Is my male friend in an abusive relationship?
January 22, 2008 5:50 PM   Subscribe

I'm worried that my male friend might be in some sort of abusive relationship. He's my best friend and seems to have been in a "spend all time with new GF and not call or visit friends" mode for 3 months, and we are all far past the teenage years.

I'm female. I have (or used to) a male friend that had become a best friend over the past two and a half years. Previous to this time period there had been some sexual contact between us, but we considered this to be in the distant past and not something that was a part of our current (or recent?) friendship. I'd been encouraging him to get out more, date, etc. He finally met someone, a woman whose lunch invitation I encouraged him to accept, in October. At first I was happy for him, but now I'm concerned. I've seen less and less of him since then. At this point I have gotten concerned that she may be pressuring him to avoid contact with either me in particular or possibly all of his friends.

I have met her on 4 occasions, she seemed friendly to me and I put in an effort to be friendly to her and ask about her life since my friend liked her so much. Over Thanksgiving she said thanks for sharing my best friend with her, and seemed fine that I was friends with her boyfriend.

My friend used to return phone calls the same day or the next day, and would also initiate calls to me to chat or suggest hanging out. We would usually visit in person about 3 times a week, either at each other's homes, going out to eat, watching movies or doing something outdoors. Now it usually takes him about a week to return calls. He apologizes for not calling sooner, and talks about the three of us getting together to do something, and doesn't follow through on calling back to make more specific plans. He seems to call when he is not around the GF.

I am worried about my friend. He seems to be with this woman nearly every hour that she is not at work (she works four 10 hour shifts per week). He is in construction, and at one point he was working at her house during the day and at her house at night, and did not go home for an entire week. He had left his cell (which is also his business phone) at his house and did not check his messages during this time. After he got back in touch, I told him he was my best friend in [medium size city], and he said I was his best friend too.

When I last spoke with my friend, about 5 days ago, he said he had not been able to call for the last 4 days because the GF was having problems getting her 12yo daughter to obey her, and said it was very stressful every evening in her home. He reported that the GF had spanked her daughter very hard with a belt because she would not listen, and said the GF was sending the daughter to live with her father. He suggested that all 3 of us get together over the weekend, and I did not hear from him nor has he returned my last call.

My friend is in his late 30's, bisexual (but more into girls), a recovering alcoholic (3 years+ sober), has his own comfortable place to live (although he's almost never there anymore, he does not want to move in with the GF), and generally very intelligent and capable. In the past he has had a relationship with a woman who sometimes hit him, and stalked him after they broke up. He ended up getting a restraining order against her. I have met that ex-gf and she was indeed an unstable and scary person at times. There is another ex-gf of his that he goes out of his way to avoid -- I happen to occasionally encounter her at her workplace, and have seen that ex exhibit quite a temper in a way that's very inappropriate to the position in which she works.

A little about me. I'm in my mid 30's, and I do go on dates, he's not a substitute for that. I sometimes tell him about guys I meet and he will encourage me to call them, etc. It's been very clear between us that we are not dating and don't have any romantic interest in each other. I tend to have a lot of male friends, and just 2 or 3 close female friends. I have a key to my friend's house (and he to mine), and we had previously talked about checking up on each other if one of us was out of communication for more than a few days since we both live alone. In the past I've gotten a worried phone call if he was unable to reach me for more than a few days. Typically we would tell the other person if we were going out of town, and we would housesit for each other.

I'm very worried that my friend might be involved in an emotionally abusive or controlling relationship, and in light of hearing about this spanking incident I am concerned that the GF might become physically abusive. We know a couple that are mutual friends but I usually only see them at his house, I've called them but have little hope that they will call me back in a timely manner. At this point I would almost feel better to know that my friend still has a life outside this woman and it's just me that he is acting so atypical towards, even though I've been feeling very sad all the time since I think I've lost my best friend and don't understand why. I've already talked to a counselor about this and she did not think it was a problem.

Is it normal for someone 3 months into a new relationship to avoid people they were friends with before? Is my friend involved in an abusive relationship? What can I do to help my friend if he needs help? How can I tell if he needs help? How can I feel better about what's going on?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Is it normal for someone 3 months into a new relationship to avoid people they were friends with before?

Absolutely. Your friend is in love; he wants to spend as much time with his girlfriend as possible. Nothing you mention in your question suggests that your friend is being abused by his girlfriend. It sounds like they are working on building a life together. All you can do at this point is sit back, relax, and continue to call your friend once in a while to let him know you miss him. Unfortunately, this is what is hard about life- all that glitters is not gold, things change and sometimes not in the way we would like them to. Work on building new friendships and interests, so you do not spend all your time obsessing about this situation.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:02 PM on January 22, 2008 [3 favorites]

Whoa, you're making some big leaps here... Slow down. First off, unfortunately a lot of people are guilty of blowing off their friends when they are in a new relationship. It's the honeymoon phase, when you want to spend all your free time with this new person in your life. Sadly, I think that friends of the opposite sex (when one is in a heterosexual relationship) tend to get blown off a little more frequently in such situations. It's easier to explain wanting that one night out with the boys than it is to say you want to go out for a drink with a girl you used to hook up with. There's a different between avoiding you and not making you a priority, and it sounds like he's doing the latter.

From what you've said here, this woman has done absolutely nothing questionable except spank her daughter, which you (and I) may find repugnant, but which is not so uncommon and doesn't generally mean that she beats on other people in her life. I'm trying to see where you're getting the idea that she may be abusive towards your friend, and I can't.
posted by amro at 6:06 PM on January 22, 2008

Is it normal for someone 3 months into a new relationship to avoid people they were friends with before?

Yes, for sure. And it's quite common for new girlfriends to feel threatened by female friends (particularly those who had sexual contact) of their guys. She may well be discouraging him from contact with you, implicitly or explicitly.

You say he is very intelligent and capable, and it sounds like he has had a variety of life experiences. I would trust your friend to make his own decisions about what's important in his life (a relationship, regular sex) and what he'll tolerate (violent girlfriend).

If I were you, I might send him a message through a medium that I know the girlfriend doesn't have access to, which says something along the lines of "I understand that your life is changing and you have less free time, I miss you, I hope you will always call on me if you need help."

For me, my best (but not only) friend is my husband and vice versa. If he had another person who filled that role for him (or I did), I think our marriage would not be as satisfying as it is now. Perhaps your best friend works that way too.

I'm sorry you're hurting.
posted by b33j at 6:10 PM on January 22, 2008

I wouldn't despair, either. Is this the first relationship your friend has been in for awhile? He might have some conflicting feelings. Keep it light, but tell him (perhaps as b33j suggested, through a discrete media) that you understand he's busy, but would like to hear from him from time to time.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 6:27 PM on January 22, 2008

My friends all thought I was dead for the first few months of my relationship. It's completely normal. He may not be consciously avoiding you, but if he is, it may not be because she is telling him to. Instead, he may be trying to build trust between them by showing her that you're not a threat. He may be trying to be respectful of his girlfriend's feelings and her time. Unfortunately for you, you're a lower priority in his life right now. I understand your sadness, but I truly would not take it personally. Try to be happy for him that he's smitten with this woman.

Also, don't use your key to "check up" on your friend. That's just weird and seems like you're looking for excuses. If he's in construction, presumably he can physically take care of himself. Even if the girlfriend were physically abusive, it's unlikely that she can actually overpower him. (I'm not downplaying female-on-male abuse, just stating that he's unlikely to be in mortal danger, and if he were, you should call the police, not go to his apartment.)
posted by desjardins at 6:35 PM on January 22, 2008

Is it normal for someone 3 months into a new relationship to avoid people they were friends with before?

Like everyone said, yes...though not everyone does it and I'm not sure it's healthy. I've certainly been with guys who have done it and I have admittedly been guilty of it myself. The honeymoon phase is intense and he might want to let things develop before normalizing things with friends because of potential jealousy issues etc.
posted by melissam at 6:54 PM on January 22, 2008

I'm going through this right now with my best male friend, too. It's so very hard when it seems like you're losing your best friend because they simply do not have time for you in their life. It's easy to blame whatever changed. In my case, his new girlfriend doesn't treat him quite right and he knows it. But, he's an adult and he will be the one to negotiate the crap in his relationships. I'll be there when he needs an ear, but in the end he has to decide when he's had enough of her bs.
As others have said, I think you're reading too much into it and you do need to take some big steps back. Let him frolic, remember it's for his own good. Use the time to do all the other stuff you've been putting off. It's not a breakup, but some of the same coping strategies apply. You need to occupy your time and mind. For me, I find that I question my friendship status and role, which leads to insecurity that can make him (or anyone) regret calling me. Keep things light, tell him (if you must) that you miss him, keep the lines of communication open, warm, and welcoming. That way, if there truly are problems, you'll be there to help when he's ready to share.
posted by ick at 7:13 PM on January 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

Your friend is doing exactly what people do in new relationships. They spend a lot of time with their new partner to the exclusion of others, but ESPECIALLY at the exclusion of opposite-sex friends who they've had a sexual history with, distant or not. Other than the dismaying belting of the daughter, nothing you described sounds out of the ordinary or suspicious.

I'm not trying to be troll-y, but maybe... are you feeling left out of his life?
posted by Kololo at 7:18 PM on January 22, 2008

It's normal, though unfortunate, to blow off your friends in a new relationship. And when he needs you, he's going to want you to be there immediately no questions asked, even though he hasn't talked to you properly for months. I've done it, it's been done to me, it's not the best of human behavior but it's normal.

Jumping to the suspicion that she's abusing her boyfriend because she belted her daughter is...uh, out there. Personally, I'd be disturbed if someone I was dating used a belt on their 12 year old. I get the whoa! squick! factor if this was not how you were brought up. But people exert control over our kids lives in all kinds of ways that do not transfer to the rest of their relationships with people that did not grow inside of them.
posted by desuetude at 7:55 PM on January 22, 2008

She doesn't want him talking to another woman whom he's slept with.
posted by anildash at 9:16 PM on January 22, 2008

There's no evidence of physical abuse or the possibility of its development in the situation you describe. There isn't much by way of emotional abuse or control either. Could be he's just caught up in the relationship, could be she's pressuring him to reduce contact with you because of the sexual history. The issue of spanking with a belt is unpleasant, but you have it second hand and it is none of your business. If you want to try to find out more about what's going on inside your friend's relationship, you need to ask your friend, not the internet.
posted by nanojath at 11:13 PM on January 22, 2008

I agree with all above that the spanking with the belt is awful, but the rest is normal. You're a single woman who he's close to and has had sex with. Given the complexities in male-female friendships, it would be entirely reasonable in many relationships for a girlfriend to ask him to limit contact with you and/or for him to decide to do so, even though you feel it's clear that you're just friends.
posted by daisyace at 4:50 AM on January 23, 2008


Okay, honestly, you seem jealous and paranoid.
Especially since you indicated that you have been 'involved' with him in the past.

Also, usually when you're in a new relationship, you want to spend a lot of time with the other person.
I think all of us have known a person, maybe even ourselves, who has been through the whole "You spend too much time with him/her", "When are we ever gonna hang out? You're always with him/her!"

Also, considering you two have been involved, I think that leads to even more avoidence on his part... for reasons that are, well, kind of obvious. I mean, I would find it uncomfortable if my SO had a 'worried' female friend that he used to have sex with. I am guilty of dropping opposite-sex friends (with whom I've had a past with) when I am in a relationship as well.

I think you may be making some assumptions.
Have you talked to him about ANY of this?
I would just let him have a relationship.

We can only give you advice as outsiders - which in my past, has always proven to be more valuable than I thought at the time.
posted by KogeLiz at 6:06 AM on January 23, 2008

On the one hand I understand and sympathize with the other answers that there's probably nothing strange going on and this is just a honeymoon phase. And that could absolutely be correct. But on the other hand, if I had a close female friend with some history of abuse who suddenly dropped out of contact and was spending every moment with a guy who beats his kid - well, I'd be more than a little worried. So even though the genders are switched in this case, I think your concern is reasonable.
posted by emmastory at 7:22 AM on January 23, 2008 [2 favorites]

Beating a 12 year old with a belt is abuse. Agree with everyone else, however, that it is probably not your place to get involved: most normal, not-especially-possessive women would not want their new partner hanging out with a "friend" who used to have benefits and is "concerned" about the new relationship.

If you do get a chance to talk to him, I would definitely see if you could find out what's going on with the daughter and see if he could possibly teach her better disciplinary tactics. Or get professional help with the girl if there is a behavioral disorder [be warned there is lots of quackery in this area: best treatment is family therapy].

Whatever they do, they shouldn't send the girl away to a "program": as a person who has investigated residential treatment, I can't tell you how many perfectly ordinary kids get sent away because Mom or Dad has a new partner that doesn't want the kid around and these unregulated, often-abusive programs will take any kid, regardless of whether it's the parent that actually has problem, so long as they can pay.

The girl could be acting up because Mom is so involved in new relationship that she feels left out: that is something the adults should handle without pathologizing the child and you would be doing everyone a real service if you could help them see this.
posted by Maias at 5:13 PM on January 23, 2008

Is it normal for someone 3 months into a new relationship to avoid people they were friends with before?

Yes, I think it is, though what you descibe is rude, particularly when you say he suggested you meet up and then didn't get back in touch. New relationships are partily about re-inventing/re-discovering oneself and I think people often take a break from the people they knew, and who knew them, before.

Is my friend involved in an abusive relationship?

I don't think you, or we, can tell at this point. You need to see him away from his new partner and see how he seems then - but I realise this is exactly what you're having problems doing.

I do think the physical punishment of the daughter is worrying (for the daughter's sake, not necessarily your friend's). In the UK that would be grounds for referral to social services, but I don't know where you are. Did your friend seem to be concerned about his partner's behaviour in this incident?
posted by paduasoy at 10:35 AM on January 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

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