Ask Ann Cannon: Stuck at home with an abusive spouse

Ann Cannon

Dear Ann Cannon • I have one for you. Especially during this time of social distancing, what can we do to help a 65+ parent who is constantly being berated and controlled by their spouse and has no outlets of communication because they now have to be with the controlling spouse 24/7? (And in this case, the berated parent is the dad and the controlling and manipulative parent is the mom. Women aren’t the only victims in abusive relationships.)

Worried About Dad

Dear Worried About Dad • As Tribune reporters Jessica Miller and Paighten Harkins noted in a recent article, domestic abuse in the state of Utah has increased since we began sheltering in place. The statistics are grim, and I’m so sorry the parent of whom you speak is facing this unhappy reality.

So, what can you do? I would advise you to find ways to stay in touch with him on a regular basis, which will no doubt be challenging if his wife tries to limit his access to a telephone or computer.

Still, you can and should try. Call him regularly. Let him know that you’re thinking of him and that you love him. If possible, visit him frequently while maintaining social distance. When we visit our grandchildren, for example, they stand on their front porch while we stand on the front lawn and holler at them. This arrangement isn’t entirely satisfying, but it’s better than nothing. Enlist other family members and friends to stay in touch with him, too.

Meanwhile, if physical abuse occurs, call the authorities, and if he expresses a desire to leave the relationship, help him do that, too. Who knows? Maybe this pandemic season will be a catalyst for change.

And, finally, a friend of mine who is a therapist has this to say: “The desire to fix and save everyone a great deal of pain is pretty powerful. It will always be difficult to watch other adult people whom we love suffer. But our capacity to prevent that and our right to stop it is often very limited. But there is no limit on love.”

Wishing you the very best of luck.

Dear Ann Cannon • My neighbor gives me fresh eggs from his chickens, which is so lovely. But he also wants to give me meat from the cow he raised and slaughtered. I can’t eat animals I’ve been friends with, so I politely say no. But he keeps persisting. How can I make him understand without thinking I’m accusing him of being a character in a Stephen King novel?

Would Rather be Meatless

Dear Meatless • This email made me smile. Thank you! OK, short of avoiding your generous but persistent neighbor altogether, I think the only thing you can do is to keep politely saying no. Sooner or later, he’ll get the hint. He’ll probably just assume you’re a vegetarian, a lifestyle he might find difficult to understand but will eventually come to accept where you’re concerned. And I doubt it’ll occur to him to think you’d cast him as character in a Stephen King novel.

Ann Cannon is The Tribune’s advice columnist. Got a question for Ann? Email her at askann@sltrib.com or visit the Ask Ann Cannon page on Facebook.

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