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What to do if you believe your friend is being emotionally abused.

Posted by Ben E. Facebook

I believe my friend Steve (no real names) to be the victim of an emotionally abusive relationship with a woman Lisa.

I went out with Lisa about 3 years ago whilst we were at university. (how she and Steve met). Our relationship was turbulent. When we were going out she would refer to me as "this one" which I did find slightly derogatory - but would let it go. When I was not seeing her, she was not happy I was out with my friends - and would get upset and angry when I spontaneously went out with them. Over the Christmas period I decided to spend a few more days with my parents and old friends before heading back to uni since no one was there. she made it clear she was upset by this - and that I should go back to uni (we would not have seen her it should be pointed out). We would argue a LOT. I found small things, such as the bus being late, or telling her she was incorrect on a fact, would result in a large argument. the argument would usually end it "you know if you just apologised we wouldn't be arguing". I usually refused to apologise, preferring to hang up the phone when arguing over the phone, or simply walking off when arguing face to face. I put most of this down to the stresses of university coupled with stresses from her parents, and amicably broke off the relationship - however we remained and still are in contact.  When I started dating again she was very angry. 

About a year ago, she began dating my friend Steve myself and Steve are very close friends. During their relationship Steve would confide that he felt like he was "walking on eggshells and the slightest thing would set her off". Lisa began speaking on Steve's behalf to me - which I found strange because she would tell me Steve's opinion or plans, and I would ask Steve to confirm and find out it is false. Steve began showing signs of his confidence weakening - he seems less sure of himself - and less independent. He did end the relationship, but described "I ended it, she said I was just confused, now I feel confused and am not sure what is best" He has started exploring and developing hobbies that are quite alienating - encouraged by Lisa. (where myself and his friends have encouraged him but urged caution to spend time socialising). Now this Christmas he is spending it just him and Lisa giving the reason "because she does not have anyone to spend it with".  Steve has a very close relationship with his mother, and not spending Christmas with her is very much abnormal behaviour. 

At the moment  myself and my friends are basically trying to build Steve's confidence as we can - however his increasing isolation (in particular from his family) along with his decreasing confidence and the reports of the arguments, make us wonder if this is actually a cycle of emotional abuse. Would be really good to get some opinions from outside parties as to whether this is something more serious and the best way of handling it. Right now we have not discussed with Steve our concerns - we are waiting for more evidence / opinions so we do not tell him he is in an emotionally abusive relationship when he is not and it is caused by something else.


Any more information I would be happy to provide... 


Answers (2)
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Your perceptions of an emotional abuse cycle are accurate. The situation is serious and you and your friends are justified in your concern. Steve needs professional help and telling him about your concerns and suggesting that he talk with someone at the university counseling center would be a good next step. 

Steve is in the position of an addict — but he is addicted to a destructive relationship instead of a destructive substance. It felt good at first, but it takes more and more of it to try to produce the same good feeling and becomes the focus of his life, driving out other relationships.

There is lots of information about this available. Most of it is aimed at women who are in "codependent" relationships, but it is equally applicable to men. You can find some references here. 

You can also learn a lot about how to relate to an addict in a supportative way at an Al-anon meeting.

Steve is fortunate to have a friend like you.

Dr. Laurie

Laurie Weiss, Ph.D.

Dr. Laurie has good advice here.  You may want to share your concern and the advice given on this site to your friend. Hopefully he will appreciate your concern and get counseling to better understand why he chooses this type of person and why he continues in a unhealthy relationship.
NOTICE: The information provided on this site is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your physician or other qualified health provider because of something you have read on Wellsphere. If you have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately.
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