My circle of friends is very small and dear to me. We are five women who have been close since grade school and even after going away to college we all landed back in our hometown and remained close.
The group has been struggling with one woman, “Jennifer,” because she keeps going back to an abusive and unfaithful husband.
This pattern has repeated numerous times over the past few years: he cheats or verbally abuses her, she tells him she wants a divorce, he begs her forgiveness and she takes him back.
After Jennifer decides she’s done with him she comes to us for love and encouragement which we give her, then he’s back and she seems resentful for what we said about him when they were fighting.
Meanwhile our group often has social outings with our husbands and none of us want to see this jerk anymore, who seems very nice and normal but of course we all know different.
How do we talk to Jennifer and finally make her understand that this pattern is destructive to her and her children, not to mention her social circle?
First I’ll answer your question.
Next I’ll make some pithy observations that will surely land me in hot water with N.O.W. and anyone else who believes in equality between the sexes except when it comes to women being responsible for their own lives.
You asked me:
“How do we talk to Jennifer and make her finally understand that this pattern is destructive to her and her children, not to mention her social circle?”
Come on, Quinn. Do you really think this is worthy of yet another sit-down after all the ones that came before?
Jennifer knows her relationship is messed up, you know it, all your friends know it. Stating the obvious for the umpteenth time is not going to change anything.
Advice for Quinn
Decide whether Jennifer is worth all the drama and come to terms with the fact you cannot change her.
For years she has remained gloriously and voluntarily mired in this mess. Either disengage or learn to enjoy and be entertained by the periodic dramatic mini-series that is her life, even if you always have to watch a re-run.
Watching people fuck up over and over again can provide hours of entertainment as well as free self-esteem building!
Robin’s Pithy Observations
And now, the part that is sure to get me in trouble:
Let’s assume for a moment that everything Jennifer has told you about her husband is true: he cheats and he has a bad temper that occasionally flares up in the form of yelling and name-calling.
If Jennifer wants a happier relationship, she is free to divorce her husband and pursue one. However, it sounds like she is perfectly satisfied with what she has, as evidenced by the fact that they are still married.
Some people thrive on drama and the cycle of fighting, making up, and fighting again. They repeat these patterns in love, work, family and social relationships.
You mentioned this was the same type of relationship she had with her college boyfriend and the man she lived with while she was in graduate school. You see the common denominator here, don’t you?
Jennifer is a Drama Queen and you and your friends are her court. A Drama Queen can’t exist if she doesn’t have a court.
You can’t fix her, because in Jennifer’s world there is nothing that needs fixing. This pattern will continue until she decides she’s had enough of it and she uses the intellect she has to change her life for the better.
Until then, she is a happy victim offering herself up to an irredeemable asshole so she can feast upon the chaos that ensues and the sympathy she receives when he acts exactly as she knows he will.
Jennifer Has No Excuse for Staying
Jennifer has a graduate degree and a good career, which makes her even more unsympathetic in my eyes. There are many women who are trapped in truly abusive marriages due to poverty and the fear of being severely injured or killed whether they stay or go.
Jennifer swears he has never laid a hand on her, though she has told your group “emotional abuse is just as bad as physical abuse.”
I’m going to beg to differ on that one as it pertains to adults, although I believe the most abused people in this family are the children who are learning how to behave like fucked-up little tyrants and Drama Queens.
Lastly, I want you to consider the following: is it possible Jennifer is full of shit?
You told me everyone likes her husband and he has done very well at the same job for 20 years.
You also told me that in your relatively small city, it’s pretty hard to hide chronic philandering, and the only whisper of impropriety about his behavior you’ve ever heard comes from Jennifer.
Consider the possibility that Jennifer is using her husband in a weird game of Emotional Munchausen’s Syndrome ™ (I just totally made that up and hereby declare my intent to file a trademark).
Every few months like clockwork, Jennifer reports her husband’s bad behavior and you all react accordingly. I think she revels in the attention.
Something just doesn’t add up here and I’m curious what Jennifer’s husband would make of all this if he were privy to some of the conversations between his wife and her friends.
Personal Responsibility and Choices
Jennifer is choosing this life time after time.
You can ask her to stop sharing the same problems over and over again, but I doubt she will be able to help herself.
Being a victim is her identity: Jennifer is the poor put-upon wife of a careless and heartless man. For this chosen status she receives regular love-bombing from her friends.
Jennifer thrives on chaos and your group of friends plays a major part in her game. Stop giving her the attention she craves and tell her to either fix her life or stop complaining about it.
Faithful Readers: Yes, I am still recycling. Bear with me: the book is nearly done and until then the pressure is on. If you like this, please share this!