Wife Beating: Should You Warn A Bride-to-be About Her Intended?

Posted at 01:01am on 1st June 2009

Dear Mel,

You read all the time about different forms of domestic violence. Well my best friend’s daughter, who’s never been married before, is about to get married to a man who’s quite a bit older than her and who, I’ve just heard, was divorced for beating his wife up. I know you’re going to tell me it’s none of my business. But I know I shan’t be able to live with myself if this young woman gets the same treatment. Help! What do I do?

Marion

Mel's Comment:

Dear Marion,

This is a tricky one. As you quite rightly point out, my first instinct is to say ‘leave well alone’. However, having had to face a similar situation myself years ago, I know just what you mean when you say you wouldn’t be able to live with yourself if history repeats itself. Nor, if the couple in question have a family, can the impact of domestic violence on children be taken lightly!

Sometimes, great integrity requires great courage. And humanity – the civilised and compassionate response to our shared ideals – demands that tough decisions have to be made; decisions which may change other people’s lives forever; decisions for which they may never forgive you – whichever way it goes! So here’s what I’d say.

First, make absolutely sure that what you’ve heard is accurate. That means not relying solely on one person’s hearsay. Which means that you may have to ask around, tactfully – though how you do so without indulging in gossip is beyond me. Perhaps it’s best simply to determine the honesty of your source?

You obviously can’t go to the ex-wife. Do you know the prospective groom well enough to tell him what you’ve heard, and to ask if there’s any truth in it? If so, could you persuade him to talk it through with his wife-to-be? Or at least to defer the wedding until he’s had some sort of counselling therapy?

Second, assuming that you have established that there is a history of violence but you haven’t been able to speak to the young man in question, I think you have to share what you’ve heard with the girl’s mother – your best friend. Imagine how you would feel if she was in your shoes and this was your daughter about to make the biggest mistake of her life.

Choose your time carefully, when you can speak freely to your friend without interruption or haste. Begin by telling her how much you have always valued her friendship. Let her know that you have something to tell her, and that it’s the most difficult thing you’ve ever have had to do. Make sure she understands that you would hope that if your roles were reversed, and she knew something about your prospective son-in-law, she would do likewise.

And then, I think you have to tell her that you’ve heard these rumours; you’ve had them verified; and that you’re worried about her daughter. Let her know that, as far as you’re concerned, she (your best friend) has to have the final word as to whether she tells her daughter. You will not interfere.

Tell her, too, that her daughter’s decision as to whether she goes ahead with the wedding is also final. Make sure that she understands that the information you’ve come by stops with you: that no matter what, you will never mention it again. And that if the marriage does take place, you will never stand in judgement on any of those concerned.

If your best friend is a true friend, I think she will understand your dilemma. Women, usually, are far more able to deal with the emotional vicissitudes of life than men. Especially fathers, where their daughter’s happiness is concerned.

And then? Then you will have to live with your decision. The relationship between you and your best friend may thrive on your honesty. Alternatively, it may at best be strained; at worst, not survive. If the daughter decides not to go through with the wedding, you may have to watch, from the sidelines, as she struggles with singleness for the rest of her life. If she does choose to marry and becomes a victim of wife beating, you may have to bite your tongue for fear you blurt out ‘I told you so!’

Whatever the outcome, you will be left with that hardest of parts to play. That of knowing that often, doing the best thing, the kindest thing, results in a good deal of pain for all concerned. But knowing that doing nothing diminishes you as a person: your strength of character; the breadth and depth of your capacity as a friend; and possibly the life and limb of a fellow human being. Remember what I said earlier? Great integrity demands great courage. Bon chance!

PS: My friend never told her daughter what I had heard, the wedding went ahead, and she has been happily married for a very long time. As we all know, it takes two to tango. It may be that the wife in the first marriage was manipulative and confrontational. That is not to say that wife beating can ever be condoned. But it may explain behaviour which, in very different circumstances, may never, ever recur.

ALL PROCEEDS FROM MEL'S LATEST NOVEL, A Painful Post Mortem

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Author of a number of books, one a No 4 Bestseller, Mel Menzies is also an experienced Speaker at live events, as well as on Radio and TV.

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