Be unable to ignore what's happening.

(53 Posts)
Curviest Tue 17-May-16 18:28:20

I've recently become closer friends with a neighbour I've known for a while and I'm worried about her marriage.

She and he were both happily married to others and all four used to go line dancing together. Then his wife and her husband died. Soon, the widower (now 67) proposed to her. He was handsome and personable, she'd always liked him, he owned a house, a nice car, and had savings. My friend was then 62, lonely, and stuck in a grotty bedsit on a bare state pension. Unsurprisingly, she accepted and they've been married for two years. From the outside, her marriage appears perfect. They are both very fit and healthy, and always out walking about town.

However, she has revealed certain things that I find disturbing. She has only ever told me these things drip by drip, and only because I pressed her to explain something I found weird or inexplicable.

Her pension is paid into his account. She doesn't have a bank account or credit card of her own and is not on his. If she needs cash she has to explain why and he then decides if she can have it. He does all the shopping and cooking, and controls her entire food intake. For example he buys her a bar of chocolate once a week and hands her two squares each evening after dinner. She is not allowed to eat anything other than what he gives her. She can't eat out or at a friend's house. She is very thin, maybe 8 stone at about 5ft 9.

He only lets her buy clothes from a charity shop, and even then he has to be with her to approve each item. He won't let her have a TV. They are on the Net but he restricts her time on it and monitors her surfing. She is allowed to read the news and email her daughter and grandkids, who have emigrated. They have a joint email address so he reads all her emails and the responses.

She is not allowed to leave the house without his permission. He usually gives it, but he has to know exactly where she is going and who she is seeing and what she is doing and when she will be home. If she says 6pm she has to be home at 6pm. He allowed her to watch a sporting event on my TV once and although we only live 100 metres apart, the second the event finished at 3pm he rang her mobile and said come home immediately (not for any reason).

She is only allowed to go to an event, theatre, and suchlike if he approves of the show or act etc. He then hands her the exact money she needs for a ticket. I invited her to a charity-raising event once (I bought the tickets) but he refused to let her go because he didn't approve of that particular charity.

There are many other ways in which he controls her but I won't list any more as I am sure you get the picture.

Now, naturally, I have told her what he is doing isn't fair or humane or healthy. I offered her a room in my house if she wants to leave him but she says she cannot ever leave, because they are married (vows mean a lot to her) and she doesn't want to live in poverty for the rest of her life. So I said, OK if you HAVE to stay, at least stand up to him, but she said she is scared he'll throw her out. She has a lovely home, a nice car and because he doesn't hit her she refuses to name what he does as abuse. She said that so long as she does what he says, to the letter, then he gives her a really happy and comfortable life.

She just wants me never to mention how I feel about it, but every time we meet I can't just carry on as though she isn't being treated like that. Obviously it affects our friendship because we can't just pop out for lunch or go anywhere without her having to keep going back to him to ask permission.

I'm torn 50-50 between "it's her right to choose to put up with it" and "How can you just sit back and see a woman suffer abuse"?

What would you do?

Birdsgottafly Tue 17-May-16 18:32:58

I'd carry on being friends with her and respect her wishes, to not talk about her living arrangements.

If you can't do that, then you've no choice but to end the friendship, which leaves her even more vulnerable.

PerpendicularVincent Tue 17-May-16 18:45:51

It's really hard, I would also hate to see a friend be treated like this.

For now, I would keep supporting her as you may be the only person she can open up to. Stepping back from the friendship could leave her even more isolated and under his control. One day hopefully she will get out.

ImperialBlether Tue 17-May-16 18:52:30

What a horrible situation. I'm surprised she talked to you about it. It must be incredibly stressful for her.

It's great you've offered her a safe place to go to. I hope he never finds out about that.

Another problem is that I very much doubt this guy will leave her anything when he dies - I can imagine he'd leave it all to his remaining family. She could contest that, of course, but I doubt she'd have the strength by then. That's a long way off, of course.

I think I would speak to her doctor about it - it's particularly worrying that she's so thin. It's abuse, just as if he was punching her and she really needs help.

RaeSkywalker Tue 17-May-16 19:03:02

Keep supporting her, be there for if/when she decides to seek help. It might be worth tentatively researching what help she might get (benefits etc). Don't volunteer this, it just might be useful to tuck away incase she initiated this type of conversation.

I feel for you, I am in a very similar situation with a relative who is trapped in an abusive relationship. She's left a couple of times and I've helped her with benefits, accessing counselling, practical things like finding furniture, police reports- but she's gone back every time. It's distressing to watch but her husband has isolated her so much that my family are all she has outside her relationship. She used to have loads of friends but has lost contact with them all. It is desperately sad.

I mostly listen but also say things like "you know that's not ok don't you". I think that being around my DH and I also serves as a reminder that her relationship is not healthy.

I'm really worried about your friend. It sounds like she's in a very dangerous situation m.

Janecc Tue 17-May-16 19:53:02

Has she lost weight since marrying him? This sounds horrendous. You have received some very good advice and I don't have anymore myself. I think if I was concerned with her weight, I would feed her. You'd have to be careful though as he will check her handbag. You are being a very good friend.

SquinkiesRule Tue 17-May-16 20:01:23

Poor woman what an abusive horrible man.
I would keep talking to her and when she is ready to leave help as much as I could.

MrMainwaringsWife Tue 17-May-16 20:08:33

You just carry on being there for her
Ultimately it's her choice , she will come to her own conclusion
Don't isolate her more by going against her wishes
It's not the life we'd choose but it's the one she has chosen for the time being

Littleballerina Tue 17-May-16 20:14:25

Support her but don't push her because she may stop confiding in you.
It sounds awful but have you asked her if she is happy?
we assume that she can't be happy living in a situation like this but maybe she is?

gonetoseeamanaboutadog Tue 17-May-16 20:57:31

That is ghastly.

I agree that you can't control her choices...but it must be very hard to watch. Is money really that important to her? How sad.

Onynx Tue 17-May-16 21:02:49

Could you email/contact her children and explain the situation to them? They may be not be aware if he monitors everything.

Curviest Wed 18-May-16 10:39:53

Thanks ladies for all the replies. It really helps to hear other's views, it helps me to judge whether my own horrified reaction is warranted or if I am being OTT.

In response to questions: 1. there's no way I could get her daughter's contact details other than by asking her for them, which she would not give as she keeps all this a secret from them. 2. I don't know if she's lost weight as I didn't know her before she married him. 3. with regard to being "happy" she says they are happy together if she just keeps to his rules and never complains about or challenges them. It's standing up to him that causes the unhappiness because then he sulks for hours, then sleeps in the spare room. 4. I have tried to "feed her" but she refuses. That was one of the reasons her situation was leaked to me ...

She never actually sat down and blurted it all out. It just leaked out bit by bit, for example when I invited her to the theatre she said, "I have to ask permission first", and when I offered her a slice of cake she says "Looks good, but he doesn't allow it" and like when he rang the instant the sport event ended and told her to come home. It reminded me of when I was, like, 8 years old and my mates had to ask their mum's permission for everything.

I must confess I am very irritated by her submission to his control. I cannot see how a British woman, after all the years we have fought and struggled for sex equality and marital abuse laws, can just bow down and appease a bully. I do understand that it's hard to risk losing a home, garden and nice car, but, I suppose, if it were me, I'd rather lose those things than knuckle down to a tyrant. It's not as though she'd be homeless and on the streets. I think she feels she needs a man to love her, to tbh she is very physically attractive (though she doesn't think so) and would easily find another man.

Anyone else got any advice?

Blimmincheek Wed 18-May-16 10:52:59

'I must confess I am very irritated by her submission to his control'

Yes, I'd struggle to be friends with someone who accepted being a doormat. I understand self esteem is worn away and people lose confidence but she has options, you've said she can stay with you.

I've no idea why anybody would let themselves be controlled like this. Surely self respect is more important than a nice house.

Only advice is to make allowances for his crazy rules and let her know your door is always open.

nobilityobliges Wed 18-May-16 11:11:04

Have you actually tried to track down the daughter? If you know surname, city, occupation, random details then it might be possible. Have you tried googling the random details you know? Eg "Jane Smith Chicago knitting circle" if you know she's a keen knitter or whatever. I don't know if contacting the daughter is the best idea btw, just wanted to point out that if you want to find her details this could be worth a shot. I'm sorry for the situation, agree with others that it's good she has you as a friend. I imagine it's frustrating but you never know what will happen now you've planted the seed in her mind.

nobilityobliges Wed 18-May-16 11:12:33

Also don't be too harsh in judging this woman, learned helplessness is a real thing. Situations that seem to have an obvious solution can seem insurmountable to someone who has suffered long-term abuse.

MyNameIsInigoMontoya Wed 18-May-16 11:26:07

I was also going to suggest you might be able to find the daughter on Facebook if you know her name and a few other details.

This sounds exactly like "coercive control", which has now been recognized as an offence. I wonder whether it would help to mention this to her and go over what it means, as it sounds like she is experiencing so many aspects of this (controlling behaviour, emotional abuse, financial abuse...). I would love to suggest smuggling her a copy of the Lundy Bancroft book too, though it sounds like she might not read it if you did sad

You might want to get this moved over to Relationships as they would probably have more good advice there?

Oh another thought for people more knowledgeable than me - I wonder whether Social Services and/or one of the charities for the elderly would be able to help, given she is a pensioner? Especially as it sounds as though she is being half-starved.

MyNameIsInigoMontoya Wed 18-May-16 11:28:01

I maybe wasn't clear on the "coercive control" thing but what I meant was, if she can start to see that this is actually a crime that might help to get her out of the mentality of thinking it's just "how he is" or whatever she is using to justify his behaviour to herself, and see that it is actually serious and NOT normal or OK at all?

Pinkheart5915 Wed 18-May-16 11:30:53

You can just carry on being her friend, and respect her wishes.

Ultimately it's her choice if she keeps that life or not, it's not one I'd want/choose but that's me I don't know this woman so I'm not going to judge her choice.

Pseudo341 Wed 18-May-16 11:44:10

I'm wondering if it might be worth getting to talk to her about her first husband. If her first marriage was a proper happy one maybe being reminded of that and seeing the comparison might help her see how wrong her current situation is.

I'd also try tracking down her daughter. I just think that if it was my mum I'd want to know. I expect you could get more information out of her to help with that without being too obvious.

Getting some information about coercive control and showing her that it's a crime might help too, but you'd have to pick your moment with that one.

shovetheholly Wed 18-May-16 11:45:14

God, what an awful situation. She clearly trusts you a LOT to have revealed this to you when she won't speak to her daughter about it.

I would say it's important to keep that trust going. The fact that she's speaking about this means that, at some level, she realises there is something really wrong. There is a gap, though, between that and her coming to the conclusion that being controlled in this way is actually worse than being poor and that she needs to run. Keeping her spirit alive so that she's not crushed in the interim is really important. I think conversations that don't judge or prescribe, but gently prod the issue in a supportive way that says 'whatever you decide, I'm here' can be really helpful. Also, keeping news clippings, stories, books about the same issues so that she can keep a grasp on the judgements of the world outside the controlling marriage.

Best of luck. You sound like an amazing friend to have. I wish I had had someone like you in my life when I was stuck in a very controlling relationship.

notagiraffe Wed 18-May-16 11:47:19

Be a bit subversive with her. Give her food and money on the sly. Let her gradually realise the sky won't fall in if she doesn't do what he says. build up her confidence. Scared he'll kick her out? He should be scared such a gorgeous woman would leave him etc.
Can you find out on her behalf what the legal issue is with her pension, and encourage her to open her own account for it to be paid into.
he sounds monstrous. But it's easy to see how she could be worn down by it gradually. That 'he doesn't actually beat me' mentality that too many women of her generation were trained to adopt. sad

MsHaveNaiceHam Wed 18-May-16 11:48:09

I echo what others have said- you can only be there for her if she chooses differently. You can't make her open her eyes or choose to leave; even standing up to him may be too uncomfortable for her.

If she senses that you are judging her she will withdraw.

From your OP, you said that she was married before. That marriage was financially secure enough to allow funds for line-dancing but when she was widowed, she was left with very little?
Perhaps she has learned that she has to be dependent on men, and that she cannot assert herself without being punished?

Giggorata Wed 18-May-16 11:52:25

It's very hard that a friend is being subject to such abuse but it sounds as though she has weighed up her options and chosen the one that is least awful - for her.
If it was me, I would choose the grotty bedsit, poverty and (comparitive) freedom, as would you, no doubt. But she seems to be saying that this is a price she is willing to pay. And it is her choice.
If you carry on being there for her you may be able to help if she starts to question her decision. She sounds as if she needs a good friend.

Saramel Wed 18-May-16 11:53:52

Well said, shovetheholly. I lost virtually all my friends when I was with a violent, controlling man because they couldn't understand why I stayed. The more isolated I became, the less strength I had to leave. Your friendship will be a lifeline for her so please don't back away.

brummiesue Wed 18-May-16 11:54:50

I really think you should make every effort possible to trace her daughter, casually extract info - surname, job, town etc
If my mum was being treated like this and I found out her friend knew and did nothing I would be devastated

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