Dear Margo: The Bloodier the Better. Uh, No

How can I help a friend who won’t help herself? Margo Howard’s advice

The Bloodier the Better. Uh, No.

Dear Margo: I have a friend who’s been in an abusive relationship since her marriage seven years ago. My friend claims she can’t leave her husband because she’s in love with him and because she believes marriage is forever. Her husband has caused the police to intervene, and he’s put her in the hospital more than once. I fear for my friend’s safety. When she’s with him, she is a completely different person from who she is when it is just the two of us. What can I do to help her if she doesn’t want to help herself? — Concerned Friend

Dear Con: Not much. Extricating oneself from an abusive relationship is a do-it-yourself project … not unlike deciding it’s time to get sober. Sad but true, some people have a misguided idea of what love is and how much a partner is supposed to tolerate. Your friend’s notion that “marriage is forever,” given what’s going on in hers, is rationalization and extremely masochistic, at that.

After seven years, I’m sure she is totally brainwashed and feeling quite worthless. This terrible man, in her mind, is the last train out of the station. Such ideas often depend on how the person was raised and what they saw, filtered through their own sense of self. I would give it one last try. Sit her down and say she needn’t be this man’s pinata and emotional slave. Tell her marriage is not forever — any more than a broken arm is — that there is help, and that you hope she exits the relationship before he kills her. Then you will know you played your trump card, but do understand, in the end, you cannot control the situation. — Margo, forlornly

Sorry, Wrong Number

Dear Margo: I have been in an intimate relationship with a man for a year. We are plus and minus 60 years of age. He enjoys my company, as I do his. The issue is that he refuses to share his cell number with me. He has given me his home number. I have explained how having the cell number would be a convenience for me in communicating with him. He has my cell number, but doesn’t call me using his cellphone. He said it was a work phone, but later admitted that prior girlfriends, family and other friends have this number. He isn’t married, and I have been to his home many times.

I feel slighted and hurt that I am not included in the group of people to whom he gives this number. I have wondered whether I should end the relationship on this one matter. I am not looking for this to be a permanent relationship, but am just wondering about this one issue at the present time. I have tried dropping this matter several times, but it is bothering me again. Your opinion? — Hurting

Dear Hurt: As a rule, it is the cellphone number that is offered and the home number that is withheld — usually because there’s a wife at the other end. You established that he is not married, so it’s kind of quirky that he let you know other girlfriends (plus family and friends) have the number — but not you. It sounds like some version of nyah-nyah, I-know-something-you-don’t-know.

If he’s trying to annoy you — or even if he isn’t — ask for an explanation. If none is forthcoming, tell him it’s been swell, but his reticence about such a matter is a deal-breaker for you. It is especially convenient that you don’t have designs on him as a permanent partner. — Margo, openly

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Dear Margo is written by Margo Howard, Ann Landers’ daughter. All letters must be sent via the online form at Due to a high volume of e-mail, not all letters will be answered.


Every Thursday and Friday, you can find “Dear Margo” and her latest words of wisdom on wowOwow

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51 Responses so far.

  1. avatar lisakitty says:

    As a formerly abused wife, I disagree with Margo’s advice to confront your friend “one last time”.

    Getting out of an abusive relationship takes planning, bravery and the ultimate belief that someone, anyone, out there will believe in you.  If you give up on your friend after having that one last talk, it could convince her that she’s not worth the effort for anyone to keep caring (a sentiment she’s likely hearing from the abuser), and is just reinforcing what she’s already telling herself.

    My advice to you would be to collect what information you can about shelters, social services, etc. that can help her when she decides to leave, and then let her know that when she’s ready, it’s a phone call to you and the ball will start rolling.  Then every time you see her, let her know that you love her, and that when she is ready, you still have the information to help her.  Don’t make a big deal out of it, just say “by the way, I still have that info for you when you are ready“.

    Somehow, just knowing that one person out there believes in you  enough to care, and care consistently, can make a world of difference.  The ultimate decision to leave DOES rest with your friend, but  knowing that she has options will sink in and hopefully move her to action.  It did for me.  God bless you for caring.       

    • avatar blue tooth says:

      well said.

    • avatar D L says:

      I do agree with you but I believe what you said in your last paragraph is what Margo was trying to convey. You may have done all the planning in the world for a friend in this situation but ultimately, it is up to said friend to take the first step in leaving. Additionally, I don’t think that Margo was implying that LW#1 should totally abandon her friend after giving it “one last try”. She said to try and talk to her friend to open her eyes to her current, horrid situation. In cases such as this, especially if the victim is completely brainwashed as she seems to be, the more the talk to her about getting away from her husband, the more she will start to resent you and may even blame you for trying to break up her marriage. As you said, the best you can do is be there for the friend. At this point, that’s all LW#1 can do.

      • avatar A R says:

        Agreed, DL. I didn’t hear Margo say to give up and forego the friendship. She just said to give talking about it another shot.

    • avatar R Scott says:

      Excellent response. Nothing to add other than I would take a step further and have a bag packed for her the freinds house for when she’s ready. It could happen that fast.
      Thank you for this post. Now I can get snarky on LW2   :-)

  2. avatar Susan G says:

    I’m exactly 60, use my cell phone quite sparingly, and rarely give out the number, since I discourage calls on it. I find away-from-home calls generally inconvenient. Maybe it’s a generational thing.

    • avatar BlueeyedSara says:

      Agreed that it may not be personally directed to the LW. Because I don’t like talking on cell phones, for years I had a pay-as-you go plan and while I gave my number to friends and family, it was with the understanding that they were not to call me on that number unless there was an emergency or we were trying to meet up at a location and/or time. The boyfriend may not just want to talk during work hours, or while driving or shopping, etc. The LW could ask for the phone number by promising the boyfriend would not be called unless it was to confirm meeting or for emergency purposes.

      • avatar Carrie A says:

        I might have thought so, too, until he told her that he gives the number to friends, family, and other girlfriends…just not HER. That makes it seem like he’s just playing some immature game with her.

        • avatar BlueeyedSara says:

          Maybe he knows that they will accept boundaries but she won’t? Or as someone pointed out in another post, maybe the ex-girlfriends wouldn’t stop calling him on what he says is a work phone, which is why now this one is paying for their actions? I had to get quite firm with a couple of friends and relatives not to call me on my cell phone.

          • avatar Carrie A says:

            Well, if he won’t give her the number he can’t really know if she’d accept the boundaries or not. But even if he doesn’t think she would it was pretty mean to tell her he’ll give it out to everyone but her. He could have been a lot more tactful about it. If he cares that little about her feelings she should probably move on and find someone else.

    • avatar Deeliteful says:

      I’m also exactly 60 and haven’t had a landline in years, so I don’t think it’s generational. One of the reasons I stopped dating a man a few years ago was because he did not have a cell phone. I had his home number, but that didn’t help when he was running late (we lived 2 hrs. apart) and he couldn’t call me.

    • avatar JCF4612 says:

      Am 64 and the same could be said about me. But if my guy declined to let me know what his cell phone number is (when other friends and family have it), I would view it as an insurmountable affront. If he were to think so little me, then he doesn’t need me in his life. Definitely, I wouldn’t need him in mine. Goodbye.

      P.S. My son-in-law tried that “I’m too important to give you my cell number” routine with me a few years ago. I said fine, and dropped my request. Then it came back to bite him in the tush when a major time-sensitive opportunity came up for tickets to what he would have given his eye-teeth for to attend. 

      I conveniently didn’t bother to let him know, and offered them to someone else. When he found out, I was able to sweetly say … “Gee, I didn’t have your cell number, whereas I did have so and so’s, so I have him a call!      

  3. avatar Rebecca Sava says:

    A woman we took out of an abusive relationship stayed with us for 3 weeks – the longer she was with us, and away from him, she realized how bad he was for her. She admitted that he had a way of talking to her that got into her head and she couldn’t be sensible. He’d sweet talk her, then go on and on about how she’s a cheat and a (several other promiscuous woman words) and then about how he missed her, etc. It was pretty crazy.

    The LW may need to have her friend stay at her house for a week or so, a girl’s week or something, to realize what life is like without the abuse and how good it can be without the beatings, verbally, emotionally, physically. Then in dealing with him, have someone else with her so she doesn’t get drug into the circus again.

    • avatar lisakitty says:

      The issue with that is, that you put yourself and your family at risk potentially.  When the abused decides to leave, they really should go to a secret location in order to avoid anybody being put in a position where the abuser can take out their anger on anyone involved.     

  4. avatar Chris Glass` says:

    Letter 2 = I am guessing that this man has had issues with friends over using his cell number in the past. There may be legitimate reasons for not giving out the number casually. If you have been to his home and have the home number and he returns your calls this should not be a deal breaker. I have older family members that dislike getting calls on their cells and use them for emergencies only. This man sounds as if he has an organized life and doesn’t want or possibly can’t accept personal calls at work or when he is busy with other things. In his defense I have friends who do not have my cell number because they call when bored or when I am busy.

  5. avatar wendykh says:

    I’m curious how his marital status was verified….. That sounds like a man who doesn’t want a number showing up on his bill. I mean really now this is someone he’s “dating” or at the very least having sex with regularly, this is someone who should, by nature of who has had it in the past, have his number.

    • avatar Briana Baran says:

      LW2 would probably be assured that he isn’t married because, as she stated, she’s “been to his home many times”. I don’t think he’s being deliberately unkind to her by not providing her with his cell phone number, or by, in her words, “admitting” that others have this number. The very fact that she has such a serious issue with not having the number, despite her disclaimer that she doesn’t see their relationship as permanent, and that she is hurt by others having it, again, regardless of the alleged temporary nature of her interest, suggests that her very insistence on having the cell phone number may be why he is balking at giving it to her.

      We live in an age in which too many people have no boundaries, and it is not generational. I see, and sadly, *hear*, just as many humans, particularly women, my age and older, with cell phones glued to their ears while checking out at the store (and while clumsily attempting to write checks, argue prices, or use the card reader…maddening!), driving, at school events…as I do teens and twenty-somethings. I have a cell phone. A total of seven people have the number…and only three use it regularly…and not for idle conversation. The rest of the world has my land line, and if I don’t answer, they can leave a message on my service or machine.

      It is her admittedly temporary, casual male friend’s choice to give her his cell phone number. It’s clear that she has no problem reaching him by land line, he allows her into his home, but there is such a thing as privacy and freedom of choice for men too. If she is all that perturbed that he won’t, than yes, by all means, she ought to end the relationship. In my opinion, she has a certain deficit of honesty with herself…if this arrangement is so temporary, and despite the intimacy, somewhat casual, why is she so wounded by her inability to check up on him where ever he goes, whenever she chooses?

      Women on this site have viciously condemned married men who were rightfully worried about the activities of their wives (and not even concerning infidelity), and dared to check cell phone records…but this woman who doesn’t even desire a permanent relationship is somehow being abused and cheated on because her, well, 60+ *boy friend* won’t give her his cell phone number? Good grief, o my, o my…

  6. avatar BC says:

    I’m 59.  I have a cell phone but I keep it turned off unless I’m using it to make an outgoing call or I’m expecting a call from someone.  I don’t want (or need) people calling me all day long on my cell.  When I’m home, I’m happy to speak to them, return their calls, etc.  Unless you have small children, there’s no reason for you have to be available to anyone at any time unless you want to be.  LW#2 needs to get over this obsession.  Perhaps the other people who had his number called him too often — maybe it was even the reason he broke up with some of the girlfriends — and he doesn’t want it to happen again.  LW#2 may have self-esteem issues, and that’s something she needs to work on, rather than insisting on getting a telephone number from someone who doesn’t want to give it out.


    • avatar Maggie Richardson says:

      I’m with you on this one. I gave in and bought a cell phone just because I am single and worried about a breakdown while driving alone off the beaten track. No-one has the number (I don’t know it myself without referring to the tape on the back!) and it’s used less than once a month if I need the on-road auto service, the locksmith, or to check before dropping in unannounced to visit a girlfriend.

  7. avatar carol grzonka says:

    kid, best friend, job and dr. have my cell #.  why does anyone feel the need to be reachable all the time for anything?  you said it’s a work phone. perhaps he learned his lesson about giving the ### out to personal friends.  many busineses audit personal use of their phones. if i had someone so insistent on such a small thing, i’d find it suffocating.  get over it.

  8. avatar Cindy Marek says:

    Right on to both, Margo.

    I especially feel for the lady mentioned in Letter #1. If she was raised in a strict and super-religious home, and/or if abusive husband has brainwashed her that Marriage Is Forever (in the eyes of God, literally until DEATH do us part), if she truly believes that…then it probably will be until DEATH (hers) do they part. Terrible! And he’s a rotten swine who’d take full advantage of her belief and fears.

  9. avatar David Bolton says:

    LW2: The cell problem is not a “generational thing”—it’s a precursor for a future trust issue. It’s likely you are being conned, that the BF has something to hide (namely YOU from other people), or that he’s a poor communicator. I’d do some reevaluation.

    • avatar lisakitty says:

      I agree.  The key issue here is not how he’s using the phone, it’s the fact that she’s told him she wants the number and he doesn’t acknowledge her feelings, even though he’s given it out to other women before.


      • avatar David Bolton says:

        One thing I did misread in LW2’s letter was that “[she is] not looking for this to be a permanent relationship.” I wonder how the gentleman with the cellphone looks at things—if the two of them are just hooking up on occasion, perhaps he’s just wanting to keep things more casual and maintain an amount of distance. I don’t see anything wrong with that, actually.

  10. avatar luna midden says:

    lw2-I read this EXACT LETTER about a MONTH OR TWO AGO on another site-unfortunately-I can’t find it-Dear Abby? Ask Amy? Miss Manners? Dear Prudence? or Dear Carolyn? …. Wow, I did not realize my ‘addiction’ to advice columns… Anyhoo, it wasn’t in the last week or so, so, did this letter sit around or did the LW not like the ADVICE the other person gave. Are we going to see this pop up on them ALL?

    lw1-Even some stricter religions let the person ‘annull’ their marriage if there was fraud in the marriage, or the person goes to jail for some horrible thing. Beating a person-I would go for fraud, the man presented himself as a human being and turned out to be worse then any animal I know of.   

  11. avatar butterfly55 says:

    My problem for LW 1 and those like her is that when the police are called and they take away the spouse, it is then up to her to press charges.  If you are robbed, if someone is driving while drunk, the police press charges automatically – the same should happen in these cases – don’t allow the abuser to pressure the abused into letting them off.  If more had to face some justice for what they do, perhaps it would make a change in this behavior.  Most likely wishful thinking on my part.

    • avatar Tulip O'Hare says:

      In a few states, domestic abuse is considered a crime against the state. So once law enforcement is aware of the abuse, they are obligated to press charges on behalf of the state, regardless of whether the victim chooses to press charges.

    • avatar Briana Baran says:

      In Texas, if the police get a domestic abuse call, and the abuser is arrested, the abused is NOT allowed to drop the charges that are automatically filed. Case in point: a woman who worked as a temp at my last place of employment came in one morning with her entire face blackened. Her husband had smashed it through a glass topped coffee table, and her son had called the police. Mr. Handsome went directly to County lock-up, despite her drunken refusal to press charges.

      Two months later, we were all still enduring her raging, furious, highly vulgar and crass phone demands to let her “good man” out of jail. At work, ‘Cause she missed him, you see. Yes, we tried talking to her, and were viciously cursed at as Liberal pick-your-pejorative (funny, I was the only one who remotely qualified in the office as liberal) bitches who didn’t understand a good woman and a good man. Yes, her employment had to be terminated because of the phone calls to County, because our supervisor tried desperately to help her find other avenues for her, and she refused to take them, and dropping f-bombs for two or three hours straight in an office doesn’t cut it. And yes, her “good man” went to prison, because he’d rearranged her face a few times before in other states.

      I also sat with a beautiful young woman in an emergency room because her handsome hubby smashed her face through a glass-topped table (seems to be a favorite occupation of these fine fellows). She received over one hundred stitches, he went to County. His wife made bail by selling her car and wedding jewelry. He drove his car through the wall of the apartment building where they lived that very night, violating a restraining order, and seriously injuring the people in the downstairs apartment below his own. I hope he’s still in prison. She was attempting to get his case appealed the last time I heard about it.

      You can talk until you’re left speechless, you can offer a safe haven (but be cautious, people have been killed, and so have those they’re responsible for…even if the abused woman is long gone…by the abuser), you can research information…but you cannot make the decision for the woman who is in the nightmare. Not ALL of these women come from abusive homes, strict religious backgrounds, or lack familial support. My MIL’s sister’s husband beat her senseless, and she came home three times…to the open arms of her parents who encouraged her to divorce him (others had been divorced, no one in the family said boo, and this was in 1940-50 West Texas)…but she always went back. Finally her daddy told her, “Either end it, or fix it, but you can’t keep running back and forth” (and her brothers would have fixed him properly if she hadn’t kept crying and pleading his case). Evidently she fixed it, because he abruptly stopped the abuse. Knowing my MIL, whom I adore, and her sisters, I delight to think of what she might have done to convince him of the error of his ways.

      I have been abused…by parents, by partners, by husbands. Only two male fools have had the pure stupidity to try physical abuse. I would not, and did not tolerate it. I have always believed that it is much, much more than an abusive childhood, or strict religious up-bringing, or the idea that marriage should be forever (I had two of the above, and sexual assault as a teen, too) that create a situation in which a given woman will tolerate extremes of abuse. I knew my first marriage was over when my idiot husband slapped me because I didn’t have dinner ready when he came home one hour early. I laid him out…and he was 8 inches taller than me, and out-weighed me by 100 pounds. But, even though I had no home or friends to run to, had been determined that my marriage was forever, had no self-esteem, was an alcoholic and addict, and mentally ill and virtually broke and in a brand new state, and was a victim of severe sexual abuse and trauma…I knew I was finished.

      I only mention my case anecdotally to illustrate a point…it is simplistic to say that all abused women stay because of religion, marriage-is-forever, low self-esteem or abusive backgrounds. Any psychologist, or psychiatrist, will ask the question in an ongoing abusive situation: How does the victim benefit? I am not talking about material benefits (although you might be disturbed by the number of women who remain in such situations to maintain standards of living…or who allow their children to be abused for the same reason. That doesn’t always mean a mansion, Bentley, and diamonds…it can mean to support a habit as well…and no, I do not see that as a valid reason or an excuse). It is human nature, and psychologically sound to ask how a woman who absolutely refuses to leave a violently abusive marriage benefits emotionally or mentally from her situation…and the answer is never simple. These answers do not make the woman evil, bad, selfish or anything but the victim…but the why of being a victim is important…especially when so many finally end one such relationship, then find their way into one that is even worse.

      In any case, I have not, in my experience, seen the police make light of abuse cases. Not in Texas (when you live in large apartment complexes, even clean, well maintained sorts, you see far too much). And I think even most women over-simplify them to a certain extent. There are significant reasons that som