Have you ever witnessed your friend’s husband treating her badly? (By the way, a wife can treat her husband badly too. For the purpose of this article, I’m going to use the husband treating his wife badly.) Unfortunately, it’s not all that uncommon, so there is a good chance that you have seen this happen.
Sometimes it sounds like bossing her around and telling her what to do or say, which also can include telling her what not to do or say. If she doesn’t say or do exactly what he wants, he might shame her or embarrass her in front of other people. He could talk down to her and purposely humiliate her, as if she is completely worthless. Furthermore, he probably believes that she can’t do anything right, so he constantly criticizes and berates her.
Consider if you’ve ever witnessed any of these examples of a husband treating his wife poorly.
- You’re in the car with another couple, going out to a concert, a movie, or the theater. When you are halfway there, the wife says, “Oh no, I forgot the tickets!” The husband then replies, “Are you kidding me??!! You had one thing to remember. Just one thing, You’re such a $%@&ing idiot!!” Most of us know that this is unacceptable behavior, actually even abusive. What a kind and respectful husband would have said is, “Oh no! Do we have time to go back and get them? Maybe you could find them on your phone or email or something? Otherwise, I guess we will have to go the ticket counter when we get there and hopefully they can help.”
- A group of friends has a gathering at someone’s house. Everyone is just sitting around talking and sipping cocktails before dinner. This husband starts criticizing his wife and saying, “Why would you say that? Stop talking about that. Nobody is interested in that.” He is just controlling and domineering. His behavior makes you look at your spouse and other friends and roll your eyes or shake your head.
It can be difficult to know what to do in these situations. On the one hand, you know that what he is doing is simply not okay. You want to speak up and call him out on it, but you don’t want to embarrass your friend or damage the friendship. So, do you just say nothing? Do you pull her aside and talk to her about it? Do you confront him?
I wish the answer was simple and clear, but it is not. The truth is that every situation needs to be assessed and evaluated individually in order to determine how best to handle it. Doing the wrong thing can often exacerbate things, making them even worse. Here are some guidelines for what to do if you ever find yourself in this situation:
- It is most important to insure that everyone is safe. If your gut tells you that saying something will make you or friend unsafe, then don’t say anything. The last thing you want to do is harm your friend or put her in danger.
- Never go behind your friend’s back to confront her husband. She might not want you to. Either do it right in front of her, or have a conversation with her about what you are wanting to do. She might be thrilled that you want to talk to him on her behalf, but she might be too afraid of any potential backlash. Either way, respect her wishes.
- Opportunities may arise where you can carefully reply in the context of whatever is happening right in the moment. It doesn’t necessarily always require a separate or lengthy conversation. You can stick up for your friend in more subtle ways. For example, if her husband is saying that nobody is interested in what she’s talking about, you can say, “I am. Please tell me more.” If he’s berating her for forgetting something, you could even infuse some humor and mention how forgetful you have been at times.
- Talk to your friend about your concerns privately, away from the husband. Take her to lunch or get together sometime without the husbands. Tell her what you’ve noticed and let her know that she doesn’t deserve to be treated that way. Brainstorm with her ways she can talk to her husband about it, or ways she can reply with assertion. Let her know you will always be there to support her.
- Encourage her to find a support group or caring therapist that can help her improve her situation.
Ultimately, it will be up to your friend to decide what she is willing to tolerate or not. Regardless, telling your friend what you’ve noticed and assuring her you will always be supportive is the best gift you can give. Continue building up her self-esteem and reminding her that she deserves to be treated with respect.