Ask Scary Mommy is Scary Mommy’s advice column, where our team of “experts” answers all the questions you have about life, love, body image, friends, parenting, and anything else that’s confusing you.
This week: What do you do when you feel like your sibling’s life choices are totally off the rails? Have your own question? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Dear Scary Mommy,
I love my best friend. She’s been part of my life and part of my family for almost 20 years. She lives close enough to me that we regularly get together with our families, and we talk daily. She means the world to me. But she’s married to an asshole. Her husband is an emotionally manipulative prick who has basically conditioned her to think that she’s selfish if she does anything for herself or isn’t constantly home. I’ve tried planning weekend getaways for just her and I through the years, and she always bails—because of him. When we’re all together, he dominates the conversation and totally excludes her from joining it. He never offers to help clean up, he doesn’t meet any of their kids’ basic needs (feeding them, bathing them, buying their clothes). She’s a SAHM and he uses that as his reasoning behind being a backseat parent. If she and I do have a rare day of going out shopping together or getting our nails done (this happens maybe twice a year), he blows up her phone the entire time and totally sours the experience for her. She’s opened up to me about her frustrations with him, but says she’d never leave him because she has “nothing to fall back on” and is also an adult child of two divorced parents—she doesn’t want her kids to have to go through that too. How can I help her? It’s beyond frustrating to watch her be so isolated and controlled all the time.
Oh, man. That’s so rough—for both of you—and I’m so sorry. You’re not in their marriage, of course, but you’re certainly affected by it. I’m sure you’re not the only one, either. This is such a tough spot to be in, having to watch someone you love so much live a life that is so clearly not what she deserves.
It sounds like she’s confided in you about her marriage troubles (as BFFs do) and that you’ve even discussed the possibility of her leaving him. So while I don’t think you can pressure her to do so, you can definitely continue to let her know that you’re a safe space for her to vent to. I also think it’s OK if you asked her about the possibility of counseling—both couples’ counseling and individual therapy for herself. Sometimes when we’re in the thick of it, it’s hard to see a way out or a way to at least navigate through our problems. An outside perspective can bring a type of clarity that people who are closely related to the situation can’t. And while having you in her corner is a wonderful way to show her that she has a support system, it can’t just be on you to shoulder that burden—for your sake and for the sake of your friendship.
I’m going to assume she’s tried to make her feelings clear to her husband to no avail. I desperately hope he’s willing to explore the dynamic of their relationship in couples’ counseling, but if he’s not (as domineering, abusive men typically aren’t), I desperately hope she can find a way to go for herself. This is where you can come in—offer to watch her kids for that hour while she’s in therapy, whether in-person or virtually.
The longer someone is in a toxic relationship, the harder it is to see a way out (or to at least feel as though there are solutions within your control). All you can do is continue to be there for her, continue trying to get her out of the house, and validate her feelings when she opens up to you. Gently suggest therapy as a way for her to regain some confidence and control—it’s an hour just for her and her feelings. You’re a good friend, and while it can’t be on you alone to help her (you have your own family and your own needs), the fact that she has someone in her corner is vital. Good luck to you both. I genuinely hope things change for your friend.