Hey Rhonda,

I’ve managed to find myself in a situation I never thought I’d be in. For the past few months, I’ve been seeing a girl in an open relationship with someone she’s been with for three years. She told me the first time we met and I told myself I’d keep emotional distance and just have some fun. Well I’m sure you can guess how that turned out.

Now after a few months I’m really starting to find myself falling for her. The thing is, I’m fully convinced she’s in a toxic abusive relationship. She’s shown me texts from her boyfriend that talk about how it’s her job to make him happy, that he needs to control every aspect of her life, and he’s threatened to leave her or close the relationship. He even went as far as hitting her once and forcing sex, which ended up causing her to bleed.

I personally think he’s filth and she deserves so much better. (Funny thing is, I worry I wouldn’t be much better — not in an abusive way, obviously, but in a way she deserves). Anyways, we’ve talked about it a couple of times before and she’s told me she thinks I’m very good for her and I do a good job of taking care of her. But whenever I ask her about leaving him all she does is defend him.

She talks about how he stayed with her after she cheated on him with four different guys, how she doesn’t know what he’d do if he left her, that he’s saving money to move her so they can be together (he currently lives out of state). She even defends him hitting her by saying it was the first time it happened and that she’s sure he’ll get better. But she never actually gives me a real reason why she’s still with him.

Now more than anything I want her to realise how toxic he is and to see she absolutely deserves so much better. That and I’ve found myself slowly falling for her because being with her and talking with her feels so natural it almost doesn’t feel real.

I also realise if she did leave him for me, with the way she is, she’d have to keep things open and I do understand that. So, on the off chance that does actually happen, do you have any tips for jealousy, because that has caused a bit of tension.

Anyways, in the end I figured I’d seek the advice of an impartial stranger.

–Confused and Conflicted Soul

Dear CaCS,

My initial reaction reading your letter is there are all kinds of red flags here for you and for her. As much as you have strong feelings right now, you are still in the very early stages of this relationship, and not in the best position to use sound judgement about starting something more serious.

She appears to be in a tumultuous situation, which has escalated to physical violence. You say she hasn’t given you any ‘real’ reasons to stay with her controlling boyfriend, but she has provided several justifications including security, a sense of obligation, and because she feels emotionally manipulated to do so. Though from the outside it appears she has a choice, from where she sits, she may not feel able to leave. This is not a healthy relationship for them or for you to get involved in.

You say she feels you ‘do a good job of taking care of her’. But here’s the thing: unless you have White Knight Syndrome, you don’t want to be her saviour; you want to be her partner, her lover, her friend, her equal. Right now, she does not seem to be in a position to meet anyone on equal footing in a relationship. And that is work she is going to need to do on her own, with trusted friends, or with a therapist — not a quasi-protector for a boyfriend. Having said that, if you choose to play that role, know this is the relationship you signed up for, and what you chose to be to her.

You also mention she cheated on her boyfriend multiple times. This suggests possible underlying problems for her (and potentially for any partners), which you would want her to sort out before getting serious with anyone.

So what can you do from here? If you witness his controlling behaviour, call him out. Name it, and tell him to knock it the f*ck off. Whatever has happened between them before, he does not have the right to control another human being in that way. And if you witness any violence, make sure she is safe, and call the police.

You can encourage and help her to leave her abusive relationship. Direct her to resources where she can get help to leave safely, and support her in that undertaking. Help her to work on herself, building security and self-sufficiency so she feels she can leave.

But you should be doing this as her friend, as someone who cares for her, not as someone seeking the reward of her love and gratitude at the other end. That’s not friendship, that’s self-interest and manipulation.

On the other hand, know you are not responsible for her (or him). You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink. You may find you need to step away to protect yourself emotionally if she is not able to accept or seek the help she needs.

In short, my recommendation is, do not get into a serious relationship with this girl, at least not right now. And don’t be that guy who expects a return on his investment. She is already vulnerable. She needs your friendship and support, not your entitlement.

As for tips on jealousy, I wrote a post a few years back addressing this very topic, called ‘Unravelling Jealousy‘. Part of the key (for me at least) was understanding where my jealousy came from, accepting and acknowledging my feelings, instead of projecting them onto my partner(s) and trying to make them responsible for how I felt. Know that feeling jealous is natural; it’s what you choose to do with those feelings that determine their impact.

Again, it’s about choosing not to be ‘that’ guy. Take responsibility for your feelings. Treat your partner with respect and expect respect in return.

I wish you all the best, CaCS, and hope it works out for you all.

Rhonda xx

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