Dear Carolyn: The last few times I’ve been out with my buddy and his wife, she’s made some really derogatory remarks to him, if not outright screamed at him. He seems really cowed by her, like he’s just trying to placate her so she’ll stop yelling and calling him names.
I’m on good terms with both, but I’m his friend first. I worry about him (she wasn’t like this when they were dating or early in their marriage), and I’m wary of burning bridges.
How do I bring this up with him? I’m 99 percent certain he doesn’t think he’s being abused. But a police officer who saw her yelling at him on the street the other day almost arrested her. It’s real. – Burning Bridges?
First, applause for that cop. Awareness of men as abuse victims has lagged, to put it mildly. (More info: Domestic Abuse Helpline for Men and Women, www.dahmw.org.)
It does seem counterintuitive, but being willing to burn the bridge is a generous act. Too often the goal of preserving the friendship is ultimately a selfish one, if understandable: Nobody wants to shorten their list of pleasures in life, which buddies usually top.
It can be unselfish to stay friends, when you want to prevent the victim’s isolation and remain a potential lifeline. This is arguably one of those cases. It’s a tough balance to strike: to remain close enough to help him, without enabling her through your friendship-conscious silence.
It sounds as if you’ve erred on the silent side, though. Whenever you witness yelling and name-calling, stay calm and say “No”: “I suspect neither of you sees this, but, Sarah, the way you treat James has changed, and isn’t OK.”
Then, one-on-one: “I say this knowing I might lose your friendship: You’re being abused. If you drop me for saying this, that’s a price I’m willing to pay for your well-being. I will be here for you, forever, even if you never contact me again.”
It’s on him take it from there. An angry response, by the way, means he has some hard growing up to do first.