Watching the broken record turn ’round and ’round

While at a party this weekend, there was a lull in conversation, when one woman broke in. “Have you ever had a situation where a friend of yours is stuck in a horrible relationship, and you don’t know what to do about it?”

All the sudden, there were multiple voices layered over one another. 

Everyone, it seemed, had a story. The details varied a lot (cheaters, convicts, general mistreatment), but the general theme was always the same… the undying belief that things were improving on the part of the person in the relationship, and the awkwardness, or even worst, animosity felt towards the friend post-confrontation. I can’t think of a single tale that actually involved the confrontation going well, and the person deciding to leave their partner. The best case scenario was a break-up, months or years down the road. The worst case was the end of a friendship. 

Friendship can be a little thankless at times.

Yet, we all feel compelled to play that role of confronter from time to time. There is something about being a real friend that leaves us unable to sit back and watch them be mistreated without a word, and remain resolute in our beliefs that they will figure it out eventually.

Most salient in my mind is a call I received just last week. A friend I’ve known for more than half my life, who has moved back to my hometown. She is miserable- I can sense it in her first breath. We speak until well past midnight. She tells me of his maltreatment of her, of his neglect, of his teasing, of his unwillingness to take her seriously. This is punctuated by stories, examples that make me gasp at the cruelty-laced nature of it all. She says “He’s sucked all the life out of me.”

At first, knowing the danger of advice giving, I try to remain neutral. I wax on about her figuring out where her line is, deciding how much is too much for her to handle, asking her what she wants from the relationship. But, as the conversation progresses, my neutrality wanes. She implies that she needs to leave. I agree wholeheartedly, and ask her what is stopping her. She lists off her reasons… money, fear, loneliness.

We brainstorm. She has a friend is another city who has offered a room to her in July. I tell her that she shouldn’t wait until then– if she is gaining the momentum, she needs to use it now. We discuss money, furniture, how she should tell him. She plans to quit her job tomorrow, but she fears she has no place to stay if she leaves. I remind of my parents, who were like her second parents growing up, of my sister, and give her their numbers. She asks me to get in touch with them to let them know she may be calling soon. She sounds firm when I hang up, and I tell her to stay strong.

The next morning, I am snapping into action. I contact my family, who are all willing to let her stay. I start researching plane and bus tickets, thinking of paying for her to come stay with me in the meanwhile. She texts, tells me she has enrolled in a weekend course to help improve her job opportunities, and that she is about to sit down and have a serious conversation with him.

A few hours later, I text her. “How did it go?”


The next day, I text her. “How are you doing?”

Later than night, I get her noncommittal response. “I’m ok, thks, how r u?”

The next days, she posts two new photo albums full of pictures of the two of them to her Facebook profile, and I realize that we are going to have the same conversation many, many more times before anything changes.

15 Responses to “Watching the broken record turn ’round and ’round”

  1. Snarky A. says:

    I’ve had to confront three girlfriends about their abusive relationships. Two of them worked out, and one did not. It is always terrible to see a dear friend be stuck in an abusive situation.
    Good for you for being a great friend. Don’t give up.

  2. Jenn Belle says:

    For me, the question becomes, “How many times can I have this conversation with my friend in the unhealthy relationship before it becomes too much for ME to handle?” Unfortunately, over a year of seemingly talking to a brick wall, having the same conversation over and over again, having hope that this will be the time when she goes through with the breakup only to see or hear that they’re still “going strong” became too much.

    You try to be there for someone, but when you start dreading the sobbing phone calls and the messages of how unfair he’s being, and you feel like you’re wasting your breath when you yell for her to get up and leave, it’s time for you to, essentially, break up. At least, that’s what I had to do.

    It’s tough, and you feel like you’re being a shitty friend for letting them down by no longer being supportive, but you have to realize that they aren’t being a good friend to you by sapping you of your empathy and strength instead of changing their situation.

  3. Sylvie says:

    I am in the same situation right now. A friend I’ve known for 3 years who I’ve helped and supported through bad relationship decisions is yet again making a bad relationship decision. Except, this time, I am tired. I have so much going on in my own life and I don’t feel the same support soming back at me that she’s gotten from me through the years. Maybe that’s selfish but that’s where I am right now.

    Also, she’s 33 and there are only so many times I can have her cry on my shoulderbefore I say, I told you so and you knew it or you should be old enough to know it.

  4. The Dumbest Smart Girl You Know says:

    I’ve never had to be that friend…but for years, I was that girl. The one in the abusive relationship. I lost several friends who just couldn’t be supportive of my unhealthy decisions any longer, including my best friend. She told me how much it hurt her to see me that way, “withered like a flower without sunlight.” Losing her broke my heart, but until I was ready to walk away, I didn’t understand what she meant. We have since reconciled, and I see what a difficult position she was in: speak her mind and have me shut her out, or stay silent and watch me self-destruct.

    I can say that for a time, those lost friendships only tighten the hold of the abuser. The isolation and loneliness makes leaving seem impossible. I’m sure you must be frustrated, but if you can bear it, be there for your friend. When she’s finally strong enough to make the changes she needs to, she will be so grateful for your support.

  5. bethie says:

    I agree with the Dumbest Smart Girl…you just can’t give up on your friend, but you can’t change her situation for her until she’s really, really ready herself.

  6. Matt says:

    Yeah… this is a winless situation… Been here… it sucks.

  7. mae says:

    Thanks for this post. I know now why my friends felt so helpless for about 3 years of my life. I was that girl before, and quite honestly, even though I knew my friends felt like they were in a predicament (to tell or not to tell), I silently always hoped that they slapped me and made me see. Their apparent distaste for him didn’t really stop me.

    In the end, I came to my senses, and they were still there for me, because I was a hot mess after that relationship (as abusive as it was). It’s frustrating, but it’s one thing I know, is that once your friend realizes, and finally has the strength to leave him, she’ll need all the love she can get. You’re already a great friend for caring.

  8. Imerika says:

    my heart breaks for you and your friend. I have also felt this way. To the point where I wanted to bash the person’s head who continually hurt my friend.

    However, as friends, the best we can sometimes do is be there for them, unconditionally, until they are ready to make the leap on their own to move on. It’s a long har arduous process and sometimes we can’t be strong enough, but it’s the best we can do.

  9. ashley says:

    I’ve had this conversation with my friend over and over and over again. It never gets better. She decided to stay this last time because he got her a piece of jewelry, “he’s trying” she claims.

    I’m haivng a similar thing now with another friend, the guys finally gone but now we’re trying to convince her not to seek revenge on every guy who she meets, even if they do nothing to warrant her being mean to them. Sigh.

    One can only hope your friend comes to her senses before she gets in any deeper.

  10. Brett says:

    When me and Caz got together we also linked up our best friends as well, all went well for them for many years(and 2 kids) until she left him. It was only after this happened did the real story of their life come out, he had since the birth of their 1st child (10 years ago) been under mining her confidence and seeming to be trying to crush the life out of her. She was to loyal to say anything and to proud. 2 years on and she is finally getting back on her feet, while he is falling apart.
    Came here from …and hijinks ensued, as you mentioned you were looking for guest bloggers, but i think i’m too old!

  11. QSW says:

    I think this applies to all destructive behaviors… Not just bad relationships, but anything that a friend might engage in that is obviously so very self-destructive.

    A particular situation comes to mind for me. I had a friend who engaged in risky behavior (not sexual). It was awful to watch this person sort of wither away. They were always angry, sad, and hateful. They seemed - to me - to be spinning out of control. I was going through my own crap at the time (tumultous break up which was very on again/off again, new job, new town, feeling lonely, etc.) so I didn’t handle this with the grace and dignity that I wish I had now that I look back, but I know that my heart was in the right place. Eventually we had a blow up and stopped speaking. I later apologized for my mistakes but this friend did not. I feel helpless for them because I imagine their problems were not exactly situational like mine, that it will stick with them for the rest of their life. I also feel sad because I can’t be there for that person and when I had the opportunity, my own crap got in the way (not to mention how frustrated I was with them). But mostly I’m sad that I couldn’t stand by this person. It eventually became too sad to watch this person self-destruct and, honestly, we are both probably better for the lines of communication being broken.

    I think you know your situation best so only you can handle it in a way that would honor your friendship and personal style. Sometimes it helps to stick around and support the person, but there are times where you, as a friend, need to put your foot down and say “ENOUGH!” I think it’s always a good idea to step back and examine the situation. In my profession, I find that when I’m becoming more worried/upset/frightened than my clients about their situation, it is probably a good time to re-evaluate my role as a professional (or, in your case, as a friend) and their role as the client with the problem. There is something inherently wrong with the notion that I am more worried about their problems than they are! People have to be ready to put their emotional and physical needs on the line before they can truly move on and/or reach out for help.

  12. Andrea says:

    I had this same situation all through college… great friend, un-willing to remove herself from a bad relationship. We had the very same conversations you just had, and our friendship crumbled becuase I stood my ground. Flash forward 3 years… they’re married, living in a house they can no longer afford, and their daughter is 1 week old. My heart breaks for her, she puts up a good front and appears happy… but I’m one of her only friends, I can tell its not real.

  13. Ask Alice says:

    I JUST had the same conversation with one of my friends. I tried to be helpful, non-judgmental and basically told her to do what makes her happy.

    The problem? I loathe her boyfriend and she knows it. Her and I stopped talking for a while because he was such a prick to me. We were never fighting but we stopped hanging out at all. Now all of a sudden she comes to me with this?! Ya, I’m not sure what to do either.

  14. Dawn says:

    What your friend is going through? That’s emotional abuse. I know because I’ve been there. The reasons I didn’t leave for a long time–far too long–were the same ones she listed. Three years ago, thanks to a couple of friends who did not give up on me, I walked away. I’ve never regrettted it. Don’t give up on your friend. She may not know it yet, but she’s going to need you more than she can possibly imagine.

  15. Ant says:

    Ugh. There was a hideous sense of inevitability to that conclusion…

    One of my best friends asked me to be his best man a little over four years ago - every time I tried to prod him into action over the wedding various excuses were always forthcoming. Now it’s clear his relationship is a staid, horrible place to be - I confronted him and told him to get the hell outta there. Knowing he wouldn’t be able to fob me off, he just came back with straightforward honesty: “I hate it. But I’m not going to change it - I can live with this shit for the rest of my life if I have to…”

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