DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: My friends and I need your help.
Our friend is in a super toxic relationship and Tuesday night he finally escaped the relationship. She then sent him around 80 calls, found his mom’s number, home number, and sister’s number and sent him text saying that she was going to kill him. Then on Thursday, she showed up outside of his door at 9 in the morning. (She goes to a college that’s 3 hours away, meaning she took a 6 am bus ride all the way here). She then proceeded to cry for six hours straight and threaten to kill herself.
Apparently, she has attempted this before. Eventually she guilted him into taking her back through emotionally manipulating him and threatening her safety.
My friends and I have no idea what to do, it feels like we’re helpless to save him from this mess and we’re pushing against a brick wall. He even met a new girl a few days ago that is super into him and is not a manipulative psycho who actually treats him with respect.
Any advice would be great. I feel like slapping him at this point.
Stuck In The Middle
DEAR STUCK IN THE MIDDLE: Your friend doesn’t have a relationship. He has a hostage situation… and his girlfriend is both the hostage taker AND the hostage. The problem here – besides the fact that he’s backed himself into a corner by his ex – is that there’s nothing you can do to save him.
This, unfortunately, is a universal truth for anyone who’s friends with someone stuck in an abusive relationship, regardless of gender: as much as it may drive you nuts to watch your friend suffer, you can’t force him to leave her. It’s going to drive you bats
t watching him waste away with his toxic girlfriend, especially when there are other, awesome, non-manipulative, non-abusive women out there practically throwing themselves at him and feeling completely powerless to do anything.
But, sadly, that’s the way it has to be. He knows he’s in a toxic relationship… but he’s the only one who can get himself out of it. You can’t force him out. You can’t go all relationship vigilante and try to drive her away, nor can you kidnap him and give him the Clockwork Orange treatment until you’ve deprogramed him from ever going back to her. He’s a grown-ass man, and the only way he’s going to get out of this mess is when he decides he’s had enough.
Now having had experience with this sort of thing before, I do have some advice for you and your friend.
Don’t talk s
t about her; he knows what she is. Don’t pressure him to dump her; he already knows this is what he needs to do. He’ll do it when he’s good and ready, and pushing him is only going to make him push back. The best thing you can do right now is be the friend he needs. You need to be as non-judgmental as possible; he knows he did a stupid thing and giving him s
t for a decision he made when he felt like his back was against the wall will only make things worse for him. The more he feels shame or embarrassment, especially if it’s coming from his support squad, the less likely he will be to come to you when he needs you. This includes comments like “FINALLY!” or “OH THANK GOD” if he talks about leaving her. The last thing you want to do is punish him for finally having the strength to do what needs to be done.
Give him your unconditional support – he’s going to need it. Be someone he can lean on and provide him strength when he needs it. If he asks for your opinion, then tell him how you feel. Phrase it in your concern for him: you’re worried about him, you don’t like how he’s been so drained lately or the way he’s been so depressed.
Also: keep him busy. Since she’s not actually on campus with him, it’ll be easier to keep him occupied and distracted. She may be using the electronic leash to try to keep tabs on him, but the more you and your friends can spend time with him, the less of an influence she’ll be able to exert. Having a life outside of her one-woman campaign of misery will also help build back his self-esteem and help remind him that he needs to establish strong boundaries
Here’s the other thing need you need to tell your buddy: she is not his responsibility. He’s not her doctor, her father, her legal guardian, or her guardian angel. Yeah, she’s threatened to kill herself if he leaves her, and that can be distressing; he’s a good guy and he doesn’t want her to be hurt, no matter how badly she’s hurt HIM. But here’s the thing: she’s not going to do it. This is an incredibly common manipulation technique that abusive s
tbags – men and women alike – use to keep their partners in line. She’s relying on the fact that he’s a good guy and doesn’t want anyone to hurt themselves over him. It’s a way of making him feel as though he’s somehow responsible for her and playing on his sense of guilt. She only has as much power over him as he allows her to have… and right now, he’s allowing her to have a lot.
But even in the (incredibly unlikely) event she does hurt herself… that’s not his fault. Unless he actually has secret mutant powers, he didn’t cause her to do anything. She’s a grown-ass woman, fully capable of making her own decisions. If she’s in a place so dark that she actually would carry out her threat to commit suicide, then she’s such a danger to herself, then she needs immediate psychiatric help, rather than continuing to go to class.
Eventually he’s going to get around to dumping her again. When he does, you all need to go nuclear IMMEDIATELY. This means cutting off every avenue she has of getting in contact with him. All of you need to block her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, WhatsApp, Spotify, GoodReads… everything. All of you also need to make sure that your privacy settings are air tight, especially on Facebook; it’s absurdly easy to stalk people via friends-of-friends. Be sure to tell his family as well, and remind them to not give her information, no matter how seemingly inconsequential. She’s already dragged them into her drama once already, she’ll likely try again.
In addition: go to campus security. She’s shown up unannounced before, and odds are, she’ll do it again. Bring copies of the threats she’s made against your buddy, as well as bringing up all the other people she’s dragged into this drama. Do not let them brush you aside just because she’s a woman. She’s threatened to kill him and she’s shown up on his doorstep without warning; it’s their job to keep HIM safe and HER off campus.
If she does show up again – do not engage her. Don’t talk to her, don’t answer the door. Tell her to leave. If she won’t leave, call campus security. If she’s not on campus, the call the police. Your buddy has no obligation to talk to her, listen to her or otherwise enable her bulls
t. Opening the metaphorical door even an inch just gives her even more leverage to wedge herself back into his life. Cut her out.
Your friend is lucky to have friends like you. Help him stay strong, give him your support and be the shield he needs to keep the toxicity out of his life.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org