Be there when she needs help

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Question: My best friend is getting married in about five months to her boyfriend of six years, a very manipulative and emotionally abusive man. I've tried to talk to her multiple times, but I just don't think I've done it in the right way because she always defends him and says I don't understand and it's not that bad. He controls what she wears, won't let her talk to her friends on the phone for longer than five minutes at a time, and constantly makes her feel guilty.

We've been best friends since childhood. I'm her last friend left after all these years with him; however, I'm barely even in her life anymore with how controlling he is.

I feel like I owe it to our friendship to stick around. But I feel so judgmental all the time - I just don't understand how she is degrading herself by staying with him. Her family actively told her they wished she never existed, so I know she is seeking this kind of relationship, where someone needs her.

Am I just supposed to stand by indefinitely, though, and pretend we're close friends even though we've grown so far apart?

Answer: No, don't pretend - besides being dishonest, it also rarely accomplishes much.

Instead, you can just stay in touch for the sake of staying in touch. Think of her as you would a relative who once played a profound role in your life but who has receded naturally with time. We adapt to this all the time; it just feels odd with a "best" friend, i.e., someone you'd otherwise call because it would never occur to you not to.

I would also suggest nurturing your friendship into this phase a bit before speaking up again, establishing that you're there for her and not just there to get your point across. Remember, she shows signs of both not thinking clearly and of having a voice in her ear that's saying bad things about you.

Assuming you do reestablish trust, or if she brings up something disturbing that happened in her relationship, there are two directions you can go: First is to suggest she try MOSAIC, a threat assessment survey she can take confidentially (www.mosaicmethod.com) - which has the benefit of getting your opinion out of it. Second is to stay out of the "He's a bad guy" business (which is usually met with defensiveness anyway) and stick to the line that many have said saved them when they were in dangerous relationships: "I'm available 24-7, no questions asked." You've been steadfast, so no one can say that as credibly as you can.

You can't help people who don't want help, but you can establish yourself as the person to call when they're ready.

tellme@washpost.com.

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