Afraid for Roommate who is Pregnant and Being Abused

Dear Liz,

My roommate is dating a guy my other roommate and I can’t stand. He’s rude, immature and treats her like crap! Not only that, he verbally abuses her, and she has told me that he has hit her before. When I asked her about it she pushed it aside and told me that it has only happened once while he was drunk. He’s high on numerous occasions when he sees her.  He is controlling and bosses her around; she does everything for him and he cannot seem to do anything on his own.  He’s 25 and acts like child. He is rude and degrading to both me and my other roommate. He has made sexual comments towards us and about us…in front of her! and she says nothing. She has had a hard year—her mother recently passed and she is dealing with the stress of school and graduating and above all, her boyfriend. I want to convince her into leaving him, but she does not see how bad he is for her like I do. She is now pregnant with his child and leaving him is not an option in her mind. I am scared he is going to hurt her or the baby as time goes on. What do I do? I want to help her, but if I say anything I risk our friendship—she’s stubborn and does not want to hear what I have to say. If I try to say anything she gets mad at me and ignores everything I try to tell her. Help Liz, I am scared for my best friend.

Dear Friend,

You are scared for your best friend, and rightfully so.  This is one of the most heartbreaking questions I’ve received, in part because this young woman is pregnant.  Here is my short answer:  If your friend does not come to terms with her situation and exit it, her situation will worsen, and her child will be damaged by it—children are not resilient when it comes to growing up in an abusive environment.

But leaving him isn’t enough—she will also need to take the steps to heal what is so fractured within her that led her to choose him to begin with; otherwise, she will likely choose a similar partner down the road.  A reliable indicator of how much we value our own self is by looking at the treatment we are willing to tolerate in our intimate relationships.  For whatever reason, this young woman has internalized that she is un-deserving of love, and/or has experienced a version of love in her childhood that was never love at all.  Just because we name something love, doesn’t mean it is.

Your friend is not unaware of his poor treatment, but her desire for him, her need for him, her addiction to him, gets tangled up in the acts of abuse, and undermine her ability to see with clarity.  Their bond is taking place amidst trauma, which intensifies the feeling of attachment as well as despair.  She needs your compassion, your clear sight, and your willingness to stay present in her life.  Her baby will need your presence as well.

I suggest you do everything in your power to inspire this young woman to walk into a counselor’s office and begin a conversation about her current circumstances. If she won’t acknowledge that her boyfriend is a problem, there are other reasons that warrant her reaching out.  She is young, she is pregnant, and she is grieving the loss of her own mother.  Even if her boyfriend were a star, I’d suggest she speak with someone about becoming a mom as she simultaneously grieves the loss of her own mother.  The hope is that once she is with a counselor, she’ll open up about her relationship as well.

If she is a roommate at college, counseling is free and readily available—offer to walk over with her.  If she is not enrolled in college, then help her find someone to speak with in her community.  GoodTherapy.org is a site that can assist her in finding any number of local therapists.

I have some other suggestions:

  1. Remain close to her, without judgement. See her, have her back, prove to her you are someone she can trust.  Your aim is to make sure she feels no shame over her circumstances in your presence.  This means you must learn to practice compassion.  Be steady, honest, but avoid criticizing her boyfriend or getting angry that she’s tolerating him—it will cause her to shut down and/or shut you out.  Once she shuts you out, that’s one less person who will be there for her when/if she gets the strength to leave—make sure she doesn’t push you away.
  2. You shared that her mother passed away—is her father available? An aunt or close friend of her mom?  Are there “familial” adults who could support her?  Are you in a position to reach out to them and speak privately to them about your concerns?  Just keep in mind that no one should try and swoop in and direct her life—she is already being controlled by her boyfriend—what she needs a steady circle of non-judgmental support around her.
  3. Begin to keep a log for your friend, a log that records any and all abusive acts on the part of her boyfriend. Buy a notebook, write down the date, and record the details, be it verbal abuse, substance abuse, physical abuse.  Keep a record for her so that when/if she wants to leave him, she has a record of his abuse and can use that record in court—this is essential if she ever wishes to pursue custody of her child in order to protect her child.  Please trust me on this.
  4. If you are writing in from an area close to Keene, NH, another option is to suggest she reach out to me—I have a supportive life coaching business, and I would be more than happy to meet with her. I genuinely understand her situation, and perhaps I could nurture her ability to see her situation more clearly.  Information about my life coaching business can be found on my dearliz.net site. I have adjusted fees for folks of limited means, so don’t let my hourly fee cause her to turn away.
  5. I also recommend the book, Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men, by Lundy Bancroft.  When I use excerpts of this book in the classroom, students often see the reality of their situation by encountering it in the circumstances of others.  Violence in intimate settings (marriage, dating) is about maintaining power and control over the woman—it does not need to be physical—it simply needs to be a practice that strips her of her worth, her voice, her will, so that he remains in the dominant position and has control.  The book highlights the patterns of abusive men, which can be eye opening for someone who is not able to perceive their own situation accurately.

If all of your efforts to guide her into a therapeutic environment fail, don’t give up.  Stay in her life, keep the log, celebrate her baby, and avoid attacking the person her boyfriend is—at this point she will choose him over you, making her more isolated than she already is.  She can’t see her situation for what it is—be the compassionate witness and the loving truth teller—this is the most you can do right now.

Love, Liz

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