She’s made all the mistakes, so you don’t have to… Ask Erin is a weekly advice column, in which Erin answers your burning questions about anything at all.
I'm seriously considering exiting a friendship. My friend is in an emotionally abusive marriage. She went to counselors a few times but fired the ones that told her she should consider leaving him (which is all of them). This is her reaction to friends as well. Probably out of pain, she's hiding in a game. She doesn't have time for anything but the game…and occasionally her job. I don't think she's addicted per se (This isn't a video game etc.).
To complicate matters, I've been living with the couple (and paying rent). She's treated me like a maid, and if I don't do all the chores, they don't get done to the point of infestations. Sometimes she makes enormous messes cooking and makes no pretense of even planning on cleaning up after herself. She reacts poorly or pretends she hasn't heard the few times I've asked her to clean up or do a chore.
I had a rough summer (suicidal, made it through, in therapy now) and she didn't notice. She talks down to me when she talks to me at all.
Now that I'm moving out, I kind of want nothing to do with her. But she's lost touch with almost all of her friends, and I'm pretty sure she's running from the pain of her marriage.
What does a decent person owe a friend of ten years?
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I am sure glad (and I bet you are, too) that you’re moving out of what sounds like a very toxic living situation. It can be tricky, under the best of circumstances, to live with a couple. Add in an extremely dysfunctional/abusive relationship and disaster is pretty much inevitable.
Now, as for your friend… Sadly, I have been in your situation, meaning with a friend is incapable of confronting reality.
A common coping mechanism for victims of abuse is to retreat to a place of denial.
She clearly knows there is a problem which is why she seeks advice from friends and counselors. But, when that problem is reflected back at her, it becomes too much. Abusers rely on this (whether or not they’re conscious of it). It’s what keeps victims of abuse coming back. By staying or returning to the abusive relationship, they can pretend, on some level, that it’s not really happening, or it’s not that bad.
I have sympathy for your friend. She’s not well. But, that is out of your control.
The focus needs to be on you and what you can do to take care of your mental and emotional wellbeing.
You mentioned that you have struggled with suicidal thoughts. I am very happy to hear you are in therapy. That is a HUGE step in the right direction. Moving out from this toxic situation is also imperative.
Now, what about the future of this friendship? I value loyalty. BUT…
Don’t keep people in your life who make you feel bad about yourself.
And clearly, this woman makes you feel bad. From what I gather, you ARE a decent person. You don’t owe her anything.
You do owe yourself boundaries. You owe yourself the consideration of your time and sanity. You owe yourself putting your needs first. This doesn’t make you a horrible friend. These are acts of self-care. And self-care is essential to mental health.
You can let go, with love. I would let her know why I was stepping away and I would do so with kindness (an email is totally fine, in person is better). And maybe, down the road, if she gets some help for herself, you will find yourselves in each other’s lives again. But, for now, the healthiest thing for you is to walk away.
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