In Lalalaletmeexplain's hit column, readers ask for her expert advice on their own love, sex and relationship problems.
With over 200k Instagram followers, Lala is the anonymous voice helping womankind through every bump in the road. An established sex, dating and relationship educator, she’s had her fair share of relationship drama and shares her wisdom on social media to a loyal army of followers. Every week thousands turn to her to answer their questions (no matter how embarrassing), and her funny, frank approach to love and relationships has made her the ultimate feel-good guru.
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One of our friends is marrying a man this summer who is verbally abusive and physically heavy handed with her (largely when drunk). I think the extent of the physical stuff would exceed the level for physical abuse, but she does not.
We have had open conversations about this. She's not in denial about it, but says he's going through some mental health issues and that she wants to ‘stay with him and support him‘ through that. She ‘loves him’.
Several friends have raised concerns with her and expressed thoughts that she shouldn’t be marrying him. Some of these stronger attempts have caused her to distance herself from these friends.
Question: How to not get pushed away or distance ourselves from her and support her when we don’t think marrying this man is the best thing for her? Current plan is: I have expressed concerns, listened to her concerns, let her know I’m here for her to talk in non-judgemental space – which she has been doing. Should I be doing anything more? Is there a better course of action?
Watching a loved one stay in an abusive relationship is one of the hardest things you can experience. Witnessing them on the precipice of marriage to their abusive partner is even harder. It’s the most powerless and distressing feeling, knowing that you need to rescue them, knowing that they must be saved from this, knowing that the wedding will be the biggest mistake of their life but not being able to do anything about it.
It's very tough. So, the first thing I would say is look after yourself. Get support from other friends, step away when it feels too much, try to get support for the fear and anxiety that this may cause for you. If you’re not looking after yourself, you can’t look after anyone else.
The worst thing about it is that there's very little that anyone can do apart from support her in whatever choices she makes. You cannot save someone who doesn't want to be saved. The nature of abuse is that it is usually underpinned by control – she is being controlled by his moods, controlled by his behaviour, held hostage to his mental health – so the last thing that she needs right now is to feel as though she's being controlled by her friends.
Even though the best outcome would be for her to listen to you and take your advice, if you try to force that on her, then you end up being controlling. She needs to make her own decisions and choices.
You have handled it perfectly so far; you've let her know you’re worried and you’ve given her space to talk if she needs to. She knows that she can come to you, if, and when she is ready to leave. It's important to avoid making this a central part of your friendship with her. By this I mean, don’t bring up your concerns every time you see her, don’t make your time with her revolve around your worries about him. It will help her to have a space with friends where she can have fun, and laugh, and just be herself.
Additionally, as you’ve mentioned, she may distance herself if she feels like she constantly needs to defend her relationship every time she's with you. You’ve planted the seed now, so you don’t need to keep reiterating your concerns. Ask how she is. If she offers information then give her a safe space to talk, but don’t push too many conversations about it.
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However, if you haven’t done so already, it may be worth carefully initiating a conversation about formulating a safety plan together.
Safety planning with victims of domestic abuse is a way of increasing their safety and planning for the prospect of future violence. Important things to include in a safety plan are making sure that she has access to her essential items like passport, drivers licence, and medication, and that she keeps her phone charged and on her as often as she can. If she's able to, she could keep those things in a particular place where she can grab them if she needs them. You might also wish to suggest that she sets up her own savings account and puts a little in each month – it will help her to have her own money saved up.
You can develop a code word together that nobody knows apart from the two of you (or people within her support network) that she can use if she is in danger and needs help but can’t call the police. You can choose any word – something that she could easily insert into a conversation. So, if your word is ‘trifle’ and she texts to say, ‘Can you send me that trifle recipe please?’ you will know that you need to act.
Make sure you know exactly what to do though – maybe you could have one word that means you call the police, and another that means she wants you to call her to disrupt the argument but not to call the police. You could also let her know about accounts like mine, and services like Women’s Aid and Refuge that she could follow that could help her to see her relationship is abusive and that she can start to plan an escape if she needs to.
It would be amazing if she could call off the wedding, but it sounds unlikely, so you need to remind yourself that there's no need to panic or act with a sense of urgency. Ultimately, marrying him will mean that when she does eventually leave – which hopefully she will because he will not change and will most likely get worse – it will be much messier and very expensive. But marrying him does not mean she is trapped forever. She can still get out, and you can continue to support her until the time comes when she is ready to do that.
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