DEAR NATALIE: I'm concerned for my twin brother. We are both in our early 20s and live together. He has been showing up to our apartment with mysterious bruises. We have always been super tight, and recently he started dating this new girl whom no one really likes. I heard them fighting one night in his bedroom, and it sounded as if one of them threw something. I am wondering if she is being physically abusive to him. He's a very passive person, really sweet, and he falls in love easily. I am afraid to ask him because I don't want to embarrass him. But, I am also concerned for his health and how sad he seems these days. -- WORRIED SIS
DEAR WORRIED SIS: Your intuition sounds spot on given the information provided. Many people assume that men cannot be victims of intimate partner violence, but that's not true. When I worked as a social worker, I found that men who were verbally or physically abused by their partners didn't want to come forward because it was emasculating and embarrassing to them. Our society's constrictive gender roles make it difficult for men to speak out when they are hurting because they fear being looked at as weak.
The best thing you can do is listen. Tread carefully, but voice your concern. Start the conversation by saying something like, "You know how much I love you, which is why I am concerned that lately you haven't seemed like yourself. I have noticed that you and your girlfriend have been fighting a lot. If anything is going on that you want to share with me, you know that I will never judge you. I just want you to be in relationships that are safe and healthy."
Don't be surprised, though, if he doesn't want to talk about it or if he doesn't leave her right away. This isn't about getting him to break up with her. If you approach it that way, he may shrink away from you. This conversation is about setting up a framework that allows him to come to you in a safe space. As you build communication, he will most likely talk to you about what is going on and hopefully work with you toward a resolution that leads him to feeling strong and empowered.
Natalie's Networking Tip of the Week: Had a great meeting with a potential employer? Send them a thank-you note as a follow-up. A real, handwritten note (not an email!) to express your gratitude for the meeting and how you are looking forward to talking further. It will make you stand out in a positive way and show that you have follow-through.
Please send your relationship and lifestyle questions to email@example.com or tweet them to @NBSeen. You can also send postal letters to Natalie Bencivenga, 358 North Shore Drive, Pittsburgh, PA 15212
(This column was originally published by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.)