Sleeping with the Enemy, Part 2

I know I promised to make Sleeping with the Enemy, Part 2 about what happens in your community, family & culture when you go from over a decade of queer relationships to dating a straight cisgender man, but honestly, I’m fighting off some narsty illness that’s swollen my throat nearly shut and made me run a temp last night, and we’re still (unbelievably) debating the validity of gender essentialism in the thread for Sleeping with the Enemy, Part 1 (on working with men as feminists/feminist allies), so I’m gonna go a little lighter today. We’ll get into all that mess tomorrow.

For today, I need to tell you about my friend. (And if you read my last post, you’ll know that I’m frank enough about my own life that “friend” isn’t some slantwise way to refer to myself.) She’s an old friend. College roommate. The kind of good friend you can fall out of touch with for months or even a year or two and then pick up where you left off, because you just know each other and love each other and it’s all good.

Well, that recently happened — we just got back in touch after a period of not connecting, and she’s involved with this guy. Or, rather, she’s involved with That Guy. That Guy who makes jokes about wanting to watch when he found out she & I would be sharing a room on a recent road trip (not that she & have ever been sexually involved).  That Guy who is hostile and condescending to waitstaff because he thinks it will amuse the people he’s with. That Guy who so couldn’t deal with the time my friend was spending on a creative, important, career-crucial work project last year that they broke up for a while. That Guy who doesn’t understand why she likes to read about people who are different from her.

My Current Guy & I had lunch with the two of them recently, and it was… surreal. I won’t go into all the details here, in the interest of maintaining anonymity for the innocent and the pretty darn guilty, but suffice it to say we spent the greater part of the afternoon listening to a story that featured prominently the theme of him treating a prostitute more nicely than anyone had treated her before. Say it with me gals: Our Hero!  

My question for y’all is this: what can I do? I’ve learned through many mistakes that you can’t pass judgment on other people’s relationships, not only because you can never really know what it’s like on the inside of it, but because it doesn’t work — it generally makes the very people you think you’re trying to help get defensive and stop talking to you about anything negative relating to the relationship. But at the same time, I haaaaaate this guy and it makes my skin crawl to think of him touching my friend. My friend who is is particularly susceptible to people who suggest that anything she blames them for is actually her fault.

What do you do when someone you love isn’t in an abusive relationship, per se, but is really, actually sleeping with the enemy?

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57 comments for “Sleeping with the Enemy, Part 2

  1. human
    August 9, 2007 at 9:58 am

    Geez. I really don’t know. Yuck, though. :(

  2. August 9, 2007 at 9:59 am

    If he’s talking about visiting prostitutes in front of his current partner, I’d say that’s a pretty good indication that she knows what sort of person he is. Otherwise, her red flag meter needs some serious attention. (As an aside, I’d be inclined to say that a guy who spends all of lunch talking about what a hero he is to sex workers is certainly close to, if not over, the line of emotional abuse.)

    I think you can always do the “Are you happy?” routine with her over coffee if you’re really concerned and couch it in terms of “If you ever need to talk about it, just let me know. I was just a little disconcerted when TG started talking about visiting prostitutes…”

    My own inclination would be to get somewhat confrontational with him. (i.e., “I’m glad you think you’re such a hero, but you gave up any rights to hero status when you thought it was a good idea to purchase women.” or “Is there a reason you feel compelled to be such a jerk to the server?”) but that’s neither a strategy for everyone or for every occasion.

  3. Jaclyn
    August 9, 2007 at 10:05 am

    To clarify, he claims to have “accidentally” met the prostitute via craigslist casual encounters, and this was before he met my friend.

    As for being confrontational, I might have been if I wasn’t sucking down cocktails to get through the whole thing. As it was, I was more like, “you… what?” and refusing to laugh along (with the story or the server abuse), which made things uncomfortable but not explicit. I was, in the moment, too much in shock to do more. If they lived nearby I might work up to it, but they don’t (they were just in town for a bit), so no smackdowns in the near future.

  4. August 9, 2007 at 10:09 am

    Ride it out. As you said, it’s not abusive per se, but the same concept applies for any relationship (that’s not yours) that you’re not entirely happy with. Speaking as someone who has a family stuck in that abuse cycle, even the slightest direct hint that you don’t like the dude will be cause for her to isolate herself just a little bit more. And isolation is NOT what someone in this situation needs.

    Be a good friend. Be the same friend you’ve always been. Be available if/when she gets rid of him. (She’ll be more likely to confide in you at that point if you’ve been supportive than if you’ve been critical.) Don’t make it directly known that you hate his guts, just sympathize with what she’s feeling. Make it about her, not him, in other words. Even if she’s sick to death of him, if you make it about how despicable he is, she might still sense that “she doesn’t approve of my choices…” vibe and clam up just a bit more. Just agree with her that this all sucks, comfort her, and leave it at that.

    If she sticks with him, well, the most you can do is be there. Around him, you don’t have to pretend to be buddy-buddy. If you feel like challenging him on whatever, do. But don’t tell your friend “I hate him!” because that always backfires.

    If she does stick with him, well, that sucks. But it is her choice, and we have to respect each other’s choices. The best thing you can do is be a supportive friend. She might still be stuck with a crappy partner but she’ll have a support network to help lift her up in every other area of life. We all need that, don’t we? And it’s better she have that, and be with the guy, than isolate herself from that because of criticism, and still be with the guy.

  5. August 9, 2007 at 10:11 am

    My take is generally to offer my opinion if it’s solicited but, short of that, to mind my own business. In my experience actively trying to intervene without being invited ends up reinforcing the relationship; better to let people find their own way. I mean, it doesn’t matter what you think about this dude touching her – what matters is what she thinks. Hopefully she’ll realize he’s a hoser and move on, but ultimately that has to be her decision.

  6. FashionablyEvil
    August 9, 2007 at 10:12 am

    That Guy who is hostile and condescending to waitstaff because he thinks it will amuse the people he’s with. That Guy who so couldn’t deal with the time my friend was spending on a creative, important, career-crucial work project last year that they broke up for a while. That Guy who doesn’t understand why she likes to read about people who are different from her.

    My translation: I am mean to people I consider beneath Me! I can’t deal with the fact that there’s something in your life that matters more than Me! And why would you want to know anything about a person who isn’t exactly like Me? What’s wrong with you?

    Oh, and I “accidentally” met a prostitute and am her Hero!

    Even if one doesn’t think this is emotional abuse (I do), TG is definitely heading down that path.

    I’m with evil fizz–if the friend can’t see how dreadful he is, I’m not sure how much you can do. :(

  7. August 9, 2007 at 10:12 am

    Making things uncomfortable actually works better than direct confrontation a lot of times. It communicates that sense of “this isn’t right” without directly criticizing the person in question — direct criticism just causes people’s defenses to go up, which is counterproductive. So not laughing, giving an offhand “Um, this is weird” type look to your partner (not directly to the PiQ), one of those dismissive “that’s weird” laughs, etc. can actually be more effective in the end. Make the person insecure about their actions. Make them turn the criticism on themselves. Sow that seed of doubt.

  8. Louise
    August 9, 2007 at 10:21 am

    My complete sympathies. IMO, all you can do, even though you love her dearly, is bite your lip, then be available to help pick up the inevitable pieces. And also bite your lip then as not to tell her your real opinion of the jerk.

    In similar boat. Best friend of over 25 years has ruined her second marriage (first was to my other best friend) by having an open affair with a pal of theirs whose wife hates sex. She has ended up in the hospital with bleeding ulcers and anxiety attacks over this “man”, who knows the damage he has caused yet strings her along for the sex. Oh, I’m sorry, “They are star-crossed soulmates”. Bullshit. He has had this sort of open relationship with other women, but she can’t have more children and that’s just too convenient for him. Plus she’s completely infatuated with this slob.

    Her therapist has told her to stop this. Repeatedly. She tried, but after a month, went back because it hurt too much to be away from him. This clown OWNS one of the smarted women I have ever met and it utterly disgusts me- yet I love her and will never hurt her. But she knows how I feel and that I wish this destructive pattern would end for her sake.

    Whenever she calls, 2 or 3 times a year in hysterics, I listen to this for hours at a time and try to be kind. Then get off phone and go throw rocks. I’ve offered my home if she needs to move to a new state and make a fresh start; she’s determined to stay with both her now “roommate only husband” and her “once a week lover”, then get a divorce when her daughter is in college. But of course, the kid “doesn’t know” what Mom’s doing every Monday night. Agian, bullshit.

    Off to throw more rocks and pray she doesn’t ever become suicidal. I’ve been braced for that for years and will fly there within the hour if she does. Because she is my best friend, my sister Life gave me, and I love her with all my heart. Even and especially when I want to smack her.

  9. August 9, 2007 at 10:24 am

    You can’t do anything in this situation.

    Probably the only thing you CAN do is be there for her if and/or when this relationship comes to a nasty denouement.

  10. Tom
    August 9, 2007 at 10:24 am

    “My friend who is is particularly susceptible to people who suggest that anything she blames them for is actually her fault”

    If your friend is susceptible to accusations of projection, I’d say your best bet would be to help her on that front. Act as a third party to reinforce her judgement.

  11. August 9, 2007 at 10:50 am

    I’m generally pro transparent conversation, but I agree that’s unlikely to work in this situation.

    Are there ways to help her fight her “susceptibility to accusations of fault” on other fronts so she’s more able to resist the accusations from him in the future?

  12. August 9, 2007 at 11:04 am

    from over a decade of queer relationships to dating a straight cisgender man

    This is just a tiny…aside or something. Take it, leave it, ignore it–but I’m curious why “cisgender” needs to be said. Do you really think it would be different for trans men? Just like in the other thread, someone said “men are born with penises” and I had to laugh–because I suppose I function as an unqualified man under patriarchy as it exists as long as my past/genital status/etc isn’t brought to light. I also know that, as a man, I probably have no reason to feel marginalized. And then there’s the talk of breaking down the gender binary, which would seem to disqualify anyone with a binary gender…etc.

  13. Jaclyn
    August 9, 2007 at 11:11 am

    Thanks. I agree that helping her fight “susceptibility to accusations of fault” is probably the best I can do, but the whole thing makes me want to shower with bleach on her behalf. Oh, and rocks. Throwing rocks sounded like a fine idea. She’s just so smart and warm and feminist and funny and just… what the hell is she doing? Why can’t I make everyone I love’s choices for them? (That’s a joke, obviously)

    jayinchicago, we’re gonna do that conversation up right tomorrow, but my short answer is yes, it was different when I was with trans men. For me in my experience. I’ll say much more about it on the next Sleeping with the Enemy post.

  14. August 9, 2007 at 11:18 am

    Ack. You have my sympathy.

    My advice would be to make lots of time to see her if you can, and try to get her to come out with you and other nice mutual friends. Partly to stop her becoming isolated so she knows if she dumps him she won’t be alone, partly so that hopefully she’ll see the contrast between decent human beings and the Evil Boyfriend.

    Also, talk to her about what she likes about him. Understanding why she’s with him and whether she does see his faults will help you decide what to do. And if you do it tactfully, repressing the temptation to go ‘What the hell are you doing with him??’, then she’ll feel she can talk to you about the bad bits of the relationship as well as the good bits. Hopefully.

  15. badpoetry
    August 9, 2007 at 11:47 am

    Out of curiousity: how did CG react to all this? His take on the evening would be interesting to hear.

  16. Tom
    August 9, 2007 at 11:52 am

    You could also say that his Craigslist story was so charming that you’re turning to prostitution in the hopes of meeting a man like him.

  17. August 9, 2007 at 11:55 am

    To clarify, he claims to have “accidentally” met the prostitute via craigslist casual encounters, and this was before he met my friend.

    “Accidentally”? What, he was confused about the meaning of the term escort service? I mean, the best I’m getting out of this is that at least he’s not telling stories about cheating on her with prostitutes in front of her. That’s quite the guy.

  18. Jaclyn
    August 9, 2007 at 11:57 am

    No, he claims there was no mention in her post of anything that would suggest prostitution, and he only clued in after he picked her up, etc.

    Still? Yeah.

    badpoetry, I’ve just emailed CG to ask if he wants to chime in…

  19. Jaclyn
    August 9, 2007 at 1:17 pm

    As requested, here’s CG’s take on the encounter:

    …he was charming, and clever, and knew how to tell a great story to keep you hooked, and was carefully self-depricating in a way that I’m sure makes him a huge hit at parties… it was like having lunch with a Vince Vaughn character. And when you look below, it’s hard not to see how manipulative and controlling he is, and how much he’s That Guy. From the way she looked to him for permission on what to order, to the way he tried to embarrass the waitress for our amusement, to the way that he was disdainful of conversations about feminism, to the way that he blamed her for rapists not getting that “no means no”, to his whole “hooker with a heart of gold” story and his desire to “make the night special for her”… I felt really sorry for her. Did you notice the way that she basically stared out the window for most of the story? The more I think about it, the more I become convinced that there’s some serious emotional manipulation going on- He knows she hates the story, and that she’s uncomfortable with it, but he dragged it out as long as he could. He acts like he doesn’t want to tell it because of her feelings, but it’s obvious that he really wants to tell it, he just wants her to ask him to tell it, first.

    And yes, in retrospect I can concur that she was staring out the window for most of the story. I can also tell you that on our way out she pulled me aside and let our dates walk on, so she could tell me how good it was that he got to tell his story, because they’d been fighting about it and she was glad he got to feel listened to. To which I said… I don’t even remember. I was too floored. I sort of nodded and said that I was glad, then, but that I was still processing the story myself. And then we both laughed nervously.

  20. Tom
    August 9, 2007 at 1:20 pm

    “to the way that he blamed her for rapists not getting that “no means no”

    What the fuck?

    Could you expand on this a little?

  21. Jaclyn
    August 9, 2007 at 1:27 pm

    She told a story about a guy back in college who she’d turned down four times (over a period of weeks, maybe months), and how the fifth time she just gave in and messed around with him. It was an aside, we were talking about an ex we had in common and she brought this other guy up b/c I’d had a crush on him briefly, though nothing had ever happened between us.

    Anyhow, she tells the little story and That Guy goes, basically, way to go undermining the “no means no” message, [Name of My Friend]. And I’m like, I’m pretty sure it’s men’s job to figure that out. Him: maybe, but this is how guys learn that if they hear no four times, they should ask again. Me: I’m pretty sure it’s not [My Friend]’s responsibility to make sure men aren’t rapist fuckwads. All of us at the table: nervous laughter.

    This was before we even got into the prostitute story.

  22. Tom
    August 9, 2007 at 1:42 pm


    If that was the first time he heard that story, I guarantee he’ll use it against her in the future.

    You should mention that to your friend; tell her to be on the lookout for that kind of psychological manipulation. You might want to be indirect about it, but get her on her guard as soon as possible.

  23. Thomas
    August 9, 2007 at 1:56 pm

    I learned from Audacia Ray’s book that the convention on CL is to use the word “generous” when the offer is sex work. I would think that this would be a pretty good clue …

  24. Thomas
    August 9, 2007 at 1:59 pm

    And, WOW, that is so clearly a manipulative relationship. He’s a predator.

  25. Marle
    August 9, 2007 at 2:06 pm

    It sucks when your friends date assholes. My best friend’s dating a horrible guy. He’s (probably?) not abusive, but he is most likely a rapist (ex-girlfriend told the police he raped her, but eventually dropped the charges. Best friend can’t believe he’s anything but innocent. Bah) and he’s rather controlling of her. They moved to another town together, which is closer to his family but an hour and a half away from me and farther from anyone else she knows, and she doesn’t drive. They run a business together, but the whole thing is *his*. She was trying to save money for our trip next week, but he raided it “because the business needed it”. She doesn’t have a computer of her own anymore, even though their business is building computers, because he needed it for parts and won’t let her build a new one. Even though she works, anytime she wants/needs to buy something she has to ask him. It’s just such an unhealthy relationship and I have no idea what to do. Even if she did want to leave him, where would she go? She has no money, she has no car, and she doesn’t even have a job outside of him. It’s crazy.

  26. Sailorman
    August 9, 2007 at 2:19 pm

    Been there in a similar situation. I doubt there’s much you can do to change her mind directly. However, you might do a little digging into why she is with him. People are very strange about their values. If you can find (and change) the reason she’s staying with him, she’ll have an easier time leaving.

    Is it money? Is she one of those people who can’t stand to lose 2 months’ rent, or can’t afford it? You can work on that.

    Is it emotional need? Does she need someone to be there for her? You could be an alternate.

    Is it that she needs someone else to make decisions? You could help her.

    Is she afraid of confrontations? Of physical violence, even if it hasn’t happened yet? That one’s trickier–much–but you can still help.

    And so on.

    But in the end, I’d try to retain the friendship as much as you can. Tough love, or confrontation, is a gamble. Last time I tried, it failed–my friend withdrew and I lost what little ability I might have had to help. Which sucked for them, and I still feel guilty about my bad decision.

  27. Mnemosyne
    August 9, 2007 at 2:23 pm

    I don’t know if this will help, but I was talking to one of my close co-workers yesterday about relationships and she brought up her abusive ex-husband. She said something along the lines of, “He could be really charming, but it took me a while to understand that him being nice most of the time didn’t make up for the bad parts.”

    In some ways, it’s part of becoming an adult to realize that deal-breakers do exist in relationships and that no amount of charm makes up for the bad stuff.

  28. Linnaeus
    August 9, 2007 at 2:25 pm

    I learned from Audacia Ray’s book that the convention on CL is to use the word “generous” when the offer is sex work. I would think that this would be a pretty good clue …

    Yep. You see this and similar coding in other media, too, when the person posting the ad is doing so in personal ads that aren’t explicitly dedicated to sex work, unlike, say, erotic services on CL, or the escort ads in the back of indie papers like the ones in my town.

    On top of that, a sex worker who knows what she/he is doing – through any number of devices – is going to make darn sure that she/he is getting paid prior to any sex. So, I’m not buying the “accidental” story from this man; he could have disengaged with the woman as soon it was made clear that she was providing sexual services for pay if he truly wasn’t interested in a prostitute.

    Maybe I’m just naive, but I’m amazed that he would tell such a story right there in front of his partner. Even if she didn’t oppose sex work, a story like that is best kept private.

    I’d have to agree with others here who say that a direct intervention probably wouldn’t work (barring, of course, a situation that involved physical danger or the like). I know from my own experience in hearing my own friends tell me to break off a relationship with a woman they thought was wrong for me that my reaction was to get defensive and maintain that they didn’t know her like I did (which is true, but beside the point I’m making here). Be there for her, listen to her when she needs it (as I’m sure you always do), and the like. If she asks you opinion, be honest (with tact). She’s got to come around in her own way and on her own time.

  29. anonymous today
    August 9, 2007 at 2:25 pm

    Sometimes I’m afraid my friends think similar things about my relationship, with the HUGE difference being that my current bf is severely depressed, rather than an asshole. This makes him withdrawn, isolated, shy, loath to hang out with people, has made it nearly impossible to make progress on his dissertation and threatens his career, and has made our relationship really hard. He’s finally getting treatment and it’s helping somewhat, but the big stuff is still there. It’s really hard to know what to do in a situation like this – I have hope that it will get better, but I’m not sure. It makes me feel sad and a little ashamed that my friends think he’s bad for me – what am I supposed to do, leave someone because of a disease? That he’s finally getting treatment for? When he’s already so lonely and isolated? When aside from all that, he’s a wonderful, brilliant, kind, and loving person? It’s really hard and confusing, and I wish there was a clear answer.

  30. Louise
    August 9, 2007 at 2:33 pm

    If Thomas is right and this guy is a predator, you’ve got to be very careful. Because if he sees you as a threat to his prey, he will manipulate her to believe that YOU are the threat and cause of their problems. He will make you look like the bad guy and himself as the oh-so innocent and maligned victim. Be very, very careful…

  31. secondhandsally
    August 9, 2007 at 2:51 pm

    I have a suggestion. if you decide to talk about this with your friend you could focus on her feelings about her life right now. you could begin by asking her if she is happy…and if she says that she is maybe you could point out some behavior that suggests otherwise. (I assume your friend is unhappy; it seems like deep down she must be.) You could also assure her that she deserve to be happy. And you could subtly talk about how much you enjoy being able to share who you are and your opinions with your partner, even though you sometimes disagree, without worrying that your partner is going to judge you.

    I’m giving this opinion based on my experience of being in a not-quite-emotionally-abusive relationship. I was aware that my family didn’t like my then-boyfriend, but they never actually said anything because they were afraid it would have made me cling to him more. And it would have if I was put in the position where I had to defend my relationship with him. But I really wish that someone had approached me and in a non-confrontational way that didn’t put me in the position of having to defend my then-boyfriend or why I was with him, had asked me how I felt about the whole thing. I think I would have realized much sooner how unhappy I was.

    Good luck and I hope this helps.

  32. secondhandsally
    August 9, 2007 at 2:52 pm

    Oh btw, that subtle talk about your good relationship with your partner should happen weeks (or a good bit of time) after that are you happy conversation. (IMO)

  33. paiges
    August 9, 2007 at 2:53 pm

    Wow, does that story bring back memories. Memories of being embarassed in front of friends, memories of being afraid he would leave me because I wasn’t worthy. Memories of being manipulated into believing my friends were his friends and everyone would always side with him because he was so witty and funny and clever.

    Memories of how That Guy is a manipulative, abusive fuckwad and is full of shit.

    Unfortunately, there isn’t much you can do. If you bash him, she will isolate herself of her own accord, or make the mistake of cluing him in and he will make it his life’s work to isolate her from you.

    My advice: be her friend, even when it appears she is putting you off. Call her often, and try not to get frustrated if she doesn’t call you as much. Don’t talk about him, and always talk about her life. Do not let him (or her) think you hate him. Just make sure she knows that you are her friend first, last and always. The fact of the matter is is that he will try to isolate her, or make her feel all alone, so he can have total control. The only thing you can be is her light at the end of the tunnel, and let her have the strength that she needs to punch through his heavy-handed manipulation when she is ready.

  34. Tom
    August 9, 2007 at 2:54 pm

    “Louise Says:

    If Thomas is right and this guy is a predator, you’ve got to be very careful. Because if he sees you as a threat to his prey, he will manipulate her to believe that YOU are the threat and cause of their problems. He will make you look like the bad guy and himself as the oh-so innocent and maligned victim. Be very, very careful…

    Also, let’s be clear that she is a threat to the relationship and wants it to end. Jaclyn has to walk a fine line between indirect and being manipulative yourself.

    What a pain in the ass. Throwing rocks is beginning to look good.

  35. Louise
    August 9, 2007 at 3:48 pm

    Credit my now 12 year old daughter with the “throwing rocks” therapy. Smarted damned woman I know. She was having an especially rough day (age 9) with peer pressure and general jackassery, so she and I went for drive to local lake to discuss uninterrupted. She decided to “name” the rocks, then throw them and that frustrating, useless energy as far as she could. I joined in and BOY! Did it feel GOOD to really let some unfettered anger out!

    It has definitely been a well-used technique for all of us. Because while life is good, occasionally life is full of assholes who desperately need to be thrown away like a rock. Or have rocks thrown at their imaginary image.

  36. Interrobang
    August 9, 2007 at 4:01 pm

    Marle, if he’s not beating your friend yet, he will be soon. He’s already accomplished several of the things real hard-core abusers usually do before the violence starts in earnest — he’s cut off her access to outside friends and family; he’s taken away her private means of communication with the outside world, and he’s made sure she’s financially dependent on him. Now if he decides it’s time to start tuning up on her, she’s got nowhere to go and nothing to leave with.

    I’d be worried about That Guy™ too, personally. Humiliating your partner in public/in front of friends is an isolation tactic.

  37. Jaclyn
    August 9, 2007 at 4:06 pm

    Yeah, I’m more worried now that it’s all written out here than I even was before. I just called her and left a friendly check-in message on her voicemail. I’m not going to let him isolate her.

    I am going to throw rocks with his name on them, though. Thank your daughter for me, Louise!

  38. paiges
    August 9, 2007 at 4:30 pm

    Interrobang: From what jaclyn says about her friend, I’m not convinced he would physically abuse her. Many women will set a physical violence barrier, like, “if he hits me, it’s automatically over” that an abuser will recognize and respond to by never crossing that line. Jaclyn would know best if her friend would be likely to think that way or not.

    Many, many abusers never get caught because there are no bruises. It’s oftentimes much more profitable to a narcissist to deal them the death of a thousand mental and emotional cuts. That way, there’s no evidence beyond “he said, she said” and he can engage in enough crazymaking to make that charge slide right off him.

    But let me state: it makes him no less dangerous to her if he never goes down the path of physical abuse.

  39. August 9, 2007 at 4:32 pm

    Chiming in with what everyone else said about your friend and That guy. Everything people have mentioned – the manipulation, the isolation tactics, the savaging of past histories and the charm – all sounds eerily familiar. It does sound like he’s manipulating the shit out of her, especially if she pulled you aside and said she was glad he’d been “heard” with his disgusting story.

    Okay, so here are the things my friends and family did which was useful and helpful:

    They were totally not judgemental. Some of them thought I should leave BUT always stressed that it was my decision and I should do what was right for me. No one ever told me it was impossible he’d change (this was important! It meant they weren’t sabotaging my decision to stay and try to make the marriage work.) Some never came right out and said I should leave. They said more subtle things like, “that rings my alarm bells”, which was easier to digest. They offered me couches and phone numbers for the middle of the night. They listened to me tell them the same story over and over again.

    All of them said, repeatedly, that he was treating me badly (or had in the specific instance I told them about) and that I deserved better. All of them listened patiently even while I tried to get inside his head (which – in retrospect – meant making excuses for his behavior. At the time I thought I was just being fair and trying to take his viewpoint/past experiences/temper/being male/any excuse into account.) After listening, they usually said, again, that I did not deserve to be treated badly just because someone else was upset.

    All of them worked with my limitations – because I was terrifically isolated – unable to work, living in a foreign country on a temporary visa – any phone conversations were difficult and had to be conducted in secret, snail mail was also difficult if I could not guarantee being the first at the mailbox – they did not hold it against me for not being more available, and engaged me via email and instant messenger instead (much easier to do in private since you can pick any time to email, time differences are not an issue and it’s easy to close out of.) No one ever said they’d told me so, though in retrospect they – in varying ways – did.

    It is important to understand (well, it was for me) that when you’re in the middle of it, all these things seem like isolated incidents, not part of a larger pattern of abuse. My friends respected my rights to make my own choices and my right to take responsibility for those choices. That was hugely important and strengthening.

  40. CannibalFemme
    August 9, 2007 at 4:32 pm

    Okay, #1: this is the story of my fucking life. I didn’t/don’t date assholes (even back in my rip-roarin’ man-datin’ days), but I inevitably and always and eternally form close, strong, loving friendships with women who do. I have been down this ugly path so many goddamn times I’ve worn a trench in it.

    And everyone here has been very kind, and some people have given you some warnings that sound entirely reasonable to me (and I am a connoisseur of predatory men).

    But I had to speak up for a second about what seems to be advocacy of essentially passive support of your friend, because, IMHO, if your friend is as valuable and as lovely as you think her, and the asswipe she’s dating is as bad as he sounds, I just can’t go to a passive support place.

    Admittedly: this is entirely my baggage. But watching the slow erosion of the wellbeing and whole spirit of a woman who is beloved is some of the worst pain I’ve had to know on this planet. Just my two cents.

  41. August 9, 2007 at 4:34 pm

    Damn, no editing! I forgot but paiges reminded me: he never hit me. If he had, I would have known to leave. (I wish he had, I’d have left much sooner.)

  42. Pockysmama
    August 9, 2007 at 5:08 pm

    I agree with Paige S. Remain a friend, keep conversations focused on her and what she is doing, make sure she knows that you are there for and just be patient. I do this all the time for my friends and it took me a long time to just let it run its course and be ready to pick up the pieces when she comes back to you after it finally ends. I think that when you confront people about what you perceive to be an unhealthy relationship it has the tendency to backfire and make them hate you and not the idiot they are dating and even more determined to prove you and everyone else wrong. Unless there is physical abuse and then my other friends and I step up the monitoring making sure he knows that we are WATCHING.

    I wait until after its good and over AND then tell them what I really think of him. BTW, this works on teenagers too. I have really disliked some of the guys my daughter has dated but you would never know. Then when she finally dumps him I can say how much I disliked him. That way she doesn’t hang onto him to spite me and she is happy with her decision because she made it and wasn’t influenced by someone else.

  43. Tom
    August 9, 2007 at 5:10 pm

    What active support do you recommend, CannibalFemme?

  44. August 9, 2007 at 5:42 pm

    In regards to your comment: “What do you do when someone you love isn’t in an abusive relationship, per se, but is really, actually sleeping with the enemy?”

    Just because this bozo isn’t beating her doesn’t mean the relationship isn’t abusive.

    Trust me. Emothional and “mind game” tactics are just as abusive and debilitating. And when those tactics lose their thrill the physical abuse is just waiting to happen.

  45. badpoetry
    August 9, 2007 at 5:43 pm

    I have a suggestion that most people haven’t mentioned… it tends to work better if there are several concerned friends involved (not just you).

    I was in a relationship that wasn’t good; it wasn’t abusive the way this one potentially is, but most of my friends and family struggled mightily for some time to find a way to tell me how they felt. One friend, finally, took me aside and told me in no uncertain terms that the relationship had to end, with little regard for etiquette or appropriateness or convention. That friend, basically, was willing to risk the friendship to tell the truth.

    The reason this approach works best when there are more than one friend involved is obvious, I think: if it backfires, there’s still a support structure of of other friends to take up the slack. Still, I would always emphasize, if you love your friends, truth is usually the best way to go. At the very least, it plants an important seed in the person’s mind that this is not a good situation for them to be in…

  46. Louise
    August 9, 2007 at 6:02 pm

    Hang in there Jaclyn, and don’t forget to warm up first!

  47. Maggie
    August 9, 2007 at 6:26 pm

    When I was in an abusive relationship and some of my friends disapproved, I just distanced myself from them. The friends who waited until I started sending signals that I knew something was wrong, were the ones who helped the most.

  48. August 9, 2007 at 7:03 pm

    What cara db said worked for me when I was trying to figure out what to do about a friend whose husband was beating her up (one time in front of me and I had to call the cops on him). Really, what it boils down to is that SHE will have to leave him, and there’s nothing anyone can do to help until that decision has been made and he’s made her miserable for however long. Some people have to learn the hard way.

    While we’re at it, I have a question for the peanut gallery:

    I have a friend that I’ve known for seven months or so. Her husband of 20 years has (I am not sure if this has gone on the entire 20 years, but she’s been having bad days with him since I met her. She makes it sound like it’s been within the last X number of months, though) been acting in ways that I find to be suspicious. He wants her home to make him lunch and dinner, and wants her around the rest of the time basically to be his beck and call girl. I am in an organization with her, and he is apparently bitching and whining about her wanting to hang out with those of us in the group. Sometimes she shows up hours late, in a pretty “I’ve been emotionally kicked” mood. When she’s with us, he calls her a bunch of times. I gather he is yelling at her a LOT. He also apparently had some kind of jealous pout when she mentioned seeing one of the guys in the group (let’s just say that it would be obvious that she was NOT ever likely to be romantically involved with the dude) on the street one day. She dreads weekends because he only works 4 days a week and has to deal with him uninterrupted for 3 days in a row.

    Now, I do not KNOW if she is being abused- as far as I can tell he hasn’t gotten physical YET- but I am starting to really wonder if it’s going in that direction. In my experience, wanting the girl to be home waiting on his ass and NOT getting involved in anything social AND trying to make it somewhat difficult for her to do so is a bad sign. And yet, she’s still getting out of the house and showing up to volunteering hours and group events, so it hasn’t gone that far as yet.

    I don’t really know what to do, or if I should be seriously worried that this is going to lead to worse. What do y’all think?

  49. August 9, 2007 at 7:46 pm

    It can feel weird sometimes to apply the very loaded word “abuse” to a situation you’re familiar with and which has more nuance than you’re used to the term “abuse” implying.

    Still, controlling, isolating behavior as such is harmful and that’s all we really need to know–labels aside. It’s definitely cause for concern.

  50. Linnaeus
    August 9, 2007 at 7:57 pm

    Jennifer, from how you’ve described the situation, I see some serious red flags. I would be a little skeptical of your friend’s implication that this is a recent development; while it could very well be true, from my (amateur) experience, this kind of controlling behavior doesn’t just crop up suddenly. I’d be willing to bet that this has been going on for much longer than several months, and what you’re seeing is the latest iteration of progressively worse behavior on the part of your friend’s husband. It may not have reached the point of physical abuse, but it’s possible that your friend is placating her husband just enough to stave that off (which is bad enough).

    Given that you’re on the outside of this relationship, and that you’ve known this woman for a relatively short time, I’m not sure how much you can do at this point – though others with more experience in dealing with these situations would have greater insight than I do. Were I in your situation, I would try to be as observant of her and her behavior as I could without being overbearing. You might be able to pick up more signs of what is going on.

    I’d also try – gently, so as not to trigger a withdrawal by my friend – to be inquisitive about how she’s doing/feeling, etc. I’d share some aspects of my life with her to try and generate some trust between me and my friend; she then may feel more secure about telling you more about what’s going on in her life.

    Of course, it’s always good to just listen, even if you don’t have advice to give. We can’t fix every situation and it’s okay to admit to yourself when there are limits to what you can do.

    Now, maybe you already know/are already doing this stuff. In that case, my opinion and two bucks’ll get ya a cup of coffee…

  51. Sailorman
    August 9, 2007 at 9:04 pm

    Thanks everyone for the advice. i’m using some of it right now, though it’s a bit different across gender lines.

    (BTW, to the OP: Would your friend be more receptive to a guy? I ask because of some stuff I’ve experienced outside the abusive-relationship field.

    Sometimes, people who say “oh whatever, hes just being a normal guy” to excuse their abuser will not accept female naysayers. because after all, they’re not guys, so (even though they’re right) they’re easier to ignore, ya? IF you’re getting a lot of “oh that’s what guys do” and IF (which seems highly unlikely) her and your relationship will handle it, and IF you happen to know the ‘right guy’ e.g. a very trusted friend, it might be worth a long shot.

  52. anonymous today
    August 9, 2007 at 11:06 pm

    It can feel weird sometimes to apply the very loaded word “abuse” to a situation you’re familiar with and which has more nuance than you’re used to the term “abuse” implying.

    Still, controlling, isolating behavior as such is harmful and that’s all we really need to know–labels aside. It’s definitely cause for concern.

    amanda w, that is a fantastic point and should be emphasized. So often people can’t or won’t name things that are happening to them because they don’t look/feel the same as on the Lifetime movie of the week. Nearly everyone’s relationships are more complicated than that, so it can be helpful to use different, but equally concerned, language.

  53. Julie Mc
    August 10, 2007 at 8:31 am

    Good morning Jaclyn!

    Your CG relayed the story to us last night…eek! B’s question to him, was “how did you and Jacyln refrain from reaching over the table to physically hurt this guy?” ha!
    From the version that I heard (which, CG did admit he told differently than That Guy) made it sound like That Guy has some serious issues going on inside his little head. I feel bad for your friend because she sounds like she is in a manipulative relationship. =/
    PS..I’m a little bitter that CG didn’t tell us you were guest blogging this week. Will go back and read though!

  54. August 10, 2007 at 2:13 pm

    Thanks, y’all. I will be keeping this stuff in mind. Maybe I’ll bring up what it was like to deal with a friend with an abusive husband before, see what happens?

    I will also be going over to her place on Monday, so we’ll see what happens there on her own turf.

  55. Medicine Man
    August 10, 2007 at 7:48 pm

    What has changed that this guy has only been being manipulative for the last X months out of 20 years marriage? I don’t have anything really insightful to offer, but I do wonder if it is only the last 7 months that your friend has felt the need to explain/justify her husband’s behavior that has made her recognize the pattern?

  56. Christina B
    August 13, 2007 at 6:42 pm

    Jennifer, you said

    My father was abusive to my mother, emotionally and physically. He was very jealous and controlling. My mother finally left him after 35 years. My mother told me that one of the biggest factors in her decision was that she realized that she would not want to retire with him. She could not stand for him to be around for a few days, let alone everyday for years.

    Maybe you could emphasize that point with your friend. If she can’t stand that her partner is home 3 days out of the week, why is she with him?

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