They have never had a good relationship with each other and she calls me often crying over the awful things he has said and done to her. To my knowledge, he has never been physically violent but he is verbally and emotionally abusive. He tells my sister she’s ugly and he hates her, that her breasts are not big enough and he wishes he had never married her. He has also cheated on her many times, often blatantly. One time, she found a love note from one of his side girlfriends hidden under a framed picture of their kids. I wish I were making this up but I’m not. Lately, she tells me he has been drinking all day every day. He has jugs of vodka hidden all over the house, and often hides in the bathroom to chug booze. He used to work full time but has now cut down to part time and is asking her if he can just quit his job “to stay home with the kids.”
I know I can’t make my sister leave him, but I have tried many times to talk to her about the possibilities. She could easily make it on her own as a single mother. She has a well-paying career and loves her kids more than anything in the world. She says she won’t leave him until all the kids are grown because she thinks it wouldn’t be right or godly to split up the family. I think it is much worse for the kids to be around him because he is setting a horrible example for them. Her son is 10 years old and I am scared that he will learn from his dad that it’s ok to treat women horribly. I’ve brought up these concerns to her and she agrees but still says she will try to make it work until all the kids are grown (15 more years). I brought it up on a recent visit with my parents and they basically said she made a choice so they don’t care what happens to her. That made me so angry.
She and I were always very close and I feel like I’m the only one in the family who cares about her. I call all the time, send cards/gifts on holidays and always listen when she needs to talk but I wish there were more I could do. I can’t afford to go see her very often because it’s very expensive. Can you suggest other things I could do to help her despite the distance and my limited budget? She is a the most kind wonderful person I’ve ever known and she deserves better than this. It makes me so angry that he treats her like she is nothing and I would do anything in the world to help. — Concerned Sister
Unless you have reason to believe your asshole brother-in-law is being physically violent, I would Continue doing exactly what you’re doing: being emotionally supportive (if you suspect that he is or becomes physically abusive, here are 10 great tips for supporting a victim of domestic violence). In this case, providing emotional support is the most you really can do. And you can also point her in the direction of professional alcoholism help. As you said, you can’t force your sister to leave her husband. She’s a grown adult and that’s a decision she has to arrive at on her own. You can let her know that you support her whatever she decides to do, but if you mean that, then you have to support her even if what she decides is stay with the asshole husband. It’s one thing to encourage her to leave once, but by telling her over and over how you feel, you risk not only alienating her to the point that she may decide not to share things with you anymore, you also risk alienating yourself from her kids. Worse yet, you risk making her feel like your love and support is conditional and only available if she makes the decisions that you deem are the right ones.
The truth is, you don’t know what it’s like to be in her shoes. Raising three children is an immense amount of work and responsibility and if having a father-figure around — even one who is a deadbeat — gives your sister a sense of security — even if it’s a false sense of security — it’s hard to argue against that if you’ve never been in a position of raising three children by yourself. So resist the urge to pressure your sister to make changes in her life. When she starts complaining about her husband, just listen. Unless she is specifically asking for advice, don’t offer any. Just listen to her. And remind her how much you love her, admire her, and believe in her. When and if the time comes that she finds the courage to leave her husband, your support will help give her the confidence she needs to move forward. And if she never leaves him, then at least she and her kids have someone solid like you in their corner giving them the love it sounds like they desperately need.
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