. Trauma doesn't necessarily work like that.

Here's the best way I can explain it: We think about most hurt in terms of physical injury. We talk about emotional "scars" that need to heal. With physical injuries, our body heals itself. Scars form automatically. Well, in various cases of trauma you can sometimes visualize two differences in that analogy. First, the wound doesn't heal automatically. It's as if you skinned your knee and then somehow needed to consciously do something to make the wound close, because otherwise it won't close. This is why commenters upthread have recommended therapy for Lydia; most people don't learn how to "make" wounds close, physical or emotional, so we need help. The second difference to visualize is that if and when the wound does close, trauma is often still present as an "injury." Imagine someone who limps because he has shrapnel in his leg...except that every so often when he hears a helicopter pass overhead, the shrapnel literally twists itself around in his leg and his wound reopens and bleeds.

This all sounds dire, and I apologize for that—especially for trauma survivors who might be reading. I do not mean to imply that experiencing trauma puts a person inside a box from which she will never escape. But there is some validity to thinking about trauma not as an injury, but as a handicap. It's a much bigger deal with potentially much longer-term consequences. We know that handicaps absolutely do not prevent people from living incredibly happy and successful lives, sometimes more so because of their experiences. Moreover, we know that sometimes people can even overcome handicaps completely. With physical therapy, maybe someone learns to walk again. Sometimes these things do become part of "the past." But that almost never happens automatically.

My point is to tell you two things. First, there may be nothing that you can "do" to remedy, fix, or address what Lydia is experiencing. If I were you I might not look so hard for a way to "satisfy" or "validate" her feelings, because it may not be that simple. It may far, far more complicated, as well as out of your hands and over your head. And second, you should know that being in an intimate relationship with a trauma survivor is a thing unto itself. It goes into a category with being in a relationship with a person living 3,000 miles away, or being in a relationship with a person who is deaf or blind. Do some research. Read about trauma, talk to people, learn about other people's experiences being the significant other to a trauma survivor. Decide honestly whether it's for you. It can absolutely be a successful, loving, happily-ever-after relationship, but you will encounter unique hurdles and you should not think that just because things have gotten tricky after six months you have seen what's in store.
posted by red clover at 8:44 AM on July 7, 2012 [8 favorites]

A big issue I see here is that you see confronting the roommate as an act of revenge on her behalf - but what I see is that SHE DOES NOT FEEL SAFE. She wants to feel safe. You, as others have mentioned, are effectively living with a trigger that brings back all the helplessness and rage of her rape and commitment.
I know that when I don't feel safe I get very stressed out and emotional, and yes I will lash out at the person who is supposed to be there for me but who is (or seems to be) denying the validity of my not feeling safe and/or allowing things that increase my feeling of unsafeness into my vicinity.
She doesn't feel like you're taking her pain and fear seriously, because you won't get her back by dealing with this roommate who likes to hang out with her rapist.

Your call here: move out and get a fresh start with her in a new place that she can finally relax in, or decide you'd rather keep the roommate and lose the girl.
(I gotta say that I'm not hot on people who are cool with rapist friends. Just saying.)
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 9:17 AM on July 7, 2012 [6 favorites]

I think many of these answers are coming down awfully hard on you, OP, considering you were basically plunked right into the middle of a highly volatile situation that you had no part of. This whole sentiment you're getting here of "you are a jerk because you are roommates with someone whose friend is a rapist" is one I find troubling, and the expectation that you just uproot your entire living arrangement to get away from this guy (whose exact involvement in this whole incident is pretty unclear), for a six month relationship in which you're being abused, to be pretty out of line.

All that said, I'm really not sure why either of you want to remain in this relationship. Why did she pursue a relationship in the first place, assuming you've been living with roommate right from the beginning? She has major, major issues to sort out, I'd put the brakes on the relationship until she gets help. I'd say still be there to support her through it all, but without your living situation changing (which, again, I don't think it necessarily should), she will most likely still feel the same anger and resentment toward you as she does now.

I think hermitosis said it better than I ever could.
posted by wats at 10:23 AM on July 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

"Lydia says she feels worthless and as if it doesn't matter what people do to her - I think she doesn't care that a confrontation wouldn't produce a result, but just that it would happen, and thereby give her some measure of vengeance or make someone tangentially involved in what happened to her suffer."

It sounds like she wants someone to stand up for her. Since nobody has done this, she has every reason to feel worthless and as if it doesn't matter what people do to her, because nobody is acting as if she were worth standing up for or as if it does matter what people do to her.

I can't comment on your relationship or living situation as a whole, nor can I make any suggestions about what you could or should do in a pragmatic or dutiful sense. I'm just pointing out that her perception of the situation is based in reality. That is actually how things are for her. The way you see it, standing up for her is not in fact worth the risk it poses to your living situation, and the crime committed against her does not in fact matter enough for anyone to have been held to account for it.

First all this happens, and then she finds herself the only responsible person on her side. Nobody's coming to help her, and anybody could be coming to harm her at any moment. Part of the trauma is when it sinks in that you really are on your own, and that nobody's coming to help you, and that all the forces in society that are supposed to protect you, don't. I don't know if she went to the police though the popular perception is that police don't help you, so many people don't even try. Mental health professionals didn't help her. Friends didn't help her.

Her telling you she wishes your family would get raped is outrageously abusive and it's almost unheard of that I find myself defending someone who's let rip with that kind of abuse. However, I think what is driving it is a wish for you to see her point of view that the basic problem is not her craziness, the basic problem is what's happened to her and how little she can do about it. She sounds like she does need professional help (and has already received some, apparently in traumatising ways - professional harm?) but that's kind of orthogonal to what she appears to be asking of you.

Some will say that you don't know Lydia, you don't know if this is all a function of her personality and not situational at all, you don't know if her story is true, she shouldn't have gotten into a relationship with you and vice versa, that her abusiveness negates her position, that you can't be expected to risk disrupting your life for a relationship of such short duration and/or based on information given to you by an unreliable source. I can't say I'd be among them, but I also can't tell you to extend more understanding and support to her than the court of MeFi can prove you owe.

The things that make me hesitate is how you got into this relationship in the first place, and what your roommate's view of this is that isn't going to change. It sounds to me like she cut all ties with that group but couldn't bring herself to do so 100% (this has been put forward in another question on the green during the last week) and was attracted to you in part because you're still connected to them? It also sounds like the roommate's view is along the lines of I don't want to get involved/I side with the rapist/she's demonstrably crazy, and none of that would, unfortunately, be the least bit inconsistent with Lydia's actually having been raped by Jerome. These are the two aspects of your story that I think could be clarified a little.
posted by tel3path at 1:14 PM on July 7, 2012 [4 favorites]

People are coming down extremely hard on the housemate, but what on earth do you expect?

I know there is an issue with rape being underreported, and with reports not being believed, but if someone accused a friend of mine of a terrible crime (such as rape) and he personally told me that it was a lie, and then no charges were ever pressed and nothing ever came of it, what reason would I have to question him?

I'd probably (rather naively) imagine that if there were any truth to the accusation, he'd have surely been arrested, sued, something. But if he wasn't, then as his friend, how would I be in any position to condemn him? Or listen to someone else's rants about him?

Must one totally abandon anyone who is ever merely accused of a terrible crime? Or take it upon oneself to solve the case singlehandedly and lay the matter to rest?

Housemate is probably being lied to. Liars can be very convincing and smooth and charismatic, where as victims (like Lydia) can be very erratic and difficult to deal with, even when you love them. If housemate believes the rape took place and simply doesn't care, yeah that's disgusting. If housemate really doesn't believe it took place -- or isn't sure, but really believes that the matter is none of his business -- those are problematic for you and Lydia, but it is not up to you to change his mind on your own. The way to change his mind is to file charges, and get them to stick. Otherwise, avoidance (whether or not that means moving out, or Lydia leaving you) is really your only option.

I am not saying that I believe Jerome is innocent, but many people really stand by the "innocent until proven guilty" thing, especially with very serious charges like rape, and especially when it comes to their friends and loved ones. And yes, that's what makes it so INTENSELY frustrating that rape is underreported and that the charges are so easily brushed aside, because without that reckoning many perpetrators get to go on living as if it never happened.

But I also don't want to live in a world where getting someone shunned by all their friends forever is as easy as one unsubstantiated rape charge.
posted by hermitosis at 3:16 PM on July 7, 2012 [4 favorites]

"Lydia says she feels worthless and as if it doesn't matter what people do to her - I think she doesn't care that a confrontation wouldn't produce a result, but just that it would happen, and thereby give her some measure of vengeance or make someone tangentially involved in what happened to her suffer."

It sounds like she wants someone to stand up for her. Since nobody has done this, she has every reason to feel worthless and as if it doesn't matter what people do to her, because nobody is acting as if she were worth standing up for or as if it does matter what people do to her.

I want to nth this a thousand times.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 3:53 PM on July 7, 2012

This is where I think it would help if the OP were to clarify what the housemate's position actually is. I agree that if someone is accused of a crime you have a moral problem on your hands which some might resolve by deciding that the friend is to be treated as innocent until the courts find them guilty.

There's a lot of nuance in between treating Jerome as innocent because one doesn't have enough facts to think otherwise, and knowing firsthand that Jerome did rape Lydia and just not giving a toss. Supposing the housemate (frex) thinks Jerome isn't guilty because Lydia was unconscious because of drink and he thinks having sex with drunk girls is just one of those things that can get a hapless guy accused of rape, which, hey, it's not like Lydia said no, is it? I mean she was unconscious at the time. So, there's not knowing if Jerome is guilty, and then there's not knowing if Jerome is guilty.

The best-case scenario is that the housemate thinks that, indeed, he doesn't know any facts and he chooses to treat Jerome as innocent until and unless Jerome is convicted by a court. That is definitely a position the housemate could hold with integrity and the OP would have to respect that.

However, in that case, if the OP believed Lydia, the thing to do to show her "how loved and cherished she is" would be to move out so that he was no longer living with someone he believed to be one of Lydia's rapist's friends. It's only if the OP didn't believe Lydia, and/or didn't love/cherish her enough to change his living situation for her, that it becomes unclear how he could resolve this.
posted by tel3path at 4:07 PM on July 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

Not to get into her story or the questionable validity of anything... the basic facts are, your girlfriend has a problem with this Jerome guy, and rather than handling her problem on her own, she is dragging you and your roommate into it. She's making her problems your problems; she's creating conflict between you and your roommate where there was none; she's doing nothing on her own to solve her problems, but instead putting the responsibility on you.

Fact is, she should have dumped you when she realized that dating you put her back into a painful situation. But she didn't, she made the pain and drama endure, and thats not your fault, but you can put an end to it by either dumping her or your friend. Dump her, there is no more problem or conflict. Dump the roommate, she'll set her targets on someone else and the abuse on you will likely continue, since nothing will be resolved or changed, other than you have one less friend.

I dated a girl like her. Her "woe is me" stories never seemed to quite add up... she created conflicts with my friends which I was then responsible to mitigate... she regularly abused me with the EXACT SAME anger outbursts you describe, in which she'd take her anger for something she can't control and direct it all at me, since I was an easy target. I dumped her when I finally discovered some of her stories were flat out lies, and when I realized she honestly was trying to separate me from my family, whether intentionally or subconsciously.

Don't get me wrong, I cared alot for her, it was a huge emotional drain to constantly be trying to make/keep her happy. Go do a search on Borderline Personality Disorder, see if the criteria line up with your girlfriend at all. I wish you the best of luck.
posted by el_yucateco at 11:38 AM on July 10, 2012

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