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  1. #1
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    What, if anything can I do? (issue with coworker)

    OK, I feel weird saying this here, but partly I need to get this off my chest and partly I want to know if there's anything I can do for this person.

    A lady I work with has a husband (they've been married 25 years, but she says he's the only boyfriend she's ever had, they've been together since she was something like 16 or 17) who's very controlling. She tells me & others at work things about him, I for one don't know if she's looking for sympathy, if it's a cry for help, or what exactly is going on.

    She's worked there about 6 months, in that time she's said he tells her the following :

    - he won't "allow" her to work certain early morning shifts as it disturbs his sleep
    - he doesn't speak to their daughter or granddaughter and he doesn't allow her to buy Xmas gifts for them. I told her she should anyway, she answered, she couldn't she'd feel too guilty
    - he told her she should be willing to work 7 days a week
    - doesn't allow her to wear makeup because "who's she trying to impress?"

    She's said other things before, like she doesn't really have any girlfriends, I'm not sure if that has anything to do with him "allowing" it or not. Same she doesn't drive, but I'm not sure if that's by choice or not.

    The real clincher happened the other day when I asked her if she'd like to contribute towards a birthday gift for another coworker. She answered "Joe" took my cards away and won't let me have any money. If she wants money she has to ask him for it.

    I'm at the point when this guy comes in I don't want to talk to him. But I don't want to get her in trouble either....but if she's willing to talk openly at work about him, she shouldn't be surprised when people form strong opinions IMO....

    Any thoughts/advice would be appreciated. Thank you.

  2. #2

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    nyrak, I don't think there is anything you can do, but I also think that this woman is sharing with you, so she knows there's something wrong with the situation and isn't doing anything herself.

    All of those I have know who have been psychologically abused, have defended their abuser (and have - to a point - not thought it was wrong), whereas this woman is obviously miserable and knows why.

    Without knowing more information, it's impossible to know reasons, but I know two people (one husband and one wife) who did and said similar things with regards to the money because their partners were spending their money left, right and centre in an uncontrollable way (my own mother had a stipend at one point).

    If she's telling people really easily at work, I find it hard to believe she's being abused, though it's of course not impossible, but I don't think you can - or should - do anything about it except for give her advice on what she can do about it, or ask her outright what she would like you to do.

  3. #3

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    Did she ask for advice? If not, I wouldn't offer any. She's a grown woman and has been married to this man for 25 years. They may be co-dependent, she may be using his behavior to excuse hers. If her behavior towards you is bothersome, tell her, but let her deal with him.

  4. #4

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    Hmm. I am at the point where I cringe when I overhear my co-workers start to talk about their spouses....especially when they start complaining. I tend to keep my private and professional lives very separate, for a lot of reasons.

    I also have experience dealing with female friends I have had to "dump" because it was painfully obvious that I couldn't continue to have a relationship with them without dealing with their husbands, who were either at a minumum an A$$HOLE and at the worse someone I thought were abusive, even if it was spiritual or emotional.

    About the "not having any girlfriends": There are A LOT of women who I think get married and feel that the marriage is the ONLY relationship that they need. It's not healthy (even if you marry the perfect person EVER, they can't be EVERYTHING to you), but for some reason that mentality sets in some women.

    And some women want this kind of controlling relationship. They want their partner to decide everything for them. I don't agree or understand it, but I've seen it enough that I'm not surprised by it.

    What is painful is that some women either 1) don't want to leave an unhealthy relationship because there are many parts of it that they badly want, and/or 2) feel like they can't leave - either for fear or that they feel like a life without him would be better.

    My advice? If you want to avoid him when he visits you workplace, you have a right to - regardless of the reason. If that is an issue, I would suggest talking to you supervisor if you have a good rapport.

    Overall, if she wants to make a significant change, she will make the big step herself. I'm not sure how much you can do for her unless letting her feel that you are available (if you want to).

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by aliceanne View Post
    Did she ask for advice? If not, I wouldn't offer any. She's a grown woman and has been married to this man for 25 years. They may be co-dependent, she may be using his behavior to excuse hers. If her behavior towards you is bothersome, tell her, but let her deal with him.
    Unfortunately, I agree too. Despite all that she's told you, it doesn't seem like she's ready to do what is necessary to make changes. It does seem like she is dependent on him. Completely depends on her tone of voice though - if she's venting about him angrily or merely explaining their relationship like, "Oh, this is just how it is."

    I have a coworker with an emotionally abusive husband, too. (To be fair, I don't think she's tried her best communicating with him either, but some of the examples she's given me really make me .) Because he stresses her out so much, it trickles down to her work, which is unfortunate, but at least we are a holistic touchy-feely kind of workgroup and our boss is all about making sure we are emotionally healthy overall. I understand many people don't have this luxury, and that we are very lucky.

    The way she talks about him with us, it's very clear that she's looking for advice. We try to give our viewpoints, and I think she's ready to make real changes (ie, divorce him) when the time is right. They have two kids who live with her and making them travel 300 miles every weekend to visit him according to the "best case scenario" outlined by her lawyer, is just too much. Right now she's staying in the marriage for the kids (he's staying in so he doesn't legally have to pay child support - yup, she pays for everything for the kids with her meager stipend!), and I hope she'll move closer to him after she's done with school and divorce him then. We'll see though...the two kids are young now, but they'll be internalizing their parents' relationship soon and I hate to think what that does to their young impressionable minds.

    Another friend of mine has parents who always had a dysfunctional relationship, and they've been married 30 years. Her dad is class-A narcissist, and her mom is completely and wholly dependent on him even as he emotionally abuses her. Her mom sees nothing wrong with how the relationship is, even though she is generally unhappy, so they will likely stay this way until they die. Unfortunately, my friend has internalized this long ago, and struggles with not being attracted to controlling and manipulative jerks like her dad into her late 20's.

    Something tells me that if he doesn't speak to his own daughter and granddaughter, the daughter knows what's up. So it's at least just between him and his wife.

    So...yeah. It's really up to her, and if she's ready to make changes. You can't push her to leave her husband if she doesn't see there's anything wrong with what he does.

  6. #6

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    nyrak, my advice would be to not get involved.

    It sounds like your co-worker is in an extremely unhealthy, toxic and co-dependent relationship. When one person in a relationship is extremely controlling, the other person agrees to be controlled. Otherwise the relationship wouldn't work. And when the person stays in the relationship, there is usually some pay-off.

    My friend and neighbour (we live in the upper half of the house, they live downstairs) has a relationship of that nature with her friend/room-mate. They used to identify as a couple, but no longer do. However, they are bonded more deeply than many couples are due the various dynamics and trade-offs at play.

    At one point my friend ended up in the psychiatric ward before all of her repressed rage and pain came out in such a way that she became extremely unstable. During this time myself and other friends tried to help her sever ties with him, but she was unable to do that. While she was in the hospital she'd be talking about how much she hated him when he was out of the room, then he'd come into the room and they'd be holding hands and looking all lovely-dovey at each other. It was completely crazy making.

    In this case there are extenuating circumstances in that my friend has health issues that make it pretty much impossible for her to live on her own. But my attempts to support her in finding out whether any other alternatives were possible did no good.

    The one thing I've had to learn is not to listen to her complaining about him, because I end up taking side against him, which just makes me angry and frustrated, and doesn't help me to cope with him living downstairs.

    Things have settled down lately in that she's sort of accepted that she's stuck with him. But before that happened I had to start redirecting her when she'd start complaining about him. For my own sanity and peace of mind.

    Basically, stay away from problems that aren't yours' to fix, especially when you're dealing with one partner in an extremely enmeshed relationship. If she asks you for support in getting out of the relationship give it, but be aware that she may not do anything with it.
    In which case, at some point you may have to distance.

  7. #7

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    I had a boss who made it sound like her husband was the most controlling and horrible person ever. She did nothing but complain about him and how he treated her and what he would or wouldn't let her do. I hated him for the first few months I worked there. Over time things began not adding up, her stories would change and I began hearing from other people who knew them. It was clear after a while that she was greatly exaggerating her stories and making her husband out to be a monster when he wasn't. I am not saying he was perfect by any means but he wasn't as bad as she wanted all of us to believe. I think she just wanted sympathy and liked to complain and she got plenty of that at work. She was, in general, a pretty unlikeable person as it was. Maybe she wanted everyone to not like her husband as much as she felt she was unliked?
    -Brian
    "Michelle would never be caught with sausage grease staining her Vera Wang." - rfisher

  8. #8

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    Does your office have a women's bathroom? I'd consider finding out if a local domestic violence program has posters/flyers that could be tacked/taped up to the inside door. Our high school had them in the bathroom that served the teen moms, with lists of questions to ask yourself (Does your partner keep control of all the money? Does your partner limit your contacts with family, or prohibit you from seeing friends?...) and a phone number for the outreach center.

  9. #9
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    Thanks for all your thoughts here. I'd never encourage someone to leave their spouse in a case like this, I'd be too worried about him hurting her. If he's that controlling about things, I'd be scared of "if I can't have you, no one can...."

    It's a weird situation, I don't want to get involved but I can't stand seeing someone forced to live like that either. But I guess somehow it works for them in some crazy way.

    I like your idea barbk, I might try that, it's subtle, anonymous and trying to help without getting involved, if that makes any sense.

  10. #10
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    Some very insightful comments here. What strikes me here is that you are being drawn into a very toxic drama where she can dump all of her frustrations on you and you become part of a dysfunctional trio, all acting out your roles. He abuses, she suffers and you become the rescuer! This may not be conscious on her part; she was looking for a nice comfortable place to land and found it in you, a sympathetic caring individual!

    Since you are a nice caring individual, do take care of yourself! Establish some boundaries here (notice that the couple has very no sense of that). Do what barbk suggested, as a start. State that you will support her if she wishes to get professional help but that you cannot listen anymore (let the professionals handle it!). Of course, if you see evidence of physical harm, get the police involved. Right now, she is like someone drowning; you reach out a hand and she'll pull you down too. Outside professionals (the lifeboats) can deal with the practical aspects of safety first and then the emotional dynamics next. Your workplace will operate better and thank you for it.

    Take care of yourself first. By doing so, you will be able to have a larger impact ohn others!

    Advice gleaned from 20plus years in social services!

  11. #11

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    Speaking from experience, sometimes people need to vent about their significant others. Sounds like she may be frustrated with herself with staying in this relationship for so long. She allowed herself to get sucked into it and stay with a controlling man. His insecurities transferred over to her for whatever reason.

    The best thing you can do is stay out of it. Change the topic to work related things. Like others said, you could potentially get sucked into the vortex of their codependent relationship.
    ~I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.~ (Charles R. Swindoll)

  12. #12

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    Quote Originally Posted by nyrak View Post
    I like your idea barbk, I might try that, it's subtle, anonymous and trying to help without getting involved, if that makes any sense.
    On the same lines, does your workplace have an Employee Assistance Program? If so, see if you can find the relevant links on the website to print out the poster and contact info. A good EAP would be able to help her establish an independent financial life should she choose to do so.
    AceOn6, the golf loving skating fan

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