Abusive relationship has buddy perplexed
Dear Carolyn • The last few times I've been out with my buddy and his wife, she's made some really derogatory remarks to him, if not outright screamed at him. He hardly talks now. I'm on good terms with both, but I'm his friend first. I worry about him, and I'm wary of burning bridges. I know him. If I even hint that she's abusing him, he'll get angry and tell his wife what I said. How do I bring this up with him? I'm 99 percent certain he doesn't think he's being abused. But a police officer who saw her yelling at him on the street the other day almost arrested her, and pulled my friend aside to ask him if he was being abused. It's real. Do I just bring up the subject with him, and live with the likelihood that our friendship might be over? I'm starting to think that's what a real friend would do.
Dear Burning Bridges • First, applause for that cop. Awareness of men as abuse victims has lagged, to put it mildly. You're confident your friend is unaware, even after attracting police attention? Maybe he's in that kind of denial but maybe, too, he feels trapped by shame, also nothing new, especially with male victims. It does seem counterintuitive, but being willing to burn the bridge is a generous act. Too often the goal of preserving the friendship is ultimately a selfish one, if understandable: Nobody wants to shorten their list of pleasures in life, which buddies usually top. It can be unselfish to stay friends, when you want to prevent the victim's isolation and remain a potential lifeline. This is arguably one of those cases. It sounds as if you've erred on the silent side, though, and that has to stop. Whenever you witness yelling and name-calling, stay calm and say "No": "I suspect neither of you sees this, but, Sarah, the way you treat James has changed, and isn't OK." Or, "Sarah, would you want anyone to treat you that way?" Note, you're not calling him out. You're merely holding the line on civility among friends. Hold it with all your might, and let both see you do it. Then, one-on-one: "I say this knowing I might lose your friendship: You're being abused. If you drop me for saying this, that's a price I'm willing to pay for your well-being."
Carolyn Hax's column runs Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
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