#981: Watching from the sidelines in horror: How do I be a supportive friend to my friend who’s involved with #TFG?

#TFG = #thatfuckingguy

Ahoy, Captain!

I would appreciate any advice you could give on supporting a friend (female pronouns) who is not yet ready to leave an unhealthy relationship with her boyfriend. This has been an ongoing issue for about 2 years, but something happened a few days ago and I could use an outside perspective.

I would describe the boyfriend as coercive (in past conversations she has alluded to having sex with him just so that he will stop begging, even when she doesn’t want to) and one of my big concerns is that Friend will be extremely isolated in our current city without me. I think he looks through her phone and computer, so I pretty much assume that he could read any written communication I send. I censor myself in written communication with her and we only have frank conversations when we go for walks in the nearby park. He often invites himself along to things we have planned and it feels like he is monitoring our friendship. He also makes controlling comments, but when I call them out, he always says, “I was just joking. [Friend] knows I’m just joking. She’s amazing and the best thing ever…etc.” They live together, but he does none of the domestic work and will only do paid work (freelance) when she nags him.

A couple times a year, she will reach a boiling point and tell him to shape up or she will leave. He will improve for about 2 weeks and then go back to the status quo. Her work/school schedule has been grueling the past few years and she hasn’t had the energy to deal with the inevitable fallout of a breakup. Most of our one-on-one conversations end with me reiterating an offer that she is always welcome to stay at my apartment when she is ready to leave. She’s not blinded by love or anything, just doesn’t feel like there is a good way or time to exit the relationship. He is currently estranged from his family and not really working, so she feels like if she dumps him, he will have nothing. One of my priorities is staying in her life, so I don’t want to overstep and give her boyfriend ammunition for isolating her further. Her parents think her boyfriend is fantastic and her other close friends live in other cities and are busy with newborn babies.

A couple days ago, I ended up spending about 30 minutes alone with her boyfriend while we were stuck in terrible traffic, on our way to pick her up and go to an event. I don’t enjoy his company and generally avoid spending time with him. Our one-on-conversation (mostly him doing a monologue) was frightening. He was delusional, paranoid, and unable to remember things I had said 5 minutes earlier. I had to repeatedly remind him where we were going and why we were going. He was extremely animated in his conversation and was looking at me while he talked and not the road, often swerving at the last minute. His ranting mostly focused on how the [creative] industry was scared of his success and how “they” wanted to keep his [art] away from “the people” and that this was a huge mistake because “the universe was going to revolt” if they didn’t get access to his [art]. At first I thought he was joking and just being overly full of himself, but he was completely serious. He then segued into how his estrangement with his family was a concern of the Catholic Church. Apparently, him “stepping out of line” is crumbling the foundation of the church by upsetting the established hierarchy. At several points, he referred to himself as royalty and referred to his lifelong “fame” that comes with being part of his family. Before you wonder, you have no clue who he is. His “fame” comes from the local and state politics his family is involved with in one of the poorest states in the country.

This grandiose sense of self and paranoia about “the establishment” trying to prevent him from success is worrisome. There were also times when he said things that I know for a fact aren’t true, but he seems to have fully convinced himself of this alternate version. I have considered that he may have been on drugs during that conversation, though that possibility does not alleviate my worry. He does not believe in therapy, though Friend has suggested it to him many times over the last two years.

I have already sent Friend a vague text and we are getting together this weekend for a walk where we will be able to speak more frankly. I just feel powerless to help and that my support has fallen woefully short. I don’t know how to be a supportive friend in this situation and I’m really worried that he is acting like this with her on a regular basis. It was exhausting for 30 minutes, I can’t imagine what it is doing to her longterm. I don’t think he is violent now, but think he could become violent if she breaks up with him. I feel like Friend is the frog in the pot of water, slowly boiling to death. She’s been unhappy, but the decline has been gradual so there hasn’t been a catalyst for her to jump ship.

I know I can’t make her leave, but I do want to make sure I am there for her if she needs support. Any words of wisdom to help me be a good friend in this situation?

-Helpless & Worried (female pronouns)

Dear Helpless & Worried,

I think you’re doing as well as you can with this. You’ve figured out how to communicate with her around his possible monitoring of her electronic conversations. You’ve made it clear that you’ll be a landing place when and if she leaves him. Let me refer you to some past posts that deal with the issue of being a good friend in a basically impossible situation.

Let’s address the elephant in the room:

Without diagnosing this dude (seriously, no “It sounds like x!” comments, please, we don’t actually have to narrow it down), the grandiosity, short-term memory slips, and erratic driving behavior he displayed might correlate to a number of mental health conditions that all have one important thing in common: They will not get better and will most likely get worse without focused regular psychiatric care & medication. You and your friend both might benefit from calling or texting the support folks at the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), describing what you experienced with this guy, and seeing what they recommend. Your friend can’t make him get treatment, nor can you, but their support resources for “family members and caregivers” might be able to walk her through what she’s dealing with and have checklists and methods for coaxing reluctant people into treatment.

Important: If you’re ever dealing with someone who is having the paranoid sort of delusions and they are getting very upset and agitated, it doesn’t help to try to convince them of what’s real or deny the truth of what they are describing. They are experiencing whatever it is as if it’s real, so it’s better to validate their feelings until you can get them to Help or Help to them. You don’t have to participate in the delusion yourself, so try “I don’t see any spiders, but that must be a truly awful sight” or “I don’t hear anything, but that must feel really strange and scary.” Be honest about where your own perceptions differ but validate and comfort the upset feelings the person is having without arguing them out of feeling them. Source: A NAMI-created education session for friends/family/loved ones I went to back when Mr. Awkward was hospitalized a few years ago for a bad episode with his bipolar disorder .

It’s a sad, true fact that one can be a clingy, controlling, abusive jerk who needs to be dumped and have some pretty serious mental health stuff going on. Correlation is not causation. Even if he gets treatment (unlikely, since he “doesn’t believe in therapy”), your friend will most likely be better off without this guy in her life, and I don’t want to suggest that she’s responsible somehow for making this happen or that she needs to stay until his mental health is stabilized. Just, knowledge is power, and also, support resources who are not you are useful things to have.

I’m now going to stuff that elephant back into a tightly sealed container, because he didn’t write to me and she didn’t write to me and this is about you and the limits of what you can do here.

If you ever witness an episode like the one you did, when you’re safely out of the car it’s okay to say, “You are not making a lot of sense today, and your driving was very erratic. You seem really not okay to me, like, maybe there’s something going on that a doctor should take a look at.” Say it directly to him as gently and directly as you are able. He may argue that he doesn’t believe in therapy or “Big Pharma” or whatever, which, okay, cool. Don’t talk about therapists or psychiatrists, use the generic catch-all of “doctor.” “I think you should make an appointment with a doctor and tell that person you’re having problems with memory and concentration, especially when driving. Dude, get yourself checked out – if it’s nothing, then why not rule it out?” He sees you at least nominally as a friend, so, use that and speak to him the way a friend would.

He 99.9% won’t go. On some level he suspects that if he goes to a doctor then “They” or “The System” will know there’s something bigger going on. That’s okay. Say it anyway, offer to be the driver on the way back – “I just don’t feel safe with you behind the wheel after what I just saw, and it’s even more worrying that you don’t remember what happened, why don’t you let me get us home, I’d feel much more comfortable” – and if he won’t budge, definitely find your own transportation home. Don’t make it about all future rides or ultimatums, just take it one ride at a time – Right now, you’d feel more comfortable if someone else drove. And in future conversations with him, if those happen, you can keep referring back to that particular night that you personally witnessed (instead of the shitty behavior you know about). “You don’t remember, but when we were in the car that night, your behavior was very disturbing. I really, really hope you’ll talk to a doctor about it. There’s no shame in trying to get to the bottom of something like that so you can feel better/drive safely/put my & girlfriend’s mind at ease.”

If he doesn’t listen to you or seek treatment, it doesn’t mean that you’ve failed. Sometimes speaking up about an issue isn’t about convincing the other person, it’s because it’s good for you to not stay silent. It’s good for you to name what’s happening, to remind yourself that it’s not normal, to remind yourself what you witnessed and experienced, and to put that out there in the world and not just silently fret about it.

When you next talk to your friend, another thing you can do is accurately and honestly describe what you saw. Talk about the behaviors, especially the scary driving, and talk about how they impacted you. You won’t be riding in a car with the boyfriend as the driver any more and you recommend that she doesn’t, either. He could have killed someone. He could have killed you. He could kill her. This is a very big deal and it can’t be waved away.

You can also talk about the grandiosity and the memory lapses and the other strange behavior you observed. Message: “I think there is something very serious going on with him, and he needs serious help – more help than you can possibly give or be expected to give.

He doesn’t believe in therapy so of course he won’t want to go and she’ll doubtless raise that objection. Your script is: “I think this might beyond our friendly neighborhood therapist, even. This is serious doctor stuff.” Then give her the NAMI resources or whatever else you’ve found and that our nice commenters recommend.

Then, here’s your script for the one big serious talk:

“You are my friend forever, and I always want to see you. If you ever need a place to stay, a listening ear, a ride, whatever I can give, it’s yours. I will keep making communication safe between us and making time for these walks when I can see you. 

I am seriously worried about you the longer you stay in this relationship. I think it is draining the life out of you, and I don’t think it’s your responsibility to support and help this guy even one minute longer than you already have. I think that he needs help that you can’t give, and the longer he tries to make you his girlfriend/mommy/financial support/mental health care substitute/pacifier, the longer he will delay seeking that care. I think it’s okay for you to call in medical professionals here, or think about contacting his family to see if they can help somehow – I think things are that serious and that they’ll only get worse from here. I know that’s overwhelming to contemplate, but if things stayed just like they are now and didn’t get any better, how long would you stay? Another year? Another 5 years? Forever?

In the end, only you can decide what’s right for you, and I trust you to take care of yourself and make a good decision about what to do. You don’t owe me a breakup with him, you don’t owe me anything but being my friend. You do what you need to do, and if you need me, I’ll be there, no questions asked.

That said, I can’t ride in a car with him anymore, anywhere. I have to make that boundary for my own safety. And I can’t pretend the way he behaves lately is normal or okay with me. I also don’t want him inviting himself along on our plans anymore, so what do you need from me to help make that happen?”  

Your friend will have some stuff to say, so, listen to her.

And then, in the aftermath of this talk, as you go forward in this friendship, here’s what I want you to do:

Make your friendship about something other than “helping” and “supporting” her in regards to him. Make your friendship about how much you like her and want her company in your life. In practice, this means:

  • It’s okay to redirect conversations about him. “You already know what I think, so, what are you asking?“What do you think you’ll do?” “How do you want to handle that?” 
  • It’s okay to nope out of some conversations about him and not make all the time you spend together time that you chew on the gristle of her relationship problems. “Ugh, that sucks, I’m so sorry you’re dealing with that, but I’ve reached my Dude-talk limit for the day.” U R Not The Asshole Whisperer.
  • It’s more than okay to recommend that she see a therapist or counselor. He’s the one with big, dramatic issues, but if she’s being drained dry by him, her having a safe place to talk and an advocate for herself within the mental health system is not a bad thing at all. You don’t have to be her sole outlet.
  • I know you’re worried about her becoming isolated from having other friendships and relationships, but I’m serious about not getting in a car with him again, not ever. It’s okay to keep that boundary. “If Dude is driving, sorry, I can’t make it, but I’ll see you at the usual time for our walk.”
  • Get out of the role of being the only mentor/advice-giver/”the okay one” or whatever. Make it a point to ask her advice about things that she’s good and knowledgable about. Ask her for help with things that she’d be good at helping with. You can’t make “getting her out of the relationship” the project of your friendship with her for a lot of reasons, not least because it takes the average victim multiple attempts to leave before they actually do.
  • Make sure there is a fluffy/fun/positive/enjoyable thing that you share and talk about, whether it’s trading books or watching a favorite show together or a shared hobby or your weekly walks or texting cute animal photos. If he’s monitoring her communications (BAD, VERY BAD, RED FLAG) you having an innocuous conversation topic is a good thing, but it’s also important that you enjoy your friendship with each other as much as possible.
  • I hate that this is a thing, but referring to your time together as Girl Time!!! and planning really female-coded activities for when you hang out can help somewhat in minimizing how much he tags along to your plans. “Sorry, this is Lady Time! No boys allowed!” sometimes translates better for misogynists than “Steve, you’re not invited!”
  • Lady-Time Expanded: Is there a way for the two of you to join an all-woman choir or sport or other hobby group that meets periodically? Community for her, community for you, no That Guy.

If you’re doing that stuff, you’re doing the best you can under the circumstances.

While this is all going on, I also want you to take excellent care of yourself. Don’t neglect your other friendships and your social life. You need friendships without this abusive jerk hanging out in the background all the time. Don’t neglect your career, your finances, your education, your housekeeping. Above all, don’t neglect your own enjoyment and pleasure in life. Taking care of people and supporting them is great, but when your power to change a situation is as limited as it is here, making sure you can disengage is healthy.

This is all so imperfect. The mental health system is imperfect. Someone else’s relationship troubles are completely unfixable by you, and abusive people poison everything around themselves and the person in their grasp. You can’t make yourself like him, there’s only so long you can lie and pretend around him, and there’s only so long you can make vague soothing noises. There is no great, wonderful, awesome, brilliant way to handle this, there is only telling the truth and offering what you can safely offer.

135 comments
  1. Typhoid Mary said:

    LW, this sounds like a scary dynamic to watch progress. I would be glad to have a friend like you if I were in a situation like this.

    You mentioned that you live in a poor state in the country, so I don’t know what kind of resources you have, but this is very much something that a domestic violence agency might help address. For example, if your friend wants to just talk about the situation with somebody who isn’t in her social group, she can call the National Domestic Violence hotline (http://www.thehotline.org/).

    She may not be framing her relationship as abusive, but if she is thinking about leaving then she probably knows something is off. A lot of times, DV resources are great for figuring out if you WANT to leave, what the safest way to do it is, etc.

    I don’t know if this suggestion is relevant– obviously you know better than we do if this is the right fit or if she will be receptive to it–but I thought I would put it out there as one more tool at your disposal, especially if you are hoping to help her expand her support network.

    Thanks for being a supportive friend to somebody in a not great relationship.

  2. Lissy said:

    OP, I have no more advice than CA has already given, but all the Jedi Hugs if you want them. Watching your friend participate in an unhealthy/potentially unsafe relationship while maintaining your own boundaries and resisting the urge to throw them over your shoulder and run far, far away is incredibly difficult, and I think you’re doing an amazing job. And, on the other side of things, having a close friend when this ends will be invaluable to her. When I finally got out of a sticky unhealthy relationship and I realized, not only what the ex had done, but what my friend had done to support me… she is a friend for life and I would do anything for her. Make sure your own mental health needs are taken care of as well, because watching this is tough, and it’s absolutely draining for her, but it could be draining for you too.

    • lkeke35 said:

      Just here to reiterate that your mental health is important too, so please watch out. Get some therapy if you need it too. You are already doing the one thing of extreme importance in this case, and that is being a friend, being supportive, and just letting her know you are ready to catch her when she makes the jump.

      When my sister was in an outright physically abusive relationship, the most frustrating thing was watching her go back to this man, over and over, and that can take a real emotional toll on a person.

      There were days when we’d get really angry with her. You will get angry with her, be frustrated with her, and you will need to deal with those emotions, nevertheless, you should try to remain her friend, and let her know it.

      We all stuck by my sister’s side because we were desperate for her life, and the lives of her children, and it paid off. Eventually, with support, they will feel they can leave. They just need to know there’s safety if they do, and you are doing an excellent job of letting her know that.

  3. Cora said:

    Good Lord, what a frightening experience. All the hugs just for you, OP, for being forced into that. As for your friend, you are awesome with the not being judgy and not cutting her off and caring about her so much. As I was reading through, I thought to myself, “She needs to tell her friend this, sugar-free, in one go, and then let her talk”; then, “They need to go for a facial together, and maybe shopping for new sheets”.* So, right on! with the Captain’s advice.

    I have to wonder if your friend was brought up or otherwise influenced by society to think that no one is worth anything unless they’re coupled up. I recognize that that’s speculation, and you’d know better than me But it seems to be the reason that an awful lot of people stay with others who aren’t good for them.

    Major Jedi hugs to you, your friend, and even her hopefully-soon-ex, who is obviously suffering, which is nobody’s fault and not hers to fix.

    *This might be just a thing with me, but goddamn do I love brand new sheets. They just signal “comforting and fresh new start” like nothing else.

    • I know that (1) this is something very few people believe and (2) people definitely believe I shouldn’t feel this way, and I woukd agree it would be nice if I didn’t, but my abusive ex left me almost a decade ago (after I had to go on disability, natch) and life alone is awful. I’ve done therapy, meds, everything, and I was happier with him than I am alone, even though I never liked the abuse. Someone doesn’t have to have some sort of belief system about alonedom to legitimately find being alone awful; worse, even, than being with someone who is TFG…

      • kheldara said:

        I hope it’s okay to very gently (and entirely non-judgementally) point out – mainly for the benefit of anyone reading this who is currently in a relationship with TFG and thinking ‘but if I leave him I’ll be alone and it will be terrible’ and might take this above comment as proof of it – that on the whole, although not for everyone, there are more states than just ‘alone forever’ or ‘trapped with this guy who makes me feel horrible’.

        I’m not commenting on your personal situation at all, I don’t have any knowledge of it and however you feel is okay (although sad, and I’m sorry that nothing has helped) – but abuse can be incredibly polarising, keeping victims in a black-and-white world where there is only ‘at least he says he loves me and pays me attention’ vs ‘out there, the terror of the void’, and I would not like to have been my 20 year old self reading this comment thread and seeing this comment left without response because it would have made me think ‘see everyone who says I should leave him is wrong and I am right’.

        on the whole, there are in between states, not just the implausible-seeming ‘I magically found a totally healthy relationship now and everything is fairytale’ but also ‘I live alone and I wish I didn’t but I found this great book club’ or ‘I know my coping mechanisms are unhealthy right now but my best friend takes me to the cinema every week’ or even ‘home alone crying on the floor at 3am again but at least I CAN do that without him coming in to yell at me for waking him up’.

        for my money personally, being alone and hating it is still better than living with someone who makes your life incrementally worse every single day, and I would still encourage anyone to get out of dodge asap even if the only alternative IS the void – because at least the void is not systematically abusing you and continuing to do you increasing amounts of damage – but I do think it’s really important to hear other ways that people feel and that it’s actually really brave of you to say this because I can imagine how much push-back you must hear about it all the time. which I mean in a totally not patronising way, it’s four in the morning so I hope this comment reads okay.

      • Hey Delaneykay, I don’t have anything helpful to add to you or the OP but I just wanted to say that I hope you can find a living situation that makes you happy… without having to compromise and suffer through abuse. Everyone should be able to find the right amount of company they need. Jedi hugs if wanted.

      • Lisa said:

        I am so sorry to hear you say this. It is really tragic and I hope you have a doctor or someone you can reach out to for help. I left my abuser a decade ago and I relish my freedom every day. I hope you feel that one day too *hugs*

        • I understand that you are coming at this from the perspective of someone who is happy to be free of an abuser, but taking abuse out of the equation, delaneykay is saying in general that she has a strong drive not to be alone, belief systems aside. I don’t think that needs to be pathologized. Why suggest “a doctor” when she *said* that she has “done therapy, meds, everything”? I personally have no real interest in relationships and it infuriates me when people assume something is “wrong”.

          • johann7 said:

            but taking abuse out of the equation, delaneykay is saying in general that she has a strong drive not to be alone, belief systems aside. I don’t think that needs to be pathologized.

            I agree generally – while I’ve been single much more than I’ve been partnered, and I’ve made peace with that, I very much prefer having a romantic partner. delaneykay, however, was specifically including abuse and saying that was personally preferable to being single. That’s a message that can be dangerous in some contexts, so I think the gentle pushback is warranted, not necessarily for delaneykay, but for others reading.

          • AnonBee said:

            I don’t think the person you replied to is pathologizing delaneykay. Nobody is obligated to be in a relationship with someone else, so the next best thing is to encourage self care when someone can’t get what they want.

            I see it as the same as women that want biological kids but can’t have them. Wanting kids isn’t pathologized but if total infertility is impacting your life in a negative way there’s just nothing to do but manage your emotions.

      • I believe you, not least, somewhat paradoxically, because I am the opposite. Some are incredulous that no, I really do not experience any deprivation due to not “having someone”. Therefore I believe someone who says they are at the opposite end of the continuum. The struggles of the ace/aro to be taken seriously are of course well known, to most on here at least I imagine. If being ace/aro without any particular “cause” is a thing that can happen, then the opposite must be a thing that can happen.

        • FancyPants said:

          That’s… a perspective I hadn’t thought of before. Thank you for this comment, it’s given me something to chew on.

        • nottakennotavailable said:

          I’m ace/(mostly) aro as well. Some have alluded that I MUST have been abused myself in order to have become this way, and my response is some variant on, “Believe what(ever baseless, stupid thing) you want.”

          I mean, yeah, my ex was a total wanker and did some things that I later came across as red flags in “Why Does He Do That?” but I never saw the relationship as abusive – I could’ve kicked him out at any time without fear of repercussions, I just chose not to.

          These days, I choose not to date or seek out any sort of non-platonic arrangement because I am happier without that sort of thing. But I, too, can understand why delaneykay would be happier with someone also make sense to me. The struggles of having a comfort zone that’s at the far end of the bell curve are real!

  4. Adele said:

    “Her parents think her boyfriend is fantastic”
    Thought: if GF is intending to ultimately extricate herself from the relationship, is it worth LW suggesting that the two sit down with the GF’s parents and discuss their concerns (or some of them)?
    I can think of several potential reasons why this might be a Bad Idea (for example if GF’s parents are toxic), but if they’re decent folk who are fundamentally on Team GF and respect her boundaries, is it worth bringing them onboard?

    I don’t have particular experience or expertise, so if anyone reads this and thinks “good idea, here’s how” or “terrible idea, DO NOT”, please reply.

    • Willowe said:

      I wouldn’t have that conversation before GF leaves the relationship. Obviously GF (and/or LW) knows the parents best, but IMO I think having a big conversation could go wrong for a few reasons. If Parents are horrified they might pressure GF to leave the relationship sooner that she’s ready or question why she stayed in the relationship for as long as she did and even if they mean well that high-pressure concerned questioning can be really rough to go through. Or, if insist that they’ve never seen that behavior from BF so it’s not true, they could reach out to BF themselves or pressure GF to give him another chance.

      I think handling the parents should be done like any other breakup: “Hey Parents, I wanted to let you know that I broke up with BF. I’m trying to make this a clean split so please don’t contact him and let me bring him up in conversation if I want to talk about it, okay?” If the parents push back from there then you could bring up the more serious concerns, “Actually, BF started showing paranoid behavior/got really controlling/started making comments that made me afraid for my safety. I really need you to respect my decision and not talk to him/not bring him up/have my back with this/etc.”

      • JenniferP said:

        Good points, all – the girlfriend knows her parents best! One reason in favor of having the conversation sooner is if the parents are supportive and can help with money once she’s made a decision to move out, “I am breaking my lease so I can leave boyfriend, I need $$$ to get set up in my new place and to cover him to stay another month there while he gets on his feet.” We can’t know for sure which strategy is a good idea and your objections are apt ones.

    • Lily said:

      depends on the parents.

      If they are genuinely nice people AND able to not pressure her daughter to break up with TFG (because this will make it way more complicated for her), then yes. But otherwise , no.

      • Turtle Candle said:

        Yeah, it can be dicey. My very loving, very supportive parents would probably panic and freak out if they found out that my partner (who they love) was actually volatile and unstable in a potentially dangerous way, and they might very well do something rash that would make things worse/more dangerous. Not because they don’t love me, not because they want to make it worse (exactly the opposite), but because a lot of people simply do not know how to deal with these kinds of things because they are well out of their realm of experience, and sometimes what seems like the immediate best solution (“get her out of there now!”) can make it a lot worse.

      • 100%! My surviving parent (who has her own Issues) would blame ME for [you name it, she’d find something or many things] and that would emphatically NOT help. Further, she’d bring it up 10, 20, 30 years later as an example of something I allegedly did wrong (I’m sure you don’t need to imagine how I know this, but, for example, I am STILL litigating that one time I wandered off in a SEARS home goods section at age two and a half and almost put a display toilet to use because she was ignoring my need to use a restroom, and she loves to tell that story to any new friends or boyfriends she happens to meet, while casting herself as the long-suffering supermom with a willful, bad child). And she darn sure wouldn’t help financially (when I was on food stamps for a couple of months, she would not even give me $20 to buy toiletries like toilet paper or tampons, though toiletries are not covered by food stamps). And my friends and acquaintances would never, ever know she’s like this, because she acts the part of Best Mom Ever around third party witnesses and makes promises she plans to forget immediately.

        Some parents can love you a lot and still be toxic or bad support or just clueless in some way…so definitely do not do an end run around the GF and contact the parents about #TFG. Please let her handle how or if she tells her parents about this, as she sees fit. It could make bad things worse if her parents–even if loving and well-meaning–have issues of their own that would pop up and add badness to an already fraught, exhausting and complicated situation.

        Letting the GF take the lead on this, rather than swooping in as Super HElper, is also a kind and effective way of allowing her to retain some adult autonomy and take control of the situation, even in a small way, even for a short time. And that is CRUCIAL homework for someone in a toxic relationship. They need their reality validated, they need to be allowed to make choices for themselves (even if you think they are bad choices) and they need to take the lead on how to handle their relationship issues. Offer help, as you have done, and be an ally, as you are, but my gut instinct here is to suggest that LW please resist the urge to de-center GF in any way from what is HER problem and HER life by taking over decisions or getting other people involved.

        • Rhoda said:

          Your mother must be my mother’s long lost twin. I grew up terrified of making mistakes because she’d throw them in my face literally YEARS later. I mean, things I did at age 10 presented to me as a reason why I was incompetent at age 23.

          • ashbet said:

            Long-lost triplets! My mother (aka the Wire Mother, if anyone is familiar with the Harlow monkey experiments) did/does the same thing.

            Me: “My husband is being verbally abusive to my daughter and I, he has an anger management problem and won’t get treatment, I’m disabled and can’t afford to support both of us on my own, I would like to move out of my house and get an apartment for the duration of my daughter’s last year of high school. She deserves better treatment, and so do I. Would you please help us?”

            My mother [who is wealthy, I am not]: “I won’t be a party to breaking up your marriage!”

            (What I’d said was that I needed a safe space to live while I tried to get my husband to get therapy and/or couples counseling — I didn’t want to end the marriage, but I couldn’t live there under those conditions, and I *hated* that my daughter was getting subjected to that treatment.)

            And, honestly, that’s not even the worst thing she’s done over the years (she is outright abusive much of the time), but it hurt so much to be disbelieved and blamed for my ex’s behavior — she absolutely told me that it was my fault that he treated us that way, and also told me that I was failing as a wife because I had become disabled and had to stop working, and wasn’t able to keep up a House Beautiful standard of housekeeping. Ugh.

            So, yeah. It makes a big difference what kind of parents the LW has . . . mine were very pro-my-ex, although I like to think my Dad would have been supportive when things went to hell (he passed away 2 years before things got to the level of bad that I needed to move out.)

            And, heh. My mother still throws things from my childhood in my face — she once screamed at me that I had faked having pneumonia when I was 15 (I didn’t — it was walking pneumonia PER MY DOCTOR, because I’d had bronchitis and she wouldn’t get me medical care because she thought I was faking it to get out of gym class.)

            At the point we had that out-of-the-blue conversation, I was in my late 30’s . . . and I offered to show her my recent chest X-ray, which has visible scarring to the point that doctors always ask me if I’ve had TB ;P

          • I think there are just a lot more of these moms out there than I suspected. :/

            You’re right, though–and it is exhausting being “wrong” all the time, especially if you’re not actually wrong (as can happen!) or the “sin” is so minor as to be too ridiculous to keep track of for a minute, much less years and years and years.

        • nottakennotavailable said:

          Hell, my surviving parent is the Good One, and I STILL didn’t appreciate when he basically hosted a “this is why NTNA’s boyfriend sucks and their relationship needs to go the way of the dodo bird” lecture/intervention.

          Luckily, Dad is the Good Parent because he doesn’t lord things over me (though he does tease me about stuff in my past from time to time, but in my family, teasing is how we show affection for each other), and these days, I think he’s way more sympathetic to Ex than I am, but his “help” added another layer to my messy feelings about the inevitable break-up that I simply did not need.

    • Yolanda B. Cool said:

      Yeah, that stuck out to me. I kind of wonder if they really don’t know what’s going on, or if it’s a case of her parents hating this guy as much as LW does, but not wanting to alienate their daughter by coming out and openly disapproving of him.

      I’d be tempted to reach out to them if I thought it was the latter, but without knowing more about them, it’s hard to say.

      • Anon, Goodnight said:

        If the parents are suportive and non-toxic, I recommend bringing the idea of talking to them up with the LWs friend. I wouldn’t go behind the friend’s back on this.

        • Lurker in the light said:

          Also, if tfg is checking the friend’s communications, letting her use your phone, computer*, etc. when you get together gives her a “safe” way to communicate with her parents.

          *Perhaps a new email address if they can be relied on not to use the old one.

          • Rhoda said:

            Maybe one of those “burner” phones as well?

      • sunnyside said:

        This is the situation with a friend of mine – her husband is pretty awful. Good education, smart guy, refuses to be employed for any sustained period AND does nothing around the house AND hides his money when he’s making it, “letting” her pay for everything (in a very expensive city so she has no extra). Not to mention a host of other controlling behaviors and penchant for ruining fun/special events.

        Her parents DO NOT like him. But she’s not open to hearing full criticism and has been close to cutting them off when they get too real. So they’re stuck making more mild “observations” so they can be involved in her life and support her/the kids as they can.

        When the rest of us make “observations” (hey, the way he’s treating us/you is not healthy/fair/reasonable), she’ll agree, waffle, make excuses and SOMETIMES say things about how her dad likes him. I’ve been around dad, if she were paying attention to his words rather than his tone, she’d know dad is not a fan.

        So, I’m inclined to be in the camp of floating the idea of “are parents a resource?” to GF because, one day, I’m hoping my friend will realize we’re ready when she is. If parents have been dropping kindly observations, it will all click when GF is ready to see it.

    • The Other Side said:

      “Her parents think her boyfriend is fantastic”

      This is often a feature of violent and/or abusive relationships, used to further isolate and control the victim. It’s extended social gaslighting; “He/she/they can’t be that bad if my friends/family love him/her/them, right?”. Swirl in the usual reaction when discovering someone you know is being abusive, and you have additional hurdles when seeking support–and in addition to all of the existing gaslighting.

      And there is much, much gaslighting going on. As someone who left a violent and abusive partner, Trust me.

      GF knows her family best and I trust her judgement on what she will need to be safely away from this situation. GF speaking to both NAMI and a Domestic Violence counselor are excellent places to start. When GF is ready, she will need a safety plan and a soft place to land while she gets back on her feet and, from your letter LW, it sounds like you are being and willing to do just that.

      I will add to the chorus of those who are saying “No” to going to GF parents without the permission of GF and/or her presence. GF will need to extricate herself in her own time and in her own way and doing so will not only strain the relationship between LW & GF, but between GF & GF Parents, GF Parents & TFG before GF is ready, GF & TFG before she is ready to leave and has the support and resources to do so.

      The most dangerous time for someone in this kind of situation is when they’re ready to leave and “letting the cat out of the bag” before all of the planning and groundwork has been laid will make it worse for GF.

      • Jadelyn said:

        Everyone always talks about how my dad is “so charming!” and “a great guy!” and I’m like…sure, he’s like that when you’re a casual social acquaintance, or a friend he views as a peer. I assure you that’s not the case when you’re someone he has power over.

        Abusers are often quite skilled at managing impressions when it comes to people outside the abusive relationship. The more people they can get on their side, the more added power they can leverage against their victim. It’s a feature, not a bug.

        • LA said:

          My ex-stepfather was like that, too. I remember someone from my church (upon finding out my mom had divorced him) telling me how awesome they thought he was and she just didn’t understand why I didn’t like him, and all I could respond was “well, you didn’t experience the living hell he put my family through, did you?” He was so good at making people like him and hate people he hated. And for awhile he did everything in his power to paint my mom as the worst person alive, someone no one should ever do business with.

          It did backfire gloriously one-time post-divorce. He didn’t realize a friend of my mom’s was the sister of someone who owned part of the company he worked for. She lived in another town, so I assume that’s why he chose her, thinking it wouldn’t get back to her. Well, he made the mistake of accusing that friend of having a lesbian relationship with my mom (because that was the made-up story he told everyone in our small southern town for why my mom divorced him–it was a variation on the same story he’d given my mom for why his first marriage had ended in divorce). He got into a shouting match with my mom’s friend about it in the parking lot at his work one day not long after the divorce(he didn’t know she was there to visit her brother), and he was promptly fired for the incident. I can only assume he thought everyone would side with him because she was supposed to be the Evol Lesbian Who Stole His Wife (TM), not knowing that many of them knew her in an entirely different context than the one he’d invented for her.

      • Thirding the ‘charming everyone except your partner as an abuse tactic’ thing. My mum called it ‘street angel, house devil’. And it absolutely slowed down my escape from That Fucking Guy, because when I tried to tell people what was going on, their faces would fall and they would say stuff like ‘B-but you seem like such a perfect couple!’, as if the two of us breaking up would shake the very foundations of their belief in true love.

        • qkt said:

          Yeah… I’m in the process of leaving an abusive marriage, and I want to state something that is incredibly important: The Biggest Thing that helped me keep my mind somewhat straight during this whole debacle is that every person I’ve told has _believed_ me. I was so, so worried people wouldn’t believe what was happening even if I told them.

          My husband and I work in the same close-knit industry, and we know many of the same people professionally. (Our individual close friend groups are mostly disjoint, though not entirely. Many of my friends I have met through work, and they know my husband.) He puts on an incredibly charming persona when at work, or in public around friends. I can’t tell you how many group dinners I’ve gone to where he snuggled me and showered me with affection in front of friends, only for us to go home and him begin yelling and verbally/emotionally tearing into me the very minute we were back home and alone. Or intimidating me (deliberately using known anxieties against me to get me to agree to something or other–not sexual, instead usually something related to his ego or reality defining), or kicking me out of our home (this happened like every other week or so), etc. It was constant chaos.

          He changed into a completely different person only a couple weeks after we were married, but it took me a couple months to confide in even my close friends about what was happening. He perfectly mimics the noises of someone who is a huge feminist. He volunteers with children. His friends gush about what a wonderful person he is. I just…who was going to believe me?

          But every single person I’ve spoken to (including a long-time friend of his, who I now count as a good friend of mine too) has believed me.

          _This has been invaluable._ Just being believed.

          LW, the best thing you can do is make sure she knows you’ll always believe her. And that you’ll be there for her if she ever decides to leave. Also, if you can–find a way to help her read “Why Does He Do That?” and/or “Should I Stay Or Should I Go?” (both by Lundy Bancroft) as part of your covert LADY TIME hangouts. Pedicures while reading?

          (There’s part of me that wonders if she’s been worried that her boyfriend’s behavior is just so outrageous–that car ride sounds completely unsettling–that no one would believe her anyway. But now that you’ve witnessed it…maybe that will be a way to show her that you’ll believe her, because you’ve even seen it?)

          LW, please also think about what you can do for yourself. I have needed a _lot_ of help extricating myself from my guy–some logistical, like giving me a place to stay, helping me move my things; some emotional, helping me keep my head straight, letting me grieve this amazing love of my life I _thought_ I was marrying, reminding me that what’s happening is _not_ normal, and _not_ okay. I think if I had expected one friend to fulfill all those needs, I would have completely overwhelmed that person. I know there are safety concerns regarding the boyfriend’s monitoring of your friend’s social movements, but maybe you can loop in a trusted friend of yours also for LADY TIME and make it a small group, so extra friend can help carry the conversation when you need a breather, or can offer help in other ways, etc.

    • Temperance said:

      I really do not advise this course of action. LW’s friend is an adult, and there is a weird gender dynamic where women are often shamed for leaving men who might be mentally ill or struggling. There’s also the chance that they’ll shame her out of leaving, because she’s a woman and won’t find another man.

  5. The Green Door said:

    Oof. There is nothing more heartbreaking and frustrating than watching a friend go through misery and feeling powerless to stop it. You sound like a great friend, OP.

    If I was in your friend’s shoes – with limited TFG-free time, I’d be seeing the OP as my lifeline. So I do second the Captain’s advice to make the majority of your time with this friend be about anything but TFG. You BOTH need time for the girly stuff, the fun stuff, hobbies, relaxation and doing those types of things together will be good for both of you and for your friendship. If nothing else, it will be time for your friend to clear her head a bit and have an escape from that asshat for a while.

    You’re doing everything right, by the sound of it OP. Hang in there!

  6. maggiebea said:

    It might make sense for GF to talk to her parents about this, and maybe to bring LW along for moral support. But:

    * If you’ve never met them, this may not be the best first meeting. Why wouldn’t they wonder if YOU’re the abusive one, trying to break up the daughter’s relationship with this wonderful guy for your own nefarious reasons?

    * If they think he’s a wonderful guy, they may not want to hear anything against him, from either GF or LW — especially if they’ve become invested in what a wonderful son-in-law he would make. Bonus points if the reasons they like him include how he ‘takes such great care of her’ and is ‘always involved in whatever she’s doing.’

    Which is to say, go slow and evaluate at every step whether this is a good idea before trying it. And yes, if they are ‘good’ parents with ‘good’ intentions – and if they’ll have their daughter’s back against TFG who looks so good to THEM – then it could definitely help to clue them in.

  7. Apocalypse How said:

    I wish I had this advice when I was helping one of my best friends as she left an abusive marriage. He never got physically violent, but the thread was there. My husband and I let my friend come over at night, unannounced, when she had an hour away from the house, even when we were in our pajamas. We would take a walk around the neighborhood and talk. She didn’t want to leave until she had a job that could support her and her children. I disagreed, but I knew that I couldn’t push any course of action on her. That changed when she told us that her husband had bugged her house. My husband and I told her that she needed to leave immediately, even if the timing didn’t fit her plan. A week later, he did something bad enough for her to get a restraining order against him and she filed for divorce. Ultimately, the story had a happy ending (and we will be going to her wedding to her awesome new guy this weekend!), but the entire experience was draining for me and I wish that I had taken better care of myself during that time. She would tell me things that he had done to their children, and hearing it would leave me depressed for the rest of the day. I felt anxious for her all the time and would have nightmares about her husband. It was hard for me to remember the good times I had with my friend, because the specter of her husband clouded my memories. For a while, she would tell me things that really should have been reserved for a therapist (which she said she didn’t have time to see, couldn’t afford, couldn’t find one available, etc.) I tried to get my MIL to talk to her because she was a social worker (never mind that MIL lived in a different state, and deserves to not work for free when she is out of the office). I now realize that it is ok to set boundaries and not take on the entire emotional burden of the situation for myself.

  8. Tell your friend congratulations! You are an awesome friend!

  9. Muddie Mae said:

    Oof, this sounds so scary, especially your experience with him in the car. There’s something especially horrifying about being trapped with someone who is Not Well (however specifically that is) in a small speeding box that can crash into things.

    I love the idea of joining some kind of women-only group with your friend. I am in a book club with a group of women that provides a lot of social support even during times of my life when I struggle to make time for people that don’t live in my house. A couple of our members are moms of newborns and I get the impression that it serves a similar function for them as well.

  10. Turtle Candle said:

    Oooh. I saw a situation like this when I was in college, although in that case it came out later that it was drug use rather than a mental health issue. (My friend, the guy’s girlfriend, had no idea he was using anything until much later.) What I remember of it is that it was terrifying in a lot of ways, but especially in that it can really shake your conception of reality. Part of the reason for that is that sometimes when people are delusional their certainty in their delusions is absolutely fucking rock solid–this guy was more absolutely 1000% certain-sure that the mafia was following him than I have ever been certain of anything in my life, and I’m including things like “water is wet” and “gravity works” there. Since we mostly deal with people who are not majorly delusional, we mostly tend to be wired to accept that if someone is completely sure of something then they’re probably correct. So it was deeply disorienting to have someone saying things that were unlikely to the point of nonsense with the same surety with which you might say “up is up and down is down.” It almost felt like up had ceased to be up, that the floor was slowly tilting, and in some ways that was more frightening than his erratic behavior. And I only got it in small doses, secondhand; his girlfriend got his certainty in his delusions constantly, breathed it in every day.

    I think the best thing that we as friends did for her was simply continue to operate in a reality-based world, so that when she was away from him she could sort of… live in a world where the floor wasn’t tilting for a while. So that she was able to breathe air that weren’t clouded with his skewed perception of the world. We tried to remain as, for lack of a better word, normal as possible for her, and to give her as many opportunities to return to a kind of normality as we could. It wasn’t magic, and it wasn’t as satisfying as somehow riding to her rescue, but the reality is that she was an adult woman and we couldn’t rescue her. All we could do was give her a place where maybe she could have space to remember, “Oh, it isn’t normal to put fake names on everything and black out the windows to keep mafia rabbi spies from finding us.”

    I hope this helps. It’s such a sad, scary thing to watch. Hang in there, LW.

    • Turtle Candle said:

      (It was also a cautionary lesson in exactly what the Captain is saying about the un-usefulness of armchair diagnosis. I think we all suspected schizophrenia in the case I’m thinking of, because the nature of the delusions and the paranoia seemed almost textbook; turns it out it was not that at all, it was drugs. A good doctor can get to the bottom of it, potentially, but layman speculation is often not only pointless but potentially counterproductive.)

      • Purps said:

        I helped a friend get into inpatient for similar but not identical brain problems and long story short it was 0% of the diagnoses we would have given him from google – and _easily treated_ with a generic drug that wasn’t an antipsychotic. He’s doing fantastically well now, better than before the hospital (as it was the outgrowth of a chronic issue).

        Going to the hospital was sad, hard, and expensive, but it is sometimes a really good choice.

        • Purps said:

          I just wanted to supply a script for if you’re ever in this situation yourself or helping someone who is who’s willing to go in. In the US, at least, all you have to do is go to the ER and tell the admissions desk that you need to speak to the psychiatrist on call. They might ask why, in which case you can say “I’m having a mental health emergency” or describe the situation. There will then be some boring waiting. Take a friend and some snacks with you, if you can, and any kind of media that’s not making you feel worse (music, movies). Eventually they will move you to an interview room, some nurses will take your blood pressure, and the psychiatrist will come have a very low-key, calm chat with you about your symptoms. Hospital psychiatrists are really tough to upset, honestly: they chose this job on purpose, and they’ve probably seen something much more exciting than your symptoms, so it’s not hard for them to calmly ask you what’s up and then form an opinion about what to do. This is a big day for you but a normal day for them.

          All you have to do is the first part: get to the hospital and say “I need to speak to the psychiatrist on call”, and then stay there until you do. You don’t have to figure the rest of it out, that’s what doctors are for. They will take over from there. If you’re having trouble communicating or keeping your thoughts organized, it’s a really good idea to ask a friend who can describe what’s happening who can go with you.

          The script that’s worked for me twice as a friend is just repeating “I think you’re having a medical issue, and I’m worried, and I think you need to go to the hospital”. So far I haven’t had anyone who was really resistant, just people who were really disorganized mentally, and so I’ve just repeated “I think you’re having a real medical issue, and I’m really worried, and I’d like you to come to the hospital with me” a bunch in different phrasing. It’s a really good idea, if it’s possible, for the person having the problem to talk to the desk attendant in the ER and make it clear that they’re checking themselves in, even if you have to help them with the rest of it.

    • Buttermilk said:

      “What I remember of it is that it was terrifying in a lot of ways, but especially in that it can really shake your conception of reality.”
      “I think the best thing that we as friends did for her was simply continue to operate in a reality-based world, so that when she was away from him she could sort of… live in a world where the floor wasn’t tilting for a while.”

      These things so much. The LW’s friend might even not be completely aware of how off TGF’s perceptions are, because she’s immersed in his world so much of the time. I don’t want to say much about this, but having an outsider able to say to me “yeah, this is abnormal, your perceptions of reality are correct and those other perceptions are not correct,” was very helpful to me at one point.

    • Chameleon said:

      I first read “mafia rabbit spies” and now I have a hilarious mental picture!

    • Michaela said:

      “mafia rabbi spies” ????!!!!!???????!!!!!!????????

      • Turtle Candle said:

        It had a lengthy, complex story behind it (and the details changed frequently, although whenever they changed he was equally rock-solid certain that it had always been like that and anyone who was like “hey but didn’t you say something different yesterday?” was trying to gaslight him), but yeah, mafia rabbi spies. Rabbis who did undercover work for the mafia, and were out to get him for… opaque and ever-shifting reasons. And it didn’t really make any more sense if you heard the whole story. Arguably, it made less sense.

        I think, honestly, that part of the reason that his girlfriend had trouble leaving him was that at some point she did recognize that taping garbage bags over the windows to hide from the rabbinical mafiosos was completely bonkers, and was humiliated by having given in to it, so being as non-judgmental as possible was probably as important as remaining an island of reasonableness that she could visit. I suspect that had she thought we’d go “yeah, we TOLD you that that was completely BANANAS,” she would have had a harder time leaving, just out of embarrassment. (I mean, we couldn’t quite entirely hide that we thought it was pretty bananas, but I at least did my best to not seem like I was going “wtf goofball thing did he do NOW?” because of the potential backlash on her.)

        • Well…there really *was* a Jewish Mafia at the turn of the last century (some of my own ancestors were allegedly connected, though I’m not sure how much stock I put in that chapter of family lore), and according to Wikipedia, they’re still around today, but something tells me they wouldn’t have been fooled by the garbage bags over the windows even if this dude had been on their radar.

          I’m glad your friend made a clean break. Having to deal with that on the reg must have been exhausting.

      • That’s the thing about delusions: they can be very baroque and they don’t have to make rational sense. More or less by definition, the person having them has an impaired sense of what is and isn’t a weird idea. Jumbling up seemingly incompatible stuff is, I suspect, not uncommon; if the person was able to compare their ideas to reality and adjust them accordingly, they wouldn’t be delusional.

        • Yep. When I was near death a few years ago due to a terrible decision I made on a godawful hike, I hallucinated that I was the reincarnation of Jim Morrison and Freddie Mercury (not at the same time). I also had a girlfriend named Rachel who was waiting anxiously by the phone in my mother’s kitchen for a phone call from NPS about whether they’d found me yet and in what condition.

          I lack Jim and Freddie’s combined vocal ranges and lyrical talents. I have only ever been in a sitting-by-the-phone-waiting-for-news type of relationship once, and that was with a man. And my mother’s house had been foreclosed on seven years prior to this incident following my mother’s death.

          But all of it was so real at the time that I got (and still get) jumpy whenever certain Doors and Queen songs come on the radio, and I’m sure I’d freak right the hell out if I ever saw “Rachel” in real life (she wasn’t based on anyone I knew, as far as I can tell).

    • flit said:

      What Turtle said so, so much. I’m in the middle of a similar situation but in the role of LW’s friend instead. My girlfriend started asserting with what seemed like unshakeable conviction that she was being spied on and experimented on by her teachers, that her doctor falsely diagnosed her with [common illness] for governmental conspiracy reasons, that “they” were secretly changing the faces in the posters in the hall to send her messages, etc. She’d have outbursts of volcanic rage, ranting about vaguely-defined political forces. She refused and is still refusing medical help. To see her like this almost 24/7 was scary, exhausting, and above all disorienting. This abso-effing-lutely messed with my sense of reality. I had to ask my friends for reality checks just to reassure myself that yes, these things were actually incredibly unlikely! That believing them was not normal! Even as I type this I’m mildly worried that someone will point out that these are perfectly reasonable things to believe, and I’m the one being weird.

      Also like the LW’s friend, I’m trying to figure out how to break up. (My girlfriend’s a kind, affectionate person in many other ways and I feel bad for her, but even without the complications above we’d be incompatible.) I think the best thing you could do for your friend in the meantime, LW, is to offer her breathing space and community away from #TFG. Do whatever — a class together, hiking, movies — as long as it’s somewhere she can remember what normality feels like. Remember to take care of yourself too. You’re an excellent friend and I hope you two get through this. Good luck.

      • I’m sorry you’re going through this. I have no idea how to best break up with someone in a situation like this. (Okay, there is no best way and “I’m breaking up with you” is a legit option, but I recognize that that’s easier said than done.) Maybe if you consult the NAMI resources above and/or consult with a therapist, they can help you come up with a script you can live with.

        • flit said:

          Thank you so much! ❤ I'll take a look at the NAMI resources.

      • Turtle Candle said:

        I’m so, so sorry you’re going through that. It sounds awful. Having your sense of reality screwed with is both scary and just 100% exhausting too. (I’m glad you have friends who can give you a reality check, though–because no, you’re not being weird, you are right to find those things unbelievable.)

        I really like cinderkeys’s suggestion about talking to NAMI, and also, remember that–as has been discussed on CA many times–breaking up with someone who is unwell may be hard and painful, but it absolutely does not make you a bad person. But mostly I just wanted to say good luck and I’m thinking about you.

        • flit said:

          Thank you for the kind words, Turtle! Especially this bit:

          > …breaking up with someone who is unwell may be hard and painful, but it absolutely does not make you a bad person…

          I’m trying my best to keep it in mind. CA and the commenters have been super helpful in letting me internalize that.

  11. Elder Dog said:

    If his driving is that bad, he’s not just a threat to people inside the car.

    Call his insurance company and express concern. I don’t know about calling the police for anyone with mental problems is a good idea. A man was just tasered to death by a group of police officers here for licking windows at a convenience store, so I just wouldn’t do that around here, but I don’t know what the police are like where you are.

    But his insurance company (Hey, Dude, a friend of mine needs insurance, who do you use? is an easy question to get an answer to) might either pull his insurance or triple the premiums. One of my friends whose boyfriend had a DWI decided to leave him after she got her insurance bill and it went from hundreds to thousands because he was an authorized driver on her car even though he never drove it.

    But really, if his driving is that bad, it’s not just a “don’t get in the car when he’s driving” situation. It’s a “don’t let him drive” one.

    • Muddie Mae said:

      I get where you’re going with this, but I don’t love this idea. Not having insurance doesn’t actually prevent him from driving, but it does mean if he gets into an accident, the other party won’t have his insurance agency to collect from.

      • Minister of Smartassery said:

        Also, it will just re-inforce his delusions that people in authority are out to get him. And if he finds out it was LW that called in on him, that could get very bad.

      • The Other Side said:

        That and guess who TFG will take it out on, should he find out that “someone ratted him out” to an “Authority”?

    • Turtle Candle said:

      To my knowledge, most insurance companies won’t do much with a report from a single individual about an insuree’s driving, especially if the report is anonymous. If you call the police, they can go out and find the person immediately and at least theoretically verify whether the reporter is being accurate in the reckless driving report; insurance companies can’t do that. (The DWI is a different thing, because that was presumably an actual validated arrest and charge, not just someone calling in to the insurance company saying “this person is driving drunk.”) In some ways this is a good thing: imagine how easy it would be to harass or control someone by reporting them as a reckless driver to their insurance if the insurance company just took one person’s word for it.

      Maybe this varies by locale, though; I don’t know.

      I don’t know that I’d call the police either, for exactly the reasons you mention (although…. I would probably call the cops on someone who I knew to be driving drunk, and cross my fingers–both calling and not-calling have a potential high cost, and I might prioritize the safety of the drunk driver’s potential victims). But I’m not sure that an insurance company is going to do anything about it, and it might make the situation worse if they call this guy to verify and he puts the dots together.

    • BigDogLittleCat said:

      My state allows you to anonymously report someone to the Dept of Motor Vehicles if you think they’re not safe drivers.
      I’ve done it.

  12. T said:

    (Hope this is not crossing into diagnosing territory) — but LW, based on personal anecdotal experience, I think you need to embrace and respect the fact that this guy MAY become violent, and maybe unpredictably so. Not just with your friend, but also with you or anyone else. You already have the suspicion that he has the potential for violence based on what you know of him, so please don’t brush off that feeling. This concern may be something you want to raise with your friend during your private talk. Also, I think it may not be advisable for you to take it upon yourself (or for your friend/ you and your friend to take it upon yourselves) to confront him about getting help or refer back to the car incident, without first having thought this through with a support team that includes a mental health professional. If you suspect he might become violent if your friend breaks up with him, he may likewise become violent toward anyone he thinks might force him to get the treatment that he adamantly does not want or think he needs.

    You are allowed to take your suspicions about this guy seriously, and place those above your social conditioning to be polite. That may mean refusing to be in a small space like a car with this guy ever, regardless of who is driving. It may mean suggesting to your friend that she break up with him by phone from a safe place, rather than “owing” him an in-person breakup in the privacy of their home. It may mean letting your friend stay with you only on the condition that she does not give this guy your address or tell him where she’s going. It may mean talking to a trained professional yourself to get more guidance on this situation, even if your friend insists that isn’t necessary/won’t join you/doesn’t want you to. It may mean eventually reporting this guy to the appropriate authorities if things escalate to the point where you think that should happen.

    • While paranoia and aggresson are warning signs, psychotic and schizophrenic people generally aren’t a risk to people are them. It doesn’t necessarily follow that someone having delusions will ever be violent.

      • JenniferP said:

        This is true, but a man who monitors his partner’s electronic communications, won’t let her do stuff without him, and pressures her into sex might become violent and is showing a lot of warning signs that would be red flags without the other behavior. The Letter Writer can’t control whether he’ll get violent and if he does it won’t be because of something she did.

        • Turtle Candle said:

          Yes, exactly this. And this is a case where the LW should follow their gut instinct rather than tie themselves in knots to be “fair.” (I mean, even if he is not and never becomes violent, the boyfriend has already endangered LW via erratic and unsafe driving; that’s enough to be wary about.)

        • Absolutely, he is showing showing other warning signs all over the place.

      • T said:

        Yes, was not trying to say that violence will necessarily follow these observations or follow from any illness that the guy may be suffering. The biggest flag for me was the LW actually saying that she suspected he may become violent – she should not ignore that gut feeling. But, without getting into any type of diagnosing, I did want to note that violence CAN follow from what the LW has observed – whatever percent chance that may be I have no idea, but if there’s any risk it should be acknowledged. When I was younger I had a friend suffering from an illness that started with exhibiting eerily similar delusions as described here, and she did (to our surprise) suddenly become violent to those trying to help her. If I could give my younger self advice it would be to talk to a trained professional from the get go and try to get them involved, rather than thinking I could be the one to address anything directly with her or letting it go on longer without a great support team.

        • thepaintedlady said:

          Well, and while abusive and mentally ill can be mutually exclusive, the individuals who inhabit the Venn diagram overlap are more dangerous because their logic comes from a different place than most and so they’re even more unpredictable. Just like it’s harder to anticipate what might make a person with depression cry (at least as a person with depression who cries often when my mental health is a bit dodgy) because their sadness is unpredictable and sometimes unrelated to the events at hand, it’s harder to know what might make a person who has violent tendencies and is also mentally ill in some indeterminate way, violent.

  13. I like the way you think, Elder Dog! If Dude can’t drive anymore or causes LW’s premiums to skyrocket, she may get the inspiration to leave him.

  14. LW, I am so sorry that you are in this situation, because it is truly an awful place to be. I went through an eerily similar situation with my best friend. Watching the vibrant person you love being chipped away at, gaslit, and abused is horrible. If you’re like me, it sometimes feels almost physically painful when your friend tells you what she’s going through.

    The monster my friend was dating is a verbally, emotionally, and sexually abusive narcissist who is also an alcoholic. (TW: abusive behavior) He once drove drunk down the highway with her in the car, refusing to stop even though she was begging and crying and pleading with him to pull over. He raped her. He picked apart her every move, constantly demeaned her, and used her vulnerabilities (her eating disorder, her fear of being alone) against her. (/TW) He was the most awful person I have ever known, and because she is my best friend, he was an unwanted but highly significant player on my emotional landscape for almost three years.

    My advice to you? Try to cultivate a certain sense of detachment while still caring about your friend with every fiber of your being. Does that sound contradictory and nearly impossible? It kind of is! But you need to reduce his effect on you as much as possible in order to (a) preserve your own mental and emotional health, and (b) be able to be present for your friend. Get therapy for yourself around this issue, if possible, and engage in a lot of self-care. Your position is a difficult one, and you should not neglect your own needs because hers seem so much greater.

    For me, this detached-but-caring outlook manifested by being very present and supportive of my friend, but also deliberately applying silent, in-my-head self-talk during our conversations when she would tell me about what his latest atrocity. It went something along the lines of:

    Friend: relates awful thing Monster Boyfriend said to her.
    Me: [to myself, in my head, while listening intently] This is bad, this is bad, holy shit this is so awful…BUT there is nothing you [wee_ramekin] can actually do about this. Help her to see that his behavior was not okay, tell her that you are worried about her and that you support her, and then STOP. THINKING. ABOUT IT. once the phone call is over.

    …and I would, mostly, stop thinking about it after we got off the phone.

    I had to do that for my own psychological well-being. Of course there was always a low-level anxiety that existed, but I tried not to actively let myself contemplate how much I worried about her or how fucking appealing the song “Earl Had to Die” by the Dixie Chicks really is. I had to stop worrying about it in my free time, or it would have incapacitated me. I had to keep telling myself “I trust her, I trust her decisions” when anxious thoughts about her safety would arise, even on days when I didn’t always believe the truth of that statement. I had to, or it would have ruined my life.

    Something that defined our conversations around the issue is that I made it explicitly clear to my friend that I did not like the way that her boyfriend treated her AND ALSO that I believed in her ability to make her own decisions. Telling my friend clearly that I didn’t approve of her boyfriend’s actions — but that I loved her and supported whatever she wanted to do — ended up making me a safe person to talk about the problems with the relationship. I would always point out when he said/did something that was Not Okay, which usually confirmed feelings she had about the behavior. I supported her and reinforced her when she said “It seems not okay when he tells me what to wear and criticizes my body”. But I never ever ever insisted that she break up with him, because that would have put her on the defensive and would have been an unintentional mirroring of her abuser’s actions. I would have been insisting that I knew better than she did about her own life/body/relationship, which is exactly what her abusive boyfriend did all day every day. He made her doubt her competence and ability to make decisions; I wanted to remind her of how badass she was and allow her to be the boss of her own life. I supported her when she dumped him (multiple times) and did not question her decision when she returned to him (multiple times).

    I also encouraged my friend to get a therapist and to try cultivating friendships and activities that interested her. I knew it wasn’t healthy for me to be her only support system, especially since we are long-distance. I also always made sure to ask her for advice about my problems and to let her help me, because no one likes to feel like they are “the project” and that they have nothing to offer. She supported me superbly through a family crisis, and I think it was positive for her to be the “competent, capable one” while I was flailing about in emotional pain. This also made our conversations fun, and not a chore or something that I dreaded.

    LW, my friend dumped that guy 10 months ago. There was no trigger event, as far as I know. But she tells me that one day, a flip just switched in her head and she realized she had to leave, and leave for good. I think that switch flipped through a combination of therapy, support of family and friends and a new job where she felt valued for her intellect and professional contributions. She dumped him and has not looked back. Her life has changed immeasurably for the better, and she is happier than I have seen her in years. I hope that something similar happens for your friend; she deserves to be safe, calm, and happy, and you deserve to be free of worry and anxiety. You are doing such a wonderful job already; please make sure to take care of yourself as much as you can. Best of luck to you and to your friend. ❤

    • ashbet said:

      All of this is brilliant. You are an awesome friend, and your friend is so fortunate to have you in her life.

      I’m so glad she’s out. ❤

      • Thank you so much. It is WONDERFUL that she is out, and I hope that everyone who finds themselves in her position is also able to get free.

    • Oh, LW! I forgot one of the most important resources I drew upon when my friend was in the thick of her abusive relationship.

      The book Helping Her Get Free: A Guide for Families and Friends of Abused Women by Susan Brewster was instrumental in helping me help my friend, and in showing me how to tend to my own mental and emotional equilibrium while she was with her horrible ex. NOTE: If you are looking for this book at your library, it may be under the previous edition’s title: To Be An Anchor in the Storm.

  15. Okay, I’m saying this with the proviso that I’m not a psychologist or a psychiatrist, and I’m not trying to diagnose him because I’m in no way qualified. However, I do have a bit of background experience that I’d like to add to the discussion: I used to volunteer on a helpline, and a fair proportion of the people I met were mentally ill (in ways I wasn’t qualified to diagnose either, all I knew was that they were ill in some way) … including people who were delusional in ways not unlike this guy.

    It was my experience that they could grow new delusions about the people around them almost instantaneously, and that those delusions were … how to put it? They were obviously irrational in content – they weren’t actually being followed around by agents of a conspiracy, say. But they were expressions of the emotions that they felt towards a given person. A feeling immediately got a narrative attached to it. If they felt that a person was trustworthy or sympathetic, that person would be a protector, ranged against the forces of evil with them or trying to warn them of approaching danger. If they didn’t feel comfortable with a person, that person was allied with the forces of evil, and henceforth whatever they did or said became part of an elaborate proof of their involvement. (Sometimes incredibly elaborate.)

    My point is, if LW directly says to this guy that she thinks his health is in any way in question and he should see a doctor, there is a non-negligible chance that he may conclude that she is, say, in league with the creative industry to prevent his art from reaching a needy universe by getting him locked up in a hospital. Challenging his actions will make him uncomfortable, and if he’s uncomfortable, she may find herself cast in them. And if that happens, there’s a fair chance that he’ll start insisting his fiance stops seeing her.

    This may not happen, but as there is, as Captain says, almost no chance he’s see a doctor anyway, I wouldn’t assume the risk was worth taking. Without specialist knowledge, I would present him with nothing more than a neutrally friendly face; don’t validate his delusions, but say sympathetic things like ‘You sound really stressed’ and ‘Your family issues sound worrying,’ and leave it at that. Any concerns about his mental health should be raised with the rational person, which is his fiance. Raising them with him has a definite potential to backfire, and that could create even more problems.

    • Thanks for this perspective; I think it offers some good background information for the LW when she is thinking about how she wants to proceed.

      One note: I re-read the letter, and I don’t believe the friend and the boyfriend are engaged yet (thankfully).

    • Turtle Candle said:

      Ooh, “a feeling immediately got a narrative attached to it” rings so many bells for me. Yes.

      • Friendly Hipposcriff said:

        That’s… a general feature of mental illness, isn’t it? I notice that my anxiety latches onto ‘did I turn the oven off’ (must check, or the house will burn down) as a general catch-all for ‘I’m somewhat worried for [unrelated reasons]; whereas my depression runs to ‘choice I make will lead to the worst possible consequences’ [insert your own worst-case narrative for any one action, including ‘I didn’t feel the love for doing this freelance gig but did a competent job anyway – my employer will hate me, nobody else will hire me ever again’].

        I hadn’t thought of delusions working in a similar fashion, but it makes kind of sense.

        • I think it’s something everyone does at least to some extent: the brain’s job is to find an explanation for things, and it’s actually quite hard to sit still and say ‘I don’t know why I’m feeling this way.’ That’s one reason a diagnosis can be helpful with a mood disorder: it gives you an explanation (‘I feel this way because I have a medical condition that makes me feel this way’) that can help you stop casting around. I’m sure it’d be trickier with a delusional person, though.

          That said, I really don’t know much about delusions except that I’ve spent some time counselling people who had them. Probably there’s more to it than that; the most I can say was that it was a useful mental model when talking to those people – but whether that’s because I was right or just because it helped me to present a sympathetic face, I couldn’t say.

          But yeah, I think we all rationalise somewhat; mental illness complicates it, but in a way it’s what we do all the time: look for reasons that make sense of things. Mental illness just throws some spanners into the process.

        • Vicki said:

          That isn’t only a feature of mental illness, I think (though it may be stronger there): sometimes people feel down or stressed for biochemical reasons, including what they did or didn’t eat recently, or ordinary hormonal shifts. And the human brain looks for patterns, looks for reasons, even in random noise.

          I’ve found it useful to say “this is a hormonal storm, it will pass,” using an analogy to a rainstorm. If I do that, I can short-circuit the “what’s wrong” question that will otherwise produce some answer to why I’m feeling down or upset, and then continue to be bothered by that found or invented answer later. If it’s meaningless, distracting myself or just going on with what I’m doing is both the right answer, and easier than if I’m sure there is something wrong, I just need to find and deal with it.

          N.B. This is one woman’s experience. And yes, sometimes I am bothered by real things, but either I am already aware of them, or they will surface again later.

        • Turtle Candle said:

          Oh yeah, and it’s even (as Ice and Indigo and Vicki have said) a feature of not-mentally-ill-in-any-way thinking, too. I mean, of course people take a feeling and try to figure out why it’s happening. I think the difference is both the swiftness of the narrative being spun up, and how far a leap it is from the, for lack of a better word, evidence.

          So like, when my anxiety is well under control and things are going nicely, I might go, “Hm, I had a weird feeling when talking to that person. I wonder what’s up there? [thinks a bit] Oh, she’s studying for the bar exam, isn’t she? That’s got to be pretty stressful on her. I bet that’s it.” There’s a narrative attached to ‘feeling weird’ but it’s not instant and it’s got a plausible background. It might be a totally wrong background–maybe she was acting weird because she had indigestion or her pants were too tight or something entirely different–but it’s plausible.

          When my anxiety is not under control, it’s more likely to be “I had a weird feeling when talking to that person. Oh no, I bet I said something that annoyed them and now they hate me. [proceeds to spend the next six hours mentally auditing every past interaction for what I might have done wrong]” The response is much faster because my anxious brain attaches ‘it’s your fault, stupid’ to everything by default, and the leap is greater–it’s not implausible per se, it’s certainly possible that I did annoy the person, but I also don’t actually have any particular reason to think I did either.

          With the delusional people I have known, it would go like, “I had a weird feeling when talking to that person, so obviously they’re an FBI spy monitoring my behavior as part of their plot to destroy me.” Almost no time gap between feeling and narrative, and a GIANT leap without any evidence at all.

          I think that’s true of almost all mental illness symptoms, though; most of them are normal behaviors that have been badly skewed in some way rather than completely unlike the behavior of non-mentally-ill people. Which is also part of what makes them so insidious: when the difference is degree and not kind, it’s easy to overlook that that might be what’s gong on.

          • Though conversely, when dealing with someone like the boyfriend, you can’t assume that a delusion won’t form if it isn’t instantaneous. I met people who would say something like, ‘My co-worker told me there was Victoria sponge cake in the kitchen if I wanted any, and it was kind of weird, so I had to think about it all afternoon before I finally realised that when they said “kitchen”, they obviously meant a crematorium because they knew I burned my dinner last night, and the “Victoria sponge” was them needling me about the British Empire, which was in league with the conspiracy that’s persecuting me, so now I know they’re threatening to incinerate me…’ (Invented example to protect privacy, but that’s basically how it went.) They’d literally say they thought about it for hours before realising what something ‘meant’.

            In other words, sometimes the feeling of unease didn’t immediately crystallize into a new conspiracy theory; instead, they felt unease, and then worked on and obsessed about it until they could find a way to fit it into their delusional structure, and *then* they were convinced. Sometimes coming up with an explanation that elaborate takes time; the difference was that they had no safeguard in their thinking that said, ‘Okay, if it’s taking you this long to find a reason why they’re conspiring against you, maybe that’s because there is no reason to be found; time to stop doing this and move on.’

            In terms of LW’s situation … well the best advice is probably ‘assume he may be unpredictable.’

        • I can only speak to my experience as someone who has been both delusional and clinically self-analytical (sometimes at the same time…now THAT’s a fun internal conversation -_- ).

          The times when I really, genuinely, with all my heart believe that Jim Morrison is trying to send me messages by manipulating the radio waves so that certain Doors songs come on just in time for me to hear them* are usually when I’m a) tired, b) hungry, c) irritated, d) anxious about something else, or e) some combination of the above. When I’m in an overall pleasant state of mind, however, I’m able to say to myself, “Hey, ‘Light My Fire’ is on! I hope this is the album version and not the radio edit, because that long-ass instrumental rocks literally and figuratively!” without ascribing any portentous meaning to the song.

          *As with most delusions, there is a lengthy and traumatic backstory to this one, but it would take a book to explain. And I mean that I literally wrote a book about it, though I’m leaving subsequent drafts alone until I can start processing the incident and the resulting mindfuckery a little better.

    • I’d also suggest that LW does recount the car conversation to her friend while they’re alone. If he’s that far from reality, he’s probably ranted to his girlfriend many times, but this may be a recent downturn, and either way it doesn’t sound as if LW’s friend has fully conveyed just how ill he’s getting. ‘Hey, Boyfriend and I had a conversation in which he said [delusional things], and I’m concerned about his mental health – do you want to talk about that?’ might be an opening to a conversation that LW’s friend very seriously needs to have about whether he can be got into treatment and what to do if he won’t go.

    • Letter Writer said:

      “Without specialist knowledge, I would present him with nothing more than a neutrally friendly face; don’t validate his delusions, but say sympathetic things like ‘You sound really stressed’ and ‘Your family issues sound worrying,’ and leave it at that.” -Ice and Indigo

      This was really helpful to hear and pretty much what my approach was when I was stuck in the car with him. Afterwards, I felt disappointed in myself for not saying or doing more in the moment, which was part of the catalyst for me writing in. I guess I felt a little guilty for taking the easy way out of the conversation and just grey-rocking until I could get out of the car. But you are right that trying to argue with him could have gotten bad. I disagreed with him (nicely) about something last month and he got super angry, so giving non-committal responses was probably the safest option.

      • While he was driving dangerously? Absolutely!

        More generally – I’d say your instincts were correct. It’s a rule of thumb that you don’t argue delusions with the delusional. If it was susceptible to reasoning, it wouldn’t be a delusion.

        Dealing with this guy’s issues is way above your pay grade: it takes delicate handling even from a trained mental health professional. I’d say keep on trusting your instincts and remember that ‘not making things worse’ is also being constructive. If you feel confident trying something more pro-active then that’s your call, but don’t feel guilty about not taking on more responsibility than you could responsibly handle. That’s not failing, that’s being appropriately aware of what’s safe and realistic. xx

  16. Yay! Congratulations to your friend for dumping a shitmitten and to you for being an awesome friend!

    • Turkletina said:

      The friend hasn’t dumped anybody yet.

      • JenniferP said:

        Jenny was replying to a commenter and the nesting got messed up.

        • Oops. Next time I’ll preface the comment with @commentersname to avoid future mix-ups.

          • JenniferP said:

            It’s okay, I think you corrected yourself with a follow-up, thanks!

        • Turkletina said:

          Ah, of course! Sorry!

  17. tabbykat said:

    LW, two years is a long time to be a sounding board for your friend’s harrowing relationship. And it doesn’t look the situation is going to change any time soon. (I’m totally aware that my experience doing the same for my friends’ shitty relationships is coloring my response.) Captain is right that your friend may want to see a therapist. She’s in a tough spot and really could use the insight of a professional who’s trained to help people extricate themselves from these types of relationships.

  18. olsonam said:

    “My apartment is available if you want to stay here” is a huge commitment for your friend to make in order to sever the relationship. Maybe baby steps? Like “leave a change of clothes here” or “do you want to keep your passport/other documents here?” or maybe “I’ve got an extra toothbrush” or maybe she can keep a separate computer or phone at your place, or invite her to spend the night, where the girlfriend (and boyfriend) know for sure that she’ll be going back.

    I’ve been isolated enough that I don’t have friends to do this for me, but it’s what I’ve been doing for myself. I have an office where over the course of six months I’ve been moving important items and getting used to the idea of leaving.

    • Spider Hero said:

      I just wanted to say your comment struck me as very brave. Doing that alone, and quietly making sure you can escape safely with important things… it’s courageous.

      Jedi hugs if you want them, and I hope your new life is wonderful.

    • The Other Side said:

      You go! And I’m glad you are taking precautions so that you can safely get out of your situation.

      It can totally be done. It is totally worth it.

      Jedi hugs if you want them.

    • Letter Writer said:

      @olsonam Thank you for this comment! I read it earlier while I was at work and have started thinking about what baby steps I can offer that might not feel as drastic to her. I really appreciate the insight and I hope that you are staying safe as well.

    • Jack V said:

      Oh yeah, excellent point. Leaving is a big scary step, and people are often really reluctant to impose on friends, when they’re in sufficient difficulties they can’t easily be sure their friend actually means it. But if you can get out some changes of clothes, any important documents, etc, then leaving becomes less of an intimidatingly complicated plan and more of a “I could just do this now”. Maybe one day friend would stay over with LW and then just… not want to go back.

      Also, tremendous respect, sympathy, and good luck for your own situation — I hope you are ok and succeed in moving on.

  19. Farther and Happier said:

    LW I completely get it. As I have been in a similar situation once. I feel like CA has given you good ideas and tools for this and I strongly suggest you find some help for yourself while you support your friend. You do not have to be her only support, and you cannot control her actions on this. She has to make the decisions for herself. You can continue to not let yourself be in harms way, and let her know that she has refuge with you if and when she needs it.

    My situation was a roommate one. But the roommate’s actions were very similar (people were watching him because of things he knew, surveillance all the time, not remembering conversations minutes later and repeating them). I had a finite time period with him as I was the one on the lease. He was the BIL to my very best friend. No one believed me when I told them what he was saying and doing. Do not expect anyone to believe you, even your friend. When the lease ended we went our separate ways and I did not bother following up with his family b’c they never believed me. Do not put yourself in a place with him, even with your friend, even after they have broken up. Years later after we roomed together my very best friend was visiting and wanted to see her BIL. I don’t know if seeing me triggered his memories or what but he basically kidnapped us for over 24 hrs. We were more afraid of what he would do if we left than if we stayed. 24 hrs of spiraling out of control with no sleep before we were “allowed” to leave. And strangely, after it was all over my friend laughed it off and said she never felt scared like I did as we drove home. I don’t know what it is about him but everyone in that family thinks he is “a laugh” and never takes the very scary things he says seriously. You are totally allowed to take them seriously and not put yourself in the way of his influence.

    It sounds like your friend wants to get out but doesn’t think it is really that worrying. You can tell her your worries, but you do not have to have her believe you to know you won’t put yourself in a situation like that again. Always know that you can leave, no matter what he says or does for your own safety. Even if it feels like you shouldn’t, like you could calm things down if you used your words. Leave. Take her with you if you can, but leave.

    • Yikes! That family is swimming at the bottom of Denial (which is not a river in Egypt).

    • winter said:

      These events sound really scary. I hope you’ll never have to be in the same room again.

  20. Chameleon said:

    LW, I don’t have any advice, but I do want to express my admiration for how you’ve handled this so far. You have been supporting your friend so perfectly by expressing your feelings without denying her agency. Really, well done.

    • Dana said:

      So much this. I was the friend in this situation once, and everything the captain says is spot on. I alienated friends and lost people over my inability to get away from the guy. It was a dark time. Bless you for hanging in there and do take care of yourself.

  21. Jess said:

    I trust the LW’s sense that the guy was Not Well while they were in the car, but I can’t help wondering how much might also have been a deliberate attempt to intimidate someone he perceives as a threat to his relationship.

    • Rhoda said:

      Maybe. It doesn’t explain the memory lapses.

    • anonymousforthis said:

      My abusive ex would drive erratically whenever he was challenged on something, which resulted in me taking so many unreasonable steps to make sure he wasn’t upset. A friend’s abusive ex would stop the car for hours until they ‘resolved the argument’ they were having, which ended up him berating her until she said what he wanted to hear.

      I’m kind of stunned about how many cases of TFG involve erratic driving

      • Elizabeth said:

        My own TFG (who was not as bad as many described here, and I’m pretty sure was not mentally ill but just an asshole) took a different tack, and insisted on having our fights when I was driving. And that I be the one to drive.

  22. EponyMouse said:

    LW, I have one more suggestion for you. Point your friend towards resources for creating a safety plan. A safety plan would give your friend a course of action to take to keep herself safe in dangerous situations of her boyfriend, such as violent behavior, scary driving, etc. It is a standard tool that mental health and intimate partner violence professionals use in this kind of situation, but you don’t need a professional to make one. http://www.scarleteen.com has guidelines for two separate sets of safety plans, one for people who live with their abuser, and another for people who live apart from their abuser. I hope this helps.

    • Letter Writer said:

      @EponyMouse Thank you! This is a great resource.

  23. My best friend was dating a dreadful shitheel when I met her, and I was with her through both her massive effort to import him from home to the country we were both going to school in and find him a job (he was useless), and her several attempts at kicking him out until it finally stuck.

    My best advice echoes the Captain’s: have explicitly Girl Time in order to get her away from him regularly. We went to the gym every day and did regular mani-pedis, both activities too girly for him to hack, and it gave her a chance to talk to me without him monitoring her every word. Also: the first time she leaves, don’t celebrate too much. She will probably take him back at least once before it sticks.

    Best friend’s horrid shitheel had a mental illness. She made a lot of excuses for him because of his mental illness. I just continued rolling my eyes and occasionally pointing out that a jerk with a mental illness is still a fucking jerk. The mental illness wasn’t the one screaming at her for hours when she needed sleep–the jerk was.

    • Thanksforallthefish said:

      ugh to that last sentence! sleep is so important! let people sleep!!!! beees

  24. Convallaria majalis said:

    Dear LW,

    The Captain gave absolutely fantastic advice and I have little to add to that except that I wanted to tell you that you are an awesome human being and clearly a loving friend; I hope you give yourself due appreciation and care. In your letter you made also your friend sound like the lovely human being she is and to me that tells about the friendship between you two. Your letter also had other effects: it made me feel hopeful and good. I have had very difficult time socially during the last five years or so but reading about the friendship you described gave me hope – and I believe I am not the only one.

    The Captain gave excellent advice related to joining an all female choir etc. and I wondered if that could be extended a bit. Do you have other friends that you think would enjoy the company of this particular Friend? Are there any activities that you are (even mildly) interested in and you know the Guy is not interested in the least (like, for example, crocheting, collecting plants or gardening)? To me it sounds like it might be beneficial to try to help your Friend to widen her social circle a bit. An all female choir could be a really good thing – or something like that. A book club? A crocheting club? Something to give you both positive energy and something else to think about – and possibly also something that sounds (and I feel awful to say this) innocent and possibly boring to the Guy.

    I have been possibly in a pretty similar situation as your friend and to me the activity that help and gave me many new friends was volunteering in a pet rescue organization. Nothing like lovely, welcooming ladies, yummy treats and overly cute cats and dogs to cheer one up (in my case). Our small organization proved out to be much more than “only” a pet rescue: all the ladies consoled and helped each other and we all still do. To outsiders it might seem like a bunch of crazy cat/dog ladies of very different backgrounds gathering – but there is also immense sterngth in a group like that: people bring their varying life experiences into the mix. Of course, there are many kinds of groups so I also suggest trying to find out more about the atmosphere in the organization, the values etc. If the group does not feel right, then perhaps give some other group a try? The important thing is that it should give joy and energy to both of you – and possibly new friends.

    Then I wondered whether there are any support groups for people in abusive relationships in your area? Or some other kind of support groups relative to your (plural) situation? If you find one in my opinion it is not necessary to tell the truth to the Guy. If you want to go and need to make arrangements, try a code word: “Hey, what do you think about the Charity crocheting club tonight?”

    I also wondered whether you and the Friend could create some kind of a code, in case things escalate in a really bad way and she is unable to ask for help. Could you for example choose a particularly cute animal picture as a signal? I truly hope this is not necessary.

    Virtual hugs and rescue cat purrs, joy and strength to you.

    • Letter Writer said:

      @Convallaria majalis – We used to do some “girl night” things with a couple of my other friends, but they sort of fell apart once she started dating this guy, about 4 years ago. Thank you for the reminder to get that going again! We used to do some arts & crafts nights as well as book club and we had talked about running a few 5Ks together. This is good reason to actually turn all those plans into realities!

    • Nic said:

      Ohh, seconding the code or signal! My roommate and I have one for when I go on a date with a new person. If I don’t text by x time about y thing (and it’s something TOTALLY unrelated, like picking up worming meds for the cats) then Something Is Wrong.

      A time related code like that’s probably not a good solution in this situation, but maybe you could come up with some frivolous seeming things that could be quickly texted that mean various levels of “this is the help I need right now.”

  25. LW,

    I think the Captain’s advice is perfect.

    One thought, the parents may not think bf is fabulous. They may be saying so in hopes they don’t lose their daughter.

    You’re being such a good friend. Thank you for that.

  26. Temperance said:

    LW, there’s one thing that I haven’t seen elsewhere in the comments: your friend is exposed to him and his behavior every day, so she might not realize just how delusional he is. She might know there is an issue, but might not realize the full spectrum of what’s going on.

    • Letter Writer said:

      @Temperance This is a really good point. I think his decline has been gradual and her life has been so busy that she hasn’t really stopped to see just how bad it has gotten. Whereas I mostly avoid him, so when I do see him, it is more obvious to me when there is a shift in his behavior. (And I should point out, he was always a jerk. Even 4 years ago when they first got together, he was #TFG, so she may not have high expectations for his behavior.)

  27. Allya said:

    (((WARNING for people who have experienced mental health problems that make it difficult to determine which parts of their experiences are based in reality: this comment discusses my perspective as someone who has cared for a person experiencing those problems. I do my best to be kind and respectful, and I love the person who went through this very much, but I also talk about the impact it had on me. I recognise this may be hard for some people to read and I strongly believe you should not have to worry about that perspective if you don’t want to. Therefore please feel free to skip this comment, and exercise self care if you do choose to read it. Also know that I think you’re amazing and strong for dealing with that, whatever stage of your journey you are at.)))

    (((ADDITIONAL WARNING: this comment makes references to suicide and self harm attempts as well as a brief mention of controlling behaviour)))

    As someone who has watched someone I loved dearly (and who wasn’t abusive, controlling or dangerous) go through a really scary episode of delusions and paranoia, I want to thank the captain for her very kind and nuanced response. I know that this isn’t the real focus of the letter but I do have some thoughts that will hopefully be helpful to the LW in supporting her friend:

    1. As the captain says, these kinds of problems are unlikely to improve without major mental health intervention including things like medication, therapy, positive lifestyle changes and a strong support network.

    2. With those things, the problems are absolutely treatable and the person suffering can… I don’t want to say “return to their old self” because our experiences always change us, but become stable again and have a stronger grounding in reality and a healthier relationship with their emotions. In my case, when my loved one was doing better they were the caring, thoughtful, forgiving, capable and self-assured individual I had always known and I was so glad to have been able to help them through a tough time. It sounds like the LW’s friend’s boyfriend is not the same kind of caring person even at his best (it’s hard to say for sure, because these problems can go on for years if untreated, but figuring that out is neither the LW’s nor her friend’s responsibility).

    3. Helping and supporting someone through this kind of a mental health crisis is HARD FUCKING WORK. I became my loved one’s main support person throughout the episode and I cannot even begin to describe how difficult it was for me, emotionally and logistically. It involves navigating a relationship with someone who does not have the same point of reference for how the world works as you do and finding a way to validate their experiences without lying about your own (the captain’s script is very good and basically what I used, but it’s still really hard to say to someone “I understand what you’re going through is really scary and confusing but it doesn’t match my experience of the world at all”). It could also involve things like persuading them to get help, taking on the work of finding a place for them to live and figuring out an income stream for them (if they don’t already have these things or they have been jeopardised by their symptoms), taking them to doctors appointments, persuading them to continue engaging with the help they’re receiving (taking their meds, attending therapy etc), and providing emotional support even when the relationship is strained. It could ALSO mean dealing with the fallout of suicide or self harm attempts, strained relationships with others (for example, my loved one believed a mutual friend to be a threat and told that person not to have any contact with me) and a general impact on your own mental health.

    4. I don’t for even half a second regret helping my loved one. They’ve done so much for me throughout my life and I’m just so grateful they’re coping well again, are happier and healthier, and our relationship has more or less returned to what it was before their illness. BUT. There is no way I would be willing to do that much for someone I loved less or someone I wasn’t sure would do the exact same for me if our roles were reversed. Even if we were romantically involved. Even if we were related. Even if I was the ONLY PERSON ON EARTH who could help them. I’d point them towards professionals who could help, for sure. I might try to connect them with a support network. But after that I would be done. I wouldn’t cut them out of my life for this alone (but if they were the kind of person it seems like the LW’s friend’s bf is, I wouldn’t be feeling guilty about cutting them out of my life either) but I would be very carefully and adamantly enforcing boundaries around what I was and was not willing to do. I might be ok with doing SOME of the stuff on the previous list, but definitely not all of it. And hey, my loved one was living on a friend of hers’ couch when her health started deteriorating, and the friend tried to support her for a while but eventually had to say no, and asked her to stay with another friend. I don’t blame or judge that friend at all. Boundaries are important, and taking care of your own self is hugely important, even when it feels like you’re being cruel in order to do so.

    5. While I was helping my loved one, my own mental health started to go seriously down hill. It was the kick in the pants I needed to start taking antidepressants and seeing a therapist regularly which has greatly improved my quality of life, but even so it was tough. Even if LW’s friend isn’t actively trying to get help for her bf, living with someone who is experiencing those kinds of problems is likely to take their toll. I highly recommend both LW and LW’s friend start prioritising their own mental health, whatever that looks like for them.

    To summarise, I have a high amount of empathy for people going through mental health problems that affect their experience of reality and I still think that LW’s friend is well within her rights to break up with her boyfriend (if/when she is ready). Supporting someone through a major mental health crisis is too hard to be the path of least resistance in a relationship you don’t want to be in and I hope that eventually LW’s friend comes to that realisation for herself. In the mean time I really hope that both LW and friend take good care of their own mental health, support each other, have fun together and stay safe.

  28. This was hard to read. Many years ago I had to unfriend a close friend because she insisted upon bringing her, in my opinion (and later turned out to be the case), drug-addled boyfriend around me. It’s a very long story. Your friend may be different; but my friend, over the many years I’d known her, made a series of choices that many of us would call questionable, then complained about the consequences, and then became angry whenever anyone offered asked for advice if it didn’t include, “He’s great. Hang in there. It will get better.”

    And then she wanted me to invite him into my life because she loved him so much. Oh HELL no. (I also explained this to him when he called me to insist he wasn’t on drugs…it was the antibiotics…)

    As hard as it is to watch…perhaps the best option is not watching. Adults make their own choices, and it seems that perhaps it’s time to step away from watching self-created angst. You are not her keeper or the one who needs to make sure she’s happy in life.

    For the record…the friend I stopped away from lost all of her friends (I was the last to go) and is now happily married with a daughter. She did it! Woo-hoo! I’m genuinely happy for her, but 15 years later, am still so exhausted by the memory of dealing with someone else’s “stuff”, that I have zero desire to get back in contact. She lives 30 minutes away.

    TL:DR: Give yourself permission to step away from someone else’s drama. They’ll be okay. Or not. But consider whether the energy you’re giving to your friend’s situation is how you want to spend any significant part of your life.

    • Thank you. I needed to hear that, especially your TL;DR. I can very much relate to your experience. Walking away from my ex-friend was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, and I’m trying not to feel guilty about it…

  29. Allya said:

    I just realised I have one more piece of advice for the LW, based on (different) personal experience:

    Let go of waiting for her to leave.

    She might leave. She might not. Hopefully she will, but there’s no way of knowing if that will be tomorrow or a week from now or five years down the track. The Captain mentioned not making your friendship into a “project” and that’s important; one of the best ways I know to avoid that is to simply provide your friend with whatever resources and offers to help (be specific if you can) that you think she might find useful and then let go of it. Say to her, “I trust that you’re the best judge of your own life and will leave if and when you’re ready to”, and mean the words sincerely. It’s so hard, but do your best to stop worrying about when the time that she’ll be ready might be.

    Some of the stuff that I did when my friend was in an abusive relationship:
    *Hung out with her both with and away from her boyfriend
    *Made nice with boyfriend (who I hated) because he had a history of not letting her see friends he thought didn’t like him
    *When she brought up relationship concerns with me, I told her in a matter of fact and non-judgemental way that I didn’t think he was treating her very well. I believe I used the word “abuse” periodically, without forcing her to accept it as descriptive of her situation (something like, “I think it would be reasonable to call his behaviour abusive if you wanted, though of course you know your situation best and don’t have to use that word if you don’t think it fits.”)
    *When she acknowledged to me that she agreed that he was probably abusive, I validated her feelings without pressuring her to leave
    *Showed her this article on my computer, which I highly recommend to anyone who is in an abusive relationship and not ready to leave yet: http://everydayfeminism.com/2015/04/safety-with-abusive-partner/
    *Helped her put together a safety plan to a) protect herself before she was ready to leave and b) give her options for once she was ready to leave
    *Put together a small safety kit for her including a phone he didn’t know about, some cash and a travel card. This is only a good option if she has somewhere to keep it that he definitely won’t find it, and it’s best to have a cover story in case he does anyway and questions her, but it can be so useful for emergencies if she has to get away or contact someone against his wishes.
    *Told her that if she needed a place to stay, she could stay at my place (though I knew she had family she could stay with too).
    *Told her that no matter what happened, even if for some reason we drifted apart and hadn’t spoken for years, even if (god forbid) our friendship ended on really bad terms, if she ever reached out to me and said she needed help leaving her partner, I would help her ((only say this if you mean it, but I read a story about someone who had become isolated from just about everyone by the time she wanted to leave, and it was only that an old friend had made comments along these lines that meant she was able to reach out for help and get out))
    *Made sure to make time in our hanging out that wasn’t about him, was just about us having fun together. Also, asked for her help, support and advice on things.
    *Set emotional boundaries WITH MYSELF about how much time/energy I devoted to worrying about her. I’ve been in situations where someone else’s problems have drained me dry and worrying about if she was safe and hoping that she left soon weren’t going to help at all. When I wasn’t with her, I only let myself think about the abusive relationship if I’d come across a resource or piece of advice I thought might be helpful to her. You might feel guilty letting yourself be happy when she’s so miserable but it’s honestly one of the best things you can do for both her and yourself.

    I don’t know if any of that stuff is relevant to you but hopefully some of it is useful. My friend is now safely away from her abuser and happily moving on with her life (although still awaiting court dates to find out if he’s going to jail or not :/ but they’ve been broken up with a restraining order against him and not seen each other for upwards of six months now and she’s so damn happy). I don’t know if I contributed to helping her leave or not, but I know for sure that I was a lifeline and haven of normalcy for her when she really needed it.

  30. always in email jail said:

    I have a friend with some severe mental illness that causes similar delusions and paranoia when it’s flaring up. When she starts relaying to me how people are following her/bugging her apartment/evil spirits are speaking to her etc. I usually have a bit of luck with saying “wow, it sounds like you’re going through a lot right now, that must be very stressful! Maybe you should go see a doctor to see if they have tips on how to manage the stress of all of this! I can’t even imagine how stressed I would be with all of that going on!” I’m not confirming that that’s happening, and I’m sure it IS stressful to have those feelings, and it gets her in the door to a doctor who is more qualified than I to talk her through what is/isn’t real and if she’s on/off her medication. Maybe your friend can refer him to the doctor to help him “deal with all the pressure” of being such a grand person?

    • Part of my job used to be doing crisis care with people who had delusions like this, and I can confirm this is a really good strategy. I was glad to see the Captain’s bit about validating the feelings of delusional people rather than reality-checking them, because I found it could feel super counterintuitive and weird but it really worked. There was this one guy who came in in distress because he thought he’d been chosen to save the world from an asteroid bombardment, and my colleague sat down with him and said ‘Wow, it must be really hard and lonely to have such a responsibility on your shoulders. But don’t worry, we’ll support you, you’re not alone.’ This really got through to him. Whereas when I, a newbie, tried to reality-check people’s stories about paranoid conspiracies etc, they tended to fly into a rage because I was disrespecting them by doubting their word.

      But while this might be a good tool for someone like the LW who doesn’t have to spend a lot of time around the guy, and is just trying to survive brief exposures to him and maybe slip in a non-threatening hint that he should get help, it’s scary to do because it’s hard not to feel like you’re wading into the person’s delusion-swamp even if you’re carefully just validating the feelings – so it might not be good for the Friend’s mental health to do it over a longer term. Though I really, really hope she doesn’t have to do *anything* with him over the long term.

  31. Lauren Sabino said:

    LW, I was once your friend. I’m sure you know this, and it’s worth re-iterating – She likely knows what she needs to do and isn’t sure how/doesn’t feel safe right now/is still grieving what she’s lost and not ready to bury it/dealing with complex and overwhelming feelings. You sound like you are doing a really good job of understanding the limitations of what you can do and what she needs to do for herself. It also seems like you’ve got a keen sense that she isn’t in this heartbreaking spot AT you, and you don’t have an intense investment that she leave on some arbitrary timetable of your choosing or there will be Consequences for Your Friendship. You are exactly what she needs.

    Some things to help, in order of importance:

    1. I’ll echo the suggestion to offer your place/safe communication. You might also connect her to the DV hotline or, if she’s up for it, discuss ways in which to make a safety plan. Safety plans are huge. They save lives. If anything truly alarming ever happens with his potential paranoia or abuse, it’s important for her to know Exactly What She’ll Do. Who will be the first phone call. Where her important papers are and what she’ll grab if she only has a few moments. How she’ll get to safety. When really scary things happen and you’ve never thought about this, it’s really hard to quickly, calmly, and safely deal with it. Preparation, preparation, preparation.

    2. When you’re in this kind of relationship, there’s a lot of gaslighting. Particularly if his perceptions aren’t especially accurate, it’s likely that she’s constantly questioning her own/being told and browbeaten into believing that she’s the one who doesn’t understand her own mind or reality. It’s helpful to reiterate your own perceptions to her to provide a counter-narrative. So, if he’s putting her down – later on, say

    “Hey, when [Boyfriend] said [specific thing], that seemed really mean and hurtful to me. I don’t know your dynamic, but how did that make you feel?” And then LISTEN. She might be defensive of him. She might insist it’s okay. The important thing is not that she agrees with you but that she understands that her own deep-down inkling that he is being mean and it’s not okay is not totally off-base.

    I had a friend who was great at this. She’d never belabor the point or argue, she’d just make her observation and let me process my feelings. Over time, I was more able to see what was Not Okay on my own.

    3. I think it’s positive that you’re shutting down abuse that happens in front of you in a low-key but firm way. So, if he is mean and nasty to her, impose a social cost. “Okay, well – maybe you were kidding but I didn’t get the joke. I don’t think that’s funny and it makes me uncomfortable so please don’t do that in front of me.” Don’t argue, just move on. If he tries to engage, change the subject. If the subject won’t stay changed, walk away.

    This not only removes some of his incentive to do that in some cases, it’s also a powerful message to your friend. It can be isolating to be put down constantly in front of others, and when no one stands up for you it can seem like maybe you really are overreacting because the rest of the group is silent (in reality, they’re probably not. They just don’t want to get involved. But it doesn’t FEEL that way.)

    ALSO – if she does decide to leave, encourage her to connect with a DV shelter first. Particularly since she and Boyfriend live together, the victim advocates there will be able to walk her through how to do that safely. Go with her to that appointment. Take notes. It’s hard, in the midst of a painful break-up, to think about logistical things like “must change locks” so be the person who is paying attention to the details and can help plan to get them handled.

    Sending love through the wires. This is really tough stuff, and she’s lucky to have you.

  32. Rhoda said:

    LW, is there a YWCA where you live? Could you convince your friend to join, under the pretext of using the gym? Admittedly, the gyms in most YWCA now are co-ed, just as YMCAs are, but many have women-only swims and other such activities and all of them are actively engaged in helping women to take control of their lives. For example, the YW where I live offers job training and temporary housing to young women living on the streets. (And no, you don’t have to be a young Christian woman to join.)

    http://www.ywca.org/site/c.cuIRJ7NTKrLaG/b.9360173/k.1089/YWCAEliminating_Racism_Empowering_Women.htm

    This man either has a serious mental illness or a drug habit. Methamphetamines notoriously lead to paranoid delusional thinking

  33. Jynnan_Tonnyx said:

    I have nothing to add, except: I am SO SORRY, LW. I have been in your shoes more than once, and it sucks so hard. It makes one feel so helpless, to stand by and watch this sort of thing happening before your eyes. You have all of my empathy, and sympathy.

    All of the Captain’s advice is amazing (as always), but I especially second the suggestion to take extra-good care of yourself right now. If you let it, your friend’s toxic relationship will drain you dry, too. Best of luck – I hope she gets out of this sooner than later.

  34. Alice said:

    LW, you are in a hard situation. I’m in a similar one with a friend I love. A book that really helped me was “Helping Her Break Free” by Susan Brewster. Basically, it said the best way you can help someone being abused is to do exactly what you are doing and what the captain advises. You are telling your friend that you are there when she is ready but ultimately it is her call when and if to leave him. A lot of what the book emphasizes is being an “anchor”. Essentially you are a safe connection to the rest of the world that is there for the abused but also validates the abused as the boss of their own life since so often abusers work to destroy their victims’ confidence in their own judgement so the abuser stays in control. Things like conversations about what your friend is interested in, letting them know that you are their friend because you are their friend and they are awesome, that they don’t owe it to you to break up with tfg, all great. I highly recommend this book to anyone with a loved one in an abusive relationship because it has practical advice and also I found it great in helping me to be less overwhelmed by the situation.

    LW, all the Jedi hugs to you and your friend. Please take care of yourself.

    • Yes! I also read this book when my friend was in an abusive relationship, and it helped immensely. My friend is out of her abusive situation now, and I credit this book with helping me learn how to support her before she left.

      • Alice said:

        I’m so glad to hear that wee_ramekin!

  35. Lynn Nielsen said:

    Maybe this has been said enough, but All my red flags are flying and I am virtually screaming at the computer, so I must say it myself. I’m extrapolating from my scarily similar experiences and perhaps completely wrongly assigning my emotions to your friend.

    Your friend’s parents like her boyfriend, so she is getting social approval for being with him. If she has second thoughts, this approval will help her push her concerns to the back of her mind. She may know he is ill and be getting approval for ‘supporting X until he gets through this difficult time’. Your friend doesn’t like to be lonely, so is taking more chances on a relationship than she might otherwise.

    Maybe he started out more normal and slid out these behaviors one at a time, checking her reaction. And when she accepted one, he added another. She may have slid so far into his world of strange that she can’t recognize how unacceptable she would find it if he had behaved this way from the beginning. She is now isolated enough that she is not seeing other people being straight up shocked by his behavior. And she make think that since she is smart, he isn’t hitting her, and etc she couldn’t possibly be being abused. She may have to make the decision to leave, but right now she can’t see the door. You can show her that a door exists.

    How I wish someone would have helped me get my strength back, provided some connection totally unassociated with X, and responded to my complaints not with attacks against X, which I could counter point by point, but with ‘that sounds really hard to live with’ and ‘wow, what sucks!’, comments that do not invite her to explain and excuse his behavior.

    It would have been so helpful if someone had dragged me into an activity I like that would take me away from X and Team X. She may be putting up with X because she feels driven to help him. *Let her help you* – it will be so much easier for you to start a new activity with her by your side. Your doctor told you to exercise /reduce stress/ whatever – just make up a reason why you Need to start doing X and you Need her to help you get started and stick with it. And thank her for helping you. For example, I like to do rescue work. You could say you wanted to start volunteering at Rescue, and it would be so fun and great and less scary if I came too. And you can pick me up Saturday at 9. He probably will create reasons why she shouldn’t go, so make it hard for her to say no. The activity could be book club, museum visits, art class, choir, knitting group, research project, swimming – anything you could handle. X does not get to be part of the activity. My guess is X will ridicule the activity and denigrate you. You just keep picking her up and schlepping her to what becomes a Safe Place when she can make friends and reconnect with herself.

    If X starts a blocking move with threats of any kind, you need to 1) stay away from him and 2) move to Defcon 4. Tell her parents about the abusive behavior you have observed and been told about. Stop picking her up anywhere he is, and tell her it is because you are afraid of him. Point out that only an abusive bastard would threaten to lock her out of her house /give away her pets /empty the bank account. *Let her help you by helping herself.* Say how frightened you are by what she is going through. Show her how she can escape safely with her animals or children. Show her how she will be able to afford to live and buy what she needs to set up house. Help her with an escape plan. If you don’t know how, talk to a local domestic violence center or call the National Domestic Violence Hotline http://www.thehotline.org

    I’m sorry this is so long, and I will let Captain Awkward decide if my suggestions are reasonable.

    • KittensMakeEverythingBetter said:

      This one. I want to, in particular, call out making comments that do not invite explanation, just support. I’m currently in a situation that isn’t quite physically violent now, but has been in the past and could become so again in the future. Unfortunately, there are some legal issues that I just really don’t want to explain over and over and over and probably shouldn’t for safety purposes. Yes, I have consulted with every lawyer in my state (all 2 of them) that deal with my particular situation. And I’m working on solutions. And I can’t explain because the fewer people who know, the better.

      But, wow, would some support that didn’t accuse me be helpful. Just an occasional acknowledgement that my life seems hard to someone else would mean the world to me.

      • Lynn said:

        I can’t give you enough props. You figured out something was wrong – which is difficult when you are being told everything is right. You took steps to change the problem That requires bravery. A big Good On You!

  36. Free In Nevada said:

    The LW’s friend’s situation sounds so much like mine a few years ago that I wondered if the LW was a friend of mine. Speaking as the one formerly in the bad relationship, the LW’s offer of a place to stay once the relationship is over is something to keep offering to the friend. That’s what helped me when I finally couldn’t take it anymore–knowing that someone was serious about sheltering me when I’d previously been sure that I had no place to go. I worried about the unemployed, weird “boyfriend” but once I was out of the squalor and chaos of his household, I was so relieved to be back to the real world that my guilt quickly dissipated. I hope the LW’s friend takes her up on the offer of shelter and she reclaims her good life.

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