Worried about Friend/Relative's Abusive Spouse

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My father's emotional abuse of my mom is getting worse as they age

Sept 2014

I am wondering how to help my 60+ year old mother who I fear is in a worsening emotionally abusive relationship with my father. My father has always been verbally abusive to my mom (and to me) and I believe he may be a narcissist. My mom always tolerated/denied this, but something seems to have changed recently. I rarely have opportunities to talk to my mom about this. I used to have meaningful phone conversations with her regularly, but I rarely do anymore because my father always seems to be listening and monitoring what she's saying. They live nearby and visit us regularly, but they always come together. In the past year, my father has ''blown up'' at (i.e., yelled, berated) several close family members at family functions.

I finally had a chance to talk to my mom alone the other day, and she admitted that his behavior seems to be getting worse and said she has given him an ultimatum to go to counseling. He refuses, and doesn't want her to go to counseling either. Instead he wants her get a self-help book (presumably so he can monitor what she's reading?). She also told me that she has been very embarrassed by his blow-ups. She felt like it was OK when he attacked her, but hates when he attacks her friends and family. She indicated that it feels similar to her first marriage (to an abusive man when she was very young), in which the man slowly isolated her from her friends and family.

Lastly, while we were talking she was nervously looking around trying to find him and said that she felt ''spooked'' talking behind his back. I have been reading about emotional abuse on the internet and all of these things seem to be big red flags. So my question is, is there anything I can do to help her?

I encouraged her to leave him when we spoke. I reminded her that she now has her own social security check, so she is no longer financially dependent on him (he never allowed her to get a job). I told her that she has many more years in her life and she deserves to have some happy years. I feel completely caught off guard by all of this. After all these years, I finally resigned myself to the fact that they were both just happy in their dysfunctional relationship. I had finally figured out how to avoid confrontations with my father and just tried to appreciate the fact that he is very loving and attentive with his grandkids. So now I'm not sure what to do. Does anyone have experience with the changes to abusive relationships as people age? I'd be especially interested to hear peoples' experience with their own parents. In some ways I feel like I am betraying my father by encouraging my mom to leave...maybe he's not that bad? (My sibling thinks he is not that bad, but our childhood experiences were very different.) In other ways I wonder if I should be doing more to help my mom ''escape'' the abuse.

Thanks, Sad Daughter

Dear sad daughter,

Your post rings close to my heart. I was abused as a child by my stepfather. My mom was also abused until he died a few years ago. It's been easier for us to deal with what happened to us because he is dead, but realizing that there WAS abuse was the hardest part. It's amazing what you become blind to when you live with an abusive person. I know the situation is complicated and your mom may not be able to do this, but I HIGHLY recommend her talk to a therapist by herself. I have been seeing a therapist for the last two years and she has helped me become emotionally healthier than I ever knew I could be. Another thing that I would recommend is a few books that helped me out. ''No Visible Wounds: Identifying Non-Physical Abuse of Women by Their Men'' by Susan Miller helps to point out exactly what abuse looks like. Just because it's not physical doesn't mean it's not abuse. I think your mother will be able to identify with this book a lot and may help change her perspective on the relationship. Another good one is ''Dance of Anger: A Woman's Guide to Changing the Patterns of Intimate Relationships'' by Harriet Lerner. That one talks about how to fix dysfunctional relationships (and it's highly recommended for you as well). Since reading it, I have completely changed my relationship with my mom and am so much happier (I've loaned it to two friends of mine who have also had similar reactions). Finally, if there was any sexual abuse at all (no matter how minor it seems), I really recommend that you both read ''The Right to Innocence: Healing the Trauma of Childhood Sexual Abuse'' by Beverly Engel. S

I suspect that your father feels like he is losing control since your mom has her own money and has therefore become more abusive. Her Social Security payments are separate property and belongs to her alone. I hope she is putting it in an account in her own name. If not, she should get that changed right away. If she decides to leave, she should do so without saying a word to him. If she does reveal her plans, the abuse could get worse. The most dangerous time is after leaving; this is when men kill women. So she needs to keep her plan and her destination secret. There are many websites about how to leave an abusive man. I suggest that you read a few of them and help her make a plan. She needs her own money, documents, transportation, etc.

This is definitely serious abuse. A man who isolates a woman from family and friends and refuses to let her work is an abuser. No question. Anon

At this point, your mother is entrenched. It is not your responsibility nor can you rescue her. You may be seeing some ''worsening'' now as they age, but the dynamics are the same. The fact that she issued an ultimatum without an actual plan to back it up, that she allows him to take the role of ''allowing'' her to do this or that, that she is scared just talking to you, are all signs of his long, successful campaign of diminishing of her self-esteem. She can't do it without counseling and/or other support, and that has to be her decision.

This might be a good opportunity for you to get some counseling to get clear and strong yourself in witnessing your mom's suffering, your conflicting feelings about your dad, and the denial (common) in your family. This upbringing affected you even if the fireworks weren't visible back then. - I wish you the best.

your sibling is wrong, you are right. can you offer for your mom to come stay with you?

Since you have observed your Mom's condition, and it now seems to be getting worse [her feeling 'spooked' by your Dad, not having privacy to talk to you about issues she is going through and your Fathers behavior now verbally abusing others in public places and embarrassing your Mom- I would definitely be very concerned.

If your Father doesn't agree to conseling, so he can see his abuse [and how it's growing and what it's doing to your Mother], I would then move my Mother in with you or to a safe place.

Also, Your Father's verbal abuse may just be the 'tip of the iceberg'- [it usually starts verbally- then moves to physical abuse]. I know, because I endured this, and only took it for 1 year- then it was over.

Since your Mom has money she can live on, I would not sleep well, knowing she was in this situation every day.

Abuse ruin self esteem big time !! plus any 'relationship' that was at all good, and the only way out is to say: 'Either you stop this, go to therapy, and change, or it's 'Finato'.You are not going to verbally abuse me any longer ''...

Our parents protected us when we were young, now it's sometimes [unfortunately], our turn to protect them as they get older.

I hope what I said helps in some way. judith

Supporting Sister in Emotionally Abusive Relationship

June 2009

My sister and her husband have a bad relationship. She lives in another state, near his family, and I talk to her about once every two weeks. She's been with him for over a decade, and they are always ''working on their relationship'' (her euphemistic words). Though my sister is rather private about her relationship, I think her husband is emotionally abusive. She recently told me that they have yelling arguments several times a week, with each one lasting for several hours. She described the fights as ''like having a second job.'' They have had the cops called on them on at least one occasion. He is critical of the way she does things, particularly the way she communicates.

She's always trying some new way of behaving or communicating so that he will be in a good mood. He gives her the silent treatment at other times. She rarely travels without him (I can't remember the last time I saw just her), and she hasn't even visited me to see her new nephew, because she has to stay at home and ''be there'' for her husband. He blames her for his behavior--he tells her if she acted differently, he wouldn't get so annoyed at her.

I sometimes feel like she's parroting his words. (For example, she justified not seeing my newborn son by saying he'd ''only be sleeping, anyway'' Those did not sound like my sister's words.) She even admitted a few years ago that they probably had an emotionally abusive relationship. Now they are trying to get pregnant, and I'm getting really worried for her health and the future baby's health.

How can I best be a support to her? Is it possible for an abuser to become a rational, caring human being? What should I do about the anger I have toward her husband? anon

In a loving way, I would tell your sister about your fears for her. Emphasize that you will support her no matter what happens, but let her know that you are REALLY worried about her happiness. Offer some suggestions about getting therapy for both of them or (if her husband's unwilling, which is likely) for her. Offer to help her financially to get the therapy if that's necessary and you can. Keep inviting her to come down -- see if you can speak to the husband and be friendly and invite BOTH of them (even though perhaps you would rather not see him). My sister is in an abusive relationship (her husband had constant and multiple affairs, which she discovered about five years ago), and I was careful just to be there for her. Keep the lines of communication open -- she needs you! You sound like a great sister. big sis

This is a tough one. Having witnessed two very, very close friends of mine in abusive relationships, I have to say that there is not a whole lot you can do until your sister decides that she has had enough. I have found that people get so, so defensive and that it can alienate the person you are trying to help by being critical. Having said that, I do think you need to talk to your sister about leaving her husband. She is as sick as he is and she needs to get help. My suggestion is to urge her to get help, to talk to someone whether it be you, a friend, a therapist. Someone. Good luck. It sounds like a truly awful relationship and I hope your sister can find the strength she will need to get out of it. And, my opinion, no- he cannot be rehabilitated. She needs to just get away from him. anon anon

People in emotionally abusive relationships tend not to recognise it so easily because there may not be physical violence and the abusive partner insists that their relationship would be perfect if only they would stop doing things to make trouble. Of course what makes the abusive partner angry changes from day to day so the abused partner is left ‘walking on eggshells’ trying to avoid the next fight – which of course they cant. The abused partner also gets stuck in the belief that once they have ‘worked through the rough patch’ their marriage will be ideal – if only they can hang in there.

When i was in that situation the ONLY thing that snapped me out of it was reading a list of relationship symptoms – in my case it was Patricia Evans with 10 tickbox statements to evaluate your own experience. Once i saw my experience written so clearly in black and white i realised that what was happening wasn’t just ‘my own unique personality issue’ but a fairly common form of abuse. My advice therefore would be to scan and email copies of some of these simple checklists from this book or others. Find checklists that include being isolated from friends and family etc, anything that you feel may encapsulate her experience the most succinctly. Then all she has to do is spend 5 mins reading, and if her experience is anything like mine she’ll be blown away that someone managed to put her feelings into words. Erica

Your sister sounds like she is living in a classic emotionally abusive/ controlling relationship (which fits within the definition of domestic violence). In this case it can be very risky meddling (ie, sending her literature on abusive relationships, etc.), bc if her husband finds out he might prevent you two from communicating and alienate you from her life. However, that said, your sister needs help. You might want to consider telling her you are having a hard time out here and that you will pay for her flight to visit. That way you can get her out here alone and maybe have a therapist set up to talk to her about living in an emotionally abusive relationship: signs and symptoms. You could also try to visit her and have something similar lined up (therapist out there) to talk to her about the type of relationship she is living in. The sad fact is that although there is no physical abuse right now...anything can set off a man like this, especially if he thinks he is losing control. Once he does, then i would fear for your sisters safety. Make sure the therapist has experience with domestic violence issues. You might get a referral from the family justice center in Oakland. You can also talk to a therapist to get more ideas on what you should do to help. Good luck A concerned friend

I was married to that same man! I diagnosed him with narcissistic (sp) personality disorder/ borderline personality disorder. If my mother or sister had been frank with me when I started dating him., I don't think I would have married him. I urge you to speak up now! You risk her being angry with you, of course, but the the reality is that their relationship will most likely not end at some point as it is almost impossible to live a sane life with someone like this. If he is like my ex, he has a strong personality and has probably convinced her that she deserves to be treated this way. She will need to know that if she leaves him, she has support (financial, emotional) as this guy most likely has set himself up to be her sole support. If she has kids with him, her life will be even worse and she will be more 'stuck' than she is now. I encourage you to be as firm and clear as you can about how you feel about her husband and how worried you are about her mental health. good luck.... myself again

No, it's really not possible for an abuser to become a rational human being. Technically it is, but in reality it is not.

I've been in abusive relationships. They only do what they have to do, bare minimum, to get a partner to stay. As soon as s/he's hooked, they lay it all out there. One abuser I was with couldn't keep a woman. He had treated all the women in his past the same way. One by one, they all left him. He just continues on, hoping to find new prey. Pattern repeats.

Maybe you should tell her how it is, bluntly. Talk up the fact that her husband will treat his children the way he does his wife, but they will be small and afraid of him. Paint it out in scenarios if you can, so she sees it vividly in her head and can't ignore it so readily - start by imagining all the cute features they'll have, so she gets a visual. Because once she gets a visual and is a little attached to that cuteness, she's not going to want her babies to be treated that way. Without them having hours on end yelling matches (her children wouldn't have enough power to stand up to the big scary guy), they are likely to be depressed, insecure children who will have major power issues and take one of the two poles: being the neighborhood bully or being the kid who is too afraid to ever stand up for herself and accepts any treatment from any person, period, just in order to be accepted.

Your sister will probably not talk to you for awhile after you say these things. But she won't help but think about it. you will have planted a seed, and hopefully that will prevent her having any kids with him.

I think my housekeeper's husband is hitting her

Feb 2006

Recently I hired a new housekeeper. I will call her Lucia. Lucia has an assistant I will call Marta. Marta is Latina, fairly young and pregnant. I noticed that she has remnant black eyes and other facial bruises. I asked Lucia, who is the woman I hired about it. They both are native Spanish speakers and my Spanish is mediocre and Lucia speaks just a little English. She told me that Marta's husband hits her. I asked if it was repeated and she said yes. I asked if she had said something to Marta and she said no.

I feel like it is my responsibility to do something (or is it?) or at least offer some kind of referral to her. I don't want to overstep my boundaries. I don't know if Marta is literate in Spanish. I don't know if she is legal. But having someone in my house that appears to be being abused repeatedly and not offering some assistance seems wrong.

Any suggestions on how I might approach her? What services are there available to her? Alternatively should I approach her ''boss'' Lucia who is really my employee and let her talk to Marta?

I would like to help. Concerned

I don't know about Berkeley, but in Marin there is the Marin Abused Women's Services (MAWS). I am confident they have support for Latinas. Also, this is your opportunity to encourage the other (Lucia?) to intervene, as likely anything you say will have minimal effect. good luck! Mary

As a former deputy district attorney of 7 years assigned for 2 years in the Domestic Violence Unit, I can tell you that domestic violence either starts or gets much worse during pregnancy due to control issues by the abuser. She is in big trouble - as is her baby. I've prosecuted many a case where the abuser will pound on her stomach to get the woman to miscarry.

If she can't/won't call the police, please refer her to Bay Area Legal Aid. Their website is www.baylegal.org. Their phone number for Alameda county is (510) 250-5270. They do have spanish speakers to take the call and spanish speaking attorneys. If she is not ready to leave her abuser they can refer her to services in her community to offer help. Since your Spanish is not so good, you may want to call them yourself and ask them to mail you referral info in Spanish.

Also you can give her The National Domestic Violence Hotline 1(800)799- SAFE. They can offer her advice in Spanish and help in leaving the situation. Their website is www.ndvh.org. Their website is also in Spanish which you may be able to print out for her. As for whether this is your business, this is EVERYONES business.

What is the worst that can happen if you butt in? She can ignore your offer and she can die. Her choice. But perhaps you can make a difference in her and her unborn child's life. God bless you and good luck. Feel free to contact me if you need more help or info. sujata

You can give her the number for ''Mujeres con Esperanza'', a non-profit organization in Fruitvale that provides support for women who are being abused. Their number is 536-4764. You can't really force her to call and she may be too afraid to do so but if you want more advice about it you could call Mujeres yourself. Good luck. a former social worker

You are not overstepping your boundaries to offer this vulnerable young woman information. There are many resources for Spanish speaking Latinas here, even if they are undocumented. If there is a police report confirming the violence, she is eligible for free psychotherapy and perhaps moving expenses under the state's Victims of Crime program.

Clearwater Counseling and Assessment Services (phone 596-8137, website www.clearwaterclinic.com) in Oakland has Spanish speaking therapists who are trained in counseling domestic abuse victims. We can also process the application for Victims of Crime services.

Other local resources are La Clinica de la Raza (535-4170) and the Family Violence Law Center (208-0255). The Berkeley Police Department website has an excellent section on domestic violence, including information about shelters, applying for a restraining order, etc.

Please reach out to this young woman. Pregnant women are frequently targets of escalating violence. Sally

Sounds like a hard situation. I think the bottom line that you need to understand is unless this woman wants to change things, nothing is going to change. Sometimes it takes something really horrible to get women to take the steps needed to get out of abusive relationships.

I work in a local clinic and deal with pregnant women who are being abused on a somewhat frequent bases. Letting women know that what their husbands are doing is not ok and that they deserve to live in safe environment is the #1 thing to do.

Helping women make a plan how to leave, even if they are not planning on it, is also supper importuned. This way, when things get really bad, they already know exactly where to go, who to call, and what to bring. As far as resources, a safe house is really the only place out there that offers abused women housing. I refer my clients to 'A Safe Place', which is located somewhere in Oakland. There # is (510) 536-7233. They do take pregnant women and will take young children with the women. The above # is to the 24hr hotline. They don't always have Spanish speakers there but try to. There are a number of similar places and depending on where this women lives and what she needs, some will be better fits then others.

Another idea is counseling that may lead to a healthier relationship and/or better life choices. For Latina women there is am organization called Mujeres Unidas Y Activas (510) 261- 3398. They have group counseling and are great because its all in Spanish, its with other Latinas who are in similar situations, it is free and they have free child care as well. The last thing to consider; If this women is receiving prenatal care, she can receive help from her Drs. They should have resources and # to give her. If she is not receiving prenatal care, I would be happy to get her started here and talk to her. (510) 981-4200

My suggestion to you, give her some #s she can call if she wants out. Let her know it's a good idea to make a plan. Tell her you are there to help. Good luck, and remember, if she is not ready to leave, there is only so much you can do!

My sister-in-law's husband is physically abusive

November 2005

I recently found out the husband of my sister-in-law has been physically abusive to her for the past 10 years. I had recognized that he was basically a jerk and was emotionally abusive to her and her oldest son, (not his biological child). He's a classic Dr. Jeckel/Mr. Hyde. He's violent with her at night, after the kids are asleep.

I did some research and found some resources for battered women in her area, and had a brief conversation with her where I expressed concern for her safety and the emotional development of her kids.

She confirmed the abuse but seemed shocked that I wanted to talk about it, or that I considered her to be a victim of domestic violence. Her family has an engrained ''code of silence'' about a lot of things. I haven't been able to have a private conversation with her yet to follow up. But I doubt that she's taken any action.

With Thanksgiving coming up I don't know what to do. I feel I can't sit through a day with him and pretend that nothing is wrong. I feel very strongly that silence is enpowering to the abuser, and that silence makes me a sort of accomplice. I want to bring this out in the open. Her parents do not know about the abuse (yet), but all the siblings do.

I do not want to do anything the will place her or her children at greater risk, or that will cut me off from her completely. Any advice? anon

Wow. This is heavy, and I suggest you contact a professional who deals with abuse inn families before you do anything else. You alone cannot deal with this problem, nor can you change it. I don't knnow if you need to report the abuse or not, but a professional will. I would caution you to take care, however, becasue the pattern usually goes that if you mention it, the abuser will take it out on those who are regularly abused. It puts you in a bind, and that's yet another reason for professional help. One quesiton, however: the abused wife is your sister-in-law? So the sister of your spouse? What does your spouse have to say about what's happening? Is this the family with the strong code of silence? Can you work as a team? Good Luck

It really sounds like you are concerned about your sister-in- law and rightly so. It sounds like you are trying to figure out how you can help her. You know the abusive situation is intolerable and you want to make it stop.

I would suggest that you might keep the notion of her autonomy in mind as you continue through this journey. She is not a minor so legally does not require outside protection. It sounds like she is on her own journey with it and has begun to talk about it. This is an important step for her to take-- it is a sign that she is beginning to take charge of the situation. If someone else in the family were to intervene and ''tell the truth'' at this point without her consent, it would likely make her feel overpowered and incapable. The ramifications of such a communication would then be dramatic and unpredictable. I would invite you think about ways you can empower her and support her. Let the choice be hers. If you can't be present at Thanksgiving, then let her know that privately and don't go. Rev. Kim Hinrichs

I was also in an emotionally abusive marriage and I can't emphasize enough how powerless, alone and scared your sister in law is feeling. I put up with emotional abuse of myself and the children because I thought I couldn't support us alone. I put up with it because I thought, next time, I won't open my mouth, do this, do that. I used to vent to my family who either criticized me for staying or told me to be a better wife/mother/person.

It wasn't until my husband harmed me physically and the doctors called the police that he was forced to get help. The doctors and police did for me what I was totally incapable of doing for myself. I'm telling you this so that you will understand how totally paralyzed your sister in law is. The process/cycle of abuse is slow but certain, the process of empowerment is just as slow.

I know that my life was saved and now I can't believe I ever felt scared. I can't really help you much except to say that you can call the police to report physical abuse, especially if you see signs of abuse. I would always tell the children and their mother that the father's behavior is unacceptable, since many times the denial of a problem is just as bad for a child. If they can't escape, at least let them know you know it's abuse and they did nothing wrong.

I would suggest that you get as much information as YOU can so that you can best help. Finally, I do know that sometimes Children's Protective Services WILL take children away from even an abused mother because abused or not, she is responsible for the child's safety and is endangering them when she doesn't take action.

I feel very sorry for your sister in law's situation but she is lucky to have someone like you in her life. Please do what you can for the children too. They need someone on their side. you're not alone

It is important that you do not try to talk with her about the abuse in the presence of her husband as this could place her and her children at greater risk. Continue to be a support to her and provide her with resource information when you can talk with her privately. Talk with her while he is away at work or while she is at work. Help her develop a safety plan for herself and the kids. She should gather together all important documents including; birth cert, deed to house, copies of car keys and registration, credit card nos, cash, important medicines, emergency contact nos,shelter information, etc and store it in a safe place where her husband won't find it and/or with a trusted friend or relative. Establish a code word for her and for the children so that they can call you or others and use this word when they need help. You might consider talking with her about the impact DV has on kids; even if they don't witness the abuse they may hear it. Ultimately, the decision to leave will be hers. At that time she may want to consider a restraining order. I don't recommend confronting the husband as this will likely result in him being more controlling or abusive. Be patient and non judgemental as it may take some time for her to gather the courage to seek help. If her children are in danger you may need to call CPS. Debi

I would secretly give her a C note and look her in the eye and tell her sincerely that if/when she needs to get away from him, she should use it for the taxi or motel, get to a phone and call me (you) so I could get her a ticket. I would not tell ANYONE and stress that to her. That way, he would not know that you are her ace in the hole. Stress to her that you are not making judgements, but if it were you, you would be looking for options and you want her to feel free to come to you if she needs a refuge. Also, I would try my best to stuff any feelings about permanance. She may need to leave him several times before she can sever all ties. Ask her to please never tell him so, you can always be her secret safe haven. That's what I would do.

I think it is great you are supporting your sister-in-law. She needs to have support in order to leave him and establish safe boundaries for herself and children. If you feel the children are at risk, call child protective services. They will enforce the safety of the children. Then there is someone outside of the family who can be objective and help them to see what they are doing. They will let her know that if she chooses to be with her husband at the risk of herself and her children, then the children will be taken away, and likely, in this, case be given to family members. It is very scary because the homicide rate amongst spouses is so high. When he is out of control, even if he doesn't intend to seriously harm her, he can easily endanger her life. She needs a safey plan. A way to escape. Practical and well thought out, to reduce risk. If you confront him, then let her go home with him, be sure that she will pay, and be further isolated from the family. I advise you to work with her and empower her to leave. He will not listen to reason or get help unless the stakes are high for him, and losing his wife and children just might be the wake up call he needs. (I would not recommend a public humiliation or confrontation. He will only be defensive and she is likely to take his side.) Let her know that you don't judge her, you just want her and the kids to be safe. She is scared of being alone. He has broken down any strength and self-esteem she had. She needs to slowly rebuild her strength for herself and kids. There is not an overnight solution, other than to begin to take the steps.

Perhaps you can call the domestic violence hotline and get advice and more resources. There are safety plans online. Educate yourself about the cycle of violence and how the good times often make it difficult for the person to leave. Lenore Walker is the expert who has a lot to say about this topic.

There are support groups like CODA - for the codependent, a 12- step group for people who risk their own safety to be with someone who is bad for them. If there is substance abuse, Alanon is another group for her and the kids. There is so much to learn on this subject. Waking the Tiger by Peter Levine talks about the traumatic experience of violence and how disconnected one can become from their own body and experience. She probably has PTSD. I wish you well on this journey. Let me know if there is anything more you need. Anyway... Take care!! Michelle Lane

I survived a horrendously abusive relationship (we're talking physical torture) and am now happily involved in a healthy one. so feel adequately well-informed to address this topic. First you say that you recently ''found out'' about the abuse. I'm assuming that was through another family member. If the SIL didn't tell you herself, and you have expressed your concern, then you have done what you can. That doesn't mean her siblings (your husband, et al) should be keeping quiet, but as a SIL, all you can do is offer a safe place to go in the event she decides to leave, and offer her resources. If you ''out'' the abuse, as you seem to want to do, you are potentially setting her up for increased or intensified abuse, or worse, more abuse on the children.

Tell your SIL as well as her children (separately), in private, that you will help in any way you can, and will provide a safe place for them to stay. You don't need to do this very often; it's not like they don't live with it everyday. Try to keep from being pushy and judgmental. If you push her too far, she'll probably shut down, out of shame, fear, and terror that her children will be taken away.

You need to be talking with your husband and any other siblings, and/or their parents. Tell them you need to call CPS because the children aren't safe, and that their family member needs their support, not their silence, in order to survive. Tell them that women are killed every single day by abusive husbands. Tell them that abused children turn into abusing adults. Tell them that their silence or denial keeps your SIL from growing the courage she needs to get out of the relationship. If you can unlock your in-laws code of silence, then perhaps they can all offer to assist your SIL safely out of this relationship.

In the end, understand that although you can dive in and try to save the kids, you can do nothing to persuade her to leave if she refuses to do so. I'm not saying be hands-off, I'm saying be careful -- women in these situations often protect their abusers, and if pushed, may strike out at you. They often are fiercely guarded and don't want to be intruded upon. They do, however, need to know that you are there and willing to help.

I have far more to say on this issue, but will leave it here. If you want to email me, please feel free. heather

Call any domestic violence hotline or the national domestic violence hotline 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) and ask.

My gut feeling is - don't bring it up to the husband ESPECIALLY in front of a group. Your sister-in-law will feel it later. In her husband's eye's, she is the cause of her own abuse. It is her fault, not his. She is the only person who can choose to leave the situation. She may be staying for a variety of reasons. For instance, are there children in common between this husband and wife? Often, courts will give the chilrden unsupervised visits with the abuser, especially if there is no legally documented history of abuse, who will then take out his anger on them since he can no longer abuse the Mother. The mother will go back into the relationship to spare the children the physical abuse.

You can help out by getting her to at least call a domestic violence shelter and have them help her safety plan. For instance, if he is beginning to get into a mood where violence is likely, then move into a safer room of the house (stay out of the kitchen where there are knives or a bathroom where there are no exits/lots of hard objects like tile). Her local shelter can also help her know what legal strategy and other resources she has at her disposal should she decide to leave.

I think that it takes nine attempts for the average victim of domestic violence to finally leave an abusive relationship. While working at my local shelter, I saw many repeat guests. I learned not to look down on them because they kept going back, but rather look up to them for trying. -anon

My sister-in-law wants out of an abusive marriage

June 2004

My sister-in-law is mired in an abusive marriage. We've spoken about the numerous positive benefits that her and the kids would get if she and her husband divorced. But the problem is that since her marriage began 8 years ago, she has been very depressed and recently things have gotten worse. Her husband's business went into bankruptcy, (she worked for the company too), and she is now completely overwhelmed. Money problems, both unemployed, abusive husband that is horrible to her son from a previous relationship, younger kids out of control, I could go on.

She wants out but doesn't know what to do or where to begin. I think her depression is a big part of her inability to take action. Are there couselors for this type of thing? Or does she need a divorce lawyer right away? A place that has both? She needs a solid, step by step plan, and enough emotional support to be able to go through with it. Other family members will be no help.

We both agree that things will get even uglier with her husband. She's worried about him fighting to the bitter end (and he will) to get custody, and that divorce will be so expensive that she'll end up with nothing. I'm worried about her safety. He owns guns, and will not tell her where they are.

No negoiation/limit setting/mutual agreement works with this guy. Any advice to what steps she should take? concerned on the sidelines

The first thing that your sister-in-law needs to do is focus on getting out of the abusive relationship and finding a safe place for her children. The divorce can come later. Call 1-800- 799-SAFE (7233), the national domestic violence hotline, as soon as possible. They can refer you to the domestic violence center that would handle your sister-in-law abuse issues. You may want to contact the local domestic violence center first (center is the new improved PC name for shelter) to find out what services they provide. You may want to make the initial calls to find out what the center can offer and some general advice on helping your sister-in-law.

Typically a center will provide counseling for the abuse vicitm and children, they will provide safety planning, help obtaining restraining orders, etc. These services are available regardless of whether a family chooses to stay in shelter. Additionally, they can get her appointments with legal aid to handle her divorce pro bono or very cheaply, help her find low- cost housing (the shelter which I work for also will provide furnishings down to the pots and pans for the new home), and put her in touch with organizations who will do everything to find her a suit for court appearences and set up interviews for her.

Good on you for helping your sister-in-law. Jan

Friend's possibly abusive husband

May 2004

I'm posting this for a good friend of mine who lives an hour away. She(''Jane'') met a man(''Bill'') in 2000. They very quickly moved in together, married, moved away from her family, and had a child. The first time I met him, I found him to be controlling, and I told my husband that I was worried about Jane. Bill was ''separated'' from his wife when he met Jane, although the wife called Jane, looking for ''my husband''. This past summer, they planned another pregnancy. A few months into it, their house burned down. Then their dog died. Bill then announced that he didn't want to be married anymore. The day after their second child was born, Bill left. A few months later, he returned, saying he wanted to work on things. The current situation is this...... -Bill has converted to Mormonism, and is giving them money. -Bill has had affairs with at least 3 women that Jane knows of. He is still involved with at least one of them. -Bill has decided to go to Iraq for a job, quitting his job here and leaving Jane and the kids with no benefits, etc. We don't know when he'll be leaving, as they've stopped letting people into the country for now. -The worst part is this. He has systematically been emotionally abusing Jane for months. He controls the money (she's a stay-at- home Mom). We don't know what will happen when he leaves for Iraq, although he is currently paying all the bills. He's threatening to file for divorce right before he leaves so that all their assets will be frozen. At first, he wouldn't come home, but now he's threatening her physically and refusing to leave. -Bill is a cop. I am NOT making a value judgement about all cops, just this one. He is very controlling of Jane. He issues his threats in a way that he knows can do him no harm. Jane has been so scared that she's tried to lock him out of the house, but he breaks in, saying that it's HIS home and he's not going anywhere! Last week, he said that he would kill her if she ever touched his stuff or called one of his girlfriends again. The next day, he reminded her of that. He also told her that she'd have no luck with the police because he had ''already laid the foundation'' with his coworkers, telling them that SHE had been threatening to harm HIM! Jane now knows that she has to leave him. She has applied for jobs, and she is planning to talk to a social worker. We, her friends, try to do whatever we can. How can Jane protect herself, physically and emotionally, from this abusive man, who happens to be a cop? How can she protect herself, financially, when he leaves the country? So far, her lawyer just says it's going to be tough because he's a cop. Any advice would appreciated.

Dear Happy Camper: 1. Even though Bill is a cop, law enforcement needs to be contacted. He's threatened Jane's life which is against the law. 2. My guess is that Bill has physically harmed Jane. If it was in the presence of the children it should be reported to Child Protective Services. 3. Jane should also contact a domestic violence agency. She will be connected with an advocate who can help her to leave this situation and to learn to protect herself and her children. You mention that Jane ''plans to talk to a social worker.'' If she does not seek professional help, I urge you to call these three agencies on her behalf. You can make anonymous reports to law enforcement and Child Protective Services. She's lucky to have you as her friend. Best of luck to ''Jane''

I don't remember the exact post but if you believe your friend is being physically abused by her husband. Please help her to get out of the situation asap. I had a slight intuition/suspicion of my friend who never admitted to me but had a husband who was clearly not good to her. I sat on this intuition/suspicion for over a year, until one day on her birthday I visited her with my husband and she came out of her home without inviting us in. She had the ugliest shiner on her face. We immediately took her to our house and convinced her to go to the police the next morning. The police let her know that what her husband did was a serious crime and I believe she realized this for herself consciously as she watched him being taken away by the cops. She had a hard adjustment period for a year after this but now she is in such a strong and happy place in her life that I have not ever regretted helping her. She still has contact with her husband, but now she is in the position of power over herself and her child. a Proud friend of a survivor

Hey friend- I work at a Domestic Violence Shelter and from your description of this guy, all signs point to yes, he may be physically harming his wife. His behavior is on several sections of the power & control wheel (as opposed to the equality & respect wheel) and some of the other things you said (the dog may have been killed by the Bill. There is a high correlation between guys who kill/torture house pets and practicers of domestic violence...also, power & control type behavior may surface or increase when a woman is pregnant)

That said, she needs to call her nearest shelter hotline to get advice. It is best for her to meet with an advocate, but if that is not possible, then she needs to talk to a person on the phone. They can help her develop a safety plan so that when she decides that the time is right that she can leave. Some abusers make a telephone call or trip to a meeting nearly impossible.

The shelter can provide temporary housing if necessary. They are confidential locations -- a cop may know where it is, but he will not be permitted on the premises unless he has a darn good reason (dropping off a victim and then they are not allowed inside or serving a warrant). Even the serving a warrant thing is very tough.

Also, some jurisdictions will have an advocate at the courthouse who will help a victim of DV with a restraining order, help with safety planning, etc.

Safety planning is two-fold. It will teach her to survive in her current situation (ie, when an argument takes place, try not to be in the kitchen or bathroom b/c more pain can be inflicted in these places, there aren't good escape routes, there are lots of weapons, etc) while also helping her find the best time to leave if she chooses to leave. Only she knows her situation and it may take some time for her to lay the groundwork to be able to leave. That may take some time. A woman is most at risk to be murdered by her husband when she is trying to leave the abusive situation. She must plan her escape carefully.

Things may be more difficult b/c he is a cop, but it is not impossible. Your friend is going to need upstanding members of the community standing behind her when she asks for that restraining order, etc. Her husband is probably a known quantity at the courthouse while she is not. Your friend is also going to need your support and understanding if it takes her more than one try when it comes to leaving him (the average is about 9 tries). There may be reasons that she goes back. For instance, the court may award him unsupervised visits of the children. If that happens, she is probably going to go back, because when he can't abuse her, then in all likelihood he will turn on his children. She will go back to him to protect them. He will leave the kids alone if he can torment their mother.

Jane will be fine, eventually. If Bill is convicted of domestic violence, he will lose his livelihood as he will no longer be allowed to carry a gun (cops aren't much good in this country if they can't carry a weapon), but she will receive a lot of help on the other end. She may be on welfare for a while (that is what it is for and she shouldn't be embarrassed to take it while she gets back on her feet.) while people help to find her a job, daycare etc. The advocates at my shelter know everyone in town who is willing to help out victims of DV. They help them find apartments at reduced rates in good neighborhoods. They know the employers willing to take on someone who is 'a bit fragile at the moment.'

The best thing that you can do is offer to be there to help if she needs someone to talk to...have the number for her shelter at the ready. She may be too embarrassed to admit that there is physical abuse and shy away from talking to the shelter. You can let her know that shelters are just a great resource for people in a situation where the husband is a 'bit controlling' and that they may be able to help her find some peace.

Just an aside, 'Bill' may be mad at you for any help that you provide, but generally you are not at any risk. He is laser- locked on controlling and hurting one person. You aren't that person. Jan