Do you have issues with your no-longer-best girlfriend? Is your coworker driving you crazy? Megan Carpentier is here to give you the life advice that you don’t want to hear, told in the way you absolutely need to hear it.
I know you wrote a while back about how to talk to a friend who has a controlling boyfriend, but what do you do when you think your friend is the abuser? I was talking to a group of friends about Jenna Jameson and how shocking it is that she wants her abusive husband back (especially given the revelation that he was arrested before on similar charges!), and one of our friends started siding with Jameson, saying things like “It’s not of the police’s business” and “What happens between two people should just stay between those people,” until we were all wondering what was really going on. A couple drinks later, he admitted that he and his girlfriend tend to have big arguments that get “a little physical,” but she’s never called the cops because “she’s more mature than that.” We were all looking at each other like, “What the fuck?”, but nobody really said anything. We’re not really friends with his girlfriend (he says she’s “more of a homebody”), so I can’t really ask her, but I’m really disturbed and don’t know what to do.
The most important thing for you — either individually or with your mutual friends — to do is to address your friend that you think is being abusive. He obviously believes that, on some level, his behavior towards his girlfriend is perfectly acceptable and even relatively widespread, and you (and your mutual friends, from what you’ve said), know full well that is not the case. By remaining silent the other night, you guys more or less confirmed his impression that, in “real life,” no one is particularly concerned with his behavior and that when the police get involved to protect victims of abuse and punish their abusers, they are just interfering in normal relationship behavior.
One way to begin this conversation is to get some of the same group of people together — preferably without much in the way of alcohol — and sit him down and say, “We were all quite disturbed with what you told us the other night. Violence in a relationship, regardless at whom is it directed or when it occurs, is not normal, and refraining from police involvement is not a sign of maturity.” You should say that you’re concerned for him that he thinks it’s okay that his relationship is so volatile, and that he allows his temper to get the better of him and his knowledge that violence in his relationship could put him in jail.
Even if you disagree with his behavior, one way to minimize his defensiveness is to focus on how his abusive behavior can affect him: in most states, even if the neighbors — or, as in the Jameson case, her father — calls 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, he could well end up in jail for at least a night and then paying a lawyer thousands or tens of thousands of dollars to defend him. He could end up in mandatory batterer intervention programs, he could end up having to end the relationship and, one hopes, he could end up without some or all of his friends. He could, in fact, end up labeled a batterer for life. He should be concerned about the effects of his abusive behavior on his own life, even if he lacks empathy or understanding for what he’s doing to his girlfriend.
Groups like Emerge (in Boston), the Duluth Model, Amend (in Denver) and the New York Model for Batterer Programs offer resources for both you guys and him to better understand his behavior — in particular that it is learned, and not a disease — and some models for resolving it. One thing, though, that the Alabama Coalition Against Domestic Violence (among others) notes is that relationship counseling is often not helpful in domestic violence situations, because it is designed to fix the relationship rather than help resolve the individual problems of the parties in a relationship — like the fact that he is sometimes violent and she is willing to accept that violence.
But once you’ve had the conversation, you have a choice. If he’s defensive and if he continues to see nothing wrong with his abusive behavior, is this someone you want to be friends with? Even if he does accept that his behavior needs to change, how long do you give him to change — and how will you know if he really has? If anything ever called for the creation of some distance with a friend, a confession that he abuses his girlfriend and doesn’t see anything wrong with doing so is probably it.
If you have a problem with a friend, relative, coworker, or other person in your life, email Megan at email@example.com. If you have a problem with your boyfriend, you should probably just try talking to him.