Domestic Danger

25 Apr

Letterbalm Abused WomanDear LetterBalm: My friend has been telling me for the past five years that her husband is violent and that he beats her. She and I have been close since high school. She wears makeup and long sleeves to cover bruises and wears sunglasses to work when she has a black eye. She’s fabricated a story that she’s being treated for eye sensitivities. My friend and her husband have no children, and I’ve tried many times to talk with her about leaving him, but she won’t. She makes up excuses – new responsibilities at work, problems with a sibling, an upcoming vacation trip – as to why she has to postpone leaving. I think she never will, but that doesn’t stop my anxiety at her situation. What can I do?

–Anxious Friend

Your friend is so frightened and ambivalent that she’s like a deer caught in the headlights. Ms. L.B. believes she can’t run, yet she knows enough that she should. It’s likely she’s told others – a family member, another friend – about her plight. You can’t assume she has, however. You can only deal with what you know. Tell her that you intend to arm yourself with information about what you can do and how you can take action to protect her. There are many resources, including http://www.thehotline.org (800-799-SAFE). You need to talk with your friend privately. Needless to say, her husband shouldn’t be anywhere in the vicinity nor likely to walk in on your conversation:

Erica, you’ve been telling me for five years that Nathan is violent and beats you. I’ve seen the evidence, and I suspect people are beginning to realize you are in an abusive marriage. You can get away with sunglasses for eye sensitivities and wearing long sleeves in the heat of summer for only so long. My dear friend, I don’t want to hear one day that he’s killed you. You can leave. You’re luckier than a lot of women because you have no children, and you earn enough money to support yourself. I know you’re scared for a host of reasons – being out on your own, retaliation from Nathan – and you are reluctant to take steps. I’ll help you. I’ll get expert information and together we’ll make a plan. But you have to keep this to yourself and agree that you’ll work with me. I know it’s scary, sweetie. But I know you can do it.

Caregiver Conundrum

24 Apr

Dear LetterBalm: My mom, who is in her late 80s, had a stroke three years ago. The family pressured me to quit a good job to become her caregiver for $150 a week. I sold my apartment and moved into her house, where my sister already lived. I do everything – cook, clean, shop, run errands, make repairs and do some caregiving for my mom. My sister has a well-paying job (she pays me the money), so she pretty much comes home late and hangs out with her boyfriend and friends. She gets annoyed if I ask her to take over for a few hours so I can go out with friends or have time to myself. She doesn’t think I should have a vacation either. My two brothers don’t live here and don’t help out, and they fight with my sister because they think she’s wants the house after Mom dies. It’s a mess here, and all this is making me ill. What to do?

–Slave Laborer

Attack your problems in logical order. First, research home health care costs. Depending on the state where you reside and your mother’s needs, home health care can cost from $1,700 to $3,800 a month. You’re a bargain at $800, and you do a lot more. (Ms. L.B. doubts a caregiver will wash the windows and fix the sink.) Then, talk with an attorney about to do if the house is in your sister’s name – she is paying for upkeep so she has a strong position. But you need to know your mother’s position if the family hires a professional caregiver or if she goes into assisted living, which may entail selling her home. Call a family meeting, and, armed with your information, present the financial facts. Rehearse ahead of time, keep cool and don’t let your sister hijack the discussion:

Folks, thanks for getting together. We’re here to talk about what’s best for Mom. I’ve got some important information, so please let’s listen before we all jump in. First of all, here are the financial facts: A professional home care giver costs between $1,800 and $4,000 a month and won’t be here 24/7 and do all that I do for the $800 a month I’m getting. If Mom goes into a home, we probably will have to sell the house. So, as I see it, we have two choices: I can go back to work, and everybody pitches in financially for a professional caregiver during the day. Or, I stay on for considerably more money – everyone contributes – and time off during the week and an annual vacation. Mom needs regular care, so when I am off, you’ll either have to pick up the slack yourselves or pay someone to do it. I know Megan has assumed most of the responsibility for the house and my allowance, so we need to accommodate this fairly. I suggest we hire an attorney to help work out a signed agreement among the four of us. For Mom’s sake, and our peace of mind, please let’s stop this squabbling.

Sad Legacy

23 Apr

Letterbalm Sad CoupleDear LetterBalm: While I was dating the man who has become my husband, I got pregnant. I was anxious and frightened. For many reasons – not just financial – we decided we couldn’t keep the baby, and I had an abortion. But I can’t leave this alone. We got married two years ago, and I’ve tried to get my husband to talk about how he feels about the abortion. I’m terrified I won’t be able to have kids. He doesn’t want to discuss it, and I can’t go to my family because they’ll freak out. (Everybody says my husband and I will make great parents, and we really want kids.) I’m feeling bereft and guilty and angry that my husband doesn’t seem to be bothered by the abortion. I’m in a downward spiral.

–Depressed

It’s sad that a decision you and your husband made years ago has cast a pall over the budding years of your marriage. This is the time of early happiness, when you and your man are supposed to be laying the foundation for your life together and talking endlessly about the future. It’s unfortunate that you and he can’t talk about things that matter to you. Ms. L.B. recommends an intervention here. You and your husband must seek couples therapy to resolve this serious issue. If you let this fester, your entire marriage will suffer because you’ll have no groundwork for communication. It’s not too late to build these good habits. You know best how to set the scene when your husband will be most receptive (his favorite dinner or food delivery?). Keep calm, don’t judge and say something along these lines:

Eric, I’m sorry I keep bringing up the abortion – I know you don’t want to talk about it. But I know you love me and don’t want me to be unhappy. Can you listen for a minute? The truth is, I’m profoundly depressed and need help. Even though we had good reasons for doing so, I’m angry at you and at myself for a decision we made years ago. I ache inside, and I suspect you are hurting, too. This is poisoning our marriage. I love you more than anyone I’ve ever known, and I want our marriage to work. I want us to have a family together. I’ve found the name of a good couples counselor. Can we book the first appointment? If we don’t resolve this, we can’t move forward. If you won’t go, I plan to go myself. I’d hate that, but I’ll do it if I must.

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