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Help Me Help My Sister

My sister recently returned to an abusive relationship. She is brushing off the last incident, more upset that her abusive boyfriend "got us involved" (by getting in a verbal altercation with my mom while she tried to defend my sister) than by his behaviour. She expects us to move on and pretend like nothing happened. But I can't, I just can't.

She met this guy nearly three years ago at a friend's wedding. The first night they met, they had sex and he 'accidentally' gave her genital herpes. The story I got from her was convoluted, but she explained it that he went down on her while he had a canker sore. As I am not a doctor and have little knowledge about the spreading of herpes, I have no idea if that's even possible, but I gave it a whole lot of side eye. But hey, it's her choice who she dates, so we gave the guy a chance.

He made me uncomfortable from the start. He was polite enough, and generally friendly, but there was just something about him that didn't click. I could tell he looked down on our family - he made it clear that he hated coming out to my parent's house in the suburbs. He thought his Italian family was more cultured than our Irish-Ukrainian mix, and that his family was financially better than ours. None of these statements were ever said outright, but put together over several months of comments from him and my sister.


About eight months after they started dating, it seemed like things were ending. I was happy and made no secret of it - I encouraged her to move back in with Mom and Dad until she was more financially stable. He essentially supported her, and I didn't like the power it gave him over her. Two weeks later, I found out she was pregnant.

The impending birth seemed to wash away a lot of their issues, and we tried to look past it in hopes that becoming a family would help both of them settle down. Maybe he'd step up after the baby's birth. Maybe he would become a supportive, caring partner. Maybe he would stop looking at her like property.

But after my nephew was born, there was a sudden and distinct regression. He would state that he hated when we kissed the baby, or called him 'buddy'. He didn't understand peekaboo and it offended him when we played it in front of him. He wouldn't let my mother watch the baby overnight, even when it became clear that my sister's C-section was infected, she had mastitis and would benefit greatly from a decent night's sleep. He slept solidly through the night, only twice getting up to help with the baby. Twice. In my nephew's entire life.

Their fights started to bleed into family gatherings. Last Christmas, he told my sister to "stop disrespecting his authority" in front of me. I was so stunned that my fierce, independent sister would let anyone speak to her that way that I couldn't do anything but stare at him.


The most recent fight happened when my mom asked my sister if she could bring my nephew with her to visit me (I live about an hour away, via ferry). He lost his mind. As my mom was pulling up to their house, she could hear them yelling from the driveway. When she walked in, it just exploded from there. He accused my sister of being bipolar, of being crazy, of having PPD, of needing pills. He told my mother that she was just like her. He refused to let go of my terrified nephew. My mom called my dad, and when he showed up it was like a light switch - suddenly the guy was all reasonable, but according to my sister he would whisper "you're just like her" under his breath when my parents were talking. He told her that she is nothing, comes from nothing, and will be nothing.

He agreed to go to therapy. She didn't leave that night, though we all begged her to. She worried that it would cause him to escalate. I asked her to at least come spend a night last weekend at my parent's house, and I came home in hopes that we could really talk. But when we got the chance, she just brushed it off as though it was any old fight. As though his behaviour wasn't clearly abusive, and in danger of becoming violent.


At the councellor, he brought up their lack of a sex life. He asked her if he could get his 'needs' taken care of elsewhere. I believe he already has. He blames their issues on the fact that she no longer satisfies his twice a day sex habit - something she kept up until the day - THE DAY - she gave birth.

I spoke to her last night about where she wants to go from here. She responded that he would need to apologize to our mom. "That's all?" I thought. An apology will fix this? An apology will not erase the knowledge that he could snap at any moment on my sister, my nephew, my mom, or anyone else. That he is hurting my sister on a daily basis - verbally, emotionally or otherwise.


So there it is. Where do I go from here? What can I do to help her, and keep her and her son safe?

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