Dear Sue: Worried Wanda
I’m really nervous that my friend is involved in an emotionally abusive relationship. Her boyfriend constantly keeps tabs on her location through her phone tracker, he makes her feel bad for spending time with her friends, and he will constantly argue with her if she does activities outside of being with him. For example, he won’t let her come out with her friends on the weekends because he won’t be able to control her as easily. When I asked her why she still wanted to be with him, her response is only that she loves him and that things are good when they’re together. I’ve noticed that he works hard to put up a front of loving and caring to her family, but he wants to totally isolate her from any other aspect of her life. I’m really nervous that this relationship is going to end up consuming her or even becoming physically abusive later on. What should I do?
The question you’re posing is presented a lot in the college age group. These situations happen a lot with this age because these are the people who are just learning how to really be in relationships and can grow insecure.
The first step is to see things from her point of view. She probably really does love her boyfriend, even though he treats her poorly. Often, in emotionally abusive relationships, this is a very addictive and unhealthy type of love. What makes it addicting is the fact that her boyfriend most likely tears her down and then builds her back up. He can make her feel very special when he wants but he can also take that away just as easily. This makes her addicted to those moments where he makes her feel special and so she will stick around and work harder for them. It is very easily to get wrapped-up in a controlling and manipulative relationship because the villain in this relationship can usually make themselves out to be very appealing and convincing.
For example, you say that he won’t allow her to go out with her friends at night. He most likely rationalizes this to her by saying that he doesn’t know how safe it is for her, not that he doesn’t trust her. This probably seems logical to her but, at the same time, she is responsible for herself and so long as she isn’t cheating on him or harming herself, then he shouldn’t have control over her actions in any way. If he doesn’t like who she is then he shouldn’t be dating her.
However, your friend most likely doesn’t see it this way. It may be hard for you to understand her thought process but it is important to try if you want to help her. The best way to express your concern is to prepare your conversation a bit beforehand. Think of some questions you can ask her about her situation that might open her eyes a bit. Good questions to start with are, Does your boyfriend prevent you from having your own life, doing work, or getting together with family or friends? Does he ever correct or chastise your behavior, almost like a parent? Does he tend to view your as an extension of himself instead of as an individual? There are many other questions you could pose in a conversation like this, but this is a good place to start.
Make sure, however, that you don’t seem as if you are attacking or judging her, but rather coming from a place of concern because you love her and value her friendship. If she feels attacked, she may start to withdraw and ignore what you have to say. Start out by telling her why you are concerned and maybe ask her to help you understand the situation more. In this conversation, try your best to not interrupt her. Let her speak as much as possible because if the situation is as bad as you say, then the more she talks, she will start to realize what she is saying. It is better for her to think that she is realizing this on her own as opposed to feeling as though you have forced this realization on her.
This conversation will, inevitably, either work out or won’t. It all depends on the person. Either way, it would be a good idea to recommend your friend to the counseling center. This is where she can hear from professionals and get alternate opinions from outside of her friends. Once you have had this talk and give her the resources, it is up to her to get herself out of the situation. As a friend, there is only so much you can do but it is good that you at least reach out to her and continually be there for her no matter what her decision is.
Sue Z. Maroon.