Group Therapy is a relationship advice column that asks readers to contribute their wisdom. Each week, we offer up a problem for you to weigh in on, then publish the most lively responses, with a final word on the matter delivered by our columnist, Lynn Coady.
A reader writes: One of my oldest, closest girlfriends has been in a common-law relationship for years with a guy who has zero life ambition, pretty bad depression and alcoholic tendencies. A few months ago, he got completely drunk by himself in their apartment, and when my friend got home, he became physically violent with her. When she told me, I took it as a given that violence was a deal breaker.
A few days later she told me that she had no intention of leaving her boyfriend. She assured me his behaviour was a one-off, that she had complete faith it wouldn't happen again.
There's now a considerable amount of tension in our friendship. No boyfriend should ever get a freebie "whack your girlfriend in the face" credit. I don't care if it never happens again - that doesn't make the one instance of it acceptable. In turn, she tells me I'm being judgmental and not supportive of her relationship.
As her close friend, is my role to shut up and support her in whatever she decides to do with her life? Or do I have a duty to tell her when she's being a doormat?
Lynn Coady takes your relationship questions Friday at noon ET
SUPPORT HER DECISIONS
Your role is to be both a supporter and a critic. Tell your friend that you fear for her safety and tell her what you really think of this guy. Assure her that she has options and that you will be there for her whatever her decision. If she still stands by her man, then you, as a friend, should support her and put up with the boyfriend. Tell her that you will support her in every decision she makes, but strongly recommend that she get away from this guy ASAP. If he does repeat his aggression, your friend has to know she can turn to you, and you will not say "I told you so" for at least a week.
- Adam Gladstone, Toronto
TELL HER TO GET OUT NOW
Violence toward one's partner or spouse should never be considered a "one-off." I can't imagine ever again sleeping in the same bed with someone who has lifted a hand to me even once.
The question sender should tell her friend to get out and do it now. If the friend sees this as a friendship-breaking move, then try to maintain contact but keep repeating the message.
- Patricia Shapiro, Ottawa
AIR YOUR VIEWS, STEP AWAY
Sometimes friends do things we don't like. Sometimes they wear clothes that are downright embarrassing. Sometimes they take up skydiving. Sometimes they date people we don't like.
In this case, your friend is dating a guy you think isn't good enough for her. He was violent with her, and you thought this was the perfect opportunity to escape the relationship, freeing you of this guy at last. Instead she chose to forgive him.
What is your role here? You don't have a role here. You're her friend, not her mother.
All you can and should do is tell her how you feel, without telling her how to run her life. Tell her that you're concerned for her safety. Tell her that you think she can do better. Then let it go. She has the right to make her own decisions.
- Andrew Hayward, Montreal
THE FINAL WORD
Hey, we all get a little judgmental. This one time, for example, I was sitting in a pub with some friends when a young stranger sat down, chatted boozily for a moment or two before, apropos of zilch, smacking one of my party in the head. I admit: We judged this man. We judged him in a harsh and knee-jerk manner I'm afraid.
He was drunk - but he was probably okay sometimes. Maybe he was kind to animals or volunteered for Meals on Wheels. Were we therefore wrong to judge him? Shouldn't we have taken into account the whole person, laughed off the assault and bought everyone another round?
Of course not. When a drunk smacks your friend in the face, you don't shrug, clink glasses and sing a few bars of Barrett's Privateers together. What the smackee does is up to her, granted.
But to act merely as a "supporter and critic," as Adam in Toronto suggests, or to take the advice of Andrew in Montreal and simply "tell her how you feel" before washing your hands of the mess does not a true friend make. Put it this way: How effective is a public-service slogan such as, "Friends air their views then step away when friends drive drunk?"
Trish in Ottawa understands the gravity - it's not as if your friend has decided to get a poodle perm, she's choosing to cohabit with a violent man.
Tell your friend it's not the relationship or even the boyfriend you condemn, it's the dangerous situation. She doesn't have to give up on this guy, but she does have to remove herself. Insist on this. If your pal says you are being judgmental and unsupportive, tell her: "Yes. I am judgmental and unsupportive of any situation involving you getting smacked in the face." But also tell her: "I support you. And I'll do anything you need - pick you up in the middle of the night, let you sleep on my couch, even help find the guy counselling. But what I will not do is sit in silence while you buy him another round."
Lynn Coady is the award-winning author of the novels Strange Heaven and Mean Boy, with another one currently in the oven.
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