Dear Margo: Trying To Rescue a Friend

How do I help a friend in an abusive relationship? Margo Howard’s advice

Trying To Rescue a Friend

Dear Margo: A good friend began dating a man whom I will call Albert. Recently, she admitted he hits her and constantly checks up on her. Last month, some other concerned friends and I held an intervention and learned the true extent of his actions. He is verbally abusive, restricts her choices and movements, tracks her phone and car, calls constantly, and has hit her twice in the face while arguing. She is afraid to be herself and enjoy her own interests for fear of getting yelled at. At other times, Albert (who’s a med student!) is completely charming. I believe he could clinically be defined as a psychopath. If you were to meet him casually, you would not suspect a thing.

It took six hours to convince her that the relationship is unhealthy. At this point, because we told her we would pursue legal action if he continues, she has not told us anything else because she fears she would ruin his reputation. I heard from one of her other friends that he still hits her, and I want to let him know that, unlike my friend, I have no qualms about ruining his reputation. Thoughts? — Protective of My Friend

Dear Pro: Your friend in the abusive relationship sounds like she’s at the Stockholm syndrome stage. She’s afraid she’d ruin his reputation? I think it deserves to be ruined. I do not know the procedure, which I suspect has jurisdictional differences, for reporting an abuser if you are not the victim. Do inquire, though, at your local police department.

And regarding his being a medical student: As the wife of a physician with ties to a medical school, I can tell you the dean of students would be grateful for this information. I hope you don’t wait for your friend to decide she’s had it with him, because that likely won’t happen. She’s already been sucked into this sick cycle, and I hope you and her other pals succeed in getting her out in one piece. — Margo, persistently

When Not Everyone Behaves the Same

Dear Margo: I have been sending my nieces and nephews birthday gifts for the past 20 years. They are now in their 20s and early 30s. I sent the gifts until they graduated college, and now I just send a card. The problem is that my children are young teens, and this practice is not reciprocated by one s-i-l. Money is not an issue for her. My children say, “Auntie forgot my birthday again,” and I tell them they should not expect people to send gifts, but it is nice when they do.

I am ticked and feel slighted for my children. I have sent the offending aunt’s kids presents for birthdays, high school and college graduations, showers, weddings, and new babies. I feel she is rude and thoughtless. Am I wrong to feel this way? I find myself upset and obsessing about this. Should she be confronted in some way? — Feeling Slighted

Dear Feel: I agree that Auntie is thoughtless, and she’s certainly making no friends in the family. You cannot, however, make anyone send cards or gifts, nor can you enforce thoughtfulness. I am sorry your kids feel slighted. You might make this situation a teachable moment, as it were. One lesson is that you don’t give gifts to get them. Another is that not everyone behaves as you do, but being thoughtful is a lovely trait to have.

You’re not wrong to feel as you do, but by being upset and obsessing about someone else’s actions, you are the one who suffers. Auntie has no idea you are ticked. If it would make you feel better, you could mention that your kids would really appreciate a card on their birthdays — but be prepared for a defensive frost. — Margo, positively

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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.


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57 Responses so far.

  1. avatar David Bolton says:

    LW1: Unfortunately you can’t make someone do or feel what you think they should—otherwise you’d just be another version of Albert for your friend. She’ll either wise up or she won’t. Margo is right about the legal question, as well as the educational aspect. But be prepared to be ousted by your friend if it’s revealed you had anything to do with it. And Albert might get vindictive towards you as well.

    LW2: Your sending presents and cards to your relatives does not and should not guarantee reciprocation for your own kids. If that’s how you feel, you should have spent your money on your own. What’s important here is establishing a sense of caring and interest in the lives and achievements of family members. That is the real gift—not something purchased for an event. Just like I said for LW1, you can’t make someone care any more about you than they do. If it’s not enough or it’s not what you need—cut ties and move on. 

  2. avatar Island_Doc_to_KS_Doc says:

    As the physician wife of a physician where both of us have ties to a medical school–this needs to be reported. I have sadly witnessed colleagues protect one another in situations of substance and spousal abuse and I saw students in my graduating class who did HORRIBLE things to their spouses, children, and colleagues. Those physicians with whom I graduated with who were abusers went on to become cold, cruel, manipulative physicians who eventually burned out. One of them committed suicide. The medical profession and society seem to make allowances for those with authority to continue to have inappropriate powers. This should never happen. Reporting abuse to a dean may stop someone from hurting a patient or family members in the future. An intervention now may prevent hundreds of people from being held emotional or health hostage by a power control freak. Believe me when I tell you that if a group of you and your friends make an appointment and  speak with a dean, he will allow that appointment to be confidential and will take the accusation you make very seriously. Chances are, some of his colleagues, attending physicians, and professors have noticed some questionable behaviors already.

    It is by doing nothing that we do the most damage. Best of luck. 

  3. avatar Katharine Gray says:

    LW#1:  I can only echo Margo’s response and the comments of others here with a warning that once this is reported to any authorities and actions are taken that all hell will break loose for your friend and perhaps for you and others should the abuser know who made the reports.  That does not mean you should not do the reporting. 

    LW#2:  I suspect that your obsession has more to do with your dislike of your sister-in-law for whatever reason than her failure to send your children gifts…and why now…after all this time are you obsessing about it?  And despite what you say you have told your children, they have evidently picked up on your resentment otherwise they would not feel *slighted*.  I would try to let this go. 

  4. avatar LyleAustin says:

    I just saw this same question (LW 2) on today’s Annie’s Mailbox.  The advice given there was pretty much the same as Margo gave.  You can’t expect/force someone to give a present.

    • avatar obiemama says:

      In the account on Annie’s mailbox, the LW says that her SIL used to send gifts, but no longer does so. I think this very much changes the situation.
      Maybe consider that money actually is an issue for her now, as it is for so many others?

  5. avatar Michelles11 says:

    Re: LW2 My brother-in-law and his wife never show up to family parties or acknowledge any of the kids’ birthdays.  But we are expected to show up to all of his kids’ functions and rsvp in a timely manner.  If we don’t, we get a phone call and a reprimand.  We finally had enough of the nonsense and just quit going.  I still send a gift to the kids because it’s not their fault their parents are rude, and besides that, the kids don’t even talk to anyone because they don’t raally know us or their cousins!  Sad, but that’s how it is.

    • avatar bright eyes says:

      Michelles – that’s how it is with me. I was putting out the effort and none was returned. It’s not about the presents, it’s about how I’m supposed to remind everyone that one of my nephews birthday is coming up. I’m supposed to remind my parents and make sure they send them something before their birthdays – yet they completely forget my sons. And yes, I still send presents, but I have scaled things back because I never know if they liked what I got or even if they got it.

  6. avatar Donna Sampson says:

    Gifts should never be given with the expectation that gifts will be given in return. You say you told your children that, but you need to tell yourself that. For your children to feel slighted, they have caught on to your feelings of your children being slighted. You say that money is not an issue for her, but how do you really know? Lots of people who make plenty of money have plenty of bills because of overspending. Her family may be in that situation.

  7. avatar mjd4 says:

    First of all, your sil is the one to blame?  Not your brother?  What’s up with that?  

    Second, you mention sending, not giving.  Am I right in assuming you don’t see each other that often, or get together on birthdays?  Not everyone does the ritual sending of gifts to all relatives. 

    Third, I have a young teen.  He’s not perfect, and gratitude and appreciation are not always his strong points, but I don’t think it would ever occur to him to take note, much less keep track of, who did not send him a birthday gift.  Your children learned that attitude from you, and it is not charming.   

    • avatar htimsr40 says:

      Exactly.  My kids would never have thought to notice that “auntie forgot my birthday”.  Some relatives remembered them, some did not … but it was not anything that the kids (or parents) paid attention to.  

      • avatar Briana Baran says:

        My sons noticed…but they only have two aunties, who have no children of their own…and one always sends something (even though I’ve told her it isn’t necessary when she’s short of funds…and the boys are 20 and 14…so it isn’t so easy to find things for them now). The other has a bad habit of telling them she wishes she could, but she’s so penniless…so the younger son tends to worry about her.
        It’s a lot of fun when they’re young. As they get older…feh…not so much. We do gift giving as something that is meaningful…but not necessary or to be expected. I think that LW2 should maybe lighten up a little.

    • avatar Briana Baran says:

      “Your children learned that attitude from you, and it is not charming.”
      mjd4:  Beautifully stated. 

  8. avatar mjd4 says:

    Obviously, your anger at Albert is completely understandable, as is your wish to hold him accountable.  If your friend denies the abuse, there is not much the police can do.  

    Keep in mind, though, that abuse victims are often defensive of their abusers, and open criticism may just make her stop coming to you.  Abusers tend to isolate their victims, too.  If you against the relationship he may forbid her contact with you – control only tends to escalate.  Then, when she decides she really needs your support, she will have a much harder time coming to you.  

    You’ve let her what you think.  Not let her know you are there for her, whenever she needs.  

    • avatar Pinky35 says:

      I agree – You and your friends can report the abuse if you like, however, if she will not come forward herself, it’s only going to be your word against his. And he will probably isolate her and even punish HER for your behavior. Saying that she was the one telling you about his actions. So, I would tread lightly and just stand by her and be there for her. She has to be the one to leave him and go to the police. You can encourage her to leave and probably push her farther away from you, or just tell her no matter what she decides, you are there for her. Unfortunately, it’s hard to watch such a thing just happen to someone else, but there isn’t much you can do aside from letting her know she doesn’t have to take this and she is strong enough to leave him. 

  9. avatar Cindy Marek says:

    L #1: You and her other friends are definitely to be commended for sitting her down and talking with her; trying to get her to see the light. And chances are it’ll be a while before she walks away. While I completely understand your attitude not caring if his reputation gets ruined, I’d tread REAL lightly on that. She and yourself could face some really ugly consequences of “outing” him to his superiors. Frankly I think just “hanging in there on the sidelines” for her sake, “I’m here when you’re ready to leave that loser” is enough. You’ve gone the extra mile already. I hope she does leave him today!

    L #2: It’s always got to be someone. :- Not everyone cares, not everyone plays fair. If you’re unable to mention it to her, let it go — for your own sake. Ultimately it’s her loss.

    • avatar Tulip O'Hare says:

      “She and yourself could face some really ugly consequences of ‘outing’ him to his superiors.”

      The friend’s already being hit, verbally abused, and confined — that’s not ugly enough? And what about the potential for him to abuse his patients and their families? 
      If you worry he’s going to do something like kill her or beat her half to death or stalk the people who report him — you’ve fallen for his game. He KNOWS that the fear of what he might do is what keeps people under his control, and he uses that.
      Yes, it could be that he’s such a psychotic that he would kill to keep control, but if that’s the case, he’s a ticking time bomb no matter what people do or don’t do. But if he’s anything else, his power and control vanish the second he meets someone who’s not afraid of him, because all of what he does depends on fear and silence. To quote Margo, don’t ask me how I know these things.

      • avatar Briana Baran says:

        “But if he’s anything else, his power and control vanish the second he meets someone who’s not afraid of him, because all of what he does depends on fear and silence.”
        Not necessarily. I find it fascinating how many people are “diagnosing” this person as “psychotic” or as being a “psychopath”. It’s much more likely that he suffers from an Axis II personality disorder, such as Borderline Personality Disorder, or Malignant Narcissism, or any of the now diagnosable hundreds of others. These are not treatable, they don’t involve chemical imbalances like “psychosis” does (this occurs with schizophrenia and other Axis I disorders such as bi-polar) and those who have them can frequently be characterized as manipulative, abusive, without conscience, able to maintain a charming, social exterior…etc..
        People like this don’t just collapse and behave themselves because they’re faced with someone who is unafraid and determined to challenge them. They do not like being thwarted at all. It ruins their distorted view of themselves. They are capable of logic, planning, rational thought and complicated deception. They are extremely dangerous. I would definitely report this man to the medical school and also contact the local woman’s shelter (hopefully secret) and get the woman away from him…then be very, very cautious myself. These people retaliate. It pays to be vigilant. Carry pepper spray…and please learn how to use, and be determined to use it. Lock all doors, don’t be foolish or wary of calling 911 if you sense trouble. People who are afraid of looking foolish end up dead…or worse.
        I would report him with no hesitation. Someone like this never needs to be treating patients. Screw his reputation and his miserable life. I wouldn’t care if my friend never talked to me again…it would be better than some of the potential alternatives.

        • avatar Lila says:

          Briana, I agree – We had a discussion elsewhere – it’s not a disorder to defy social expectations – and it is not a disorder to be mean, selfish, conniving, manipulative, or even violent.
          Check out the UVA case where George Huguely killed Yeardley Love.  He might not even have intended to kill her, but he sure did intend to choke / shake / push / shove / hit her.  Women need to remember that most men are MUCH stronger and heavier then they are, and this kind of physical abuse can easily result in death even when the abuser didn’t mean it.  Love was a very fit athlete, but to Huguely, she was just a skinny little girl and easily thrown around.  And now she’s dead.

        • avatar independent says:

          Not everything is a pathology. That said, your terms are archaic. There is no such disorder as Malignant Narcissism in the DSM IV-TR. That is a colloquialism meant to refer to extremely pathological forms of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, and it is often used by lay persons. In addition, the term psychopath is not interchangeable with the word psychosis or psychotic. Psychopathy, commonly used interchangeably with the word sociopathy, is considered a subset, and not a synonym for, Antisocial Personality Disorder. Further, your statement that all axis II personality disorders are not treatable is wholly incorrect. There are multiple clusters within that axis and many of them are treatable. BPD, for example, is treatable with radical acceptance, cognitive mindfulness and dialectical therapies focused on retraining the mind to interpret stressful situations in a less judgemental and reactive manner, as well as to imbue self-soothing skills for overwhelming emotions. People who suffer from this disorder do not need to read casual comments stigmatizing them as hopeless from people with dated and incorrect information. It is no more accurate to refer to sufferers with BPD as lost causes as it is to refer to those with Bipolar 1 as crazy, though they often suffer from periods of psychosis and mania, can be abusive and, interestingly enough, experience a high rate of being misdiagnosed or dually diagnosed with BPD. Lay people are not qualified to make that distinction and psychiatrists spend many hours working with a patient to understand the pervasive patterns of behavior before they render such life altering diagnoses. One last note, even ASPD is making head way with treatment modalities–such as Schema Therapy.
          An abuser is a disordered individual but not all violence is pathological. It is abhorrent and inexcuseable but you should really hesitate before you assosciate sufferers of personality disorders with violent abusers.
          Modalities of therapy for axis II disorders thrive or fail on multiple things, principally of which is the patient’s willingness to acknowledge a problem and then to seek treatment. The same goes for sufferers of so-called ‘psychotic’ disorders such as BP 1 and schizophrenia. Additionally, you mentioned in another post that Cyclothymia is not a form of bipolar. It is on that spectrum, however, and is a mood disturbance of highs and lows characterized by rapid cycling.

  10. avatar martina says:

    LW2 – How many nieces and nephews does your SIL have?  I have 12 and the greats are starting to show up.  It’s hard to keep track of them all and I can’t afford to purchase gifts for all of them and it’s not fair to buy for one for one and not the other.  Something to keep in mind.

    Also, you are not only teaching your children the joy of giving – hopefully, you aren’t showing them your annoyance at their not receiving anything – but you are also showing your SIL’s children the joy of receiving which hopefully, they will some day reciprocate.

  11. avatar JCF4612 says:

    LW1: I suspect your friend was starving for male attention and at first found the control aspects from her beau quite flattering. By the time she felt enough discomfort from the escalation to share with you and other pals, she was far too invested in prospects of marrying a doctor.  With “wed the med” notions ingrained, she now finds it easier to complain than dump him. You can remain on the sidelines to provide support if and when she comes to her senses (or ends up hospitalized as a battered woman.) Or you can develop a case history and report it to the med school dean and cops. Make your documentation very specific. To act (or even pay attention to you), authorities need a whole lot more than he is “verbally abusive,” “restricts her choices” and “calls constantly.”    

    LW2: Tell your SIL and your bro what you’ve told Margo. Once. And plainly, just to get it off your chest. Then drop it. And knock off the card flow, which these days has gotten mighty expensive in itself. If any of the neices and nephews inquire as to why, tell them your kids have never been similarly acknowledged.

    • avatar Briana Baran says:

      How about “He hits her”? Going to the Dean of Medicine (these are budding physicians, remember, and this bud is blighted) with even hints that he is abusing his partner is going to cause a disturbance. Medical schools hate scandal…during the schooling process and in their alumni. It reflects very badly on the institution when the media breathlessly reports that Dr. Albert Lipschitz nearly beat his wife to death, or was arrested after her body was found crammed into a container in the garage…and the Dr, Lipschitz graduated cum laude from We-Ignored-The-Warning-Signs-Medical-School-Of-Potential-Spousal-Abusers.
      As for alleging that the abused woman was “starving for attention” and found Albert’s controlling ways flattering…what planet did you say you’re from? Mongo? I, personally, have problems understanding exactly why women…or men…remain with people who physically abuse them. My first ex tried that out just once. Once. I laid him out on the floor for a full 15 minutes, and explained my opinion of men who hit women while he struggles to clear his head. But he and the second bag of feces were both verbally and emotionally abusive…and trust me…I wasn’t “starving for attention”. Not even negative attention.
      The woman isn’t “complaining” (again, I may not quite be able to wrap my head around all of the “whys” but I have seen this too many times not to understand the syndrome). She’s frightened…both of staying (who really likes being a punching bag except for masochists?) and of leaving (who wants to be stalked?). She’s in denial. She wants help, but won’t take it or ask for it. Makes my brain hurt, I confess…but I’d still walk it to old Albert and her as well. Intervention is horrible. I’ve lost a couple of friends that way…but losing friends by helping them be healthy is better than planting them. 

      Sure. She just wants to “wed the med”. She was just whining. That’s why all of her friends were concerned. Welcome to earth and the human condition.

      • avatar KL says:

        Briana — There is something off with someone that allows someone else to abuse them.  I’m not sure starving for attention is the one-size-fits-all reason, but it’s definitely not an uncommon reason.  Others grew up in households where such abuse was common, so although it’s destructive, it also feels familiar in many ways too.  There can be many reasons — but the one thing they all have in common is some unhealthy pattern or deep wound.

        You were in three abusive relationships, okay.  You have some perspective, but yours isn’t the only perspective.  Just because someone else has a different one doesn’t mean that yours is any less valid (or to the contrary that the other person’s is invalid).  And if you choose three abusive men, at some point, you’ve got to look at the common denominator and figure out why you chose them or at least didn’t recognize their abuse until much later. 

        • avatar independent says:

          @KL, well said. The human experience is varied and is not a one size fits all situation.

  12. avatar sewpro says:

    L#1: Your friend may be in serious danger if her boyfriend is called into the dean’s office, since his anger over being reported will be taken out on her. I would consult with a local women’s support network for how to best handle the situation. No, “sitting by in the sidelines” while you’re friend is beaten is not enough. Just be very careful for her safety. Good luck. 

  13. avatar Artemesia says:

    Of course you should expect reciprocity in family gift giving.  WHO on earth loves giving and giving and giving and getting nothing in return but a masochist.  It isn’t about money, it is about reciprocity.  A person without means can still remember those who are generous; they can call or send a card; they can bake some cookies.  It is about getting expensive stuff or money, it is about a relationship being a relationship.

    In fact in most gift giving situations (although not with gifts to children in a family) it is rather rude to keep giving gifts to people who don’t reciprocate.  By not reciprocating they are indicating the level of relationship they want to have and to force more by sending unwanted gifts is rude. 

    • avatar bright eyes says:

      I agree there are ways to give presents on a fixed budget. When I first started working where I am now, I was so broke. But I made a bunch of cookies, brownies, cupcakes, etc, packaged them up and brought them in for presents at Christmas. I saw they were left in the fridge until the next week – yep – everyone ate them in the week before Christmas and New Years. A few of the people said Wow! I love getting home cooked things!
      And cards – $.50 at the dollar store and $.45 (or whatever it is now!) for a stamp. Yea I know how to get around cheap. Being a single parent you figure out how to get things for the holidays or birthdays. It’s not about how much you spend it’s that you took the time to think of that person.

  14. avatar Artemesia says:

    Of course it is NOT about getting expensive stuff — it is about the remembering.  typo

  15. avatar R Scott says:

    LW1 – Don’t do anything until you have your friend in safe location. If you report this guy or in anyway mess with him you know who is going to pay the price. Not you. Think this out and have a very good plan. I don’t know what state you’re in but I’m pretty sure you can’t just kill the guy which sometimes is kind of a shame.

    LW2 – I’m going to stick up for the SIL on this one. She’s made it quite clear that she’s not into mandatory gift giving. Why didn’t the LW take that hint a long time ago? I’m sorry but I see her lette as just a lot of whining. I come from a large,  loving, gregarious, outgoing, fun loving and, affectionate family. We just not big gift givers. Never have been, never will be. It’s not how we express ourselves. I’m hoping/assuming the SIL has other qualities that the LW might focus on. The important thing is that she got Thank You cards for her efforts.  

    • avatar David Bolton says:

      Your family sounds awful, and if I don’t get exactly what I want for My Special About Me Day, I’m never speaking to you again, until the next holiday manufactured by the greeting card industrial complex. 

    • avatar independent says:

      @R Scott, your response to LW#1 is a great one!

  16. avatar Pinky35 says:

    LW#2 – If you truly want to teach your kids that giving is it’s own reward, then stop obsessing over whether your s.i.l. is reciprocating gifts. Instead, keep reminding your kids that not everyone has money enough to spend on others and that they are still loved in ways which money can’t buy. I would start by volunteering at a shelter or getting involved in your community.

  17. avatar j d says:

    LW2 – This may not be relevant to this case at all, but for what it’s worth in general to anyone reading this “from the other side”. We used to send large boxes of gifts to all the nieces and nephews plus immediate family members (our sisters/brothers/parents) at Christmas. Postage alone was $100 oftentimes, times several boxes (at least a couple hundred bucks for all boxes combined). On top of the gifts! But I didn’t care about that, or the several days it would take to prepare and mail the box (big city – parking/line ups at holidays is always a consideration). 

    Many years went by when I wasn’t even sure if they were received by the kids (no notes, calls, etc). Sometimes my husband received a rather generic email from a parent, but that was it, and we never saw the kids due to distance and simply never hear from them. So further gifts (birthdays) kind of fell off the radar because we never heard from the kids. We still do send a “family box” at Christmas, but it’s more of a joint gift that can be enjoyed by the entire family instead of individual gifts like we used to do.

    If anyone has kids reading this, just make sure you send a note – ideally from the kids – to whoever is sending it (both parties). Just knowing that the gift was received and appreciated by the kids definitely helps incent doing this year after year, or including birthdays too. If the gifts have stopped, that could be why. May also want to consider numbers on both sides of the family (if there are dozens after including both sides of a marriage, it could be quite the undertaking with birthdays and holidays to consider).

    Maybe there are other ways to keep in touch to help keep the relatives in your life – I know for sure this would make a difference. Keeping relatives in your children’s life should be much more important than any gifts that come out of it. For me, that’s what I’m missing (and I’ve been invited to WAY too many weddings for $$ and gifts from distant relatives I don’t even know with notes of where to send a gift if you can’t attend… you do start feeling a bit “used” after awhile – I’d rather have a relationship, the gifts would follow).

    That said, I do like the point here that we should do cards for all, regardless. We can improve in that department 🙂

    • avatar bright eyes says:

      j d – I agree with you. I’m the one sending the big boxes of stuff. I’d buy toys all year long and pick up presents at different places. Send one big box at Christmas and I wouldn’t hear a word. I wouldn’t hear if the kids liked it, I wouldn’t hear that they got it. All I ever heard was complaints. I brought a box of presents at Thanksgiving and I got griped at because the kids would want to open the box. Ok, open it! No big deal to me. So now it’s down to one thing that the mother tells me to buy and that’s it. 🙂 should make shopping much easier.

  18. avatar Kathleen Hein says:

    LW2: Did your children thank Auntie for the gifts, when she did send them? If not, perhaps she has decided to end the practice due to the mercenary and ungrateful little snots you’re raising. I’ve about decided that last year was the last presents I’m sending to my god daughter and her siblings, since I never even get acknowledgement that the gifts arrived, let alone thanks for them.
    LW1: You can’t save people who don’t want to be saved. Do report Mr Charming to his Dean, but don’t be surprised if your friend doesn’t leave him- or if he leaves her, if she doesn’t find another Abuser.

  19. avatar mabel says:

    LW1 – Alas, there is no mechanism to report somebody who is abusing another party unless that person is a child or an incapacitated elderly person. Trust me – I work in emergency services, and most of the cases of domestic violence I see are never prosecuted even though the police on the scene are very well aware of the circumstances. The victim has to be willing to press charges herself or himself, and sadly, that’s usually not the case. Skip the police and go straight to the medical school dean. I don’t want this person to be MY doctor in a few years!

    LW2 – I envy people who get all worked up about things like this. They must have extremely easy, cushy lives that they don’t have any bigger problems to worry about. I wish I had nothing better to expend emotional energy on than looking for reasons to feel offended. If they need drama so badly maybe they should trade places with LW1’s friend for a week and have some real problems to occupy their time. 

  20. avatar bamabob says:

    wow, LW2 is really taking a beating.  one mind reading called her kids mercenaries and little snots no less.  She wasn’t complaining about not getting gifts for herself and she wasn’t even complaining on her own behalf.  It’s hard to see your kids wondering why Auntie didn’t “remember” their birthdays.  If LW2 says Auntie can afford it I’ll assume she knows auntie’s circumstances better than the commenters do.  It’s true she can’t make anyone give a gift or card and I agree she needs to let it go but give the poor lady a break.  She wants her kids to be treated “right”–or at least the same way their cousins are treated.  is that a crime?

    • avatar Briana Baran says:

      bamabob:  I have found that one particular thing you so succinctly pointed out is often more matter of perception than one of reality, “… I’ll assume she knows auntie’s circumstances…”. I must wonder if you’re the sort of person who thinks you are the expert on family members’ financial status and ability as well as desire to give any other “relations’ offspring presents. I don’t make those sorts of assessments, I’m afraid, as I’ve been the victim of the “the least she could have done was sent me a real present” syndrome a few too many times.
      As for her children pitifully protesting that Auntie did not send them a present…they are young teens. By that age, they should be past the expectation of gifts from relatives for every occasion stage…and it’s clear that Mother is very big on gifting for every long-standing traditional holiday, and all of those created to support the stationary, diamond and floral industries, etc., ad nauseum. Parents instill that sort of entitlement in their children, and it is unattractive past the age of 10 or so. Expectation of presents is not a pleasant or useful trait…it’s much better to be surprised and delighted by the unexpected…and I personally think it leads to greater contentment and peace of mind.
      How does sending presents for every occasion equate to “treating kids right”? Because the aunt/SIL would be reciprocating for the gifts sent to her children? Thank you notes were always sent…and that is all that is required. I rather got the impression that perhaps “Slighted” may have sent all of those gifts in order to, ahem, “encourage” others to do the same for her children…and that perhaps everyone has done so except this one woman.  
      O, well, we all gotta be somewhere…

    • avatar bright eyes says:

      Nope! And I totally agree with you. I ranted earlier on about this. I do believe it’s the thought that counts and it does hurt that my son thinks of his newphews all of the time yet he’s never thought of. When we go on vacation, he picks out souveniors for them. At Christmas he picks out presents for them. We see them once every few years and the kids like seeing each other. But my son has been terribly hurt that Aunt & Uncle don’t make an effort to remember his birthday or remember him at Christmas. It’s to the point that he doesn’t think they care about him at all. And she does ask what he wants and then does nothing. And no I don’t ask for expensive items but rather a book that I know he wants. Yet – nothing! And yes – I’m the broke one in this situation and when she’s telling me that she’s spending $20 to $50 per kid for bil’s family, then surely there should be $10 to buy my son a book that he wants – but nope. Ok – done complaing.

      • avatar KL says:

        You’ve got to understand that not everyone expresses affection the same way.  Some people are huge gift givers, others aren’t.  So you could just not be receiving gifts, not because they don’t care, but because they don’t express affection in that same way.  Perhaps, a little extra compassion and less me-thinking (i.e. everyone must be like me!) would go a long ways.

        • avatar bright eyes says:

          KL – I could understand if there was some other interaction. For example – I don’t buy the most expensive gifts on holidays, but during the course of the year I’ll go out of my way to pick up something that I know my mother will like, go to the grocery store and stocked up on her vitamins, pick up my dad a shirt while I get one for my son, or pick flowers to bring over because I know they’ll like them – so I do understand the out of the box thinking.
          It bugs me when nothing is done at all. No phone calls on special occasions, no cards for birthdays, no emails or any kind of contact yet all of these things (and more) are done for other family members and are expected of me to do for her children. Instead of praising my child for academic accomplishments, all of the praise is heaped on others for their sports accomplishments – so yes, for me it goes deeper than just presents. It’s about how she treats my child all year long, not just at Christmas.  

  21. avatar bella123 says:

    My sister in law moved away (far enough to make travel difficult) before her children were born.  My family did visit twice, but my SIL has never come home.  We just don’t know her kids.  This will not sit well with everyone, but I just can’t remember birthdays for people I don’t even know.  Of course, I wish those children well.  I hope they are healthy and happy.  But I have a first cousin with whom I am in touch MUCH more frequently than we are with this SIL, and my cousin and I don’t even do the birthday card with gift thing.  I just don’t get it.  My SIL  did it, so I reciprocated.  But with my kids, my job, my life….it just got to be too much. I was always late, and then my MIL would call and yell at me  At ME….not at her son. Why is it the woman’s job.  So, I called my SIL and told her it was too much, and I would not be doing it any more, and I just wanted to let her know. It did not go over well.  She told me that I’d BETTER keep sending the Christmas box I always send, or there would be trouble.  What is it with people?  I keep sending the damn box, but next year, I am just going to put three gift cards in an envelope with our Christmas card and leave it at that.  And the whole thing just stinks, in my opinion.  My kids are fine without gifts from relatives they have never met, and I really do think hers are as well.  I guess I sound heartless and mean, but this one just annoys me personally.

    • avatar KL says:

      Bella — Some people just have a very hard time understanding that others are different and they want to impose their views on everyone else.  It may be better to send the christmas box — you’ve got to choose your battles — but don’t beat yourself because you’re different than the gift givers of the world.  I personally prefer experiences and time spent together over gifts, but others feel differently.

  22. avatar Sister says:

    LW #1: Sorry to hear you friend is in this predicament. It’s a long shot, but see if you & your friends can pitch in together to surprise her with a long weekend get-away. Ideally, one of you would be able to extend your visit beyond the weekend if your friend has any interest in doing so. Sometimes time away from the toxic person and allowing fresh air to come in is the best remedy for grounding and to realize how much better she feels without her addiction (the relationship).
    Other tips:
    *Stay busy with fun activities (skiing, boating, dancing, anything active) and positive discourse; do not talk about your own relationships.
    *Go on a cruise or camping or a some location that’s not easily accessible to her man by phone or car. …or consider keeping the destination a surprise so that she (and therefore he) doesn’t know ahead of time. Be careful about any negative repercussions for your friend, though.
    *”Accidentally” lose her phone in the bottom of the trunk for the duration of the holiday and make sure she has a roommate if you’re staying in a hotel (to decrease likelihood of her getting on the phone).
    *When she brings him up, say, “He really doesn’t seem like the best match for you” and then steer the subject away from relationships. 
    *It wouldn’t hurt if you are in an environment where there are cute waiters (or bikers, skiers, surfers, etc.) who smile at her. Sometimes it doesn’t take much to remind a person that there are other fish in the sea.
    In truth, it doesn’t seem like your friend is at all ready to make a shift. But the first step would be her realizing she may need help. Let her come to that realization on her own and don’t push her. You already tried an intervention. Now just let your friendship allow her own vibrant energy to resurface. Good luck, and I hope her circle of friends continues to stay in touch with her.

  23. avatar Sister says:

    LW2: Did Auntie used to send gifts? If so, maybe she feels once the kids are in double digits, they no longer need to be sent gifts. (Even though you chose to do so longer.)
    If not, then try telling your kids something like this: “I’m sorry Auntie didn’t remember your birthday; I guess remembering birthdays is not her forte. …But I know she thinks you’re special and loves you very much. And fortunately, she’s great about [taking you to the game/ listening to what happened in school/  making Christmas special/  playing Monopoly with you/  telling funny jokes — any small thing that warms the child’s heart], and it’s nice to remember all the things we love about her.”
    After all, it is your child’s birthday, so help them to feel good! 🙂

  24. avatar vivi randall says:

    Re: LW2:  Reciprocity is the third rail in family relationships and I don’t blame the LW for being annoyed that her children are not being given the same consideration that she showed to her brother and SIL”s children. The SIL is teaching her children to be rude; the LW is teaching her kids to be patsies. There’s little point in being the only party actively trying to have a relationship. 

  25. avatar Lym BO says:

    Totally get the gift giving drama. My nieces & nephews live far away. I barely know them, rarely see them & have four, young busy kids of my own and told my SIL when they were all little that I preferred not to exchange birthday gifts. She claimed she wanted to do this to be connected to them and pretty much demanded we do it.  Yet the gifts she sends are most often obvious re-gifts.  I do not like to buy gifts for others mostly because I know they pretty much have more than any kid could ever want. Our society is too lavish with gifts. People spend over their means. We only give our kids things on holidays, but they still have too much. Gifts from Auntie, arriving in the mail, is barely considered due to the number of gifts coming in.  My daughter put more than half of her gifts in the attic in September. They are still up there. I think this year we may adopt the idea of giving to a charity or college fund or something. My grandmother always gave me an international dressed doll for each occasion. Love that….  And my relatives, except Grandma,  never sent gifts except for Christmas. No feelings of neglect here. 

  26. avatar bright eyes says:

    I wonder if Margo’s view would change if they’re both children? This happened all of the time to my son. (now 13) Notice I said happened as I have changed my ways. I’d send my nephew cards for everything – Valentine’s day, Easter, Birthdays, etc. And send presents early for Birthdays and Christmas. I’d even remind my parents to get him something for Christmas because they’re not very time minded (ie shopping for Christmas on Christmas Eve) but they live a bit far away, so things have to be mailed.
    My son really enjoys picking out presents for his nephew (8) and likes to pick up small items wherever we go to send at Christmas. Two years ago when there was a big thing at Christmas. My sister couldn’t get an item that my son wanted for Christmas because her husband said it was too expensive. Ok, no big deal – get something smaller (talking $20 here!) so she did. BUT she went out and bought the exact same thing for her husbands cousins’ kid. So ok, whatever – she blames hubby.
    This year I went and bought my son a Christmas present. Why? She forgot about him until the last minute and then asked me to pick it up and have it wrapped. I did – why? Because my sons feelings were more important than my anger at her because she always overlooks my son. Her son has at least 30 relatives around him, so Christmas is a big deal. My son has less than 10 relatives and only 4 live here, so it’s not such a big deal, but when your one Aunt doesn’t send you a present, it gets noticed.
    Our kids birthdays are in the same month – I’m supposssed to fly out for his party but she can’t even remember when my son’s birthday is. She can’t call or send a card and only remembers when I mention it to her.
    So yes I have greatly scaled back the items I send and have limited myself to what I do for her kids because I feel that she could at least make some effort to acknowledge mine. Yes it might be petty of me, but when your son asks why his Aunt doesn’t even think of him anymore – it gets to me. Yes I know I should grow up and not compare the two (as in Margo’s letter) but I can’t help compare that I’m a single parent and she’s married with a husband who has a good job.

    • avatar bright eyes says:

      Oh and yes – to me it’s totally the thought that counts. The problem is I think of my nephews all year long while she never thinks of mine. It’s more that than the presents. A card or a phone call would be good too.

      • avatar KL says:

        Why do you guys want to continue to nurture relationships where there isn’t much reciprocity?  I just don’t get that.  I understand when it’s family, you give them greater latitude than most other relationships in your life, hopefully because it makes up for it in other ways.  But it seems like your SILs (or whatever they are) are sending pretty clear messages that they don’t want a reciprocal relationship.  Why not just accept that and act accordingly?  Sure, it’s a bummer when someone doesn’t want as high level of a relationship with you as you’d like, but it seems way worse to me to be the person shouldering 70% of the burden and forever resentful of the other person.  You’re causing yourselves a lot of your own harm — stop trying to control others and just accept reality for what it is.

        • avatar bright eyes says:

          KL – I have given up. I wanted my nephews to know my son and I wanted to keep in touch with them. I gave up visiting about 6 years ago because I was always the one visiting. I have given up spending time picking out gifts that aren’t acknowledged last year. Why has it taken me so long to give up? My son enjoys picking out things for his cousins. But now it’s to the point that he’s gotten frustrated himself and he’s old enough to recognize that Aunt doesn’t seem to care, so he’s given up as well. So as of last year, I have given up. Actually as of a few years ago I stopped expecting any effort to be made on their part and kept up my part of the effort knowing that nothing would come of it until I got really annoyed last year.
          🙂 And yes I was venting on here. 

          • avatar KL says:

            Bright eyes — I hear you.  If there really is greater imbalance all around, that sucks and I can totally understand why it’s hurtful.  My family has some of the same issues — I’ve got to do 90% of the visiting.  They just aren’t the types to drive 6 hours to see me even though I do it 3-5x per year.  The road is just as long coming as going.  And they totally don’t appreciate it when I do it (in fact, they act they’re entitled to it), and yet when they do it, they act like they had to walk the 450 miles over hot coals.

            It used to really upset me — that I was willing to put so much more effort into maintaining contact than they were.  And it hurt.  But then I realized that I also had the ability to just accept that reality for what it is, rather than be consistently disappointed.  Some things, I now accept I’ll have to make the greater amount of effort, and other things I’ve decided to just step away from and let the chips fall where they may.

            My Mom finally got it and realized if she wanted to see me more, she was going to have to put in more effort as I wasn’t always going to be the one that visits her.  But my siblings, that’s just not the case.  They like seeing me, but apparently not enough to make the drive consistently.  And instead of always being upset about it, I’ve just learned to accept that reality and live the rest of my life accordingly.  I have friends that fly across the country, or even the world, to visit — some members of my family just aren’t those same types of people.

          • avatar bright eyes says:

            Darn it – should have posted here! KL – that’s exactly how it is for me. I’ve traveled the 15 hours to visit (often with a young child) for years, every year. But when it came time for my sister and her family to visit, the excuses got lamer and lamer. I stopped visiting and now leave it up to them when I will see them again. I stopped telling my son they might come for Christmas years ago. I’m tired of him being disappointed and now he’s put up with it so long, he couldn’t care one way or another. I stopped expecting a visit and have stopped visiting. Last year I told my mother exactly what would happen – and it did.What upsets me the most is my son thinking that his Aunt and Uncle don’t care about him because they don’t remember his birthday (but the whole family calls and talks with her kids on their birthday) or remember him at any other time of the year. I stopped expecting anything from them a long time ago, but when you have a kid asking questions – that makes me upset all over again. Treat me like crap if you want to, but don’t treat my kid like that – which is why we haven’t visited in quite awhile and have no plans to anytime soon. 
            And, as you said, I do have friends who will fly across the country to see me and visit with me. I know they’re happy to see me and I’m happy to see them. I do accept the reality that if I ever want to see them again, then I will have to be the one to make all of the effort. These past few years I haven’t wanted to make the effort.

        • avatar independent says:

          So well said, @KL. It reminds me of the sentiment expressed in Reverend T.D. Jakes’ The Gift of Goodbye. Everyone who struggles with unfulfilling and/or one sided relationships might be able to draw some inspiration, strength or comfort from that sermon, which is short and worth the time to look it up. Even people who do not subscribe to Christianity could find it valuable. Though he obviously does mention God, his words are pragmatic and straightforward. It’s a personal favorite of mine. You just hit on such an important point about investing too much time in unsatisfying relationships!

  27. avatar bright eyes says:

    KL – that’s exactly how it is for me. I’ve traveled the 15 hours to visit (often with a young child) for years, every year. But when it came time for my sister and her family to visit, the excuses got lamer and lamer. I stopped visiting and now leave it up to them when I will see them again. I stopped telling my son they might come for Christmas years ago. I’m tired of him being disappointed and now he’s put up with it so long, he couldn’t care one way or another. I stopped expecting a visit and have stopped visiting. Last year I told my mother exactly what would happen – and it did.
    What upsets me the most is my son thinking that his Aunt and Uncle don’t care about him because they don’t remember his birthday (but the whole family calls and talks with her kids on their birthday) or remember him at any other time of the year. I stopped expecting anything from them a long time ago, but when you have a kid asking questions – that makes me upset all over again. Treat me like crap if you want to, but don’t treat my kid like that – which is why we haven’t visited in quite awhile and have no plans to anytime soon. 

    And, as you said, I do have friends who will fly across the country to see me and visit with me. I know they’re happy to see me and I’m happy to see them. I do accept the reality that if I ever want to see them again, then I will have to be the one to make all of the effort. These past few years I haven’t wanted to make the effort. 

  28. avatar independent says:

    Briana, You attacked me in Friday’s forun for expressing a benign opinion regarding a letter writer’s experience and made presumptions about my character and knowledge of psychology–referring to me as an ‘armchair diagnostician.’ Yet you find out today that I am formally educated in psychology and counseling. I call you out on the hypocrisy of making such grandiose and, btw, erroneous misperceptions while giving multiple diagnoses on this forum. I’m glad you print out your letters for your therapist. Please lay them side by side so you can note the erraticism of your own reactions as well as the inconsistent recall you evidence in your own comparative statements. You seem to have little self awareness in this regard.