Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“I Wish My Sister Would Leave Her Abusive Alcoholic Husband”

My older sister is married to an abusive alcoholic asshole. She and I both grew up in a very conservative Christian household and neither of us have a close bond with our parents because they don’t like that we left home and formed our own adult lives that are very different from how we were raised. About 10 years ago, she moved 1500 miles away, met a guy, and got pregnant quickly. They both worked at a Christian school under a signed “morality clause” so they rushed to get married in an effort to not lose their jobs over the unplanned pregnancy. Well, they both got fired anyway and proceeded to have two more kids together.

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.


You can follow me on Facebook here and sign up for my weekly newsletter here.

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

119 comments… add one
  • Sasa March 14, 2013, 9:23 am

    It’s unfortunately not in your power to fix this situation or save your sister. Victims of abuse often take a long time to leave. Keep your door open to your sister, that way she knows she’ll always have somewhere to go if she leaves. If you worry so much about your sister and nieces/nephews that it interferes with your own well-being, talk to a therapist and try to find a way of coping.

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    • Sasa March 14, 2013, 9:25 am

      Forgot something: Even if it’s not physical abuse, the tips Wendy linked apply nevertheless.

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  • lets_be_honest March 14, 2013, 9:25 am

    I so feel for you LW. Have you ever asked her about her son learning these traits from her husband? Or that the kids are learning chugging vodka is ok? Maybe that would help. Other than that, WWS. Easier said than done though.

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    • Sasa March 14, 2013, 9:30 am

      It must be very frustrating for her to watch her sister stay with this man, but if she criticizes her for not leaving him, she will probably only make her sister feel guilty and weak. It would probably be counterproductive because the sister is stuck and can’t just up and leave. Presenting good arguments for leaving won’t necessarily work – the sister may already understand them on a rational level but nevertheless be unable to get out.

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    • LadyinPurpleNotRed March 14, 2013, 9:33 am

      She has brought up some of those concerns (the son learning how to treat women badly from his father), and while the sister agrees, she said she wasn’t willing to leave him until the kids were grown.

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      • lets_be_honest March 14, 2013, 9:34 am

        I couldn’t tell if she actually voiced that to her sister or not. I read it quickly though.
        Its odd logic to wait for the kids to be old, they will have already learned by then.

      • LadyinPurpleNotRed March 14, 2013, 9:40 am

        “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 agree…it’s faulty logic.

      • lets_be_honest March 14, 2013, 9:55 am

        So sad.

      • LadyinPurpleNotRed March 14, 2013, 9:59 am

        I find it extra heartbreaking because she admits it’s a problem–she’s not even in denial!

      • LadyinPurpleNotRed March 14, 2013, 10:00 am

        (about it being a problem)

      • GatorGirl March 14, 2013, 10:24 am

        It’s sad on so many levels. My worry is the children will pick this up as a learned behavior. Leaving when they are grown, well they will have 18 or so years of this kind of behavior engrained in their heads. It’s okay for dad to drink too much and yell at mom, and mom is just supposed to take it. They could easily repeat the patern of substance and emotioanl abuse- mostly because they know nothing different and have no role models of a positive healthy relationship. (It’s possible they could not fall into the patern but )

  • bethany March 14, 2013, 9:27 am

    This sucks. This is one of those situations where there really is no right thing to do. Just love her, and support her. And try to be a positive force in the children’s lives as much as you can be.

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  • TECH March 14, 2013, 9:28 am

    Wendy’s response is brilliant. I especially like “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.” So often people will write in and about their siblings, friends, or relatives saying “I wish she would leave her asshole husband/boyfriend!” or “I wish she would do X,Y,Z and live the life I envision for her.”
    There’s no doubt your sister is going through a lot of pain. But Wendy is right that the decision to leave her husband is one that she personally needs to make. I can’t judge your sister because I’m not in her shoes, and I can honestly understand why it would be so hard to leave her husband.
    The problem with many people is they want to be supportive to a loved one who is going through a hard time, but when their loved ones make decisions they don’t agree with, their support is conditional. I think Wendy made a great point on that one. LW, I’m not saying your support is conditional, but don’t give her the impression that it is.

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  • Amybelle March 14, 2013, 9:40 am

    I’m divorced from an abusive husband and raising 3 boys. The actual physical violence was probably the least horrible thing my ex did to me. Emotional and verbal abuse is so insidious and eventually you just sort of shut down. It’s not denial exactly, and from the outside is completely incomprehensible ( “why doesn’t she just leave?”) This is where your sister lives. And my friends and family pretty much did what Wendy advises here and that’s fine. I do wonder though if someone had just kept gently reminding me that my marriage wasn’t normal, was toxic to my children and myself, and that anytime that I wanted they would help me leave would not have upset me and may have helped me get out sooner. But everyone is different, so it’s hard to tell. You could always try it and if your sister reacts badly just back off the subject. One of the commenters a few letters ago posted a link to CaptainAwkward.com blog post about abuse (the house is full of evil bees) and I want to thank whoever it was that sent me there…. a lot of wisdom both in the post and the comments.

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    • painted_lady March 14, 2013, 10:31 am

      Yeah, I remember that letter. The big suggestion that was different from what I normally read, at least from what I remember, was not to say stuff like, “What an asshole!” or, “You need to leave him!” It was more along the lines of, “That’s not okay that he does that,” and “This isn’t your fault,” or other similar stuff where you aren’t judging, precisely, just stating the not-okay-ness of it all. Because it’s so easy when you’re in it for that relationship to define your reality, and arguing with someone about how they perceive reality is ineffective and insulting at best.

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    • csp March 14, 2013, 11:42 am

      I think you hit the nail on the head about gentle reminders. I find that there is a huge effectivness of a well placed question.

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    • SweetPeaG March 14, 2013, 12:51 pm

      Thanks for sharing your story! You bring up some interesting points.
      I think the best part of what you said is the offer to help. I can’t imagine what a daunting & scary task it would be to raise children on my own. Uprooting her life probably seems like an insurmountable task! If someone just says “Oh, your husband is a horrible jerk, you should leave him…”, well that doesn’t do any good. But, saying something like, “You know, if you need somewhere to go, you can come live with me for a while. I’ll help you move. I’ll babysit. I’ll do whatever is in my power to help if you choose to leave”… that’s priceless. There is a huge difference between making someone feel alienated (totally agree with Wendy here!) and just letting them know you are there to make things easier.

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      • kate March 14, 2013, 8:29 pm

        I am so glad you brought up the emotional abuse that comes with situations like these. One of my best friends was in a similar situation as the LW, and as a friend, I tried to “gently” remind her that how he treated her was not right. I also remember specifically saying, amidst her agonizing over how horrible their marriage was, “you know, if you do ever decide that you don’t want to be married to him any more, YOU WILL BE OKAY. you have a lot of people who love you and will support you.” Long story short, eventually, she did leave him – it took such a long time, to the point where I wondered how long I could stay “gentle”. But I’m glad I did, because I know that she needed to feel like people weren’t judging her for staying married, but also that people would support her if she left. It’s a really hard line to walk as a friend/relative.

      • kate March 14, 2013, 8:29 pm

        That was meant as a reply to Amybelle, but here works, too!

  • csp March 14, 2013, 9:40 am

    LW: next time she calls sobbing. Ask her if being with him is really better than being alone. Many times asking this simple question might be enough to ask.

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  • thewriteway March 14, 2013, 10:01 am

    I don’t know. One of my friends is not in the best marriage, minus the alcoholism and abuse from the husband. However, I know her husband has thrown around the “c-word” and she has kicked him out of the house a couple of times when they argued. When I tell her she deserves better and her kids deserve better, she agrees and has admitted Husband is not the best role model for her kids. But she doesn’t want to leave him because of them. Even though she has kicked him out, she complains she is disrespectful, etc., she told me the other night that he is everything she wanted in her heart and she is happy. Weird, but OK.

    My uncle was an alcoholic who once crashed a mailbox when drunk and had a seizure at a family reunion. I was never sure how my aunt stayed tough through it all, but she stayed married to him even though he refused to get help for his problem. They were married for a long time, and she stuck by him till he passed eight years ago. I am not sure if she ever considered a divorce or thought she couldn’t take it anymore, but she stayed.

    I can see why it would be hard to leave a bad relationship, especially if you’ve been with that person for a long time. It’s so tempting for me to sit here and be like MOA!!!!, but it’s also not always something you just up and do right away. I’m kind of torn on this one.

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  • Older and (hopefully) wiser March 14, 2013, 10:07 am

    LW, you are right. This situation is disasterous for the children on so many levels. There’s a good chance that this abusive alcoholic will become abusive to the children too. Ask her what she plans to tell the children when as adults, they ask her why she didn’t protect them.If a mother’s love is so powerful that she would give her life for her children (as we all would), then protecting them from an abusive father, as difficult as it is to leave him and raise the children alone, should be a given.

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    • KKZ March 14, 2013, 4:00 pm

      “Ask her what she plans to tell the children when as adults, they ask her why she didn’t protect them.”

      Eh… I’m not sure laying on a layer of guilt to a victim of verbal and emotional abuse is the best suggestion for this LW…

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  • GatorGirl March 14, 2013, 10:34 am

    You can’t save your sister. She has to want to get out of the situation. I completely agree the best way to “help” her is to just be there for her. Answer her calls and keep mailing cards etc as your money allows. Try not to express your frustration and anger about her situation to her, because she might just shut down and stop reaching out to you. (Which is what I did when ever anyone got mad about my abusive ex. I just cut them out.)

    I do worry about the children a lot. Watching this kind of substance and spousal abuse is NOT good for them. My fiance has dead emotional scars from his child hood due to his father’s drug and alcohol abuse coupled with his emotional and physical abuse of girlfriends. Thankfully he has had counseling to learn constructive ways to manage anger and is not abusive in anyway. But he will beat him self up (mentally) if he ever feels he does anything close to what his father did. Which he never does- just a heated arguement makes him worry he is slipping into his father’s ways.

    Maybe encourage your sister to have the children seek counseling or talk to their pastor. If they are exhibiting any signs of mismanaged anger or verbal outbursts, please encourage her to get them help. School and church should be great places to get some help for the children.

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    • lets_be_honest March 14, 2013, 10:44 am

      That’s excellent advice GG about suggesting some sort of counseling for the children. If they have to be in that situation, at least that will help.

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      • ktfran March 14, 2013, 11:36 am

        Agreed. I like that idea. And maybe also getting them involved in activities – sports, art, music, whatever they’re interested in – where there are positive role models and people they can talk to. I think it’s important for children to have this kind of relationship with people if home life kind of sucks.

    • GatorGirl March 14, 2013, 10:56 am

      *deap emotional scars (not dead)

      And my fiance’s counceling was actually with his youth pastor. It was incredibly helpful for him and really taught him constructive ways to manage his anger, rather than violence. (He was know to hit his sister when pissed and meeting with the youth pastor helped get rid of that and voice issues rather than have outbursts.)

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  • 6napkinburger March 14, 2013, 10:55 am

    I would also suggest that you encourage her to visit you more often and to bring the kids, if her job is such that she can afford it. Maybe occasionally suggest it when you know he’s busy, so that he doesn’t always come. If she’s with you, maybe she’ll be able to (1) see/remember what it’s like not to be around him and to be happy; (2) once she feels comfortable and that you’re not being judgy, in person, she’ll be able to open up more and tell you more of what’s going on in her life. Maybe she’ll be able to have a breakthrough. So I encourage that. People don’t like inviting themselves, so keep inviting her.

    Also, offer to take the kids once in a while, even if she doesn’t come, saying that you miss them and want to see them. Then, she can either get some me time (which everyone needs) or see what life is like one on one with him and how bad it is. That might help her realize that she’s not doing the kids any favor by staying together now.

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    • LW March 14, 2013, 11:28 am

      I would love it if she came to visit here, but the truth is that her husband flies into an uncontrollable rage anytime she brings up coming to our state or bringing the kids here. Actually, the kids have never been here. She came to visit one time about 3 years ago by herself. He has effectively isolated her from her entire side of the family, telling her that we’re all weirdos and he doesn’t want his kids around us. I can kinda understand about our parents because they are weirdos but I am quite normal and there is no legit reason to block her and the kids from seeing me. My parents recently offered to fly my other sister down to Florida to chaperone the kids on a visit here but my sister declined of course. She said she wasn’t comfortable with that idea but I would be willing to bet that she also doesn’t want to deal with his temper tantrum.

      The “silver lining” here is that I will be able to visit her more often very soon. I am relocating to a new city that is much closer to where she lives. After I move, I’ll be able to drive there in 11-12 hours so I plan to start visiting at least a few times a year for weekends and the holidays.

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      • Ammie March 14, 2013, 6:39 pm

        “I can kinda understand about our parents because they are weirdos but I am quite normal”

        Not to him, probably. If he realizes how much you despise him and how strenuously you’ve been trying to get your sister to leave him, he probably thinks you’re just as crazy as your parents. Not all villains realize they’re the villain. The alcoholic ones often see themselves as the victim.

  • Diablo March 14, 2013, 11:05 am

    The only problem i have with Wendy’s advice is that I think it might apply better to a situation that is more stable. That is, if the guy is an alcoholic but still “functioning.” Jugs of vodka hidden, drinking all day, and asking permission to quit his job so he can drink full time all make me think this is going to come to a head sooner rather than later, and I wonder what the fallout will be for the LW and her kids. My first thought was, no problem, he won’t be alive much longer, but actually this has a lot of potential to be explosive. I am kind of concerned for this family’s safety. Doesn’t the “morality” clause include rampant alcoholism, or is it just sex that is bad?

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    • theattack March 14, 2013, 11:08 am

      Where have you been, Diablo?!

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      • Diablo March 14, 2013, 11:15 am

        A combination of crazy busy at work (which is still happening), and amazingly enough, just not having anything to say. Coming to discussions later, not enough time to read the comments through, etc.

      • theattack March 14, 2013, 11:21 am


      • Diablo March 14, 2013, 11:35 am

        I am duly chastised. Please see my shrieking rant against the pope in the forums.

    • LW March 14, 2013, 11:35 am

      He no longer works for any kind of religious company, so no clause for him. He is a sports reporter for a newspaper now. She teaches at a different religious school from the one that fired them and she is still under contract to abstain from alcohol, etc because her employer thinks it is wrong and would make the school look bad. She isn’t against having a glass of wine here or there but if she does she has to hide it and make sure it isn’t photographed or she could get fired.

      That said, I agree and I do worry for the family’s safety. What if he drives the kids around when he’s drunk and wrecks? I don’t think he can be trusted with his own children at this point, and this is coming from someone who drinks regularly. The difference is that I drink responsibly, never drive drunk and never drink to the point of puking. He’s in his late 30’s and still gets wasted to the point of puking all over the house.

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      • Diablo March 14, 2013, 1:21 pm

        So sorry you have to watch this play out for your sister. Can’t imagine why she doesn’t make a change. The guy is sick. If you know for a fact that he is driving drunk, then he is endangering all kinds of people , including your sister and the kids. In that case, you should anonymously report his chronic drunk driving to the authorities (I doubt the police would reveal that you were the one who reported him). There are many lives at stake beyond his.

        Best wishes for some sort of resolution.

  • painted_lady March 14, 2013, 11:16 am

    This situation sucks. Thing is, I agree with what you say, LW, about this rubbing off on the kids. My dad was very much like this – not the drinking, but the yelling and verbal and emotional abuse – and it took so long for me to get a grip on the mindfuck it did to me. And I knew what it was at age 13 – I called it, and my mom freaked the hell out on me that I was a drama queen. Even knowing it, it did a lot of damage. My brother, too – among other things, he absolutely learned it’s okay to treat women like shit. Talking to some of his ex girlfriends, he gets mad like my dad does – throwing and shouting and cursing and physically intimidating although not hurting.

    And yeah, it’s really hard not to blame my mom. I know how much she loves us, and how she would do anything for us, but then I so clearly remember her coming into my room weekend mornings and warning me that if I didn’t do all my chores right then (some days when I’d only had a few hours of sleep or should have been at work) that he was going to explode at all of us and ruin everything. And she insists to this day that doing that *was* protecting us by allowing us to get out of his way, rather than telegraphing the message that if we got yelled at, it was our fault. And I know it’s not fair, because she didn’t see him for what he was, and she was getting the same treatment as we were…but again, she swears up and down that she stayed with him for us. Which, considering the number he did on her, is also a horrible thing to feel responsible for, even though I never asked her to stay and in fact asked her to leave several times.

    So LW, it’s even more important for the kids’ sake not to alienate yourself from your sister. Be the person who will listen to the kids – we never had anyone, because family always minimized our concerns because they had no idea the hell home could be. You know – listen to them. Letting them know that their instincts about their dad – not okay, hurtful, not their fault – are accurate will allow them to trust themselves. They need that, because they’re growing up thinking that being constantly afraid and hurting is just the way it is.

    But also, be aware of your own limitations, and if you can’t handle it, don’t sacrifice your own emotional health for their sake, either. Good luck, and thank you on their behalf for being such a concerned sister and aunt!

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    • Amanda March 14, 2013, 11:46 am


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  • GatorGirl March 14, 2013, 12:17 pm

    Has the discussion about getting him some treatment ever come up? It might be worth it to try having that conversation with her before trying to get her to leave.

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    • kare March 14, 2013, 11:38 pm

      I second this. Not that I have much faith in treatment…but it might be worth a shot.

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    • LW March 15, 2013, 12:56 am

      I didn’t know they offered treatment for being a loathsome cheating scumbag. 😉 You know an alcoholic who is that far gone isn’t voluntarily going to go to rehab, and my sister won’t say things like that to him because it would cause a big ugly fight. I think he should get help for his alcoholism but I doubt that would stop the abuse because he’s been cheating and emotionally abusing her for the duration of their marriage. The excessive drinking is more of a recent thing (which to me would be the icing on the great big divorce cake).

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  • Older and (hopefully) wiser March 14, 2013, 12:28 pm

    Painted Lady, thank you! The abuse does spill over to the kids. The kids live in fear.I too, grew up living in fear. And as a mom, I am fiercely protective of my kids. (My husband jokes that I keep our bags packed just in case he so much as looks at us the wrong way lol)

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    • painted_lady March 14, 2013, 12:57 pm

      Curious, OAHW – did you have anyone to confide in, ever? My brother is nine years younger than me, so we weren’t really conversing on equal terms till a couple years ago. We’ve talked about my dad’s abuse since, but we’re both out of the line of fire now. My mom didn’t think – or didn’t want to believe – it was abuse, so anytime either one of us even got close to implying it, she would shame us into backing down. And she didn’t want us talking about it, either – I got accused of airing dirty laundry on several occasions for simply telling a story about something my dad did. Which leads me to believe that on some level she absolutely knew it was really wrong. But then there were a few other family members – my mom’s side, FWIW – I tried confiding in. My grandmother had the “At least you’re not starving, quit whining!” attitude of the Depression, and my uncle, whom I was really close to, loved my dad and thought of him as an actual brother, so very often he would listen for a little bit, but then when it got icky he would change the subject, or even a couple of times he said, “I just look up to your dad so much, so I don’t know that this is something I can hear.”

      I just wonder, if an abused kid has someone who will listen, does that make it easier? I just remember knowing that living like that couldn’t be right, but then everyone I knew was telling me otherwise, so it was hard to trust myself.

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  • lemongrass March 14, 2013, 1:19 pm

    You’re right, you can’t make your sister leave her husband. That’s hard, I know, but it is her life and her decisions. The role you play in her life is not to make her life choices for her. If you want to be a good sister, which obviously you do, build up her self-esteem. It’s being ripped apart by her husband and that is where you can do some good. Encourage her to have a life separate from her husband by having hobbies and doing things for herself.

    Being able to “easily make it” as a single mom is so much more than money. I have no idea the hardships that single mothers have gone through and I commend them. I know how hard it is to be a parent (but only of a newborn) and I have a ton of help from my husband, I can’t imagine how hard it would be to do that on my own. If he treated me shittily, leaving would not be that easy.

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  • L March 14, 2013, 1:23 pm

    LW, I understand that you are fearful your sister’s son will grow up disrespecting women, but I wanted to give you some hope that he won’t.

    My boyfriend grew up in a family where his mom basically just stayed with his dad “for the kids”. She refused to divorce him until my boyfriend and his brother had grown up. His dad wasn’t abusive or anything like that but really wasn’t involved in his sons’ lives and was basically a deadbeat. When my boyfriend finally graduated from high school, she divorced him. She told me that my boyfriend (who was 19 at the time) told her that it was about time the divorce happened because he could tell she had been unhappy for years. His dad still isn’t very involved in my boyfriend’s life but my boyfriend still reaches out to him to keep in touch.

    Even though he grew up in a pretty rotten environment, the way my boyfriend treats his family — his mom, dad, stepdad, brother, niece — is amazing. He also treats me with great respect and shows me he cares about me every single day. It IS possible for your nephew to grow up treating women with respect even in the current situation.

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  • Older and (hopefully) wiser March 14, 2013, 1:40 pm

    Painted Lady, my 2 brothers and I were really close so we had each other. My mother actually left because she couldn’t take it any more but she left us behind.So it wasn’t a secret and we knew it wasn’t okay. The irony was that after she left, my dad completely changed and I ended up having a wonderful relationship with him. But I don’t think I’ll ever forgive my mother.

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    • lets_be_honest March 14, 2013, 1:47 pm


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    • painted_lady March 14, 2013, 2:31 pm

      Wow. I can’t imagine how your mom could justify leaving you behind. I’m glad your dad changed, though, and I wonder how that transformation happened. Was it like the moment she left, he was completely changed, or did it take some time? There was this whole fucked up cycle with my parents where my mom compensated for my dad, my dad would see it, and then he would take his guilt out on all of us. I’m not saying it’s in any way my mom’s fault, but I wonder if she hasn’t been there cleaning up his messes, he might have seen them a little more clearly for what they were, and as his own problem.

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  • bittergaymark March 14, 2013, 2:00 pm

    I feel for you, LW. I really, truly do. But I simply DON’T feel for your sister. So if you have a weak stomach and don’t want to hear my ruthless, unvarnished opinion on her… well, then, I kindly suggest you move along and simply SKIP the next few paragraphs…

    As big of an asshole as your brother-in-law is, and his assholery is EPIC. The real problem here is your sister. Stupid women often make stupid choices. They then stupidly stand by these stupid decisions and thus have thoroughly stupid lives… All the while being surprised that their lives are so shitty.

    To me? That’s just plain stupid. Almost as stupid as rushing into a shitty marriage for an unplanned pregnancy. Almost as stupid as the “whoopsie” pregnancy to begin with… Amost as stupid as then having more kids, just because… Gee, I don’t know. Why did they have more kids if they always had a shitty relationship? Could it be that they are both simply…Stupid? Yeah, that’s about the ONLY thing that makes sense.

    Stupid is what stupid does.

    Just fucking leave — stupid women everywhere. Leave already! Sadly, many… most don’t.

    Frankly, it’s bad enough that they stay in such obviously shitty relationships, but when they stupidly stay, and needlessly fuck up their own children they admittedly stupidly had with some of the world’s most obvious assholes — my compassion turns to anger and somehow I suddenly simply don’t give a rip any more. And the fact that your sister is a good christian and I’d bet a BAZILLION dollars that her “church” just loves to rag on the gays — makes me care even less.

    Some people get what they deserve. They really, truly do, I guess.

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    • GatorGirl March 14, 2013, 2:21 pm

      Where do you propose she goes when she “just leaves”? To the LW’s (and knowing who this is, LW is about to move across a few states and not living in a place a family of 4 could join easily)? To her overly conservative parents house? What about her job? The childrens lives?

      Sadly Mark, it is not just that easy to leave. Situations like this are complicated, the mental abuse destroys the women’s self esteem, she may not have control over their money, etc.

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    • lets_be_honest March 14, 2013, 3:33 pm

      Just glancing at your first sentence…you don’t feel bad for women in abusive situations?

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      • lets_be_honest March 14, 2013, 3:37 pm

        Also, I don’t get the logic that while the abusive man is an asshole, the abused woman is worse.

        Someone who sticks around to get the shit beat out of them is worse than the person BEATING THE CRAP OUT OF ANOTHER PERSON?!?! How can you be more enraged by a bruised and battered woman than by a man who is actively abusing someone?

        How about saying “Stop Abusing People” rather than “Stop Putting Up with Abuse.” I don’t think I’ve ever used this phrase before, but talk about victim blaming!

      • GatorGirl March 14, 2013, 3:40 pm

        “Some people get what they deserve.” is exactly the language an abuser uses to further destory the selfconfidence of an abusee. Baffling.

      • lets_be_honest March 14, 2013, 3:41 pm

        Didn’t even catch that one. So bc she goes to church, she should be beaten. wtf!

      • KKZ March 14, 2013, 4:22 pm

        BGM is a person I would feel comfortable asking about anal sex, gay rights, Madonna, Los Angeles, house painting, Dan Savage and movie sets.

        But he is NOT the person I would ever talk to about abuse, based on repeated victim-bashing here. While his experience and knowledge gives him authority to speak on the above topics, he clearly does not have any actual experience with abuse, just “people he’s seen” in abusive relationship and then leapt to his own conclusions about how stupid they must be. His statements and opinions, and especially his defense of those opinions, show his blatant ignorance about this topic. If he’s only ever witnessed it secondhand, he simply isn’t equipped to understand the way abuse can warp a person’s psyche, how it’s not just a matter of “smart enough to leave” or “stupid enough to stay.” And his repeated assertions that any attempt to understand these things is just “coddling” the LW, again, demonstrate his ignorance.

      • bittergaymark March 14, 2013, 6:35 pm

        Actually, BGM once WAS once briefly in an abusive relationship and — surprise, surprise — simply left once the writing was on the wall…

      • Amybelle March 14, 2013, 6:54 pm

        And you weren’t stupid enough to get pregnant to him either! You would never be that stupid, because you’re not a stupid stupid woman!

      • bittergaymark March 14, 2013, 7:36 pm

        No, but I certainly did use protection and didn’t get HIV or any other STDs from him either. I’m sorry, but somehow…I don’t have hat many smart people in my life accidentally making babies with one another… Dumb people doing so? Um, yeah… yeah, I definitely know a few of those…

      • meadowphoenix March 15, 2013, 3:35 am

        Which means that you were “smarter” than your abuser, not that you were “smarter” than everyone else who gets conned in such a way.

        I truly hope you never meet a person who is “smarter” than you and doesn’t care about hurting you. But if you ever do, your belief that you are smart enough to avoid such things is going to get in your way.

      • KKZ March 15, 2013, 8:20 am

        I just saw a great line in another article that I want to share here, though I don’t know that anyone is paying attention to this thread anymore.

        “Admonishing someone with depression is like telling a paraplegic person ‘…Just get up and walk!’”

        I think it can be applied to this topic, too. Telling a person in a severe abuse situation they should just leave is like telling a paraplegic person ‘Just get up and walk.’

        Abuse is disabling. I’m happy for you that you felt empowered to leave your abusive relationship before it got worse. But it’s totally, totally unfair to write off anyone who DOESN’T leave as simply stupid. I would go as far as saying victims of abuse are deluded – because they’re not seeing straight, not thinking rationally, and operating under false assumptions – but stupid is a step too far.

        The example you give that if you were called stupid by a good friend, it would make you wake up and snap out of it and go “Hey, I’m not stupid, how do I fix this?” — that’s a thought pattern and behavior that would only happen in the mind of someone with a healthy self-esteem who still believes they have some power. Tell a victim of longtime verbal/emotional abuse that he/she is stupid, and he/she will likely internalize it – “Yes, I am stupid, this is all I deserve, I can never get out.” You see the difference? It wasn’t that you were smarter than the average abuse victim, you just had a more stable, reliable foundation that enabled you to take action. And I mean, kudos to you that you think so highly of yourself, but you have to realize that not everyone has that as a starting point.

      • Ammie March 14, 2013, 6:43 pm

        Logic? Logic and misogyny don’t go together. 😛

    • Lucy March 14, 2013, 3:45 pm

      You’re right… but you’re also wrong. It’s not stupidity – it’s fear and emotional exhaustion. I had a friend in a similar situation many years ago, except she was helping rear his kids from a prior marriage. He also was abusive and controlling, but not violent. She had a good job and was very successful and outwardly “together.” She was just paralyzed by fear and so exhausted that she couldn’t take that first step away from him, because it was taking all of her energy just to hold herself together. What finally did it was me telling her she could move into my house. But the LW has limited funds and may not have room to take in her sister AND three boys, and it sounds like the parents have washed their hands of the situation.

      As for shelters, most shelters (at least in the UK where we were living at the time) don’t take in women who aren’t victims of violence. They have limited room and funds.

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    • Amybelle March 14, 2013, 4:42 pm

      wow. just wow.

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  • Boosker March 14, 2013, 1:02 pm

    Aw man, you are in such a sucky situation that I’m sure a lot of us can relate to. Who hasn’t had that friend or family member who just refuses to make the healthy decision because of their SO? You can tell them they deserve more but they have to want it.

    Wendy has some good advice here about only offering advice when asked. Your sister KNOWS your opinion, so continually trying to convince her to follow your advice is going to take away one safe conversation space that she still has. One detail that struck me was how you said she could easily fill the role of single mother. There is no way that is true. Even really high earning single moms have their own struggles to deal with. Raising three kids on your own would be extremely difficult.

    One more thing to add about the morality clauses (which I am oh-so-familiar with as a Christian school alum). This might be part of what’s holding her back. Maybe she feels like she’s redeeming herself in some way by staying in a difficult marriage because it’s “the right thing to do.” And I see in the comments that you say she is working at a different Christian school. I know the party line we were given was, the only legitimate reason for divorce is adultery. Not physical abuse, not gambling all your money away, not any other reason. So even though she has the adultery card to play, maybe she’s still feeling the pressure to be the good Christian wife and is possibly scared she could lose her secure job if she initiates a divorce. She may not want to explain the infidelity to the school, and maybe her kids go there and she doesn’t want them to find out.

    Last thing: jugs of vodka? Ewwww, they don’t sell the good stuff in jugs.

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    • LW March 14, 2013, 1:17 pm

      You are correct that her kids go to the school she teaches at, so I do believe that influences her decision. And I agree about jugs of vodka! That made me LOL in spite of how angry/sad I’ve been about this whole situation. I don’t have a huge alcohol budget but I at least spring for Pinnacle in a glass bottle when I want vodka.

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  • bittergaymark March 14, 2013, 2:25 pm

    You’d think since Christianity is so warm and fuzzy and wonderful she could turn to her church for help, right? What? No? They’d send her back to her husband? Surprise, surprise.

    There are shelters EVERYWHERE.

    PS — She’s the only one working it seems. She has all the money. She has all the power. Kick him out. Change the locks. It’s really that fucking simple. Only stupid people make the obvious complicated.

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    • GatorGirl March 14, 2013, 2:30 pm

      She doesn’t neccessarily have control over the money though. If it is direct deposited into a joint account that he has primary controll over. It happens. I highly doubt he church would send her back to an abusive husband once the abuse came to light. And there are not shelters everywhere. I live in the state the sister does and there is one shelter in my county and I am having a hard time getting them to respond so I can voulenteer- let alone get help.

      Thanks for calling me stupid.

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      • GatorGirl March 14, 2013, 2:32 pm

        (Not that I need help from the shelter- just that I doubt their lack of response is any different for a women who actually needed help.)

        And it’s really awesome to hear how simple it is considering YOU’VE NEVER BEEN THERE. As far as I know, you’ve never been in abusive relationship. It’s easy to say how simple things are when you’ve never stood in someone’s shoes.

      • bittergaymark March 14, 2013, 6:12 pm

        Oh for pete’s sake. SHE’s stupid. Not you, GG. But yes, you are making things over complicated. Dreaming up some bizarre, previously un-implied imaginary direct deposit situation where she is completely helpless… Okay, lets roll with that. All she would have to do is tell her employer that she is changing bank accounts.

      • theattack March 14, 2013, 6:53 pm

        It’s really not bizarre. That’s just one example out of thousands of ways that leaving is complicated in an abusive situation. You would probably be surprised at how many times women showed up to our shelter with their abusers trailing not far behind with guns and crowbars or family members held hostage as a bargaining tool. That happens because abusers are scarily smart. A victim can think that they’ve cut clean ties until they realize they haven’t the hard way. Until she realizes that he left a bathroom window unlocked and open just wide enough to fit a thin file under and push open, or that her car has a hidden camera, or that he has multiple spies on her to find out where she is. It is NOT easy to leave. I have talked to women over the crisis line counseling them while they were trying to leave, and the things they have to take into consideration are nearly limitless.

        Maybe it was easy for you to leave your abusive relationship, but it is not easy for the majority of people. There are some very determined, very smart victims who struggle with it. Something that hard is seemingly impossible to someone with low self-esteem and few resources.

      • GatorGirl March 14, 2013, 6:55 pm

        It’s just not that simple Mark. I’m not dreaming up over complicated situations- this stuff happens to women (and some men) every single day. Soshe changes her direct deposit, well he realizes and get physical for the first time. She changes the locks- he gets physical or if his name is on the lease or mortgage and there is no police documented abuse, well then she’s in the wrong and has to let him in. This is 10 years of mental abuse and manipulation. TEN YEARS. I was only in my abusive relationship for three years and I barely came out standing. You know what got me out? Positive attention from friends and family. Self esteem building, a promotion at work, learning I was worth something. Not someone telling me how stupid I was and how pathetic it was that I was still with my ex. Those people got shut out of my life real quick.

      • bittergaymark March 14, 2013, 7:29 pm

        Honestly? I find posts like this to be shockingly DISempowering for women. If I was in an abusive relationship and I saw somebody like me saying that I was staying just because I was stupid it might actually, I dunno, propel me into the action of leaving. Maybe I’d say — WHAT THE HELL? HE’S RIGHT! BUT… I’M NOT STUPID. I’M SMART! HOW DO I GET THE HELL OUT OF HERE…

        But to read post after post from women who have been there — all of them now going on and on about how impossible it was to leave… To then read some one make the assumption that if I — the sister of the LW — simply took control of the money I alone was earning it would surely only lead to my husband becoming violent?


        Um, okay… Now how is a battered women supposed to react to that news? Seriously. Think about it. I say, the power is there with in their hands. It’s theirs for the taking. Meanwhile, most of the posts here read like a laundry list of how trapped they truly are. Tell me? Which argument is going to make somebody feel truly hopeless. I wonder. I wonder…

      • iseeshiny March 14, 2013, 7:36 pm

        I always find it fascinating how you have such strong ideas about how people should feel in a given situation, or how you think you would feel in a given situation, that you completely discount the experiences of people who were actually in that situation.

      • bittergaymark March 14, 2013, 8:16 pm

        Sometimes… one can’t truly see the forest for the trees.

      • theattack March 14, 2013, 9:09 pm

        Except you seem to think it’s every time, not sometimes when it comes to other people, but when it comes to yourself, you somehow seem to think you can see it all.

      • GatorGirl March 14, 2013, 11:34 pm

        Mark, it’s totally awesome that you know everything.

        I have nothing left to say since you are steadfast in refusing to admit there is another side to the story and that further demolishing a battered woman’s self esteem will only cement her commitment to her abuser. You’re lack of ability to take anyone’s opinion into consideration, even multiple women who have been there and are saying the same thing, baffles me. Ever think you just might be wrong?

      • bittergaymark March 15, 2013, 1:21 am

        Not when I’m not the person who apparently spent three years of their life with an abusive jerk… Agree to disagree on this issue. I still say that by painting such a gloom and doom picture of how hard it is to get out of abusive relationships you, ironically, encourage people to stay in them because it’s just sooooooo impossible to get out. I mean — why bother?

      • dabbler March 15, 2013, 9:07 am

        This is unfair. It’s not a question of why bother, but of taking a realistic view of what it will take to actually leave, and how to stay safe in the meantime. It is a hard road.
        A friend of mine is in the process of leaving her abusive marriage. She has two small children, no income of her own, and no family to help her out. She has a secret bank account, and is in school working toward a degree so she will be able to support her children and herself when they are own their own.
        There is an issue of timing. In order for error get assistance once she’s gone, she has to be able to prove his income is not her own, which means she has to file divorce papers. She can’t serve him papers, and plan to keep living in the house because he actually will kill her. Literally. It’s going to come down to having a sheriff come to serve the papers, and staying at the house long enough for her to grab what she can and get out, then starting over on her own for the first time in 10 years, with absolutely nothing to her name but bills and responsibility for her children. We are trying to find her a place in a safe house as a short-term immediate solution until she can find permanent, stable housing.
        It is a volatile, violent situation. A lot of these plans need to be made in secret so he doesn’t find out. This isn’t a simple dating situation where the guy turns out to be a jerk and you can just walk away. There are many other, very real, factors involved. It’s not impossible, it is worth it, but don’t minimize the fact that this is BIG and SCARY and not always a simple case of the stupids.

      • GatorGirl March 15, 2013, 9:31 am

        It’s not a doom and gloom picture. It’s realistic.

      • LW March 14, 2013, 10:27 pm

        Actually, she has started to have her paychecks deposited into her own account that he cannot access. The joint account became a problem when he saw it as his own personal fun bank to buy whatever he wanted and didn’t think to leave enough money in it to cover the mortgage and household expenses. Because it’s obviously more important to have a brand new truck than for your kids to have a place to live, right?

      • GatorGirl March 14, 2013, 11:28 pm

        Good for her! That is an excellent decision.

    • AKchic_ March 14, 2013, 3:13 pm

      Mark, you make it sound so simple. Until you’ve been there, in an abusee’s shoes, you can’t know the powelessness feeling that compels you to stay, day after day. The fear that if you leave, what your abuser says will come true, or worse, your abuser will do things to make the words the abuser has said come true. In this case, thanks to “morality clauses”, it could very well be that the employer may see the divorce, or even separation of the family as a “morality” issue and terminate employment, thus leaving the sister of the LW not only without a husband (and supposed partner to parent the 3 children), but also without a job, and potentially without a school for the children to attend. That is a LOT for the sister to have to battle all at once all while picking up the shattered, burned and scattered pieces of self esteem that are floating around like dust motes in a snow storm.
      A person can’t just “walk away”, they need to plan. Find out if divorcing because of an abusive situation is something that the employer will be protective of, or will fire for. Get a separate bank account in her name only and start depositing small amounts of money in every check ($5 a check to start out with is fine, so the husband doesn’t notice). Once she’s ready to leave, THEN she has her entire check deposited in that account rather than the joint account so her money can’t be taken. And her new account needs to be at a completely different banking institution to avoid the bank raiding that account because the other one is being overdrawn (because they both have her name on it). She needs to make sure she can kick her husband out, or whether she needs to get a restraining order barring him from the house.
      Of course, this is all dependent on whether or not she has the courage to do so. It’s hard when you’ve been browbeaten into submission, especially after a lifetime of training to act/believe certain ways/things. This is not only a culture shock, but a systematic life change. Not just for her, but for her children. It has to be planned carefully, not haphazardly.

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  • AKchic_ March 14, 2013, 1:45 pm

    Your sister needs to save herself. Period.

    Don’t offer unsolicited advice. If she calls crying, simply ask her if the heartache is worth it.
    Abusers beat it into the heads of their victims (even verbal/emotional abusers) that the victims are worthless and will never find another mate for numerous reasons, should the victim leave. In your sister’s case, I’m sure it’s because she has three kids, she’s damaged goods (sinning by having premarital sex and getting pregnant out of wedlock), is ugly, etc. So, she is dealing with low self-esteem, body-image issues, and severe religious/moral quandries. It’s no wonder she is too scared to leave him.
    My first husband tried to rule me through religion and fear. I didn’t believe in his religion, and I knew more about his religion than he did, so he couldn’t control me in that regard. He COULD control me via my kids. And he was the “stay-at-home” parent.
    She shouldn’t let this guy be the SAHP, but, with his drinking, she may not have much of a choice for very long. He could end up losing his job and he may sabotage any change he has to find another one, on purpose, in order to continue controlling her.

    If she calls to complain, here are the questions to ask to help her figure things out on her own:
    1) How would you feel if he started treating the kids the same way he treats you? Abusers don’t just stop at the mother. Eventually, it does trickle down. Especially to the females.
    2) Do you want your daughter to be in the same kind of relationship? Girls tend to emulate the relationship patterns established by their parents.
    3) What are you scared of? Sometimes, laying that out there can help you and her understand why she hasn’t left yet, and help determine her obstacles should she decide to leave.
    4) Do you love and respect yourself? This is another question along the same vein as the last one.
    5) If I were in the same situation, what would you tell me to do? Then really listen to what she says. Is it different from what she is doing? If it isn’t, then you may have to accept that she prefers the relationship because it’s familiar and somewhat secure rather than handle personal growth.

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    • theattack March 14, 2013, 1:53 pm

      Really good advice, AK. Love it.

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    • iseeshiny March 14, 2013, 2:06 pm

      + a gazillion.

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    • Lucy March 14, 2013, 3:31 pm

      Great advice.

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    • LW March 14, 2013, 10:17 pm

      Those are excellent questions! Thanks. I figured you would have helpful input in this situation.

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  • Older and (hopefully) wiser March 14, 2013, 2:54 pm

    Painted Lady, it’s a long story and I have to pick up my kids and shlepp them around so I’ll try to catch up with you later.

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  • csp March 14, 2013, 4:03 pm

    LW – So I have been thinking all day about this letter. I have to say, I have two friends whose parents divorced after the kids grew up and are super pissed that the parents waited too long. I have one friend whose parents relationship was disfunctional and abusive on both sides. Now they both are happy and blossoming apart. He is so mad that he had a childhood of fear and yelling and screaming. I had a friend in college who told me “I pray every day for my parents to divorce.” Maybe tell your sister stories about friends that this happened to. and let her connect the dots in her own relationship.

    If it was me, I would make it my mission in life to undermine thier relationship. This might sound very mean girl of me, but I would say things like , “He must be really good in bed for you to put up with this because it ain’t his money.” then laugh. seriously, I would make comments about her kids and say, “Well boys always turn into thier dads and girls always marry them.” Or “your son sounds just like your husband in that story.” say these things with a smile and she won’t know right away what you are doing. or “We are having a freedom party for my friend sally, she finally got rid of her cheating, drunk of a husband.”

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    • GatorGirl March 14, 2013, 4:07 pm

      I have to say I think this is a terrible idea, undermining the relationship with snarky comments. People in abusive relationships are often highly defensive of their abuser. LW does not need to do anything that could lead the sister to want to shut her out of her life.

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      • lets_be_honest March 14, 2013, 4:23 pm

        I get how tempting that is, but I have to agree with you GG. Unless LWs sister isn’t too bright, she’ll see right through that. However, mentioning a fake friend Sally who successfully got out of it and how well she’s doing, if you say it sly enough, could be helpful? Idk.

      • GatorGirl March 14, 2013, 4:31 pm

        She’ll either see right through it and get pissed or immediately defend her husband. In a lot of cases an abused women has been groomed to beleive the husband is doing nothing wrong and that the wife deserves no better and that she is to defend him at all costs. It’s a sick cycle.

      • csp March 14, 2013, 4:56 pm

        I know it is mean, and not up front. But this is her sister. If her sister can be manipulated to stay, she can also be manipulated to go. I think if she changes the drug of choice in her fake friend’s story it will work. Say he smoked pot all the time and her friend’s daughter found another woman’s thong in his coat pocket instead of a love note under a picture.

      • lets_be_honest March 14, 2013, 5:02 pm

        I’m embarrassed (a little) to admit I have done a similar thing to my sister. I’ve ranted on here before about not liking her boyfriend, actually wrote in once. He’s not abusive, but just generally deadbeat-ish. At this point, if I even say, genuinely, that I wish he was able to find a job (HE IS) so life was a little easier for her, she gets mad. I try to keep quiet now.

      • csp March 15, 2013, 6:57 am

        I am saying that she should plant a seed like inception. I would even go so far as say, ” I ran into your crush from high school and he asked about you.” or if that lie won’t work, ” tell a story that a guy friend saw her picture in the apartment and said she was hot.” I thing subtle comments would keep her quiet rather than blatantly telling her she can do better.

      • jlyfsh March 14, 2013, 5:37 pm

        more than likely all your idea will do is drive a wedge between the LW and her sister and they won’t have a relationship anymore. she’s already told her she’s staying for the kids despite the things going on. not much the LW can do, and this plan you outlined will back fire.

      • csp March 14, 2013, 4:53 pm

        See, I have found that subtle comments are shockingly affective. It shouldn’t work after highschool but it does. It isn’t all at once, it is every other conversation. And if she says, “My husband is great…” you immediately appologize. You say, “OMG, I am so sorry. That was not what I meant. I was talking about someone else and not even thinking about who I was talking to. I am so sorry, are you ok there? You sound so stressed and I love you so much. I didn’t mean to be snarky” Your message gets across and they can’t stay mad because you profusely appologized.

        This isn’t the high road, it is the low road. but we are talking about saving her sister from a terrible life.

      • GatorGirl March 14, 2013, 5:07 pm

        And you have experience with women in abuive situations? Or you your self have been in abusive relationship?

        I know AK and I are speaking from women who have been there and comments like what you’re suggesting where not helpful at all and made me shut people out of my life.

      • csp March 15, 2013, 7:01 am

        I would argue that you shut out the people you caught doing this.

    • theattack March 14, 2013, 4:09 pm

      I agree with GatorGirl. I like your first paragraph, but not your second.

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    • AKchic March 14, 2013, 4:52 pm

      I have to agree with GatorGirl. By undermining the relationship, you are furthering the decline of whatever self-esteem the sister has. The job of the LW is to help BUILD UP the self-esteem so she has the courage to leave the abusive husband, not continue to beat her down (in an effort to boost her up) by pointing out the results of her poor choices.
      Should the sister become upset and the husband notice it, she will end up having to say something, which will piss off the husband because he was slighted, denigrated, insulted, and then he will effectively forbid the sister from communicating with the LW for the aspersions cast upon his “good name” (my own 1st husband pulled this crap, using those very words, and I’ve known other abusers to use the same tactics). There you go – another bridge effectively slammed shut and she is further isolated and seemingly more stuck with the clod.

      Then you get to add in that the sister will feel like she’s being manipulated by her own sister, the one she thought she could confide in. If she has any self-esteem, she will feel very confused and be wary about trusting the LW again with any personal information, whether she leaves the husband or not.

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      • csp March 14, 2013, 5:01 pm

        This LW is hundreds of miles away from her sister. She will never win the self esteem war when her husband is there everyday. Also, if you tell the sister that she is too good for him and he hears about it, the same thing will happen. If she manipulates her correctly, the LW will never know. If the LW doesn’t think she can pull off this kind of con then she shouldn’t attempt it.

      • GatorGirl March 14, 2013, 5:05 pm

        So you think it’s a good idea to try to manipulate a woman who is already being manipulated by her abuser?

      • lets_be_honest March 14, 2013, 5:07 pm

        I think csp’s just thinking that she’d do whatever it takes to get her out of the situation.

      • GatorGirl March 14, 2013, 5:16 pm

        I mean I get that you need to do what ever it takes, but being mean and manipulating is not going to help. It might help someone like your sister who isn’t in an abusive relationship (just maybe a crappy one). You need to build up the self esteem and solidify the trust of an abusee.

      • theattack March 14, 2013, 5:16 pm

        Manipulation is NOT the key. If she’s just manipulated by the LW too, she’s further oppressed, and she will go through this cycle with different partners again and again. What she needs is EMPOWERMENT. EMPOWERMENT. EMPOWERMENT. I just had to say it three times because it’s so important. You will get absolutely nowhere with a victim of abuse by telling her what to do. Sure, you might possibly get her out of that particular situation, but nothing else has changed. She hasn’t learned to value herself. She hasn’t learned that she is strong. Heck, she hasn’t become strong that way anyway. She hasn’t learned confidence. She hasn’t learned to think for herself. She would just be hearing a new bossy voice. Someone else to be unloving (even with good intentions) and manipulative. Someone else to treat her like a child. Manipulating her in this way implies that you don’t think she’s smart enough to see it on her own, and believe me, she WILL see straight through that.

      • lets_be_honest March 14, 2013, 5:18 pm

        Great points by both you and GG. Thanks for the education.

      • AKchic_ March 14, 2013, 5:40 pm

        Exactly. By asking her to question her own situation and her own thinking, it gets her to come to her own conclusions and make her own decisions. It empowers her to make the right choices for her own benefit, and, in a mother’s eyes (as a more important factor), the right choices for her children.

        An abuser always wants to hear “exactly what they said” when it comes to being badmouthed by someone. An abuser likes to get specific details so they can either attempt to manipulate the words to their advantage (a positive), or to twist the words to make it sound worse than it was (a more negative insult than it really was).
        It is NEVER a good idea to denegrate the abuser. Always use I statements when discussing how you feel about the abuser and the abuser’s treatment towards an abusee. Or, use factual statements.
        “I don’t feel like he treats you as well as he could be”
        “By his own admission, he has cheated on you numerous times, why do you allow yourself to be exposed to STDs like that?”
        “I worry about the effect the drinking has on you and the kids. Does he want to stop drinking, or can he even stop?”
        “Little Jimmy threw a fit? Do you think he’s emulating the example his dad shows when he throws one of his to manipulate to get his way?”

        These questions can start the wheels turning, and can make the LW seem like a concerned, caring sister, but not one that is overly meddlesome. Well, except for the last one. That one is a total red herring. It allows the sister to start considering the true scope of her abuse, and maybe start picking up the pieces of her self esteem. Maybe even attempting to make change in her own home before realizing that the husband won’t change and that she needs to demand better for herself and leave.

      • csp March 15, 2013, 7:07 am

        so here is a question. What is the difference between asking these questions and what I am saying. I am saying don’t directly attack the husband. plant seeds. Everyone here is saying undermind this relationship but just do it different ways.

      • AKchic_ March 15, 2013, 12:52 pm

        By asking questions, it gets an abusee to think for herself rather than have the abuser, or someone else tell her what she should think. It allows her to have some decision-making power, and makes her use her logical-thinking skills with her own life again. It makes her feel a little empowered to be asked her opinion again, rather than be told what her opinion SHOULD be, or be told that her opinion doesn’t matter and that she should be lock-step with the “man of the house”, or that women can’t think/don’t matter (which is a classic male-on-female abuser line).

        By allowing her to come to her own conclusions, while depressing, it does help empower her, and can be the first step to breaking the hold the abuser has on the abusee. It also lets her see that she actually does know the ramifications, deep down, of her decision to continue staying with the abuser, not just for her, but for her kids.

        It’s a different seed that is planted, to use your terminology. Where you use manipulation and deception, I suggest the encouragement of rational thought and empowerment. As you yourself stated earlier, the LW is hundreds of miles away, the LW won’t be there when the abusee actually leaves her husband, so she can’t be there to continually manipulate her sister into choosing the seemingly right path every day. No, the sister/abusee needs to learn how to think for herself and choose the right path for her and her kids on her own.
        The sooner she thinks for herself, the better chance she has at NOT getting into another emotionally/verbally abusive relationship.

    • LK7889 March 14, 2013, 5:29 pm

      I have to agree with everyone one else on this. What you are suggesting doing is the same thing that my friend’s mother is trying with her (see my post below for the short version of what is going on there). And it isn’t working. If anything, it’s pushing her closer to him and further away from her own family.

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    • painted_lady March 14, 2013, 6:26 pm

      I get the instinct, I really do – not speaking out flies in the face of everything I’ve been taught to do as a feminist: speak out! If something isn’t right, speak the fuck out!!! Don’t worry about offending, don’t be nice, just speak your mind!

      But here’s one of the reasons abuse is so insidious: abuse victims are groomed over many years not to trust their own perception in some very smart ways. Often times, abuse victims aren’t stupid but rather naive or at least assume they are, and abusers will “educate” them about how the world works. Or the victim has tenuous relationships with family, and the abuser can affirm all of that for the victim…but then affirms it to the point that everyone, not just the family, is an enemy. Or the victim is a peacekeeper and so is more likely to believe resolving conflict is her responsibility. Whatever the reason, after enough time with the abuser, the victim stays not because she doesn’t see he’s a jerk, but because even though she sees it, she doesn’t trust herself to see things like they are. So when you explain to an abuse victim that she’s seeing things wrong, that her partner is a jerk and she just can’t see it, you’re AFFIRMING that she can’t decide for herself what’s real. So actually, you’re repeating the same things the abuser told her to make her stay…and so it reinforces her decision to stay.

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  • LK7889 March 14, 2013, 5:16 pm

    One of my best friends who is practically like a sister to me is going through something similar with her emotionally abusive, alcoholic, horrible boyfriend. It hurts me every time she calls to tell me what sort of new thing he has done to her. Normally I just listen and occasionally ask her questions about the situation to try to get her to think about it more closely. She trusts me and tells me what is going on with him. But her mother is DAILY pushing the buttons of how much she hates him and how my friend should leave him, etc, etc. And guess who my friend ends up complaining about more? Her mother. Because he has her so twisted up in her head that she honestly thinks her mother is the enemy and not the sack of shit boyfriend – simply because the mother points out what he is doing.

    My advice to you would be to make sure that you don’t alienate her (like my friend’s mother has done). Like others have suggested, ask her questions to try to get her to think about her situation. Listen. Offer her a place to live if she does finally muster up the courage to leave him. Don’t offer her advice unless she explicitly asks for it. Lastly, remember that you can’t control her or her actions and don’t take it personally if she doesn’t leave him or let it burn you out emotionally. If you’re burnt out emotionally, you’re in no position to help anyone, including yourself.

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    • LK7889 March 14, 2013, 5:22 pm

      As an aside, her mother actually reached out to me today about this. And she was trying to formulate a plan to get my friend to leave the sack of shit. Luckily, I talked her into a “let’s try to improve friend’s self-esteem” plan that includes art classes and a gym membership instead of a “let’s beat her down more” plan that included an intervention. *sigh*

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  • LW March 15, 2013, 1:06 am

    I just want to say thank you to Wendy and everyone for your replies. You’ve given me a lot to think about and made me feel a little less worthless as far as my current efforts to help. Sometimes when you see a bad situation getting worse and worse, it’s hard not to think “There has to be something I could have done to make it better.” I know many of you know who I am and that’s ok but I prefer not to use my regular profile when I’m talking about something this sensitive.

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    • Sasa March 15, 2013, 9:11 am

      Good luck, LW! I hope things get better for your friend. You’re definitely not at fault if you can’t do much to improve this situation. It’s very difficult. You’re being a good friend.

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    • AKchic_ March 15, 2013, 12:55 pm

      It’s not your fault that your sister made the choices she did in her life. It was/is her life to live, much like the choices you made in your life are yours and she has no blame in the choices you made (unless she put a gun to your head and forced you to make them).

      All we can do, as family/friends of abusees, is be supportive and help them through their troubles as best we can. Be a sympathetic ear, an encouraging word, the person to tell them that they matter. Of course, we also have to balance it out and be careful not to over-extend outselves.

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  • witsend April 28, 2013, 4:27 pm

    My sister is going through something similar and it is extremely hard for me to sit back at this point and not do anything about it but be “supportive” of her situation. The constant calling and crying about her situation, that her husband is in jail once again (and it’s taken all of her savings – once again, to bail him out), that he took the kids out of school and went to a different state for a few days without telling her, the drugs he has in his room, the money he blows on useless junk rather than putting it towards positive things the children need (like clothes that actually fit them). At what point do I scream at my sister and say, “LOOK WHAT YOU ARE ARE DOING TO YOUR CHILDREN?!?!” I have tried to be supportive in the past, but at this point her children are suffering from the choices their mother is making and the selfishness of hoping that her husband will change, rather than taking the situation for what it is and doing something about it. Her husband told her 15 year old daughter that he was “discusted” by her and that she needed to lose weight. And that caused her to crash diet and lose 40lbs by not eating.

    When do you stop supporting and listening and start saying the truth about what her sister is actually allowing her husband to do to their children??? Nobody else is saying anything – just tip toeing around the situation.

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