Doctor’s Note: today’s column deals with discussions of abusive relationships.
Hey Dr. Nerdlove,
I’m looking for some advice. I think my best friend is in an emotionally abusive relationship, but I don’t know how to talk to him about it. I don’t know if he just doesn’t see it, or if he’s choosing to ignore the red flags for some reason.
Let’s call my friend Gary and his girlfriend Amanda.
They’ve been together for about 4 years now. At the time, they were both doing their degrees at the same university. They hit it off and at first things seemed good. When he brought her to meet our friend group, everyone hit it off quite well, she seemed nice. My wife noted once that she thought that Amanda was a bit controlling when we were playing board games once, but that was really the only negative interaction that any of us had noticed.
We first started to notice issues after they moved in together, about 6 months into their relationship. Gary started to disappear from our social circle, little by little. Of course some of that is to be expected with a new relationship, you want to spend more time with your new partner, but this seemed extreme. He basically dropped out from any kind of online gaming entirely, unless we pre-scheduled the game a few weeks in advance. Even then, sometimes he would bail on pre-planned games at literally the last minute. He also gained a curfew. Whenever he would actually make it to our weekly board game night (and not bail at the last second), he had a set time he had to be home by, lest he get in trouble. Once, Gary had to bail on a “pre-approved” game night we were having because every time he went to leave the house, she would start crying until he agreed to stay.
About a year into their relationship, Amanda got accepted to a Master’s program in Canada, and Gary was unable to go with her. They decided to try a long distance relationship, but she agreed only on the condition that he move in with her brother as a roommate. To this day, we’re still not fully sure what that was about. Once she left for school Gary became, well, Gary again. He switched his major and seemed to really enjoy his new school program. He also stopped bailing on events and hangouts at literally the last second. He would still disappear whenever Amanda came to town to visit, but that made more sense since they hadn’t seen each other in person for months at a time.
The one time I really got any insight into his home life with Amanda was one time when we were out drinking. We were talking about video games, and he asked what my wife thought of my gaming. He seemed somewhat surprised when my response was “She doesn’t really mind, so long as I don’t spend literally all my time playing”. This was when I learned that apparently gaming, and many of his other hobbies, were essentially verboten when Amanda was around. He basically had a small list of things that were “approved”, and she had to be involved in every single one of them. After I expressed some surprise/shock at this, he quickly changed the subject, and has never really brought it up since.
Once her Master’s degree was finished 2 years later, Amanda got a job in another city in our state. At this point Gary only had one year left in his new degree. He dropped out of school to move with her to the new city, and has not finished his program since. We play online board games from time to time, and his video game time seems to have increased somewhat (I don’t know if this was a concession for moving, or what), but it’s basically back to the way things were when they were first living together.
And that’s basically where we are now. I know I’m not the only one in our friend circle who is concerned about his relationship with Amanda.
So, thoughts? Amy I reading too much into this? I get that every relationship is different, but some of the restrictions she places on him seem extreme. I just want my friend to be happy, but part of me wonders why he’s putting up with all this. How do I talk to him about this, to see if he’s actually happy in his relationship? Is it even my place to do so?
Worried About My Friend