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And now for something completely different | Manolo for the Big Girl

And now for something completely different

Yesterday faithful reader Sara A wrote:

Two days ago one of my dear friends was beaten up by her long-time boyfriend. Two days ago I lived in a world where that only happened to other people. How do I talk to her about this? How do I reconcile that I now live in a world where partners hurt each other? At an intellectual level, I understand that I always lived in a world where this happened.

My friend is debating the merits of pressing charges, but she’s not entirely blameless and she’s not entirely mentally sound. I’m worried about what his lawyers would do with that and what trial prep would do to her mentally and emotionally. Not to mention the ordeal of a trial. The bottom line is that I’m her friend and I will support her no matter what, but I don’t know where to start.

Hoo boy.

First of all, I’m sorry. Not just for your friend, but for you. It’s one thing to know academically we live in a sometimes violent world; it’s another entirely to have a dear friend look at you through a blackened eye. I went through this with a friend of my own a few years ago, and it sucked for everyone involved. Of course I’m just a yahoo with a lifestyle blog, not a licensed counselor, so I can only tell you what I’ve found effective.


Provide a safe place for her to land

I mean that figuratively and, if necessary, literally. You want to do as much as you can to create an environment that makes success as easy as possible. My friend lived with and was financially dependent on her abuser. Our church helped her find a place to sleep at night and several of her friends and I made sure she had groceries and utilities covered. This wasn’t because we’re such great people (although I admit we’re pretty swell), but because we wanted to create an environment where she didn’t feel she needed to go back to him so she could eat.

Once your friend’s physical needs are taken care of, the best thing you can possibly do is listen and provide honest support.

Don’t offer your opinions

Or at least be judicious when you do, just listen (even if it kills you). Ask questions instead of offering advice. If she’s thinking about going back to him, matter-of-factly tell her you think it’s a bad idea, but try your dardnest not to get overheated about it. Trust me, there have been times I’ve bitten my tongue so hard I’ve nearly made blood shoot out my nose, but you don’t love him, she probably still does. The last thing you want to do is put her in a situation where she’s defending him –either aloud or internally– against your badmouthing.

Don’t dissect it just yet

We both know that although physical violence is never okay, it’s rarely one-sided or without provocation (no, this doesn’t mean anyone deserves to be hit, and I’m not blaming the victim) so I understand it when you say “she’s not entirely blameless”.  At this point it doesn’t matter whether she threw the first punch, was blindsided or gave just as good as she got. You want to get her out of the situation. You’re still doing triage at this stage, give it a little distance before you start analyzing behavior.

Do as much of the legwork for her as you can

Your friend is likely to feel overwhelmed right now, and we’ve all felt paralyzed by having so much to do. Sit down and figure out a plan. If she needs to get a new mailing address asap, call the post office and find out how much a PO box is, or do the research online and send her the link. This isn’t to say just let her sit back and wallow while you take control of everything, but lend a hand and offer your support.

And now the sad truth:

You can’t help someone who won’t help themselves. You’ve got to be emotionally prepared for her to go back to her boyfriend, for her to lash out, for her stability to decrease. This hurts. It REALLY hurts and it REALLY sucks and unfortunately it REALLY happens.

For more (and doubtlessly better) advice. Click here to see what the National Domestic Violence Hotline has to say about helping a friend. I’ll keep you and your friend in my thoughts and prayers. Good luck to you both.

 

Comments to this post will be very strictly moderated and shut off if necessary, this is not a place for debate. -Ed.

16 Responses to “And now for something completely different”

  1. leah z September 14, 2011 at 4:58 pm #

    bless you both for taking care of your friends

  2. coffeeaddict September 14, 2011 at 5:04 pm #

    A superb post Ms. P! You kept it concise and simple. The fact is that nobody really knows what to do when s**t like this happens but I like the human aspect of your advice. The truth is life is messy and never black and white.
    I wish your long time reader and her friend all the best and that things work out.

  3. Lisa from SoCal September 14, 2011 at 5:07 pm #

    Oh my, Sarah. I have been in similar situations, and it’s very, very, very hard to know what is the right thing to do or say. I think Plummy’s advice is very good, particularly the part about lending a hand to find resources. When you are hurting, it can be so overwhelming to make decisions or figure out all the steps needed on your own.

    Best to you with helping your friend.

  4. Thea September 14, 2011 at 5:14 pm #

    Well spoken Miss Plumcake,

    I was a firebreathing intellectual observer on the subject of domestic violence (volunteered at a shelter, took all the classes) Until I ended up on the bathroom floor with bloody lip and a blackening eye. That’s when I learned a couple of important lessons.
    1. If someone is a foot taller and 60 lbs heavier and wants to hit you, you WILL get hit – no matter how many women’s study classes you’ve aced
    2. You may not have a choice the first time – you do have a choice not to put yourself in that position a second time. I made sure I never did
    3. A little humility teaches a lot of compassion for women in circumstances you couldn’t imagine before.

    And thank you for pointing out that despite best efforts, many women do go back, and there isn’t a thing you can do about it.

  5. Lisa from SoCal September 14, 2011 at 5:25 pm #

    Oh–on the lawyer thing. Few people are blameless in any situation, and no client is perfect–there are lawyers that know how to help guide clients to the best outcome that really works for them, and finding a good advocate is one task where you can be really helpful in doing research, drawing on your networks for advice, etc.

  6. Jezebella September 14, 2011 at 7:34 pm #

    Please, don’t say to your friend that she’s “not blameless.” I say this because her partner will do everything possible to blame it ALL on her, and the last thing she needs is someone telling her he’s right. I do have two reading recommendations, books that – seriously – changed my life: one of them is “Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Controlling Men” by Lundy Bancroft. The other is Gavin de Becker’s “The Gift of Fear.” Both lay out the pros and cons of dealing with the police and lawyers, AND both lay out, in precise and stunning detail, the textbook ways in which abusers manipulate women into staying with them. I hope, I do, that your friend walks out the door and doesn’t look back, but that doesn’t happen, and the Bancroft book will help you (and her) understand why.

  7. Jezebella September 14, 2011 at 7:36 pm #

    I should also add that she may not be “entirely mentally sound” because she’s been with that long-time boyfriend for so long. Physical abuse is nearly always preceded by emotional abuse, which is, literally, crazy-making.

  8. Misti Nicole September 14, 2011 at 9:26 pm #

    Sound advice, Miss Plumcake. Blessings for you and your friend, Sara.

  9. Kay September 14, 2011 at 10:51 pm #

    Perfect advice Ms. plumcake… I couldn’t have said it better.

    On a side note, I have a friend who’s been going through spousal abuse too. She finally left and was determined to start anew. I was so proud of her for taking a stand for herself but just a few short weeks later, they were back together on the promise he would never hit her again. I told her how much it worries me and I suggested that they get some type of couples counseling or anger management therapy. She’s assured me that he’s “changed” and I’m just errified that I’ll end up getting “that call”. It’s a horrible situation that I wish on no one and it leaves all the onlookers feeling helpless. My thoughts and prayers are with Sarah and her friend.

  10. Bekka September 14, 2011 at 11:03 pm #

    Hi! Thank you so much for this excellent post and advice. I work in the development office of a center and shelter for victims of intimate partner abuse, and have also gone through a similar experience with a friend.

    A note about Domestic Violence Hotlines: They are not just for crisis situations, and not just for victims. The excellent link above can probably provide Sara with resources in her area. At our own hotline, our staff is happy to speak with concerned friends to offer them guidance and support as they assist their friend. If Sara’s friend is interested, she might also want to speak to a hotline counselor for support. Counselors strive to be non-judgmental and may be able to help her friend decide what to do and how to stay safe even if she wants to stay in the relationship.

    What you said about not offering your opinions is also SO SO important, and something I’ve dealt with in my own situation. Not only don’t you want to put her on the defensive, but you want to make sure she feels comfortable coming to you for help, especially if she stays in the relationship and it happens again. If you can, help her to concentrate on her needs and desires and plans rather than his motivations or failings.

    Again, thank you so much for this post!

  11. Sara A. September 14, 2011 at 11:08 pm #

    Thank you Plummy, and everyone else who’s responded with sympathy and advice. Right now, my friend J has gone home to her mother’s in NY to heal up a bit. I just got off the phone with her and she says that one of the things she wants to do is create new memories of DC with her friends. She says that everywhere she goes she sees herself and her ex in happier times. So I was already in the process of organizing a ladies brunch and mani/pedis and asked for her input. Surprisingly, discussing mani/pedis and brunch lead in to a discussion about some practicalities.

    J is very lucky that they hadn’t moved in together yet. They had only been seeing each other for about 16 months, and were having talks about the future. Most of the support my friends and I will have to do is of the crying on the shoulder kind. I did ask her about the PO Box and she says she doesn’t want one at this moment because she isn’t moving. Then I asked if her roommate knew. J’s ex wasn’t one to just drop in, but J’s roommate knew him at his best. If he were to stop over, the roommate would let him in. I suggested to J that she should at least tell her roommate that they’d broken up and that it wasn’t amicable.

    We’re trying to let her know that she’s loved and as safe as we can keep her. I’m feeling hopeful, we ended the call with a fit of the giggles.

  12. Orora September 15, 2011 at 10:10 am #

    “Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion.” A good friend is the one who’ll make you laugh when you think there’s nothing in your life even remotely amusing. You’re a good friend, Sara.

    I have nothing to add. You’ve gotten excellent advice. Best of luck to both of you.

  13. Nina Zimel Wilson September 15, 2011 at 1:35 pm #

    I’m an older woman on this blog (62) and this story reminds me of when I was dating a random someone who seemed nice. He was a realtor and I referred some people of color to him. When I next saw him he started pushing and hitting at me, saying “what were you thinking”. I ran out of there fast. Scariest thing that had ever happened.
    I feel for this woman. Be strong, sisters.

  14. Lilly Munster September 15, 2011 at 3:29 pm #

    You can only offer to help, but she has to make the choice not to be a punching bag.

    Many years ago, a close friend of mine was in a VERY abusive relationship, but she always went back with him (she had a good income and did not have children). One afternoon, I received a frantic call from the dive bar where they would hang out. She was a bloody mess and I pulled her into the tiny restroom to get away. I had to wedge myself on the floor, between the disgusting toilet and the restroom door which you couldn’t lock.

    After many attempts by the asshole to rush in and I using my legs to repeatedly kick the wooden door into his face and head, he left. No one even called the police. After tending to my friend, I informed her that we could no longer continue our friendship if she stayed with this maniac.

    I did not hear from her for a long time, but eventually, she did leave him and called me. We are still friends over 20 years later and she has a great husband. Unfortunately, many stories like this end tragically.

  15. Ananas September 19, 2011 at 3:14 pm #

    You can’t help someone who won’t help themselves. You’ve got to be emotionally prepared for her to go back to her boyfriend, for her to lash out, for her stability to decrease. This hurts. It REALLY hurts and it REALLY sucks and unfortunately it REALLY happens.

    This, this, all of this. It’s the worst feeling, watching someone else fuck up, but at some point, you can put all the choices and all the options in front of someone, but if they don’t pick to use one or more, you can’t force them to, and shouldn’t.

  16. Darwin Straseskie September 23, 2011 at 12:31 pm #

    Do you have a Facebook page or Twitter? Would love to follow you there, I’m on my iPhone and love reading your stuff!