I’m gonna apologize beforehand but it’s one of those “I have this friend…” questions. I’m a guy and this friend is a girl. Her boyfriend broke up with her after a very serious 2 year relationship (living together and all that stuff). The dude was very fucked up and turned my friend from a happy-go-lucky girl into a depressed, drawn-back husk of a woman. She is on the road to recovery but every 3-4 months that guy gets in contact with her and tells her all about how he misses her and he can change and so on, they get back to together and after 3-4 weeks leaves her again, completely destroyed. She knows he’s bad for her but she has gone back to him several times even after breaks as long as 7 months. My question is how I can help her getting over him, so she can lead a happy life again.
Emotional Life Guard
Ooof. You would ask a hard one right before Thanksgiving.
There are few things worse than a toxic ex. You know the ones; they’re abusive pieces of shit, emotional vampires that drain the very life out of their significant others – and by extension, the people around them – turning them into shattered remains of the person they used to be and leaving it to the victims’ friends to pick up the pieces afterwards. And just when you think that they’re out of your lives forever, they come right back like a herpes flare-up and ruin everything once again. You’d think that in a just country this sort of behavior would be punished by 20 minute of special alone time with the Chair Leg of Truth.
But since true justice is denied to us, we have to muddle on as best we can and deal with what we have in front of us.
The fact is, your friend is in an emotionally abusive relationship and she’s caught up in the recurring cycle… and her ex knows just how to keep pushing her buttons to bring her back around. As long as she’s willing to buy into the lies that he’s feeding her – that he can change, that things are different now, that it’ll be better than it was before – she’s going to keep coming back. It’s even worse when she knows that he’s bad for her; there’s nothing like seeing the train wreck coming and knowing that you can’t do anything about it.
And unfortunately, you can’t, ELG. As tempting as it might be to track the guy down and have a lovely discussion with his kneecaps1, the only person who can break this cycle is her.
Helping friends in emotionally abusive relationships is a tricky matter. You can present her with the facts – that you’re concerned for her, that you see how upset he makes her and how much it changes her, that he doesn’t treat her with the respect or honor she deserves – but she’s not going to want to believe them. You can refuse to be complicit in her relationship with him; you won’t hang out with the two of them or refuse to talk about him… but this will mean she may not be able to bring herself to talk about the abuse with you and end up facilitating his attempts to separate her from you. Trying to force the issue will only make things worse; she’ll be on the defensive and feel pushed closer to him while he explains to her that she can’t trust you guys, he’s the only one who cares for her and understands her, he’s her only real friend… which will pull her away from you and wrap her further into his net.
Until she’s willing to see that she’s being abused emotionally and that the relationship is toxic to her and those around her, the cycle is going to continue. And as hard as it can be to accept, there really is no way for you to make her realize this.
The best way you can help your friend is to be the friend she needs. She’s going to need your support, especially when the cycle peaks when he dumps her again and she’s full of self-recrimination and loathing. She’ll blame herself for allowing herself to be abused. She’s going to need you to be as non-judgemental as possible; even as the cycle continues and she goes back to him again, she will need your love and support even more than before and trying to criticize her for going back or guilting her out of it will only make things worse for the both of you and she may well feel that she can’t come to you when she needs to.
What else can you do? Occupy her time. Get her involved in activities outside of her relationship with the abusive dickbag, ones involving her friends and loved ones; spending time with the people who care about her will help rebuild her self-esteem. Keeping busy and distracted will also help with the downtime in the cycle when she’s more likely to believe his spiel about how he’s changed. Encourage her to talk to a therapist or to find a support group; if she recoils from the idea, offer to go with her or frame it as help with recovering from the breakup rather than her ex’s behavior. Many people remain in abusive relationships because they don’t want to accept that they could be a victim of emotional abuse; abuse like that happens to other people, there’s no way she could be so stupid as to fall for it.
As tempting as it may be, avoid playing Cupid. It may seem like finding her a new, better boyfriend would be the perfect solution to the problem, but it can backfire spectacularly. Problems with the new relationship could very well be what spurs her to go back to the abuser instead.
And above all else, be there for her. Remind her – over and over again if you have to – that none of this emotional abuse is her fault. It’s her ex that’s the problem, not her. She’ll need to know that not only is she not alone but that there are people who care for her, who are always ready to listen when she needs to talk and who will be there to help her when she needs it.
Hopefully soon your friend will realize just how bad things are and will finally break out of the cycle for good. Until then, be her friend and remind her that you’re there for her whenever she needs you.
Have you been in an abusive relationship or had a close friend or loved one who has? Do you have advice for ELG about how you ended the abuse? Please share your story in the comments.
- And I’m not saying you shouldn’t… [↩]