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Sorry, this is kind of long, but I'm desperate (aren't we all!).

My best friend has been married to an emotionally, verbally abusive man for more than 30 years. They have four children with now only one still at home. I've done some research on the issue, and my friend and her husband match the descriptions of the abuser and victim perfectly. For example, he's completely selfish and cares for no one but himself. He'll blow up at her and then turn around and say sorry, I love you, etc., etc. She's completely depressed, suicidal, has low self-esteem, and they both share the attitude that women should be treated as second-class citizens.

He has total control over her including financial. They're rich, but he's always telling her they don't have any money. He's always bargaining--I'll do this for you only if you do this for me. Make me gag!! Worse, and this is the real kicker, he thinks of plant fertilizer and new car tires as being gifts--oh look honey, I got you fertilizer and tires--aren't I sweet? I'm not kidding--I've witnessed it. To everyone else, he's nice, charming and unassuming. I don't think my friend correlates her depression, low self-esteem to his more than three decades of abuse. She and I both know he's an asshole, but I don't think we've ever discussed it in a way that he's mentally deranged. I don't even think she thinks of him as an abuser. I don't think I did either until I started doing research and saw that his traits were not just character flaws but studied, labeled, psychological disorders.

He's a child in an adult's body and insists on having total control and power over his wife. I'm not sure how she would respond to me trying to get her to read the material I've found on emotional and verbal abuse. Is there anyway I can get her to do this? She's already uncomfortable with me telling her he's an asshole, and she needs to get out. If she says he's an asshole and vents to me about some assholish thing he did, then that's okay. But if I say he's an asshole or bring up an example that proves he is, then it's not okay.

I have a feeling she won't want to read the material because it's me bringing it to her attention--it's me saying it and not her, and plus she just doesn't want to face reality. I don't blame her for all this, but I can't help but feel she's at fault too because she allows it to go on and puts up with it. Urgh! Also, I really don't want to see her spend her "golden" years with this man, but I know she will never leave him. I've tried talking to her youngest daughter who is 19, but all she does is say I'm "picking on" her father. I've noticed this same daughter is always sticking up for her dad. The rest of the children feel the same way in that mom is the crazy one and dad has it all together.

I saw a documentary once where the researchers said children usually always side with the abuser. I understand this because I myself grew up in a home where my Dad verbally, physically and emotionally abused my Mom. My brother and I did the same thing. When my Mom finally got smart and left, I even sided with my Dad for the first six months following. I accept responsibility for my actions, but also can say that after looking back I realized my Dad spent a large majority of his time throughout their marriage and our upbringing brainwashing my brother and I into thinking that Mom was the insane one. "Oh, that's just you're mother being irrational again. You know how she can get." Eventually I came to my senses and realized my father's a jerk, not an easy, fun thing to do. So, I understand my friend's daughter's dilemma, but I'm really just trying to help, and I wish she could understand that. Is there anything I can do, besides watch her continually suffer day in and day out?

I read that the abuse has a cumulative effect and just gets worse and worse with each new year. I feel my friend is dying a long, slow death, and there's nothing I can do about it. I feel so helpless! The most frustrating part of all is she's extremely intelligent, but one of those women who thinks if you don't have a penis, then you're worthless. She tolerates me however, somehow (thank goodness!). We're very close, and I hear every detail of their relationship. I want to be her friend and be a support system, as I have been for the past five years, but it's starting to take its toll. I feel she'd rather have a man abuse her than no man at all. I can't handle that. I can't get through to her. I'm accused of being a femi-nazi, cynical, etc.--the whole ball of wax. I know people say these things out of discomfort with the truth though, and due to the fact that I'm not a man, and I'm young, and I'm single. Three strikes! It's obviously had quite an effect on my own emotional stability over the years. It's getting harder and harder for me, too.

How can I help? What can I do?!! Thanks for reading my rants and for your time, help.

Regards, Becky



Dear Becky -

You are certainly very aware of all of the possible scenarios and also of the behavior around abuse. It is very common for the abuser to be idolized and for those being abused to just reject their own best interest. Part of it is that you forget that you deserve better. You live for so long in a situation and you begin to conclude that it truly must be your fault. As for the kids, that doesn't surprise me. I have met lots of people who have had to wrestle their kids away from an abusive parent and they honestly are slightly crazy -- not that they begin that way -- but the system and the situation force them into that compromised state.

There is truth to it, but you have to fully examine the situation behind the situation. At this point, I feel like you don't have much to loose with your friend. It's very risky to confront her because she might shut down and not want to communicate anymore, but on the other end, you might become her vehicle for helping herself. I would just be extra-sensitive about doing it in a way that puts the onus on you -- leaving yourself room to "just be wrong." I would also consult the local domestic violence resource and ask them about how to handle this. I'm sure they have heard this scenario before.

Good luck -- you really are a good friend -- I hope that your friend can recognize that, if not now, at least at some point.

-- Amy

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