Editor’s Note: This letter was submitted by Lovefraud reader we’ll call “Elizabella.” Other names in this letter have been changed.
I’ve spent hours online searching for specific suggestions that apply to this particular situation, but am still mostly at a loss regarding how to handle it and am desperate for help. I’ll try to be as succinct as possible, but there is so much to this story.
I left an emotionally abusive marriage after 20 years, so I’m very familiar with how these “relationships” work and I am now convinced that my sister, Lisa, is in such a marriage, although she refuses to admit it; she has only hinted at it in the past. She has been married to him (I’ll call him Ralph) for several years now. For a time, I doubted my instincts about this. But, after telling other family members about my suspicions, they said they thought the same thing and cited a few recent incidents that made them think so. So one day, I came right out and told him I thought he was verbally and emotionally abusive and my mother and I urged him to get help for that as well as for drug addiction.
Standing by her man
Since that day, even though, just a week before that, Lisa had asked our mom if she thought she should leave Ralph, she (Lisa) has done a complete about face and will defend him and even take the blame for his actions. She will also go back and change the story of what happened in certain incidents we mentioned to fit his twisted version. One incident we all believe to have been physical abuse has been denied by both of them as being an accident, that they had just been playing around.
Ralph wields his manipulative tactics so well that he makes my ex look like Mr. Rogers. I cannot relate to Lisa’s apparent deep attachment to her abuser because in my own marriage, I always knew the way I was being treated was wrong and I wanted to leave, but he held over me the threat of taking our children and disappearing. Ralph and Lisa have no children. Lisa now exhibits all of the traits of someone with Stockholm Syndrome. I know that at one point about a year ago, she was near suicidal. Trauma bonding is also a large part of their relationship, I believe. They seem to have many more problems in general than most couples I know. Some of these problems are self-inflicted and others are things that most people go through at some time in their lives, such as the death of a relative.
Blaming her, not him
Ever since he has realized that we believe him to be abusive, he has been on a campaign to convince us that Lisa is actually the abuser and he is the victim. There are many more recent incidents where one or more family members have seen glimpses of his emotional abuse tactics, and I believe they must be just the proverbial tip of the iceberg. I shudder to think what goes on when no one is around, although right now they seem to be in a prolonged “honeymoon” phase ever since they realized we are onto him.
Lisa is now denying that there is or has ever been any form of abuse and has demanded that we apologize to Ralph, admit that we were wrong, and act as if everything were normal and that we love him. Lisa and Ralph are both threatening to cut us off from having any contact with them. I know that she feels very sorry for him because he was abused as a child. I also have strong evidence that he is using heroin, though I cannot prove it 100%.
Live the lie
I’ve read articles that say there’s nothing you can really do beyond being supportive if a woman does not acknowledge abuse. My dilemma is if I don’t go along with what she says she wants and pretend to agree that he is not abusive and act like everything is normal, I risk losing contact with her entirely. I can be civil toward him at family gatherings and such, but she will know I don’t believe the lie, because I don’t fake such things well, nor do I wish to.
It seems to me that if everyone acts as if things are normal, and he gets away with abuse, not only will this possibly enable him to escalate the abuse to another level, but it would also deepen my sister’s emotional confusion about the matter. If on the other hand, I do not back down on my stance, I would hope that she would eventually come to realize that the treatment she is living with is not right. But in the meantime, she would be losing important connections to family members who love her.
Suggestions on how to help
I’m sorry to have made this so long; I did try to state all the important parts without making this too lengthy. I have noticed that in forums about this topic, people tend to have very long posts, because there is so much to tell, so many crazy-making incidents. I could go on for pages, but basically, I want to know the best way to help my sister, so she doesn’t spend several more years in this tortuous situation. I just keep thinking, is there really nothing we can do? Because that is how it seems right now.