How to help a friend who suffers family criminal from her husband?
February 2, 2013 9:28 AM   Subscribe

My friend is a very nice person and married to her husband three years ago. They got along well with each other. And then they had a baby two years ago. So this family looks like a happy family at first glance. But problem came gradually, when her husband beat her several times without reasons. They quarreled even with very tiny and trivial controversies, followed with beats. Then she tries not to quarrel with him or confront him, but the same happens. There were two times that she called police and he was forced to leave the family for a period of time. Now the same thing happen. As a friend, what kind of comforts and suggestions should I give my friend for her best interests?
posted by caladesi to Human Relations (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You can tell her to get the hell out of that relationship right now.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 9:39 AM on February 2, 2013 [4 favorites]

What kind of support does she need? Is she tied financially to him, is she hopeful he will suddenly change back?, is she concerned his recent actions are the result of a medical problem, are the police not able to protect her?

Probably the best support is to provide a space in your house for her and her child to live, let her know that space is always available rent-free and she can contact you at any time and you will pick her up. You might also want to research therapists/lawyers for her to meet with, facilitate those meetings by providing transportation and babysitting and then following her lead on what she needs.

You yourself should be talking to a professional about how best to support her without burning yourself out or making the situation worse. Compassion fatigue is a real problem where feeling fed-up with (what seems to you) repeated bad decisions leads to snap ultimatums issues to your friend - "stop talking about your problems until you do something about them, don't contact me until you have left him, I'm calling Child Services to take your children away from you because you can't protect them from their father, etc" This is usually a long process and you need someone not emotionally involved to help you process your emotions though this upheaval and role play scenarios with healthy scripts.
posted by saucysault at 9:41 AM on February 2, 2013 [4 favorites]

Are you close enough to her that you can call her and tell her she and the kid need to come stay with you RIGHT NOW?
posted by Autumn at 9:42 AM on February 2, 2013

Response by poster: I am really surprised that you guys provided me so valuable suggestions, especially the ones given by saucysault. The thing I forgot to mention is that they seem love each other in most time. But the husband occasionally has a difficulty in controlling his emotion from outburst, and can be irritated by tiny disagreements. So I was not condemning him to be a man of cruel at all time.

What I can conclude is that both of them have difficulties, and both of them need certain kind of help. As what Autumn said, the baby might be impacted by these experiences, too.
posted by caladesi at 9:52 AM on February 2, 2013

Best answer: Don't be afraid to offer a place to stay, BUT please be aware that there are a lot of reasons that she may not take you up on that, and there are other important ways to help her. She'll need support no matter what she decides.

And, at the same time, if that toddler is in any kind of immediate risk, you need to call the appropriate authorities if she won't. If you give a general idea of where you live (in the thread here or via MeMail) we can help you figure out who needs to be called.

Also, if your first language (or hers) isn't English, let us know - there are lots of resources out there in many languages, especially Spanish.
posted by SMPA at 10:04 AM on February 2, 2013 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Caladesi, what he's doing is abuse. Even being nice in between beatings is part of the cycle of abuse. And their baby is affecting by the abuse of the mother, even if the baby is not seeing or hearing it or being abused directly.

Take it from me - abuse affects children, even if they don't see or hear the abuse. The baby is being abused, even if it's indirectly. And that can cause years of problems and even brain injuries, which show up as all sorts of learning problems when they go to school. The mom may have trauma, which also affects the baby.

Encourage your friend to recognize the abuse and the effect is is having. See if you can help her find a counsellor.. Perhaps call a women's abuse hotline and ask them how to support her, while providing for the protection of her children. They should have access to legal advice and knowledge of the child protection rules. They can also help her build a case so that she can have custody and support, as well as protection from the government saying she failed to protect the baby.

Many people will say to tell your friend to leave. If your friend is ready to do so, that can be helpful, of course. But if she is terrified, struggling with the mental problems of recognizing abuse, or not sure how to support herself, telling her to leave may make her feel out of control, just like the abuse. And she may then be MORE likely to stay. Showing her options and encouraging her to get outside support is the best thing you can do. Her husband is making her feel disconnected from the world, going over her boundaries and causing confusion. Connecting with the outside world and feeling safe in her own autonomy is the first step - in healing, in leaving, in getting safe. And she needs to put together a safety plan. Leaving an abusive relationship and the time just after may be the most violent and unsafe time. If she leaves without a safety plan, she may be at more risk. her connect with outside resources. Call a women's centre for advice. They'll know your community.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 10:05 AM on February 2, 2013 [17 favorites]

Where is this happening?
posted by mr_roboto at 10:08 AM on February 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If there is violence in the relationship most couple's councilors will be unable/unwilling to work with a couple. You label both of them as having difficulties but it seems the husband is the only one you identify as beating her. Threats and actual violence certainly would cause her to have difficulty so be careful not to begin victim-blaming. She appears to have identified the violence as a problem (as does western society in labeling it a criminal act); does the husband think the violence is a problem/a crime? Or does he pretend it does not happen/she provoked and deserved it/it isn't a big deal?

Some couples can recover from violence in a relationship with a lot of professional help and the violent person holding themselves personally accountable for past actions and a commitment to never go there again. It takes a person of incredibly strong character, personal insight, with a lot of support both professional, personal and financial though (basically the complete opposite of the present violent-prone individual) Is that a realistic scenario for your friend or would she be better off cutting her losses early and creating a healthy life for herself and her baby?
posted by saucysault at 10:15 AM on February 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Dear friends,

I continue to appreciate your suggestions about protecting and helping my friend. My girlfriend and I made an appointment with her to see what difficulties she current has and what we really can do to protect and encourage her and the toddler, even though her husband is temporarily forced to go away by the police.

A summary from these posts made by saucysault, SMPA and Chaussette, and others:

We will talk about rental-free and secure space in my apt;

We will offer immediate help if anything about abuse happens;

We will ask her to think about marriage consultant, and if possible find one for her and her husband;

Women's centre, as well as local church, are also good ideas to think about;

We will figure out the appropriate authorities we will have to talk in case of risk;

We may schedule regular meetings with her as friends, and will provide them, especially her, opportunities of connecting with outside world and resources;

We will figure out in what way the toddler will be impacted the least by his experiences.

Generally, we will try to be as supportive as possible whatever decision she makes. My friend speaks English and I do not think she will have any difficulty regarding language. At this time I would like to keep it private by not locating where we are. Thank you all!
posted by caladesi at 10:33 AM on February 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: She is being abused. It doesn't not matter how "nice" the husband is between beatings he is not a partner, he is a monster. She needs to leave, take the baby, file for divorce with full custody of the child on the grounds of the abuse and never look back. I would also do my best to make sure the husband did not know where she was.

Will she do this? Not very likely as many abused women feel trapped financially or emotionally. Sometimes they think they can "change" him. They cannot. Her husband beats her. He will continue to beat her. He will not change. It WILL GET WORSE. Her child will grow up very affected by a house of violence.

As a friend you are in a difficult situation because she likely still loves him. So anything you say against him might offend her. There are excellent resources mentioned above. See if they can help. If this was my best friend, my cousin, my sister or sister-in-law I would open my house and my wallet to them for however long was needed to make sure that money worries were not what made her stay.

There may also be emergency women's shelters in your area that can provide counseling, legal advise and a safe place to stay. A third party council can help for her to really see the situation for what it is. When I was a child we stayed in such a place and it was what broke the "spell" our previous life had on us and helped us transition to a single parent family.

I wish your friend a safe and successful outcome.
posted by saradarlin at 10:36 AM on February 2, 2013 [6 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks saradarlin. I will figure out what my friend is REALLY trying to do. To be honest, a lot of us have experienced difficulties from families, and we have a scenario/prospect that the future would be better: I fully understand that to leave is not an easy decision even though she does not have financial difficulty as she is the main one makes money for the family.
posted by caladesi at 10:49 AM on February 2, 2013

The being nice in between the beatings is part of the abuse--grooming her to stay, making the ups feel as good as the lows feel bad, manipulating her every thought, move, and decision.

I have a feeling you are South Asian. Please do not excuse this behavior even a little bit in your mind--This is horrendously abusive and life-disfiguring. Please help her GET OUT. She cannot stay in this relationship, period.
posted by rhythm_queen at 10:53 AM on February 2, 2013 [5 favorites]

Mod note: OP, mod here. Please do not threadsit. AskMe is for asking questions and getting advice not for an ongoing processing exercise about the situation. Feel free to follow up with any commenters directly if you wish, and contact us via the contact form link if you have any questions.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 11:12 AM on February 2, 2013

If your friend is finding it difficult to leave her husband, remind her to think of her child's safety and the bad, dangerous role model that her husband will be for her child.

Because the husband is currently beating your friend, it's most likely only a matter of time before he starts beating the toddler, by the time the child grows up, especially if the child is a girl. The girl will then think it is okay to be abused. And if the child is a boy, the boy will learn that it is okay to hit women and disrespect them.

It is good that she has financial resources, and you are a good friend for offering a rent-free place to stay. If that happens, make sure the husband doesn't know where you live.

Remind her that she is able to leave, and to think of her child's safety.
posted by timespacewheredoifit at 11:17 AM on February 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

She may not want to leave her marriage, but it sounds like the abuse is getting worse over time. I would tell her that she deserves love, affection, and does not deserve to be hit, and that she should require her spouse to get whatever help he needs to learn to behave. Make notes with the numbers of the Women's shelter, and keep giving them to her so that she always has a copy. It might help to get her a cheap emergency mobile phone, in case he tries to keep her from using the phone. If she needs a safe place to store emergency cash (traveler's checks are safe), clothes, etc., you can offer that. She is in real danger; many women are badly injured and killed by their partners. Her child is learning that this is how parents behave, and that's tragic. She's losing her sense of self and safety. I'm grateful she has a friend like you to help her. He may seem nice, he may intend to be nice, but he is hurting her, and he may end up killing her.
posted by theora55 at 12:37 PM on February 2, 2013

The first priority is to remove the wife and child from this situation. Is any thought given to finding treatment for the husband? An abusive man is still an abusive man whether the wife and child are his victims or not. Does he have family who can require or force him to get counseling?
posted by Cranberry at 1:58 PM on February 2, 2013

You can also tell her that she is in control of what decisions she makes about the marriage. Suggest that connecting with supports and resources still gives her control over her decisions about the marriage. Even leaving the marriage is up to her.

When I separated from my abusive husband, I saw it as simply a change in the marriage. It was much, much easier for me to see it as living apart, then as living in separate households...I was able to gradually assert more and more boundaries over time, until it was very definitely a full separation. Knowing that I could put things back together IF I WANTED TO allowed me to make those choices.

I think there is far, far too much pressure to see separation as the same as divorce. If we allowed women in these situations to see a separation as the best thing for their family, they would perhaps not feel shamed into staying. Honestly, had I separated earlier, I could have spared myself and thus my children further incidents - but my family was pressuring me so much to stay that I doubted my own knowledge about the abuse and it made it even harder for me to see it as abuse. If your friend comes from a conservative background, perhaps like mine, she may have been told and be told that a separation entails destroying her family. I really think we could benefit from telling women in these situations that this could be a positive for their family and that they are still in complete control of what they decide to do about the marriage and how they want to manage their safety plan.

(And that does NOT mean I think she should stay with this guy. But part of healing from abuse is learning to set boundaries and have control over your life. And helping her see this as a choice that can help her without making her decide immediately if she's getting divorced is something that might, in fact, save her life.)
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 1:59 PM on February 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

All wife beaters are as sweet as sugar in between their "outbursts," so very sorry and promising it will never ever happen again, begging the wife to not leave and to forgive him, etc. Until the next time they get annoyed and start swinging again. Why don't the wives leave? Well, mostly because it hurts like hell to get hit and after having been hurt so badly several times the wife is seriously afraid that if she did leave he'd find her and hurt her much worse than ever before - maybe even kill her. The wife is smart enough to know that she'll never be able to outrun him and start her life over again because every man who beats his wife is a control freak who will absolutely not tolerate insubordination from his wife; she is not allowed to reject him. Most women learn to obey, withdraw, behave themselves and tolerate occasional beatings, all the while keeping up the appearance of a good little wife who is content in her marriage. Friends of the couple may be a little suspicious, but they find it easier to dismiss such negative thoughts because the couple "seems happy." The family dynamics between the husband, wife and, God-help-them, the children, are a horror, but fixing the trouble is nearly impossible. Be a good friend to her, be there for her and for the children - let her know she can drop the baby off at your place any time, no questions asked. And connect up with a Women's Center, a shelter, talk with the people who specialize in domestic violence. They have ways of helping her, from a deep psychological standpoint, that you and I couldn't fathom. As someone who knows of what she speaks, thank you for helping your friend.
posted by aryma at 11:35 PM on February 2, 2013

I posted some links to how to talk to a friend in an abusive relationship in another thread. They may be helpful here.
posted by eviemath at 6:07 PM on February 3, 2013

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