Ask Abbie: Don’t sit idly by, help friend in need

Published 10:37 am Saturday, April 27, 2013

Question: My friend’s husband of 5 years is deceiving her. They were both married previously, then met on-line and dated for a year. I have known her for 25 years. Our mutual friends, including myself, have caught him lying. I have tried talking to her, but she won’t admit there is a problem even though she always seems sad and I know he mistreats her. I feel helpless. What do you suggest I do? If something were to happen to her, I don’t want to say “If only.”

Friend in need

Answer: Detecting cancer early can save your life. In fact, statistics show a 90 percent chance for survival if cancer is detected while it is still in the first or second stage, only 20 percent if discovered in stage three, and an even smaller 10 percent if discovered in stage four. Why then do many people put their lives at risk by continuing to ignore the early warning signs even when they know what to look for and sense something is wrong? It is the result of an overpowering reaction to either a sense of fear or an inability to accept the presence of a problem.

If your friend is truly as unhappy as you indicate, she knows something is wrong with her marriage but like a sick patient is ignoring the early warning signs. Her ability to make good decisions has become clouded in response to either her fear that a change will leave her lonely or her inability to see the presence of a problem because somewhere in her past she became abusively convinced she is a bad person who deserves mistreatment. These possibilities have left her insecure, heightened her resistance to change, raised her defensiveness, and kept her from accepting any form of help.

A movement toward healing will only begin when she becomes tired of being miserable. You will know this is happening because during casual conversation she will slip up with a complaint or a display of frustration targeted toward her husband or her marriage. At this point, she will no longer be a closed system and will be more receptive to your attempts to help. Listen to her and you will earn the right to respond, not with judgment but with inquiry. Ask her “Why are you staying in the relationship?” Pay close attention to her response.

If your friend appears anxious or depressed, especially if she has been known to suffer from panic attacks, she is probably staying in her bad relationship out of fear of being alone. She thinks having someone to do things with, even if means that person mistreats her, is better than having no one at all. Your response in this situation is to remind her she has escape options, and since she is already miserable, she has nothing to lose by leaving.

If your friend tries to diminish the severity of her situation, she may have been in a past abusive relationship or one in which all of the problems within it were made out to be her fault. If so she became convinced she deserves to be mistreated and is suffering from a low sense of self-worth. Your response in this situation is to help her find a place where she can have a positive impact and can see the results; for instance volunteering at a local nursing home or at an after school program. When she sees the difference she can make, it will convince her she can be used for good and will give her life purpose.

Throughout this process, remind your friend you will always be there for her, but that you are not going to let the negativity of her husband occupy your time unless you see her making progress toward resolution. However, should she fall back into her seat of complacency, you will no longer be willing to listen to her complaints. Your time is valuable and should be used more constructively.

Change within your friend’s husband is possible, but when health and safety are in jeopardy, one should not sit idly by and wait for it. Thank you for caring enough to address the early warning signs. By doing so, you will increase her chance for survival and help her become a non-fearful confident person. One who is ready to tackle any enemy, whether it be sickness or someone else, who tries to keep her from reaching her potential for greatness.

Abbie Long is a Franklin native and advice columnist for The Tidewater News. Submit your questions to