Jerkish friend, borderline verbally abusive to wife -what to do?


“George” and “Martha” are retired. I worked with Martha for a number of years; they live somewhat near me, and since Martha didn’t enjoy driving, I usually drove her to/from the office on the days I was there.

Martha has had a number of health problems. I’m not clear on the details, but some time before I knew her, she had some kind of encephalitis or whatever, that left her with lingering issues: aphasia, a couple of brief bouts of “REALLY not there” that got her in the hospital. She takes medication for this - one of the antiepileptics, though I don’t recall which one. Anyway, she sometimes struggles for words, can be a bit forgetful, and can be a bit clumsy (knocking over drinks and the like). She is a very sweet person.

George is highly educated and quite intelligent (as is Martha) and a good conversationalist - but the times we’ve seen them together he is EXTREMELY intolerant of Martha’s failings and will yell at her for forgetting something or knocking something over. He yells even around other people - well, I don’t know if he yells at home when nobody is around (I assume so), but obviously I’ve seen it happen around us.

Now, he’s had a number of years of dealing with Martha’s foibles and I can understand being tired of them . But, to take the tack of being so NASTY about it… hell, I always assumed that abusers tried to put on a good face when around other people but he sure doesn’t seem to do that - to the point where I wonder if he’s having some mental-decline issue. I do know that one’s social filters often wear thin as one ages. I do NOT believe there is any physical abuse - which is good, as he’s 3 times her size.

No children, and neither has any family anywhere near. So, I don’t know whom to contact if anyone.
The tl/dr story: Aging couple, wife with history of health issues that affect memory/coordination, husband nasty to the point of being verbally abusive about the issues.

I don’t see the wife (“Martha”) away from her husband any more, and I was not aware of this kind of behavior when we were still commuting or I could perhaps have spoken of it before. I don’t believe there is any physical abuse going on.

Any thoughts of what if anything we can do?

Stay out of it unless Martha asks you for your opinion. Perhaps arrange to meet her alone and give her the opportunity to discuss things with you, but don’t push the agenda.

How about you yell back at the husband? See how he likes it.

I’ve called friends out on their behavior towards their partner/spouse, in their house and right after something objectionable happened. In every case, an apology to the partner/spouse was the result and in a couple of instances, a conversation was had about how and why such behavior was unseemly.

It’s not fun but sometimes I just can’t sit and watch things unfold.

Is he caring for her 24-7? Are you in a position to spend some time with just her so that he can have a break?

That can sometimes result in even worse jerkish behaviour after the visitor has left. Not saying that would happen in this case but abusers don’t like to be called out and they do tend to take out their frustration/anger/humiliation on their victim of choice.

It’s possible that they’ve achieved a sort of equilibrium in their relationship, that after being together so many years, the abuse is just routine for both of them (*you never met **my *parents). If so, she has as much invested in the abuse as he does. If she’s not asking for your help, stay out of it.

When the fireworks start, you might say something like “Should we go?” It may get the dick’s attention, and it shows you as being somewhat concerned, rather than intrusive.

You should only be concerned with yourself. That is, say “I don’t care to listen to this. I don’t have to. I am leaving. When you can talk in a positive manner, I will be happy to stay and visit. Etc.”

So far as the wife, how long have they been together?

So far as that goes, you can give her advice like leave him, get counseling, call and report elder abuse, etc. But if she does not follow your advice, THERE IS NOTHING MORE YOU CAN DO! So drop it after that (other than refusing to listen to this abuse yourself).

Note I know a lady in a similar situation and recently got to know her a WHOLE lot better. As it turns out, she is highly dysfunctional as well. And in some respects worse than her verbally abusive husband. So it is not a matter of her simply pulling up stakes and finding a better man - no one decent would have her for long. She is nuts!

Anyway as my dad said, you don’t know someone until you have lived with them for 7 years. So that lady may be comfortable with that situation - may not want to change. Maybe can’t change. (If she does want counseling, then by all means help her - give her rides and so forth.)

I’ll second this.

My Dad and I have a relationship that bears something of a resemblance to Frank and Marie on Everybody Loves Raymond. But if you paid attention to the show, it was clear that they really loved each other. And with my Dad, we don’t actually mean a lot of the things we say to each other–it’s just how we’ve gotten into the habit of interacting. But if a stranger heard us, he would certainly think that we hated or despised each other.

My philosophy is that the only solution to abuse is to stand up against it.

Abusers do not attack the weak, they attack people who do not fight back. This is an important distinction because it means that you can end the abuse if you fight back and don’t win every fight.

However, as jabiru mentioned, sometimes when you fight back the abuse can escalate before it goes away. Even if there is a risk of escalation, I think the solution is to assess the risk and fight back anyway.

In this situation if the abuse is only verbal, and not physical, then it’s safe to say something to asshole George. You can look at things like whether George has a history of violence, guns in the house, or social standing in his community. These factors will make escalation into violence less likely.

If Martha doesn’t stand up for herself, the abuse may never go away. But I think saying something to George is an important first step. At the very least it will make George think about his behavior or it will give Martha an example of how to defend herself.

Just because you “solved” the issue for now - on the surface - by no means means it’s been resolved.

Update: We saw them this past weekend to go see a movie. We had to go to a later show than planned so walked across the street to get a bite beforehand. He was snarking at her - but for the first time, she snarked back. “Don’t get lost!” “I will NOT get lost!” (and to be honest, she’s never done that anyway).

Back at the theater, us gals went to the restroom and for snacks. Apparently while we were doing so, George was grumping to Typo Knig (my husband) about “it’s gonna be like this for the NEXT 20 YEARS”. Apparently he also said that Martha can’t even be trusted to write checks any more.

This gave Typo Knig the perfect chance to suggest he look into caregiver support resources, which I gather he took fairly well.

The “can’t write checks” suggests that the memory issues may be worsening - she’s late 60s, and add the age to the medical history I can certainly see that.

I also understand that being a primary caregiver is a very, very wearing situation to be in. I’m still dismayed at his near-constant quick-to-anger response to anything Martha may do. That goes beyond normal “I’m tired of it”, in my mind, and really suggests he needs to get help: both for his caregiver status and for his anger issues.

A bit on their history: They’ve been married for nearly 30 years. Second marriage for both. His first wife left him when their son was quite young and moved across the country. Her first husband was no prize - she once said “hit first and ask questions later” (this did not last, as you can imagine).

I think I’ll look into the county’s department of aging to see what resources they have to offer, and print them out to hand to him next time we’re together.

That’s a good idea. It’s possible that he just can’t cope with her progressive degeneration. Not everyone can handle that kind of thing. Maybe he just needs some support and/or education on how to cope with it, or maybe he just can’t handle it period.

Being a jerk is always wrong but without knowing the circumstances it really is hard to say. I know women just as you described who abuse thier medication, I live with one. It is very aggravating when you know they are loaded and they are breaking expensive dishes, or screwing up expensive recipes, forgetting important messages etc. I have been very tolerant because that is my nature but on occassion I want to expode on her, I also tend to avoid social functions when she has been abusing because it is embarrassing. I don’t know his situation, that may or may not be the case.

Didn’t you mean MORE likely?


That was poorly worded. Guns and violent history means violence is more likely. Good social standing in the community makes violence less likely.

Good idea. Not.