Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“My Friend is the Victim of Domestic Abuse and I Walked Away From Her”

I recently made the decision to walk away from one of my oldest friends and I’m feeling very guilty. “Leigh” has been married for a long time to a terrible, terrible person. Her husband has a long history of neglecting Leigh and their children, verbally abusing Leigh, and isolating her from other friends and family. I have tried everything I know to do to get her help through domestic violence shelters, counselors, therapy…you name it. I have personally visited domestic violence counselors myself to try and help her as her only friend. She’s refused help every time, often backtracking things that have been said or done by her husband. I’ve often suggested that she work toward leaving him, but she never takes steps she needs to. Instead, Leigh has become a shell of her former self, and it’s truly heartbreaking.

I believe the years of abuse have left Leigh in a severe state of depression and that her children suffer for it. Many days she doesn’t get out of bed, doesn’t care for herself, and leaves her children to fend for themselves. In the past five years, her parents have had to step in to care for her two children after discovering living conditions where her children haven’t been bathed or fed. Her oldest child has behavioral issues which have led to school suspensions and outbursts about his parents not caring for him.

Leigh and I live a few hours apart from each other but my husband and I have personally witnessed neglect when we have been together. In my pointing out different incidents, Leigh has waved them off. Her parents are essentially raising these two children as their own, with Leigh handing them off without much care. Despite this, Leigh has announced she is expecting a third baby in the winter — a baby Leigh says was planned and that she is over the moon about it.

After twelve years of being by her side, I had to walk away from the friendship because the day-to-day phone calls, text messages, and e-mails about the things her husband has said or done, or the re-tellings of how her children have become injured because she’s not properly supervised them, or her parents keeping me updated about their daughter’s living conditions have left me drained in the wake of her news. I cannot believe another child will be brought into this life. Leigh reached out to me, shortly after I told her that I couldn’t believe this news, that she understood why I needed to walk away, but she insisted her life was actually much better. I don’t believe that.

Her parents have chosen to not speak to me further because they are angry with my decision to walk away from their daughter and with my recent decision to not attend a baby shower for her. I now feel guilty, and I do miss her. Was I wrong to walk away? — Feeling Guilty For Walking Away

You were not wrong to walk away. You were right to protect your own sanity and emotional well-being and to create some boundaries that support that. Could you have created those boundaries in a way that didn’t feel so definitively like you were “walking away”? I think so. You could have checked in less and answered fewer phone calls, texts, and emails. You could have made an excuse for why you had to miss the baby shower. In general, you could have made yourself much less available while not officially breaking up with Leigh. And maybe that wouldn’t have worked, but you could have tried that route first. I’m not faulting you for choosing the route you did, but your way does come with ramifications, which you’re dealing with now.

That said, Leigh’s parents are wrong to guilt you. It’s not your job as a friend to remain as a constant source of daily support, to be a therapist and caregiver. There was not even a moral obligation for such endless devotion. You don’t owe your life and sanity to someone who is unable or unwilling to help herself. You never signed on for that, and even if you had, you’re allowed to say “no more.” But you can also have compassion for Leigh’s parents and the position they’re in. It’s not quite as easy as grandparents to abandon children who are otherwise neglected. It must be an enormous amount of pressure, and they must feel some sense of guilt for having raised a daughter whose sense of obligation to her own children is so absent. I’m sure having you to help shoulder some of the burden was a huge help, both logistically and emotionally. What a great loss for them to no longer have that additional support. They should be thanking you for your years of devotion and not be guilting you for finally prioritizing your own needs, but they’re human and they have limits and flaws like the rest of us — limits that are surely being tested by the news that their troubled daughter is having another baby they’ll likely be responsible for.

You’ve chosen to make a clean break, and while there may have been other ways to disengage and prioritize your needs, a clean break is what you chose. So keep it that way. Block all channels of communication that Leigh’s parents have with you so that they can no longer make you feel shitty. Shut them out and move on. I know you miss your friend, but you know you can’t have her in your life without also having all her drama that has become too much for you to bear. That’s not your fault. It simply is the way it is, and while missing an old friend is never fun, let that feeling be a testament to the love you have for her, the history you share, and your hope that eventually she may find her way to a better place in life — a place that’s not your responsibility to help her find.

***************

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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy​(AT)​dearwendy.com.

12 comments… add one
  • avatar

    Northern Star August 15, 2017, 11:31 am

    Leigh’s parents are angry at you because they are helpless. They CAN’T walk away from their child and grandkids. What works (even though it’s hard) for you isn’t a possibility for them.

    This is so difficult for everyone involved. I’m sorry.

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  • avatar

    Ron August 15, 2017, 1:13 pm

    You helped your friend as much as you could, which ended up being not very much, because she is unwilling to do anything to help herself or make a break from her abuser. That makes her unhelpable. There really is nothing else for you to do. In a sense, your help was being treated as enabling by your friend: a venting of frustrations by her in place of using that energy to leave this guy and improve her situation. That she is happy about having another child with this guy tells you where her mind is. She expects that her parents will also care for this child. Perhaps she only enjoys babies, or thinks she does, and is looking forward to caring for the upcoming newborn. More likely the guy likes the idea of having more of his kids out in the world, especially since he doesn’t need to care for them and she is having another child to please him, thinking that will cause him to treat her better. It’s very sad and very hopeless.

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    • avatar

      artsygirl August 15, 2017, 3:21 pm

      Abusers (both male and female) often use children as a way to insure their victim cannot easily leave. They will get pregnant (if female) or insist their partner get pregnant (if male) because that child creates an unbreakable bond.

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  • avatar

    Ella August 15, 2017, 1:53 pm

    The LW is right to walk away. It’s a sad situation for everyone but based on my experience, it’s time for authorities to become involved. CPS, police…someone needs to come in the home other than the grandparents because the children should not be in a home where Dad is yelling at Mom and Mom feels so bad about herself that she can’t feed them or make sure they get a bath. That’s great that her parents are basically raising them but a wake up call should happen. Maybe a visit by CPS is what this girl needs. That could snap her out if it so she can leave her husband and seek treatment for depression so she can be a Mom.

    LW, I would not feel guilty about this. You tried to help and she would not listen. You cannot help someone who won’t help themselves.

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  • avatar

    Moe P August 15, 2017, 2:03 pm

    I think that making yourself much less available doesn’t work in a situation where, it seems, someone is constantly looking to you for rescuing. What COULD have worked, long ago, is to draw boundaries and say, for example, “I would be happy to get you the help you need but not to listen to these daily problems if you are not willing to seek help.” She knows you and her mom will always bail her out. Also, although her abusive relationship could be having a deep impact on her mental well being, there could also be other mental health or substance abuse issues here that you don’t know about.

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  • avatar

    carolann August 15, 2017, 2:29 pm

    I second the call to cps. You can call without their telling who called. That way they will be able to assess how the children are being treated. If the Grandparents are taking good care of the kids they should retain actual custody of them and give them some stability. Hopefully the new baby will end up on cps radar also.
    This makes me think of Hedda Nussbaum. She was so abused that she didn’t even help the poor dying little girl they “adopted”. Someone needs to keep these kids safe. I don’t know how any Mom would neglect her children because of an abuser. If it was me Daddy would be sleeping with one eye open.

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  • juliecatharine

    juliecatharine August 15, 2017, 4:59 pm

    I’m 90% sure I’ve read this letter before. Does it sound familiar to anyone else or am I nuts?

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    • bittergaymark

      Bittergaymark August 15, 2017, 10:22 pm

      It’s a common theme on various websites. Here, too. I do think we had a similar letter here a while back — but the new baby / mad parents of friend ring new to me. Same problem. Different LW…

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    • avatar

      saneinca August 16, 2017, 1:04 am

      I had the same feeling. May be a forum post ?

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    • avatar

      Gwyneth August 16, 2017, 1:42 pm

      Me too

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  • avatar

    dinoceros August 15, 2017, 6:01 pm

    I don’t think you should feel guilty for walking away. However, I think you have an obligation to call CPS (and if you haven’t already, I’m a little concerned by that). Disengaging for your own mental health and well-being after all you’ve done is totally OK. But IMO disengaging without ever having told authorities that the kids are being neglected is not. So, call them and then wash your hands of it and know that you did everything you could.

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  • avatar

    cyndi August 15, 2017, 7:39 pm

    Has cps been called? if not please do it. you are not responsible for your friend-yet you can help the children. call someone.

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