So many people ask me this question that I thought I’d devote a short article to it this month. I hope it will be helpful to you if you know someone who is stuck in a creepy relationship.
Helping a friend who is in an abusive relationship is a very frustrating experience. You see a creep for who s/he is but your friend is oblivious to everything you see or say. It’s as if she doesn’t have eyes, ears, or a brain! How do you get through to her (I will use “her” or “she” from now on, but feel free to substitute your male pal’s name, if it applies)?
Attempting to help a friend get out of an abusive relationship usually goes one of two ways:
- She smiles, nods in agreement, and says things like, “You’re right,” “I know he’s bad for me and treats me like dirt,” “I know I should break up with him,” or “I can see what you’re saying and I’m gonna break up with him tomorrow.” What do you see the next day? They’re hanging all over each other or she has that same miserable expression on her face as he humiliates her, calls her names, treats her like dirt.
- She turns all your helpfulness back onto you and says things like, “You’re just jealous,” “You don’t really know him and are just judging him unfairly,” “When did you become so judgmental? I thought we were friends!” “Well, if you can’t stand him, I guess we can’t be friends anymore.”
Does any of the above sound familiar? Usually when people are in lousy relationships, they are in such denial of what’s really going on, you wonder if their formerly smart brain has taken a vacation. Why can’t they see what’s going on in front of their eyes?
Denial is a handy coping mechanism. It shuts out the truth until you are ready to look at the situation honestly, otherwise you’d have to make an unpleasant decision you aren’t prepared to make at the time. That’s where your friend is right now.
As a sweet, loving, loyal friend who only wants the best for her, what can you do to help this pal who is in denial? Well, after you’ve talked until you’re blue in the face, you probably want to give up, right? She may have insulted you, not been such a good friend since she just wants to spend all her time with her boyfriend and you now feel like you are persona non grata.
In fact, this is the very best time to swallow your pride and hurt and stay the course with her. You see, one of her boyfriend’s best chances of doing whatever he’d like with her is to isolate her from her friends, then her activities, and finally her family. Why, you ask? Because, if she has no one and nothing else in her life except him, how’s she gonna break up with him? She has no one else to turn to and nowhere to go. She’s completely emotionally dependent on him and that’s just what he wants. He’s got her hook, line, and sinker!
This is what I recommend to you:
- Let her know that while you don’t care too much for her boyfriend, you love her and that will never change.
- Don’t diss her boyfriend too much. Remember, she will defend him to the death and will have a reason for every terrible thing you (rightfully) say about him. She might even blame his behavior on herself since he’s done that so many times.
- Remind her of her good qualities and give examples of them. He insults her and tears her down. He tells her that she’s nothing and she should be grateful that she has him.
- Ask her if she’d be thrilled if her future daughter came home with a boyfriend just like him.
- Ask her if she would feel she’d done the best job she could as a mother if her future teenaged son turned out exactly like him.
- Remind her that real love never involves deep unhappiness or fear. Ask her why she cries so much or is afraid to say certain things to him or fears his reaction to certain things she might say or do.
- Ask her if she’d be happy if he treated their future children exactly the same way he treats her, because that is 100% guaranteed if she stays with him.
- Tell her that you will always support her GOOD decisions and you know she is very capable of making them.
- Let her know that you will always be her safe place to land.
Above all, DO NOT DESERT HER! That is just what he wants. On the other hand, remember that you have to keep your sanity, too. You don’t need to set yourself up as the person she calls and cries to about how badly her boyfriend treats her and then goes back for more. You are being used as a sounding board so she can get it off her chest, you are left with the upset and worry, and then she doesn’t need to change her situation at all. You have every right to say something like, “Mary, I hope you know how much I care about you. You are my best friend and will continue to be my best friend. Because I care about you so much, it really hurts me to hear about the cruel way he treats you and what that does to you. I will help you get out of this relationship whenever you’d like and will fully support that, but until then I don’t feel like it’s fair for you to use me this way. When we hang up the phone, it makes me very worried about you. Why don’t we agree to disagree about him and talk about other topics?”
That is kind. That is keeping your boundaries. That is not being used by her to vent and then stay with him. That is asking her take responsibility for her own life choices. That is called being assertive.