They argue in public. He calls her names. He even told her to f*** off. What does my friend see in her husband?!?
Recently, one of our readers shared a story about how on a vacation with a group of friends, she witnessed her girlfriend's husband being downright nasty to her: "We were all hanging out and she said that she wanted to go charge her phone and he got so angry at her. 'Forget your phone. You don't need to charge it now.' 'No, I want to go charge it.' He grabbed her phone. 'Enough with the phone,' he said and sort of shoved her. We were all stunned. How could a smart, sweet, successful woman be with such a jerk? At one point over the weekend, he even told her (in front of all of us) to 'eff off!' I love my friend but am starting to hate her husband. Should I say something to her? Should I say something to him? Help! What should I do?!"
Well, we all have one: One friend who we think is in a terrible relationship. Her husband or boyfriend is a complete jerk and treats her terribly. He makes jokes at her expense, calls her names -- he even argues with her in front of friends. It's hard for you to understand what it is she sees in him, but it's even harder for you to witness it without wanting to say something to her. What's worse is that you do love your friend, but you feel like you have to avoid social situations -- being around the two of them is uncomfortable for everyone (not to mention, you and your husband have your own issues -- why do you want witness them arguing?!)
We contacted Dr. Sheila Forman, Clinical Psychologist and Law Expert, and asked her to weigh in on what to do when your friend and her husband argue in public. Here's Dr. Forman's advice on how to deal with sticky social situations like these:
Scenario One: A good friend and her husband are guests at your dinner party. After a few drinks, the couple starts bickering and the husband becomes belligerent. What do you do?
Dr. Sheila's help: This is a tricky situation because you have a couple of concerns here. First, you have your dinner party's other guests. Then, you have the fact that these two people have been drinking to the point of fighting. My suggestion is to take the couple aside and tell them that their behavior is making the other guests uncomfortable and ask them if they would be willing to tone it down. If they say yes, invite them back to the table. If they say no, you have to ask them to leave. Which brings up the second concern: Are they safe to drive home? If they are, hand them coats and send them on their way. If they are not safe to drive, take their car keys (leave them their house keys) and call them a cab. Once the couple has gone, return to your guests and offer a brief apology for the disruption and move on with your party. Don't dwell on the incident or bad mouth the offenders. Simply move on. The next day, call your friend to see if she is okay. Offer your support and assistance if she requires it.
Scenario Two: You are out with your best friend and her husband. You have spent many pleasant hours with this couple in the past and always experienced them as kind, friendly, and good company. For the first time, this evening the husband starts picking on his wife. What starts as small remarks quickly escalates to a barrage of insulting comments. What do you do?
Dr. Sheila's help: This is a very uncomfortable situation and one that is way more common than you might imagine. In this situation, my concerns are for the well-being of the wife. Is she safe with her husband? And I mean safe both emotionally and as well as physically. Being insulted in the way described undermines self-esteem and can be psychologically very damaging. If his insults escalate to violence then she maybe in physical danger.
My suggestion for handling this is to ask your friend to go the ladies room with you. Inside the safety of the ladies room express your concern for your friend and ask her if she needs anything from you. Be careful not to judge her or her husband. Simply tell her what you are observing and express your desire to be of help. It is possible that she will dismiss her husband's comments as meaningless. She may be doing this to not make the matter worse. If she says that, take her at her word, tell her that if she ever needs you to let you know and then return to the table. In your own mind plan to call her tomorrow to double-check at that time encourage her to get psychological counseling to deal with this "mental abuse."
If she expresses fear, ask her how serious a threat her husband is. If she is safe to go home with him, let her know you have the intention to meet with her at another time to support her in her efforts to get the right help. If she tells you that she is afraid to go home, find out if there is somewhere else she can go and help her get there.