My sister's husband yells

It got so bad she's divorcing him but he wants to be alone with the daughter

By Cary Tennis
Published August 20, 2012 12:00AM (EDT)
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       (Zach Trenholm/Salon)
(Zach Trenholm/Salon)

Dear Cary,

My sister and her husband have just decided to get a divorce. This was not a surprise, as they have not been living together since last November, when my sister escaped their home with her 2-year-old daughter to stay with my parents. My brother-in-law had been viciously abusing her verbally for years, even before their marriage. He finally went too far, ripping into her with an especially frightening attack and then retreating to their basement, refusing to communicate with her or their daughter for three days.

Though I'd seen signs of something wrong with her and hints of anger from him, I had no idea how bad things had been. It was brutal for our family to hear all the things my sister had been enduring for the past seven years. Sometimes he would scream so loud in the car that she would fear for their baby's hearing. Another time when she was several months pregnant, he would not stop yelling at her, even though she begged him to. She dealt with his angry, controlling ways on a daily basis. Once she left him, the furious texts he sent her upset her so much that she became physically ill.

She got back in the house, though, and made him move into an apartment. She also insisted that the baby spend every night at home, and except for a couple of out-of-state trips to visit his family, that's how it has been since she left him. However, he does insist on as much of a 50-50 childcare situation as possible. This means that every other morning, he shows up at the house to prepare their daughter for childcare. He also gets to have her with him on Sundays. He insists on these things because he feels he deserves to be accommodated since my sister made him move. He has, as I have found is often the case with verbal abusers, very little if any remorse for what he has done. He doesn't classify his behavior as abuse and he blames my sister for much of his anger, despite the fact that his family and romantic relationships have all been characterized by the same behavior. The major difference? My sister didn't fight back.

As unpleasant as it must be for my sister to see her abuser so often, I understand that she wants her daughter to have a relationship with her father. It bothers me that he has screamed so much in front of my niece, because I feel like that has got to be teaching her some terrible lessons, but she does love him and wants to spend time with him. My sister is determined to keep things as civil and dignified as possible during this period of transition, and I and the rest of our family have done our best to respect her wishes.

Now that the divorce is imminent, though, I feel like my brother-in-law is increasing his efforts to control my sister, and I'm having a hard time keeping my promise to stay civil. He has recently requested overnight stays, and while my sister does not feel safe letting her daughter stay at his apartment, she is trying to accommodate him. This means that every other night, my sister will need to leave her own house so that my brother-in-law can put their daughter to bed. He doesn't want her there, because he wants all of my niece's attention and thinks that she won't let him put her to bed if my sister is there. He's letting her come back once their daughter is asleep.

For some reason, that request, possibly a demand, put me over the edge. After all that he has done to hurt my sister, now he is making her leave her own home three to four nights a week? My sister has an extremely demanding job. She typically doesn't even have time to shop for groceries. I know that she is exhausted at the end of the day. The thought of her having to leave her home and kill time when she desperately needs a break is just killing me.

Should I just be happy that she gets to have her daughter at home every night? Is this just how things are in these situations? It all seems so unfair. I want so badly to figure out a way to save her all this trouble, though I know I need to butt out and just support my sister. How the heck do I deal with this? I'm so angry at this man, and so afraid of the influence he is having on my niece.

Frustrated Sister

Dear Frustrated,

I am outraged that this woman has to leave her own house three or four times a week so that her verbally abusive husband can put their daughter to bed. I think she should draw the line. If they want to put the daughter to bed jointly, OK. If she wants to step out of the room, maybe OK. But to leave the house every time? It feels like manipulation and punishment and control. It's creepy. Plus, those three days he spent in the basement hint at mental instability. I don't like this situation.

She should tell her husband that the rules have changed and she isn't leaving the house while he's there with her daughter.

I mean, you know what I mean? Right? It's just creepy and sick. I mean, Sheesh. I mean, as my dad would say, Golly whack! which was his endearingly mild way of saying, Holy fuck!

Ya know?

Cary Tennis

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