Why Does My Friend Put up With his Wife’s Abuse?

By Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW

Q. My best friend is married to a woman who is paranoid schizophrenic with severe depression. They have three children, two of which are now in college. My friend works two jobs, while his wife is spending money like they have it. She constantly accuses him of having affairs. She has actually driven to his place of work and waited in the parking lot just to see if he walks out with a woman. Her suspicions are completely unfounded, but my friend is constantly trying to prove to her that he isn’t doing anything wrong. I could go on and on with the anecdotes, but I’m sure you get the idea. I guess my question is why does my friend live like this? He is in an abusive relationship (she is physically, verbally, mentally and emotionally abusive). It is as though her behavior has caused him to develop a sort of mental disorder. Does that make sense? They have been to over a dozen marriage counselors and as soon as the therapist realizes the wife’s problems, the marriage counseling changes to therapy for his wife, which is a complete waste of time. Is their situation typical? It just seems so odd to me.

A. I am not sure how “typical” this situation is but clearly there is a problem. I cannot know for sure why your friend chooses to stay in this relationship but here are a few possibilities.

He may be in denial of her behavior. He may be oblivious to the fact that her behavior toward him is inappropriate. He may not think it’s a big deal and feels that it’s not a problem that she stops by to see if he is cheating.

People who find themselves in abusive relationships often have no idea that the behavior they are enduring shouldn’t be tolerated. In other words, if an individual has been abused or treated poorly during the course of his or her life, or was raised in an abusive home environment, he or she may have trouble recognizing what exactly constitutes abuse or inappropriate behavior. What a psychologically healthy person would label as “abuse” the chronically-abused individual may label as “normal.” It could be this type of cognitive distortion that keeps your friend in the relationship.

It could be that he thinks her behavior is a symptom of her disorder. If he does, he may feel this is something he just has to “live with.”

Her behavior may not have actually caused him to develop a mental health condition of his own. Rather what you may be seeing is someone who either denies that his wife has a problem, has trouble accurately judging her behavior as mentioned before or your friend may not be equipped with the skills to best handle her behavior.

Schizophrenia is a “family disease” in that it affects each member individually, not just the person with the illness. As a friend, it may be helpful to refer him to NAMI or other advocacy groups that specialize in support and helping family members learn how to best understand and deal with their family members’s illness.

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Apr 2008

APA Reference
Randle, K. (2008). Why Does My Friend Put up With his Wife’s Abuse?. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 20, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2008/04/21/why-does-my-friend-put-up-with-his-wifes-abuse/