Boyfriend Blames My Best Friend for Childhood Abuse

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Reader’s Question

I am a 22-year-old female who has been in a long distance relationship with a 28-year-old guy for the past 10 months. I was going to be with my boyfriend in two months but he broke up with me today because he says he cannot stand my being around other guys. I have a guy best friend whom I have known for the past 10 years and practically grown up with, and we share a certain comfort level. He is the same age as me. There is some history that is linked to the best friend: when I was 10 or 11 there was some abuse that I went through from the best friend’s older brother in the presence of this best friend. My boyfriend is the only person I have confessed this to.

I understand he feels utter hatred for the brother, and I do too. My boyfriend has helped me stand up to the brother and get over the sorrow that was buried in my heart for the past 10 years. However, I don’t blame my best friend for this. When it happened he was the same age as I was and equally incapable of doing anything to stop it and became a part of it. When the abuse happened, I didn’t protest in the beginning but then later gained courage to ask them to stop, which they did. Years passed and none of them ever attempted to do anything inappropriate. We never talked about what had happened, and I learnt to bury it deep down. Over the past 10 years this best friend and I grew closer, but there was never anything romantic between us. I don’t think either of us felt that way for the other.

My boyfriend, however, holds my best friend responsible for the abuse and cannot stand if I talk to him or keep in touch with him in any way. My best friend has been away in another country for the past eight months now and it is seldom that we talk or email or chat. I love my boyfriend, and I am ready to do anything for him. He says, “I cannot stand if my girlfriend has any guy friends.” He says this is a fundamental difference between us and we cannot work this out. I have tried to convince and give him assurance that no matter what he comes before any other person in my life. I don’t know what am I supposed to do in this situation. Am I asking too much to be able to maintain the friendship with my best friend? Or is my boyfriend’s right to hold my best friend responsible and to want me to cut off contact with him completely? Please help.

Psychologist’s Reply

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The issue is not so much who is right or wrong but what is going to work in your relationship. Your boyfriend has already made it clear that he will not be in a relationship with any woman who has male friends. So keeping your childhood friend will not work for him. The only issue now is whether it will work for you to give up a long-term, valuable friendship; to spend the rest of your life without the option to have male friends; and to risk being subject to similar demands in the future.

As your boyfriend notes, this may be a fundamental difference between you that cannot be worked out. However, you might also look at it as an issue of power and control. If it is about power and control more than it is about values, you will be able to think of other demands he has placed upon you over the last 10 months, or limits he has set on what you can and cannot do with other people besides your friend. He might have attempted to change how you dress or wear your makeup, or he may have objected to your job because it puts you around male bosses, coworkers, or customers. If that is the case, then there is a risk that, should you stay together, he will attempt to expand his control, perhaps choosing your girlfriends for you, objecting to your working at all, or restricting your contact with family members.

As to who is responsible for the abuse, the way you describe it, your friend was a co-victim more than a perpetrator: sometimes part of one child’s abuse is being forced to participate in another child’s abuse. In your case, it does sound like both of you were being used for someone else’s sexual pleasure. Whatever happened when you were a child, your friend was a child, too, and there is a limit to what a 10- or 12-year-old can be held responsible for. I think it says a lot for your friendship that it survived that experience.

So to summarize, whether your boyfriend is right or wrong in his opinions and demands may be less the issue than whether this relationship provides what you want, need, expect, and have a right to from a lifelong partnership. Thus far, he has demonstrated that he does not trust you and that when differences arise between you, he is not willing to negotiate and compromise. He has also demonstrated that he is not very forgiving. The question you have to ask yourself, again, is whether this is workable for you.

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