Ask Mom Mom: When Grownups Hit

Dear Mom Mom,

Recently a very good friend of mine started to go through divorce proceedings with her husband.  She has been talking about it for years, and finally, after he got physically abusive with her she decided to do it.  I was very supportive (for years), and helped her find an attorney, went with her to the attorney, went with her to court, and have had her daughter spend a lot of time at my house, while she goes to meetings and sorts things out.

Last weekend she asked if her daughter could stay the weekend, which is fine, she’s a lovely girl and our daughters are the best of friends.  But, her reason was that she and her husband were going to spend the day together.  The divorce had turned really ugly, and he was going after her with everything he had.  He finally realized what it was doing to the kids, and agreed to put everything on hold.  The whole family is in counseling, which I thought was great, and now I realize that they are actually doing marriage counseling, and even though she originally said it was just so they could co-parent, now I’m understanding that there is a chance that they could get back together.

I want what is best for her, and he is not.  I understand her desire to keep the family together, but he is not a good person, and even though I believe he is trying, I can’t help but feel he has an ulterior motive and I worry she will go back to being the abused wife.  I want to be supportive, but this is hard for me.  For once, I have held my tongue, and I actually avoided her all week.  I know I can’t just ignore it, but should I tell her how I feel?  I don’t think she will dump me as a friend, but her husband scares me a bit, and I worry about his reaction to me and how much I’ve helped her in the past.

Signed,

Perplexed in Portland

Dear Perplexed,

First, kudos to you for being the kind of friend every woman needs! Clearly you are a smart, caring person who wants to do the right thing, and when you start from that place, you rarely go wrong.

I think you are correct in laying low for a bit. While I do believe that sometimes people can change, I also believe that it is very rare for people to change. We have to give this man credit for attempting to save his marriage and do right by his kids, but only time will tell if he is capable of this. The burden of proof is now on him.

I think you need to be honest with your friend, as hard as a conversation as that will be. I would tell her you value your friendship but you’re uncomfortable associating with her husband at this stage in the game, so you prefer your contact with the family be limited to your friend and her daughter. Say it clearly and firmly, with no room for misinterpretation. I don’t blame you for wanting to avoid a man who is capable of getting physically abusive with a woman and who has a history of not managing his emotions. Perhaps by you modeling appropriate boundaries and self respect, your friend will be inspired to seek the sort of treatment she and her daughter deserve.

Setting boundaries is the secret to dealing with the important relationships in your life. It is not judging others for their choices, rather it’s honoring your own comfort level in different situations. When you know who you are and what you stand for, and you are not afraid to live by those principles, you are less apt to be dragged into other people’s drama. As I tell my kids, “Everyone gets to make their own choices.” And you, my dear Perplexed, are included in that everyone.  Choose to honor your gut instincts and stay away from a man you don’t trust and don’t respect. Support your friend, but avoid her husband. Will your friendship change? Undoubtedly it will. But all relationships evolve over time, and this is not necessarily a bad thing.

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