How do I help my married friends with severe problems?
August 31, 2006 6:21 AM   Subscribe

What level of involvement is appropriate when dealing with our married, pregnant and possibly self-harmful couple?

This couple was the picture of domestic moderation until this morning.

This morning, I ran into the husband. Since I work with her, he asked me to tell his wife to go to the hospital when I saw her this morning. He says that her hyperglycemia has caused her to act strangely by taking off to visit her brother, draining their bank account, lashing out and harming his children, and making threats to abort the child.

When I got to work, the wife called me from her car and asked me to come walk her to the building as she was scared of him. She says that he's abusive and she's going to get a restraining order from him. She looks obviously shaken and is staying at her mother's house.

As a friend to both of them, where do I stand? What are my responsibilities to both of them? I cannot substantiate the claims that either of them made so I'm worried that the time I take to validate one of them might cost their upcoming child its life.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (14 answers total)
This is just me, but seeing as that one of them is actually two of them, or will be soon, she should get your attention first. And if anything costs this child its life, it won't be your potentially misplaced allegiance.
posted by jon_kill at 6:35 AM on August 31, 2006

You might want to try calling the non-emergency number for the police department in your area and tipping them off to the situation. They obviously can't do anything until someone complains about a specific problem, but they will at least be on alert and can provide advice as to what to do next.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 6:42 AM on August 31, 2006

Sounds to me like he is playing offense - trying to discount her as crazy before she tells on him, although most likely the truth is a combination of the two stories. Taking off to see a brother and draining bank accounts could be her trying to flee. Am I understanding correctly that they have other kids or do the other kids have another mother? Did she leave them with someone she is afraid of?

Do what you can to protect all kids involved - including the unborn. Blaming hypoglycemia for alleged erratic behavior sounds like hooey to me - but i don't know the ramifications that condition can have on a fetus. If the other kids have another mother, make sure someone accountable knows of the strangeness and knows the discrepancy in the stories. If she wants to file a restraining order, point her in the right direction. If he calls you, tell him you are doing what you can to help her, which is the truth.

You don't have to drown yourself in their problems, but you apparently know them well enough that you feel a responsibilty to not brush it off.
posted by domino at 7:00 AM on August 31, 2006

(if my wife were pregnant, drained the bank account, threatened children and was in the middle of running off, I wouldn't politely ask a co-worker to 'ask her to go to the hospital.' I would take her there myself. The simple fact that he acted so off-handedly makes his story sound falsified)
posted by iurodivii at 7:06 AM on August 31, 2006

I'm with jon_kill 100% on this one. Whatever the reason for the wife's behavior, she's the one carrying the child. Assuming that this child is going to be born, it really needs to come first. Can you spend some more time with her? Take her to lunch, let her open up a little. You might have a better idea of what's really going on if you do.

If she's moved out, she's not going to harm the other (his?) children. Of course, he might.

Pregnancy makes everyone act wacky. It has a similar effect to a death in the family. It changes all of the dynamics.

Also, everyone has a public and a private persona, and they're often not the same.
posted by clarkstonian at 7:11 AM on August 31, 2006

Agree with everyone that the health of the mother and child comes first. What might be going on? It certainly sounds like drug abuse could be a possibilty, which calls for a different approach than having marital problems. Hypoglycemia was mentioned, which certainly can cause bizarre behaviour and is a real possibilty if she is on insulin for gestational diabetes. I would suggest talking to the mother if that is where the daughter is staying. She can probably give you more background, and if she is caught in the middle of all this might appreciate some help (although she might also be embarassed and rebuff you, wanting to keep the family's dirty laundry out of sight). Good luck and good for you for wanting to help.
posted by TedW at 7:28 AM on August 31, 2006

Note: hyperglycemia was mentioned.
posted by solotoro at 8:08 AM on August 31, 2006

Sounds to me like he is playing offense - trying to discount her as crazy before she tells on him, although most likely the truth is a combination of the two stories.

posted by matteo at 8:30 AM on August 31, 2006

Agreed, please talk to her Mom, go and see what she has to say about her behaviour. Neither Hypo nor hyper is good now so that needs to be sorted, hypos can cause erratic behaviour and hyper is potentially damaging to baby and mom.
But I agree with the above, I think he is trying to set up a defense.
posted by Wilder at 8:36 AM on August 31, 2006

The husband asked you to help the wife. Regardless of whether the rest of his story is true, I think you can easily say you're fulfilling your duty to him by helping her in whatever way you think makes sense. It may result in your having to choose sides, but right now I don't think you need to think of it that way.
posted by occhiblu at 9:00 AM on August 31, 2006

When I was trained as a domestic violence advocate, I was taught that abusive people are more likely to strike out their partners while their partners are pregnant. Which doesn't necessarily mean that's what's happening here, but it's something to think about.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 10:02 AM on August 31, 2006

If she's still coming in to work regularly, yes, take her to lunch. You can offer support, and see if she seems to be thinking straight and eating okay. Especially if you're female, this might give you a chance to talk with her about maybe going to the doctor (if there's any hypo/hyper issue, OR if there's abuse, the doc would probably be in a better position to help decisively).
posted by LobsterMitten at 1:17 PM on August 31, 2006

The husband wants you to help the wife. The wife wants help. No brainer.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:02 AM on September 1, 2006

Most important thing when dealing with any crisis: SAFETY.

There are potentially two safety issues here. Mom harming herself, and/or dad harming mom.


Let's start with the latter. I agree 100% with matteo that often if a person is abusive, they will first try to discount their partner. Some tips to screen for an abusive relationship:

1. Domestic violence is not just physical abuse. It is a pattern of behavior (emotional, verbal, physical, sexual, religious, economic) where one person tries to take CONTROL of the other.
2. It is important to remember this, and not look just for physical violence. Some things you can ask mom to discern controlling behavior:
a. what are some things you argue about? DV indicators would be excessive jealousy, who she can talk to/where she can go, etc.
b. has he ever made you feel scared by word or action?
c. does he put you down? what types of ways? name-calling is a common form of emotional abuse.
d. has he ever threatened to hurt you or your children/unborn child? what were the threats? specific threats are more dangerous than general threats, although any threat should be taken very seriously.
e. has he ever forced you to do anything you don't want to do?
f. have you ever asked him to leave the home or left home to be safe? it sounds like that is what is happening here?
g. have you ever told anyone else? usually this answer is no.

Don't forget, if your friend is close to you, or suspects that you may tell her partner, she may not tell you the details to these questions, any may feel more comfortable going to a neutral crisis counselor.

PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE do not disclose ANYTHING she said to him, no matter how innocent it may seem. If this is an abusive situation, the batterer will try WHATEVER means necessary to get back to her, reconcile, or scare her. If even an innocuous statement gets back to her from him, she will think that you broke her trust and God forbid, if anything worse should happen, she would most likely not get help from you.

Second situation - he is telling the truth.

The most dangerous part is if she has made any threats to hurt herself or her children, in which case she should get a psychiatric evaluation through a private therapist, emergency room, or mobile crisis team (if available in your town). It would be better if she talked to her primary care doctor and obtained a referral, because that is least traumatizing.


My two cents:
I believe her. I have seen this story play countless times, and a few things in his story are typical of abusive relationships:
1. "denial, minimizing, blaming" - "she did...."
2. survivors usually take funds to help fund their safety.
3. "harming children" usually means "she took them away from their dad, so she's harming them" - not saying that children don't need fathers, but this statement can be twisted.
4. "went to visit her brother" - for safety


How to deal with her:
1. don't break her confidentiality
2. offer support, even if she decides to return home
3. explain what domestic violence is (not just physical abuse)
4. explain that this often happens in a cycle (tension building - explosion - honeymoon - tension building - etc.) so please be cautious

How to deal with him:
1. he is not a bad person because he did something wrong, but he cannot continue his wrong behavior because that is supporting it.
2. "i support you if you want to change your behavior and are willing to be held accountable to it in whatever way is deemed necessary"
3. "you are an important part of your family and your kids need to see you as a role model, which puts a burden on you to behave appropriately.

I can go on longer than this, but it's a start.

Good luck and wishes for safety and healing for your friends.
posted by princessgirl at 3:51 PM on September 1, 2006

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