How do I warn my sister she's headed for an abusive relationship?
January 1, 2008 5:36 PM   Subscribe

How do we tell a young woman (a teenager, really) that she's headed for a nightmare of a relationship?

Short and sweet: my little sister has just become engaged to a young man she hasn't been dating long. They are verbally and physically abusive to each other in public. This is extremely out of character for my sister. The guy isn't exactly a winner (evidence below). Add to this the fact that she's recently become very defensive. How do any of us speak to her in a way that will get through, make her think?

TMI: I should first mention that I'm over 700 miles away. All of my information comes from my mom. I should also mention that my mom is a very open, accepting, calm person, and generally lets us make our own bad decisions. She's also been in an abusive relationship, and knows all the red flags. I don't suspect overreaction or things blown out of proportion from her.

About my sister: 17 yrs old with a reading disability that's been rough on her. Her character has always been gentle, forgiving, and wise. Her father, who she lives with, is an alcoholic, and the rest of the family is unhappy and dysfuntional. She's been struggling with depression for a long time, now, and has begun to take everything said as a lecture or attack. She's recently gone through a barrage of bad relationships, including one with a guy who stalked and harrassed her and threatened to kill them all.

I want you to understand the import, then, that this *current* relationship is the one we're most alarmed at.

About the relationship: They are verbally cruel to each other. My sister says horrible things to and about him, and he responds with the same. They manipulate each other. He won't let her be without him. When she wanted to go to our mom's place to watch Gilmore Girls for a little while, he threated to go out and get drunk. Unlike my sister's father, he's a mean drunk. She is terrified of him doing this, and capitulates.

They've never been seen *not* fighting. They are physically abusive to each other. They slap each other. She pinches his nipples, hard, hits him. My other sister (S2), who isn't exactly gentle and has had some bad relationships, was shocked enough to tell our little sister to back off. Even my little nephew has commented on it. Why haven't they come in, yet? "Oh, they're probably fighting again."

About the guy: Honestly? We don't know much about him. He was in the reserves and scheduled to go to Iraq, but was discharged when it was discovered he'd been diagnosed with bipolar. He was unemployed after that, living with my sister in her car at first (we hadn't been aware of this), and moved right in when she got a place. They've been spending her money based on the amount he's got coming from the Military, i.e., money they don't actually have. I believe he finally has a low-end job now. As I said before, he won't let her out of his sight, and he's just as abusive to her and why is my cat trying to eat my knee?

OMG, there's more?! She's always looked up to me. I'm in a happy relationship with a wonderful man. Our relationship has always been held up to her as ideal, and my husband as a rare gem of a man. We're the only healthy relationship she's seen. She's always said that that was what she wanted. Now I'm concerned that she thinks she can't live up to it, that it isn't possible, and has pretty much said f*** it all.

The last bit: I am not and never have been close to her. We have lived our lives separately. This doesn't change the fact that she wants a closer relationship with me. She is ostensibly planning a drive down to see me soon.

My mom has always had a personal rule that she wouldn't speak against our relationships, for fear of alienating us. She's changed her mind for this one.

Wow, these relationship questions really do run on.

posted by anonymous to Human Relations (27 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Send her the link to this thread. You've articulated your concerns clearly and forthrightly, with great compassion and honesty. That's the best you can do for someone you love. She may ignore you. She'll probably ignore you. If she does, let it be. Some people just need to make their own mistakes, as obvious as they may seem to others.

And she might be angry. So be it.

Also, you should probably discourage your cat from eating your knee.
posted by Astro Zombie at 5:43 PM on January 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

I don't think you or your family can really point out the dysfunction in a direct way. Pointing out the toxic nature of their union will only draw them closer together, mostly out of spite. You will have to be indirect and perhaps ask her advice about some fictional friend you have and pitch the exact same scenario to her as if your friend was going through it and what would your sister advise her to do? I think that can be done in a way that isn't obvious but might get her thinking a little bit more about it. There is some payoff for them to be the dueling duo or they wouldn't be doing it. Maybe the sex is great after their little public humiliation battles, who knows?
posted by 45moore45 at 5:47 PM on January 1, 2008

Your question is full of fluff and you paint a very one-sided picture of things. For instance you don't mention why they are together, but I assume they must like or love each other - some of the time? Maybe you don't know since you're 700 miles away. You and your partner are of course the ultimate example to your sister and her deadbeat associate? You admit you know nothing of this boy, there is a pile of guesswork when it comes to your own relationship with your sister and you seem ultra defensive of your mother's judgement. Pick the facts from the question and you get

They slap each other
Are verbally abusive to each other
Are manipulative towards one another

My advice would be to let her make her own mistakes. There is little you can do beyond being there when it ends.
posted by fire&wings at 6:02 PM on January 1, 2008 [2 favorites]

I will be watching this thread with great interest, since I have been in a similar situation with my little sister for the last seven years or so.

I'm not sure how you can warn your sister without losing her trust, since it sounds like she will be defensive at best.

No matter what, though, she should know that you love her, you are here for her, and you will continue to be so no matter what. It's been hard to keep that promise through the years in which my little sister has stayed with an abusive, horrible man who has fathered her children and keeps her financially and emotionally chained in a crappy apartment, but I'm proud that I have, and I hope that one day my sister will take advantage of my presence. The reason I don't withdraw that support is because some day she might be ready to avail herself of it.

It might not seem like a lot, but the truth is there's not much you can do to control another person's life choices. You can, however, show up on the off chance that someday she will be ready to lean on you and listen.
posted by mynameisluka at 6:03 PM on January 1, 2008

You don't mention it, but I'd imagine alcohol and/or drugs are part of the fabric of this relationship. My experience is that people have to make their own mistakes, but you could help by spending some time with her articulating your concerns and going over some of the signs of domestic violence with her and helping her form a very specific escape plan - exactly what steps she should take when it gets so scary that she decides to leave. The National Domestic Violence hotline could be a tremendous resource for her and for you. Call them while she's there and start the conversation.
posted by jasper411 at 6:05 PM on January 1, 2008

Best answer: Encourage her to drive down to see you as she plans and spare no effort to make her visit a nice one. And then during the visit at some point sit down with her and talk to her about this guy - and probably, some of the other choices she's making.

Is it possible for you to offer to let your sister live with you and go to school or do an apprenticeship or something? If your parents will help with money for her share of the groceries and/or tuition at all, then you may not have to do much financially but give her house room. It would be a big step for you to take, but it could really help. It would get your sister away from this man, put her in a stable environment, and give her an attractive alternative to marriage, which she is certainly not ready for.
posted by orange swan at 6:09 PM on January 1, 2008 [3 favorites]

Say to her, directly and honestly, "I love you, and I'm worried for you, and I want you to know that if you want to talk or [X that you are willing to do -- have her visit? pay for a therapist? hire goons to "talk" to the guy?], all you need to do is call me up, ok? And I'll be calling you every week to check in with you and make sure you are ok."

Beyond that, she is old enough (well, almost 18, anyway) to make her own mistakes. You can't live her life for her, and sometimes people just need to do things that really punish themselves, for some reason. If things really devolve into a clearly abusive situation, you and your family may want to try and stage an intervention of some sort; I've seen them work and I've seen them turn into clusterfucks of the first order, so no guarantees of success if you go that route.
posted by Forktine at 6:12 PM on January 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

(fire&wings, you make excellent points. Please do understand, though, that it's her extreme change of character in this relationship that bothers us most.)
posted by moira at 6:13 PM on January 1, 2008

My sister has borderline personality disorder. Despite being only 24 years old she's already been divorced and is currently living with and engaged to a guy that my family likes even less than her first husband. It makes me crazy and makes me fear for my sister.

You know what I can do? Same thing as you. Not much.

Here's what you can do. Be there for her. If things get bad she'll need someone to turn to, even if you are 700 miles away. She'll be much less likely to come to you if she thinks she might hear an "I told you so." Allow her to voice her concerns without judging, and allow her to express what she likes (if anything) about the relationship. Get to know the fiance if you can. Pushing him away will push her away too.

If you try to tell her it's a bad idea you'll just alienate her. I know it's hard to resist, but try.

Good luck.
posted by christinetheslp at 6:13 PM on January 1, 2008

I'd only recommend as far as having your husband say something to her. From your story he is possibly the only positive example of a male in her life.
posted by rhizome at 6:15 PM on January 1, 2008

Since your sister is living in a dysfunctional household (The father is an alcoholic, mean drunk, or not), she probably doesn't have a whole lot of positive role models, except for you, but you live miles away. Sometimes at this age our social circles are very narrow. The people we hang out with and attract are as dysfunctional as we are, and we haven't any "normal" people to compare to or associate with. This may be all she knows. She may feel that this sort of volatile relationship is normal, or what she deserves. She may not feel worthy of a nice, normal relationship. Perhaps her girlfriends have relationships with plenty of drama and she believes this is what is supposed to happen. Maybe she thinks she loves him. Maybe she thinks that nobody else will love her.

I'm not a buttinsky and I won't pick and choose my children's friends, but if my 17-year old daughter was dating a jerk, and was constantly fighting and unhappy I would say something. She's still a minor and deserves guidance and direction from her parents. It wouldn't hurt for her mother to sit her down and confess her own mistakes at this age in a non-threatening way. Your mother could say something such as:

"Daughter, I wish I would have known at your age to respect myself. I wish I would have known that marrying an alcoholic was a big mistake and I deserved better. When I see you with boyfriend I worry that you are unhappy. Hitting one another and fighting constantly isn't what you deserve and is destructive to your well-being. You deserve to be in a relationship with a person that treats you well and is a good friend above all else. Please don't let anyone ever disrespect you, and for goodness sake, don't hit him or pinch his nipples. That sort of behavior is childish and beneath you. And above all, you should never tolerate anyone that abuses you."

A concerned parent may be annoying at first, but she'll feel good about herself that her mother is stepping in to protect her and dissuading her to continue this relationship. She's still so young, with depression to boot.

I would invite her for a visit and be the nice big sis. Tell her about your adolescent struggles. From the sound of it, your sister needs to widen her circles and her world, improve her self-esteem, and know that she has a loving family that cares about her.
posted by LoriFLA at 6:17 PM on January 1, 2008 [3 favorites]

My own sister (25 at the time) was in a relationship with a real asshole. I warned her over and over again about the guy, but to no avail.

Some perspective: The guy had some serious mental problems and was on various medications for dealing with it. He used to drink while on said medication. My sister is a recovering bulimic who has spent time in a live-in therapy centre. She has her own set of problems, but my parents always pander to her whims, despite how much it hurts the rest of our family. Basically, she gets her own way all the time, knows this, and is manipulative. My parents never question her actions.

The guy was very unstable and was doing crazy shit all the time. We came very close to having a physical fight in a pub one night because he got it into his head that I was questioning his sexuality (by asking who did the biggest share of the hoovering in their house). Yeah.

One new year's day last year, he woke up and announced to my sister that he didn't want to be with her any more and was moving to Australia. He changed his mind the next day. Weird stuff.

My sister would always take the guy's side and defend him to the last, despite everyone's warnings about his instability. My parents would defend the guy because they'd hear my sisters version of every event. My parents thought the sun actually shone out of the guy's ass due to the picture my sister painted of him.

The relationship finally (and thankfully) ended after they had gone out one night, he got really drunk (whilst on his medication) and they had a fight. He decided to start smashing up my sister's house and my sister and her friend fleed in fear.

Eventually, my mother went down to the house the next morning and told the guy to pack his things and leave, and that if he ever came near my sister again she would take out a police barring (same as restraining) order on him. 2 of her male friends wanted to pay the guy a "visit" but I convinced them to change their minds, which is ironic in that I saved a guy I really dispised from an ass-kicking from hell.

It actually had to come to that episode for both my parents and my sister to finally realise that the guy was a psychotic shit-ball.

The whole experience drove a massive wedge between my sister and I. 4 months later, and things are still not right between us. She's obviously embarassed about the whole thing, but she resents the crap out of me now for being right about the guy. I never gloated about it (I'm 30, I'm over that kind of crap) or brought it up, but she still resents the hell out of me.

Hopefully your sister will come to her senses, but don't be surprised if it takes a long time or a slap across the face from her boyfriend to finally convince her to leave. She's a young girl, trying to live her life the way she wants to, and she'll be damned if anyone is going to tell her otherwise.

The only real advice I can give you is to not let it permanently damage your relationship with her. Don't it too much to heart if you think she won't listen to you. Don't bring violence to the table.

Jesus... I really needed to get that off my chest.
posted by ReiToei at 6:29 PM on January 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: When I was the person in a bad relationship (though nothing like the level you describe) and all my friends were concerned about me, here is some of what helped:
* express concern for her and draw attention to what she's going through ("Wow, that must be hard." "You seem really stressed out.")
* help her remember ("This sounds like the fight you had last weekend.")
* let her know that what is going on is out of the norm ("Wow, he really must want to have you around. I go out with the girls once a week!")
* help her judge her risk ("Do you think he'd hit you?")
* reassure her it's not her fault and she doesn't deserve it ("Oh, even if you were late, nobody deserves that." "He said it was your fault he was hungry? Why didn't he just make a sandwich himself?")
* support her sense of independence and self-worth in any way you can. ("You'll make the right decision." "Oh, everybody has the right to change their mind!" "Oh, no, you're very smart, remember when you won the spelling bee?")
* and maybe, at some point, draw some attention to the choices she's making, but in a nonjudgmental way ("You really have more patience than I do. If Bob talked to me that way, I'd probably walk right out.")

Throughout this, your number one priority should be to keep the door open with her. Change will be a long, long process, if it happens at all. But at some point, she may really need you. All of the following might go without saying, given how kind and understanding your post sounded, but to state the obvious: don't put pressure on her to "do something about this now." Try not to make yourself a threat to the relationship, or you'll get closed out in the times when she capitulates to his insecurity or trying to prove her loyalty. Even expressing bad thoughts about the guy could make her back away from you during the times when she's trying to make things work with him. Just make it clear that you'll always be there for her if she ever needs any help, and consistently communicate that your only concern is for her wellbeing.

And, as much as possible, try to remain non-judgmental: maybe she's in this relationship to learn to fight back or to make it so bad she has to change, who knows? I don't think you could "kidnap" her out of this dangerous situation, since she's choosing to be there and will probably just return to it. Watching women be abused is a really hard thing.

There are lot of good websites on abusive relationships, so you might find good stuff that way.
posted by salvia at 6:35 PM on January 1, 2008 [74 favorites]

I will only add that if she is not completely and fully miserable in her relationship, then anything you say will be completely ignored. Besides it seems that the relationship is not the core problem - it is more her values. self-esteem and goals which seem to require rebuilding. She could end this relationship, but if she doesn't change who she is, she will just find another loser.

That being said, Orange Swan and LoriFLA make a good point in that her environment seems to be pretty caustic, and that maybe all she knows about relationships is based on what she has been exposed to.

She needs to be around people who are psychologically, and emotionally healthy, but she has to want to be around them; she has to want the change. This is the hard part. She says she wants to have a relationship/life similar to yours, but if she doesn't hate her present life enough to be committed to a change, well then she won't be motivated to do anything about it.

I guess I am saying that you should try to convince her that the grass is really greener on your side. How do you do that? Maybe when she comes down, share with her your secrets to success (i.e. what motivated you to change your life around).
posted by bitteroldman at 6:58 PM on January 1, 2008

I've had friends in bad relationships (which they're thankfully out of). One in particular was in a very worrying relationship - both of them were being emotionally manipulative to each other and her personality changed from bubbly to downtrodden. Another friend and I practically forced her out of the on-again off-again relationship because we were worried for her safety - though she did mention wanting to leave, she just never picked up the courage.

She's a lot happier with another man, and her bubbly self is back. I do regret being as forceful as I was though; I didn't mean to make her cry. I just didn't want the asshole to harm her like he already was, messing with her mind with this BS of "testing her".

What really really helped is being there for them no matter what happens. A lot of times they have to deal with their mistakes no matter what we do. However, making them choose between your partner and you always backfires (they go for the one that doesn't make them choose). Just be there for them and always offer your support and assistance.
posted by divabat at 7:00 PM on January 1, 2008

I've always felt that people learn the most when allowed to make thier own mistakes and deal with their own consequences.
posted by fvox13 at 7:27 PM on January 1, 2008

Get her to read Women Who Love Too Much. It won't change her mind, but at least later on it'll give her some idea about why it happened and how to avoid repeating the mistake.
posted by Estragon at 7:33 PM on January 1, 2008

I was thinking bpd too, but I'm not a fan of suggesting illness. She's 17. I was stupid crazy in love when I was 17 too.

I think there's two questions and two options:
1. Does she potentially face bodily harm? If yes, then do whatever you have to do, but be prepared for her to walk away. If no, let her make her mistakes and carry the battle scars of bad relationships.

2. What is the alternative? You've allowed her to live with an abusive father. You've allowed her grow up with that role model. Your mom hasn't apparently done anything to stop that or show her what good relationships are. Sorry to be blunt, but I think you're both a day late and a dollar short.

If she doesn't listen to you, you get some big tough men to explain to Johnny Douchebag that if he ever touches her they'll bust his kneecaps backwards, or you suck it up and watch from a distance and keep your eye out for the situation to change drastically.

Be advised...she's not going to listen to you unless, and this is a big unless, she's waiting for someone she trusts to tell her to GTFO. Your silence this long has spoken volumes, how much longer are you going to stay unattached?
posted by TomMelee at 7:43 PM on January 1, 2008 [3 favorites]

It is important to note that this sounds like a mutually abusive relationship, with the young woman doing just as much of the tormenting as her male partner.

Also, for everyone saying that the young woman needs to learn from her own mistakes. She is a kid still, not a 20-something woman out on her own, trying to find herself. Somehow she has gotten the idea that ridicule, verbal abuse and physical rough-housing are acceptable ways to treat a partner. Maybe this is the way her peers treat each other or she has witnessed adults interacting in a similar way. I suspect that she's been treated in a way growing up that makes her feel like this kind of behavior is normal and familiar.

As her family, telling her that you disapprove of her relationship is not going to go over well. Yes, I think you and your mother need to tell little sister what you think about her relationship, but you are going to have to sandwich your criticism and concern in with a LOT of love, so that she knows you aren't just trying to attack her. I think it would be more meaningful for little sister to hear some observations from an unbiased, unrelated 3rd party, such as a therapist or counselor. Is there any possibility little sister and her boyfriend could go in together to see a counselor who could help them work on ways to communicate with each other?

It is frighteningly easy to get caught up in the cycle of humiliation and adoration that an abusive relationship offers.
posted by pluckysparrow at 8:07 PM on January 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

I've seen my little brother make similar mistakes and reject my advice even though he looks up to me. Unfortunately, I think you have to accept that she's (almost) an adult, and has to make her own mistakes. Try to be there to the extent you can, but some people you just can't help.

A subtle way to solve the problem is to find ways to improve her self esteem. (Not easy, I know.)
posted by jstruan at 8:15 PM on January 1, 2008

My first response is there is likely nothing you can do other than stay on the sidelines and as neutral as possible, so luckily when the shit really hits the fan she'll come to for help/to escape.

However, is there any conceivable way you can trick her into being away from him for a few months? I once knew a family whose 16 year old daughter was dating a really skeezy 20 something man and they had done everything in their power to break them up, to no avail. So her parents sent her abroad for a year exchange in Europe. Worked like a charm, he tried to get back together with her when she returned, but she wasn't interested anymore. Sometimes I think you just have to break the spell, get her out of the situation and then maybe she'll be able to see it a little more clearly. So whether its backpacking in Europe to find herself or an art commune in Mexico, try and tempt her with something that will physically removed her from this guy for several months. Preferably it should be in another country (more difficult to maintain constant contact, with time zones and just in general). I realize this may not be feasible and he will likely do everything in his power to stop her (I had a friend in high school with a bf like this, wouldn't even let her take a 3 week trip to Spain), but if you can somehow come up with a way to do it, it might make her see the light.
posted by whoaali at 8:41 PM on January 1, 2008

Mom's been in abusive relationships. Her dad is an alcoholic. Sister#2 has been in abusive relationships. Sister#1, at 17, has had a barrage of bad relationships, which isn't surprising.

At this point, she needs to come live with you, since you're the only healthy role model. Seriously, that's what needs to happen. Her entire environment is fucked up, so of course she's fucked up. She needs to be uprooted and moved to a healthier environment, otherwise she will continue to make these sort of bad decisions 'cause that's all she knows.

There's nothing much you can say to her at 700 miles away. She needs regular reminders that there is a better way and she's not going to get that where she's living now.

Either way, I'd suggest an escape plan for separating her from the current boyfriend. He has mental health problems, is possessive and has been trained to kill people and might have PTSD. If and when he snaps, ya'll will need an escape plan for her and definite plan to put in place quickly for dealing with anything he might pull.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:44 PM on January 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

Thank you all for your advice. Salvia, I think yours particularly will help all of us. To Orange Swan: having her live with us right now isn't a possibility, but I'll do whatever I can to get her in a healthy place and keep firmly connected with her.

You've allowed her to live with an abusive father. You've allowed her grow up with that role model. Your mom hasn't apparently done anything to stop that or show her what good relationships are. Sorry to be blunt, but I think you're both a day late and a dollar short.

Oh, yes, we've watched her spiral downwards while we lounged on the sidelines eating our popcorn and living our perfectly wonderful, easy lives.

I don't know her reasons for choosing to live with her (functional, non-abusive) alcoholic father. Hell, I hardly know her. I won't pretend that living in that environment was good for her, but certain assumptions on your part are way off the mark.

And some aren't. Do you think I haven't been sobbing and sick over what I both didn't and couldn't do for her in the past? Your shaming isn't helpful. I couldn't possibly feel worse. I'm here now, asking how I can be present for her.
posted by moira at 9:19 PM on January 1, 2008

Good luck, moira.

One other thought: any chance you could persuade her to attend Adult Children of Alcoholics meetings?

Rereading my above comment, I realized I wasn't very clear on the first point ("draw attention to what she's going through"). The most common strategy my therapist at the time used with me was to direct my attention to how it felt to have all this going on. "Wow, that sounds frustrating" or whatever (giving a name to the emotion). I guess if you grow up around craziness, you seek craziness because it's comfortable, and drawing attention to someone's emotions helps them take off the "this is what I'm used to" blinders and realize how bad all that drama actually feels.
posted by salvia at 1:33 AM on January 2, 2008

If she wants to kick her boyfriend's ass, she should find a boyfriend who will like it, and beg for more, rather than one that gets drunk, abusive, and controlling. But yea, what someone above said, it sounds like a mutually abusive relationship. Some folks, amazingly enough, thrive on that.
posted by Goofyy at 4:00 AM on January 2, 2008

Best answer: I would encourage her to visit and, when she does, sit her down and ask her, "Are you happy?" Encourage her to open up to you. Don't specifically target the boyfriend or lead in with a criticism. You need to hear all about this relationship firsthand, from your sister.

If she says she's happy, then go along with what salvia has written above, which I think are excellent suggestions. The main thing you want to do is let her know that you are concerned for her well-being and want to help.

If she says she isn't happy, you've opened up a dialog for her to express what's going on in her life, and that's the first step towards helping her make things better.

Good luck. I feel for you.
posted by misha at 9:57 AM on January 2, 2008

So, I was thinking about this more on the bus. I'm sure her exact issues are different, so I'm not sure if my story will help much, but if you're willing to read another long comment from me, here are the things I had to learn before I could end the relationship I was in (and again, my situation was much more mild than hers):

He can choose his own behavior. It's amazing how long I made excuses for him, as if he had no power to do something besides what he'd done. Others helped by reminding me, "yeah, but when you're tired, you don't yell at people," or "well, I know a lot of people with hard jobs who are still nice to their girlfriends when they come home."

It got trickier to stop accepting excuses when the excuse was my own behavior, when he blamed me for how he'd acted. I had to learn that two wrongs don't make a right. Just because I was late doesn't mean him yelling is right. And again, I had to remind myself he could've chosen to respond differently. I would mentally freeze time and focus on that split second when he could've decided to ask questions about why I was late rather than angrily lob insults.

The hardest thing for me to learn was that the fastest and easiest route to happiness was to walk away. What kept me hooked for a long time was the battle itself, the battle to get treated by him with the kindness, respect, and understanding I wanted. I knew I was being treated badly and that I was unhappy. What I had to discover was that to be happy, the trick wasn't to appease / cajole / sweet-talk / convince / persuade / force him to stop treating me badly - the trick was just to walk away. This sounds so obvious, but to learn it, I had to physically experience it (I talk about that more here). Even after the breakup, there were times when I wanted to see him, and what I realized was that the times I still wanted to see him were when I was rehearsing some fight that I apparently still wanted to win. Amazingly, the best cure for wanting to talk to him was to remind myself I never had to ever again.

Once I stopped making excuses for him and started walking away when things were unpleasant, it was a short path to realizing he was never going to change. He didn't even understand that my behavior didn't justify whatever he did. When I saw he couldn't even comprehend this was when I left.

Somewhere in the middle there, I'd read all the websites about abuse (the cycle of abuse and making up, signs of being abused, the fact that abuse often gets worse), and personality disorders, and I was bolstered by reading various [PDF] lists of personal rights and how-to guides about communicating assertively. I'm sure that information helped.

But no one could have just told me most of those things; I had to go through it and figure it out for myself to really get it. It took me two years of knowing I was unhappy and a full year of therapy to kinda figure this out. Along the way, though, I knew I was putting myself through sleazy stuff, and I was consistently surprised and relieved that people continued to treat me well, like someone who was not sleazy. I felt like I should be shunned for putting myself in that situation, arguing so much, and hanging out with someone so angry. The fact that people were still willing to listen and care, and just be friends, was really valuable. Without their help and faith, I might've started to feel like I deserved it, belonged with him, or had no other options. I tell you this because, chances are you won't be able to guide her to an epiphany, but anything you do to remain her friend and to treat her with kindness and respect, however small, will probably really mean a lot.

I'm sure it won't be easy for her, or for anyone who cares about her. Feel free to drop a line if you want to talk. Good luck.
posted by salvia at 10:52 PM on January 2, 2008 [12 favorites]

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