ask lena: my best friend is hitting her boyfriend. is there anything i can do?

abusive amber and gary with their baby leah

As soon as I read this letter, a massively huge red flag was waving in front of me and last season’s controversial Teen Mom episode with Amber flashed before my eyes. Domestic abuse, an issue we hear about a lot where men are the perpetrators, came to light when Amber hit her baby daddy. The police pressed charges and took her baby away from her. No matter who is doing the abuse, male or female, it’s wrong.  How do you confront your abusive BFF though? Read on…

Dear Lena,
My best friend’s always had a hectic relationship with her boyfriend of 10 months, there’s absolutely no way to sum up everything that they have gone through and still keep this email short. I’ll say it like this: she’s an extremely controlling person dating a very very naive and easy to take advantage of guy. He’s irresponsible and she’s shaped him up into getting a job, stop smoking weed, and overall be more responsible.

Unfortunately she took her power trip too far and she started controlling everything (his friends, his diet, where he lives, anything you could think of she controlled it). Worse yet they started hitting each other and she took advantage of the fact that he wouldn’t hurt her back to really lay into him (and his property). He finally broke things off with her but she keeps begging him to take her back. She has apologized and he keeps saying “i need more time, maybe one day.” He’s kind of being a pig.

What can I tell her to help her? I’m ready to call this boy (he’s one of my friends) myself and tell him to stop leading her on, but I’ve always considered it a little rude to get in the middle of people’s relationships and tell them what to do.

Hey gURL,

First of all, I think it’s great that you’re trying to be a supportive friend and respect other’s relationships enough to not get directly involved. However, if you think your best friend is being abusive or if your friend (her boyfriend) is being abused, then you need to intervene. Women can be abusers too, and abuse can be emotional, physical, or both. From what you’ve said about your friend, it sounds like her behavior (controlling his social life, dictating lifestyle choices, and physically attacking him and his property) fits the signs of someone who is an abuser.

| Get the Fast Facts on abuse, what it means, and how to deal with it. |

Your best friend seems to have recognized her unacceptable behavior before the abuse escalated, but it’s not uncommon for abusers to express regret and promise to change, only to then fall back into the same cycle of abuse (especially if they don’t seek counseling to get to the root of their behavior). And although she’s apologized and feels genuine remorse, that doesn’t mean that her boyfriend is now perfectly fine and ready to move on. Given the control she exercised over his life, he may feel a ton of resentment and anger, but he may also be emotionally dependent on her or blame himself for what happened. If she is aggressively pursuing him and he still has feelings for her, then it’s not surprising that their relationship is in limbo.

I think it’s important that you try to avoid taking sides and instead focus on being supportive. It is often very difficult for people to leave their abusers, so rather than interpreting this guy’s uncertainty as him “kind of being a pig” and “[taking] advantage”, perhaps you should try to understand why he might feel conflicted. Maybe he’s afraid she’ll lash out if he definitively ends things. Maybe he wants to take her back but isn’t sure whether things will really change for the better. While you shouldn’t try to force him to do anything, you can let him know the reasons why you were concerned about their relationship and you can inform him that abusive behavior (from men or women) is never acceptable.

As for your best friend, the best thing you can do to help her is to direct her toward counseling services to help her resolve anger and control issues. Oftentimes, abusers continue to abuse in future relationships, and this kind of behavior is not only romantically destructive, but it can also be illegal. As “Bitch, Please” advice columnist Megan Carpentier writes in The Gloss:

“In most states, even if the neighbors … call the cops and the victim refuses to cooperate, the police are required to cart the abuser to prison for the night and it’s rare that they drop charges. Regardless of the results of the case, [the abuser] could well end up in jail for at least a night and then paying a lawyer thousands or tens of thousands of dollars … [The abuser] could end up in mandatory batterer intervention programs … [The abuser] could, in fact, end up labeled a batterer for life.”

It might seem rude or presumptuous of you to tell your friend that her behavior could be unlawful, but take the approach I suggested regarding her boyfriend and go to her with concern, not accusations.

Love,
Lena

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