Dear Carolyn: A family member recently brought her “not” boyfriend to our family vacation for about two days last week. I can’t even begin to describe the visceral reaction the house had to him, but I am trying to separate that from his dealings with my family member.
I am sure that there is some example of people out there who start drinking at 8 a.m. and use racial slurs and the “c” and “b” word to describe women without technically being abusive. I am sure that there are men out there who have gotten other women pregnant during a relationship who are not technically abusive.
But what truly sent me into an unrelenting tizzy was the realization she apparently has been with him for five years. We had never HEARD of him.
He shows up to greet us and, after a night where he gets way too drunk, she wakes up with bruises all over her arms and legs. She is clearly incredibly secretive and potentially (probably) lying about this guy to us, and likely her local friends. Although we are close emotionally, we only see each other twice a year. I am sure that if I push about this, she will become more secretive and hide more.
But I cannot stand by. How do I move forward? Kind email? Phone call? Give her some resources? Pray for the universe to strike him down? The irony here is that she’s a therapist, so a lot of these resources I am sure she’s aware of. Your thoughts would be so deeply appreciated.
Family: Generally I refer people in abusive relationships to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, 800-799-SAFE, and you’re right that she is almost certainly aware of it. You, too, though, can call for advice from the trained staff on what you can and can’t do to help someone who is pretty clearly in trouble but unlikely to respond well to intervention.
One thing to keep in mind: People like to know that you are there for them and won’t judge. I’ve heard from many people over the years who have gotten out of abusive relationships that they were saved by a quick, private remark along the lines of, “When you need a place to go, call me, day or night. No questions asked.”
Re: Possible Abuse: Carolyn, your advice is spot on. Years ago I was in an abusive relationship and was ashamed that I’d made such a poor choice in a mate, so didn’t talk about what was happening to me with anyone. A good friend saw what I thought I was hiding well enough and said, “You don’t have to live like this. And you know you have friends like me who will help you.” It took me another year to work up the courage to leave, but it was my friend’s words that kept me going all that time. It’s been 30 years and we’ve long since lost touch, but I’ve never forgotten how those few words saved me.
Anonymous: Yes, shame is a huge obstacle to seeking help, and loved ones who don’t judge have the best chance of getting around it. Thank you for making this clear.