Dear Annie: I have a dear male friend, “Trey,” who is in quite a predicament. Some background on him: He suffered a lot of abuse at the hands of his mother when he was a child.
His current problem is that he is in a loveless marriage. He and his wife have been married 32 years. But five years into their marriage, after they’d had a child together, she told him that she was gay and had been having an affair. He gave her a choice: live with her new lover or stay with him. She chose to stay with Trey. He thought he could pique her sexual interest in men again. This never happened. He has been celibate for 27 years. He and his wife live as roommates, each sleeping in separate rooms.
Trey has told me that his wife has a very violent temper; that she flies into a rage and destroys things when she’s angry. He’s told me that he doesn’t love her. He said that he guesses he is still there just due to habit.
Is he staying in this relationship because he feels comfortable with a violent woman due to his history with his mother? Otherwise, why would a man stay in this situation, having the ability, funds and intelligence to leave and make another life for himself — a life that would be more satisfying and possibly filled with love?
We talk often, and I try to help and give support, but he tends to become angry when we go deep into the reasons why he is still living with a lesbian wife, in a sexless marriage and not living his full potential.
Honestly, I could even see a possible relationship with him if I make the first move to change our friendship to more than friends.
What is happening in this odd relationship? Should I help, or just leave things as they are between us as friends and not try to get involved any further? — Puzzled
Dear Puzzled: Plenty of smart, successful people end up in abusive relationships. Yes, your friend’s childhood trauma could have predisposed him to this, though I can’t say that for sure. But why he’s in this marriage is less important than what you can do to support him as a friend with the hope that he eventually gets out of it.
First, I urge you not to initiate a romantic relationship with him. Even if and when he does leave his wife, he will need time, space and, most of all, therapy to process the lifetime of abuse he has endured. Also, to try dating him now could seriously endanger him if his wife were to find out and retaliate. (She might not be interested in him sexually, but abuse is about control, not sex.)
The National Domestic Violence Hotline’s guidance for helping a friend in an abusive relationship is to acknowledge that they are in a difficult and scary situation, be nonjudgmental, empower them to make their own decisions, and encourage them to talk to people who can provide help and guidance. Call the Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) to get a referral to a local domestic violence agency that provides counseling or support groups.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline also states on their website to remember that you cannot “rescue” your friend: “Although it is difficult to see someone you care about get hurt, ultimately they are the one who has to make the decisions about what they want to do. It’s important for you to support them no matter what they decide, and help them find a way to safety and peace.”
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