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Thursday, February 6, 2014

When Is It Time to Leave? When Is It Time to Tell a Friend to Leave?

A friend of mine appears to be in an abusive relationship. I've been asking myself whether I should or should not encourage my friend to leave the abusive relationship.

I can't talk about my friend's private business here, but I can talk about me.

Here's a memory that informs the advice I give my friend: when I was about 17 years old, my mother threatened to kill me. It was neither the first nor the last time she made that threat.

A friend offered to let me live in his car. I did. After a while his parents objected to me living in his car, and I returned to my mother's house.

To me "I returned to my mother's house" is a very sad sentence.

I look back with regret.

I can't say how much I wish someone powerful had communicated to me unequivocally: "Get out of that house. Get out at any cost. You are working full time anyway. Get an apartment and build a life for yourself. Every second you spend with your abuser is wasted; it is a moment you will only ever regret, a moment you can never redeem."

Every time I put up with abuse, my soul dented a little.

With time, I was able to hammer out those dents. But how much better it would have been for me had I escaped the denting.

Learned to stand on my own. Learned that I was capable.

When I lived with my abuser, I was breathing. But I wasn't fully living.


It's not a small thing to say to another person, "The most significant relationship in your life is harming you, and you would be better off out of that relationship."

I always delay saying that to anyone. I stand back and watch.

I've been watching this friend for years now. Watching the weight gain, the rapid aging, the depression that is constant but that dips into stygian silence, paralysis and nihilism – episodes of personality-distorting mini-deaths. This person frequently breaks into tears in the middle of sentences. This person feels, "I can't go out. I can't have fun. I can't have friends. If I do I will be punished."

For a while there, I thought that they were staying together because they love each other.

Now I’m wondering if it isn't something else – fear. I think both of them fear separation.

I wonder if my friend does not feel, "If I suffer though this, there will be some reward for me someday. I'll get the reward for being the most long suffering. I'll get the reward for being the most self-abnegating. I'll get the reward for being the most reliable, the most loyal, the most stubborn."

I want to say to my friend, "You know? I don't think you're ever going to get any reward for being so miserable for so long. No reward for you. No reward for your loved ones. Just a big box of nothing. A nothing you chose."

And you know what? Maybe I am completely wrong. I could be completely wrong.

Maybe my own memories of staying in an abusive relationship with my mother don't apply here at all.

Maybe my friend is in the best possible relationship my friend could have.

Maybe what I see of the relationship – which is very limited – is inaccurate. "No one knows what goes on behind closed doors."

I don't know.

I do know that all of this is hard to take. It's hard to hear your friend talk of being so unhappy that life itself becomes a burden.

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