my coworker’s husband is texting me and blaming me for their divorce

A reader writes:

I just started a job that I’d like to make my long-time career and am not sure how to handle this situation. I made friends with a coworker who lived near me at this new job. We carpooled and shared office space on the days that we were able to work together (my position takes me to different offices every few days or so). In the beginning, we talked about normal work-related things, we went out for dinner after our shifts twice, and did a shopping trip on our day off for an event that she wanted to go to. As we hung out more, our relationship often touched on our spouses. She had a pretty contentious relationship with her husband and since they were newly married, she often asked me for advice since I was married longer.

I always advocated for her and her husband to go to couples counseling when she talked about how upset she was with him. Then, after a shift with her a few weeks ago, I got a few phone calls and a few texts from her husband at 3 a.m. I never gave him my phone number; he took her phone to call me from, as well as taking my number He asked me to stay away from her, because he didn’t need anyone to come between them.

He also friended my husband and sent him a message stating the same thing he told me and friend-requested a few of my friends on Facebook for some reason. (Presumably to get in contact with me or to spy on me?) I ignored all of the contact and blocked him on all social media. I then emailed my coworker checking in on her a day later, because I was worried about her. She said he had told her about his actions 24 hours after doing it and that he was sorry and would never do it again. I left it at that, knowing that it would be awkward at work but also knowing that his actions should not reflect on her. I resolved to just be professional at work, but I was also really worried about her.

I haven’t seen or spoken to her for two weeks (my job has taken me to other offices for the past few weeks) and this morning at 3 a.m. I woke up to more phone calls, texts, and messages on my Instagram from her husband telling me to stay away from her and that it is my fault that they may be getting divorced. I emailed my coworker again to inform her of the contact, this time with a more serious tone, because I was scared for myself and her. She sent me a message back telling me to leave her alone and to block both of them on all social media, and that she would be professional at work but that was it.

Now I’m nervous. She seems upset about the whole situation but also upset at me. This behavior seems abusive to me, and it feels really out of place. I shouldn’t have to be harassed at 3 a.m. by someone I’ve only met a handful of times. But if my coworker is in an abusive relationship, she can’t control him or stop him. Should I go to my direct supervisor (who is one step up from her manager) to talk about the situation? What can my supervisor really do to mitigate this situation? I don’t want to get my coworker in trouble at work either, because none of this is technically her fault. Any advice would be greatly appreciated!

Oh, I’m sorry. This is awful, for you and for your coworker, who does indeed sound like she’s dealing with a spouse who’s controlling at best and possibly abusive.

I lean toward thinking that you should mention it to your manager — not to request any particular action, but just to let her know what’s going on since it’s so unsettling and potentially could have ramifications at work if your coworker’s husband ups his harassment.

You could frame it this way: “I want to let you know about something unsettling that happened. I’m not asking you to take any particular action, and there probably isn’t any action to take; I just want you to be in the loop about it in case it escalates. My hope is that it won’t, and I definitely don’t want to make things any harder or more awkward for Coworker, but after the second contact, I felt safer letting someone else at work know what’s going on.”

I’d also respect your coworker’s request to limit your relationship to work contact, but make a point of being warm and kind to her when you do interact. She may be upset with you because it’s easier to be upset with you than to deal with whatever’s going on with her husband, and she’s likely pretty embarrassed too. Being kind to her may make it easier for her to move forward in a bunch of different ways.

{ 416 comments… read them below }

  1. AMG*

    Your poor coworker! I would be prepared to go to HR and start documenting if you hear from that husband again.


    I agree with everything AAM said, but want to add another reason to reach out to your manager – if it escalates and it is easier to blame you, she might go to management claiming you harassed her or him or something equally crazy. I think it best to get in front of it. It is not a very likely scenario, but it is possible.

      1. Observer*

        A lot depends on how you frame it. You are NOT complaining about co-worker or asking your boss to do anything. You are just looking her in to a situation with an outside party that has the potential to affect the office.

      2. erin*

        See this as a way of protecting her. From your letter, it seems as if she almost definitely is in an abusive relationship. Maybe HR can subtly bring up an EAP with her, or something? I just . . . I feel like you have to say something, both for you AND her.

      3. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        I don’t know if your job offers this, but mine actually has a special procedure in place to assist employees who are victims of any kind of domestic abuse, including the possibility of a coworker quietly submitting that maybe there’s an issue.

        1. I make ads.*

          Can you tell me more about this? I’m currently drafting a policy manual for my office and would like to include.

          1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

            Sure! First of all, there is an explicit policy laid out for how the company responds to an employee who is dealing with an abusive situation: it includes a special, IIRC unlimited time-off policy for seeking assistance and/or handling legal matters; financial assistance with any legal costs and/or emergency relocation, extended EAP access for the employee and any children, etc. There’s a confidential helpline to get the ball rolling, and it’s accessible either to the employee themselves or to someone near them who is concerned. If it’s a fellow employee who calls it in, there’s a little investigation that happens before the maybe-victim is directly contacted, gathering info and so on, and the confidentiality is really high. (FWIW, my company is biiiiiiig and has lots of resources, so giving one person loads of leeway is very manageable.)

            Long story short, the company policy is that an employee’s difficult home life is absolutely the company’s business, and that we can and should help.

      4. Master Bean Counter*

        Take her out of it. You’ve got a crazy man who’s made threats to you, showing up at your work. That alone is enough.

      5. ZVA*

        I totally understand, and you may want to say exactly this to your supervisor! “I really don’t want to get Coworker in trouble; she hasn’t done anything wrong.” If your supervisor is reasonable, they’ll understand.

      6. seejay*

        I’m going to say this: stop worrying about her at this point. You need to worry about *you*. Her situation sucks, but it’s now out of your control. You can’t save her. She’s told you to back off, he’s escalated his harassment to you, your husband and your friends. You have no horse in this race other than the fact that she’s your coworker (ie, she’s not your relative, child, close friend, loved one, etc). Your prime focus should be setting up protections around you, your career, your employment, and your family.

        Does it suck for a person in an abusive relationship to feel like people are abandoning them? Yes, but at the same time, you can’t run the risk of being a potential victim of her husband as well, either directly if he becomes violent, or indirectly if he or she lashes out and gets the cops or your employers involved with false accusations. You’ve expressed concern and support to her, she knows you’ve reached out, she knows you’re there, but you have to now start protecting yourself.

        Go to your manager and higher ups, let them know what’s going on in case her or her husband bring it back into the office.
        Document *everything*. Note the dates and times that every incident happened with her husband. These are clear incidents of harassment and cyberstalking. If it escalates, it looks better for you if you have clear documentation of what happened going back and showing a pattern. He said/she said doesn’t hold up and winds up looking like arguments and fighting and is taken less seriously.
        Disengage as much as possible and within reason for your job. Part of what helps victims of stalking is showing that they tried to avoid crossing paths with and antagonizing the stalker/harasser. I know that wording sounds “off” and like victim-blaming, but it works when the laws aren’t clear and don’t always work for the victims. “Well did you tell this person to stop, did you tell them to stop threatening you, did you try to avoid pissing them off?” those shouldn’t be questions you are asked, but if you can actually say “yes, I went out of my way to avoid this person but I can clearly show they went out of their way to intentionally threaten/follow/harass me when I did nothing to warrant it”, then it makes those questions sound incredibly stupid. I hate that it works that way, you *shouldn’t* have to do that, but unfortunately that’s how a lot of this works unless you want to try to fight an uphill battle. If you do, great, do go for it… I do support people that can and do, but not everyone can and you have to be aware of *how* difficult it is and make it as easy as you can on yourself to work with the system as it is so it works in your favour right now.

        Hopefully your coworker can find some resources to deal with her marriage and get away from this mess before it gets far worse. :(

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Another strong agree with this. At this point, you’re dealing with an issue that could be physically harmful to you.

          And remember that listening to your coworker and limiting contact is not a bad thing, necessarily—you’re respecting her wishes/boundaries, which is something her husband clearly isn’t doing (plus, by being friendly you’re still available as a potential support if this ends up being a situation where she needs your help and it’s safe for you to provide that help).

        2. snuck*

          As an employer I would want to know about this sudden, extreme escalation too. It shows that the situation is particularly volatile… and that would lead me to think about the following:
          – If the employee doesn’t show up for work one day how I’ll handle chasing that up
          – If the employee has their performance slip… how I might approach it with them
          – If the employee starts struggling with attendance…
          – I might suggest safety changes in the office – arrange for you to be escorted to your car for a few weeks, or for a change to the way the office handles visitors, or your availability for front line work.

          I would talk to YOU about anything that affects you, and ask you to let me know if you felt there was an escalation or a risk to you. I would talk to HER about whether she was ok, offer EAP, and indicate what help we could offer her if she ever wanted it.

          Because I feel this is a work issue. It’s becoming drama at work. If you have shown me to be a person of your word, and you tell me point blank you haven’t contacted them at all since they asked, and now he’s ringing and abusing you to say you have been… then I’d assume he’s escalating violence again (google Circle of Abuse), and expect further flare ups. I might arrange for you two to work from different offices to each other to help the situation, and I’d ask you to report the matter to the police as well.

          If you were being harassed or stalked by any one else I’d do the same things. This will affect your productivity, it will affect workplace safety potentially, I might have a duty of care exposure for your safety on the premises to your car… And frankly? Stuff like this sucks. No one should endure any part of it.

          I’m sorry you are dealing with it. And I’m sorry she is too. Look after yourself, so you can be around later (for her, or someone else) to help pick up the pieces. Much later. And to de-escalate the issue as best you can in your own life have as little right now to do with her as you can, don’t email (he’s obviously going to read those!), not even on work email. Don’t ring. Just leave it be. If you run into her face to face be warm, polite, professional. If she says something about it/tries to make apologies just quietly lay a hand on her forearm and say something like “It’s ok, we’ll talk about this all another time when it’s settled down, I don’t want to add fuel to the fire. If you need to talk I’ll drop off a printout of some people who can help to your desk, but it can’t be me today”… or whatever fits what she’s saying. That’s ok.

      7. Chris*

        Oh, this isn’t about her getting in trouble… she’s done nothing wrong, work-wise. Just making sure people who matter are aware of the issue, for her sake, and to CYA

      8. Artemesia*

        I think Alison framed it beautifully here. It is phrased in a way that should not impact her at work. You need to protect yourself from whatever loony charges he might make and you need the office to be aware of a potentially dangerous person. Preempting is important when people are threatening so that you frame the situation first. If I were in charge here, I would be involving security and letting them know about this guy. No one wants to be in the newspapers.

      9. many bells down*

        My ex-husband was banned from my workplace once, because he’d been coming in and sexually harassing other employees. We served the public, so it wasn’t weird for him to be there generally.

        I was VERY embarrassed when I was told he’d been banned from the building and was not allowed closer than the parking lot, and then only if he was picking me up or dropping me off. I was NOT in any trouble at work.

  3. Executive Assistant (Lily in NYC)*

    This is very upsetting, but I have a feeling OP’s coworker’s husband is the one who replied saying to “leave her alone”. He probably took her phone and answered as her. This guy sounds like a total jerkwad.

      1. Mabel*

        I think Executive Assistant meant that the text that came from her saying to “leave me alone” may actually have come from him.

        1. Executive Assistant (Lily in NYC)*

          Ha, I forgot to change my name back after the “how much do you make” thread.

      2. StrikingFalcon*

        Since you suspect abuse (with good reason), another thing you can do for your coworker is not contact her on any medium her husband could have access to – email/texting. Keep conversations by phone/in person as much as possible (obviously in a work situation, email is needed, but the less contact you have that her husband could “see,” likely the better it is for her). I’m sorry, this is such a tough situation to be in from the outside, as there’s usually little outsiders can do.

    1. Phyllis Pegg*

      That was my first thought, that the husband was pretending to be the coworker. Definitely tell the manager.

  4. Turtlewings*

    This may be overly paranoid, but how sure are you that it’s your coworker who emailed you back, telling you to leave her alone? Since the extremely alarming husband has a history of taking her phone.

    1. KEM11088*

      I thought the same thing. I could totally see him doing this as some gaslighting move. Poor co-worker :(

    2. OP*

      I guess there is a possibility that she didn’t send the email, but I made sure to email her at the work address, apologizing for bringing this up on a work communication, but that it was the only way I was sure that he wouldn’t be able to get access to it.

      1. Rat in the Sugar*

        If he’s got access to her phone, he might have access to her work email, too. I wish there was something more to do than just tell a manager, but you can’t just swoop in and rescue coworkers who seem in distress, unfortunately.

        1. Natalie*

          Or anyone in an abusive relationship, co-worker or otherwise. The psychology is complex and the person being abused has to be ready to leave, themselves. It’s SO HARD to be outside of that and want to fix it, but it doesn’t actually work. :/

          1. Oryx*

            Yup. I know my family was worried about me for a very long time but they realized they had to step back and let me do it in my own way, in my own time because trying to rescue me or force me out only made it worse and me more resistant.

          2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            It’s also one of the highest risk situations to intervene in—of all crimes, DV situations have the highest likelihood of something bad happening to the person being abused and to the intervener (which is why I usually encourage people to enlist help from professional advocates). And then there’s the very small chance that this isn’t a DV situation, in which case it would be SO bad to speculate on what’s going on.

            I think sharing the immediate, first-person information is reasonable and necessary to protect OP’s safety and the safety of all her coworkers.

        2. Helena*

          And the possibility of him having access to work e-mail is yet another reason to loop in a manager.

          1. RVA Cat*

            This! If he’s accessing her work email, there’s risk to the company right there. He could use it to try to get her fired, or even to steal from the company if there’s sensitive information.

      2. Michelle*

        If she gets her work email on her cell phone or from home it’s really easy for him to be the one who responded. Then he just needs to go in the sent folder and delete and she’s none the wiser.

        1. MillersSpring*

          Exactly. I access my work email from my personal cell phone. The husband would only have to grab her phone to send an email from her work account.

      3. OhBehave*

        I can access work email from my laptop at home. There’s no reason to think she can’t do the same. I wouldn’t put it past him to check her work email. If he’s harassing you and your friends on social media, he has the potential to up the aggression.

  5. Ty*

    I agree with AAM’s advice, and also the above comment that the email from the coworking telling OP to leave her alone might have come from the husband, so take it with a grain of salt.

    Honestly, I’m not sure I’d take the tack that there ‘probably isn’t any action to take.’ I don’t mean to be an alarmist, but point blank: people are nuts, and considering that the husband might be abusive I wouldn’t put it past someone like that to also try to take it out on the coworker’s office-maybe trying to stalk her there at best, or use weapons at worst. I’d be alerting the front desk or security with a description, and the company might feel it prudent to inform the police as well. It might be potentially embarrassing to the coworker but could save live if this guy is off his rocker.

  6. OP*

    As an update, the next time I had an office shift with her she brought her husband into work, found reasons not to be in our shared office (we work in customer service) and refused to look at me. Which made me feel very very threatened.

    1. Murphy*

      I think she’s just too scared to talk to you at all in her husband’s presence, and I don’t blame her, as he sounds like he’s probably pretty scary.

        1. Paige*

          THIS. I have been in the coworker’s shoes, and it was when I was trying to break away when the ex escalated to near-stalker type activity (showing up at my workplace, refusing to leave, showing up anywhere I might be expected).

      1. Natalie*

        Oops, I cut the important part out.

        Given this new development, you *definitely* need to loop your boss in. This guy should not be hanging around your office for, like, dozens of reasons, not the least of which is your safety and comfort.

        1. ZVA*

          +11111 I one hundred percent agree with this. The fact that he showed up at work is extremely alarming and makes this even more of a workplace issue than it already was. You should definitely loop your supervisor in; she will want to know.

          1. Liane*

            It sounds like he *stayed at work all/most of the day* which is extra out of line. (OP correct me if I read wrong. And I am sorry about this mess. Take care & take the other good advice here.)

        1. Natalie*

          Given the rest of the story, I disagree. There is no work environment where someone who’s husband sends their co-worker’s texts at 3 am and tries to friend all of their Facebook friends should be hanging around the office.

    2. Doodle*

      Whoa, that is a definite thing that your manager needs to know. The person who is threatening you (husband) showed up at work with her? And he’s not an employee? Yeah, that takes it from “not sure if there’s anything you can do,” to “X’s husband has been harassing me and is now coming to work.”

      1. OP*

        I was so enraged. I could not believe that she did that. It is not uncommon for people to bring their spouses or family to work with them since we work in a public place, but OMG was it infuriating to see his face after he made me so uncomfortable the week before. He couldn’t even look at me when I ran into him going to the elevator which made me feel slightly better. But still.

        1. Marisol*

          Please tell him to stop harassing you. You are entitled to tell him to cut it out. I wrote a long response to your letter below.

          1. ZVA*

            I wouldn’t necessarily advise this, to be honest. OP says she felt threatened by him showing up at her office; she might be afraid to confront him—and might have good reason to be! This guy sounds controlling and abusive; who knows if he isn’t violent to boot.

          2. Tuxedo Cat*

            I’m not sure that’s the best route. OP, you should chat with someone at a domestic violence survivor group. They might know how you should handle this.

        2. S*

          I understand being enraged by him being there but I agree with the others who say its incredibly likely that he brought himself. His behavior is definitely distressing and I would recommend calling the national domestic violence hotline and asking them for advice. You need to keep yourself safe of course, but it sounds like she’s in a lot of danger too.

          1. Just a Thought*

            I agree. Try not to be mad at your co-worker. She is probably in an impossible situation that is very very dangerous for her. Still you definitly need to get higher ups involved. I would not confront him or her at this point. Someone else mentioned the Gift of Fear, but I highly recommend reading it.

          2. Anancy*

            Yes, abusers do tend to act in pretty typical ways and there is research on the subject. Checking in with the National or local Domestic Violence agency can give you a lot of information. Including threat assessments so you can gauge where he is on a scale. (Not perfect, of course, but incredibly helpful.)

        3. Sunshine*

          I can understand being angry with her, but I think it’s probably safe to assume that she isn’t the one in control here. He’s driving the bus, and so far, she’s letting him. Possibly out of fear.

          1. Brisvegan*

            Yes, it is very likely that your coworker felt she had no choice.

            If she is still trying to preserve her marriage, she may feel she has to give in to this request. Abusers can be excellent at pushing boundaries or controlling their target in pseudo-reasonable ways. (He probably pointed out that other people take spouses and made any reluctance on her part “evidence” that she is doing/thinking something wrong or not being a good spouse to him.). It is very likely this is part of the “shrinking box” that someone talked about in the recent email re the spouse who had narcissistic tendencies. The husband this current OP is discussing sounds like he is trying to isolate the coworker socially and maybe even get her to quit her job, so he can control her financially.

            She may also have felt very unsafe physically or emotionally. ( Just think, the 3am contact you got may have come after hours of him berating or abusing her. They might also have come without that, depending on his pattern.)

            At the same time, that is no reason not to loop in your boss or security. You need to keep yourself safe. Someone who has been irrational and abusive to you is showing up at your work. That is very not OK.

            1. OP*

              Thank you guys for reminding me to have some compassion. I was mostly reacting internally, but you are right, I need to make a more conscious effort to be aware of what she is going through but still keeping myself safe.

        4. Christine*

          OP, is the shared office part of the public space? if not, he shouldn’t be in your office at all. He may not be able to look at you, but he was making his presence known. That is threatening in itself.

        5. Observer*

          Leave the rage at home. For one thing, it’s misdirected. The person who DESERVES your rage is the husband.

          More importantly, rage gets i your way. You need to keep cool and clear headed about this.As others have said, you need to document your head off. When you talk to your boss, you want to keep from sounding like you are “over reacting” (I know, I know…) And you don’t want this to be about your co-worker. This is about a guy who is pulling you into his drama, is harassing you, and has now showed up to work and is making it clear that he is there to monitor your behavior.

        6. Rahera*

          I get the feeling she has next to no control in this situation. Her husband sounds scary as all hell.

        7. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          OP, you have to tell someone. Bringing him to work, particularly for her full shift, takes his “over the line” behavior on social media and multiplies the harm/crazy factor by about 1 billion. I’d be angry with him, too, but this is the moment to break out your cold anger and steely resolve and handle this like a boss.

          Please talk to your manager ASAP. This has crossed from harassment into “danger! Danger, Will Robinson!” territory.

        8. Ann without an e*

          Look up the stalker laws in your state, document every contact and consider getting a trail cam and positioning it so you can take pictures of license plates as they drive past your house.

          I had a manager at my previous employer joke with people about being my baby daddy start driving in front of my house while I was on maternity leave. It got ugly, make sure you have PROOF, store it in several places and NEVER delete ANYTHING.

          I have dealt with someone like that guy, they are excellent liars/ explainers that gaslight everyone around them and do their best to make their victims look crazy.

          i.e HUSBAND: ” OP seemed normal at first, started hanging with my wife after work, started acting crazy so I had to step in to defend wife.”

    3. KG, Ph.D.*

      Oh my god. That is horrifyingly inappropriate, and I completely understand why you felt threatened. I am also really scared for her — this stinks to high heavens of abusive behavior. It’s not just a red flag, but rather a giant, undulating sea of them, stretching as far as the eye can see. Unfortunately, it sounds like you’ve really done all you can to help her. I hope things improve for her, and for you.

    4. Just a Thought*

      Wow! I can’t beleive her husband came to work with her. Definitly screams an abusive situation. I’m so sorry that you are caught in the middle of this! Does your company have policies about non-employees being at work. I think you really should loop your manager or HR in now.

    5. Bonky*

      I really think you should follow Alison’s advice and talk to your manager; you should also document what’s happening. Take copies of the texts and any social media contact, as well as the emails, and make note of events like him rocking up in your office.

      HR may be concerned for you, but especially for her, given that this all looks a lot like someone who’s in an abusive relationship.

    6. Observer*

      She what?! You most definitely do need to loop your manager in.

      Whatever is going on there, the idea that he’s coming in to work to monitor her behavior is off the charts nuts. Your manager needs to know about this.

    7. Newby*

      If you feel unsafe, you should mention the husband’s behavior to your manager and that his presence makes you feel threatened. If he has no legitimate reason to be there, they should be able to keep him out.

    8. Jessesgirl72*

      Oh, this is doubly reason to mention it not only to your boss, but HR. Him coming to work, after having threatened you?

      OP, this isn’t just about protecting her, you have to look out for yourself.

      I’d also strongly suggest you take all this to the local Police Department. After him showing up at WORK with her, I’d take out a restraining order on him .

    9. erin*

      He has gaslighted her into thinking that you are the reason they are having marital problems. I almost guarantee you.

      1. Natalie*

        Not necessarily – in my experience, at least, abused partners are pretty aware that outside influences are not the source of their relationship problems. But they either point to outside influences to try and get out of the target zone, or go along with their partner’s delusions for safety’s sake.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Yes, what Natalie said. He may have gaslighted her, but it’s more likely that she’s complying to try to appease him (it won’t work, but when you’re in an abusive situation everything gets turned upside down).

        2. erin*

          True. I should have specified – he has put her in a position so that her easiest mode to safety is to blame OP. As in, “if it weren’t for OP, he wouldn’t be so angry.” (Really it’s any stressor that targets abusive behavior – bills being due, a child acting up, the third day of crappy weather, you name it. But I think when you’re trapped in that cycle a lot of times it’s easier on your heart to blame the stressor rather than the person you love who is making your life hell.)

        1. Mug*

          I’m not sure if this has been mentioned yet, but the number for the domestic abuse hotline in the US is (800) 799-7233.

    10. TootsNYC*

      I agree, this is now something your manager needs to know.

      If I were your manager, here is what I’d do with what you’ve told me so far.

      (1) I’ve move you out of a shared office with her.
      (2) I’d call her in and try to communicate these things:
      • I know that there is conflict from her home that is spilling into her work; I’m aware of it
      • I have every expectation that she will handle her interactions professionally and pleasantly (both meanings of that: she must, and she will)
      • Her husband is not to come into the office again, and he need to not the OP ever again; sympathies and all, I know it’s hard to control a spouse, but this is really crucial; perhaps she doesn’t realize, but his presence can be a very threatening thing given his middle-of-the-night communications
      • That she needs to never mention her colleagues to her husband, especially in this situations; the content of her conversations with them are not to be shared with him anymore, no matter what they are
      • I will do what I can to assist her with this difficulty–if I can move her out of a shared office with the OP, I absolutely will; I can try to never put them in the same car for work travel; I’ll assume they will sit apart from one another at meetings, etc. I will try to make things calm and will not remark on any distant communications styles as long as work information continues to flow. I will work to eliminate gossip, etc.
      • and last, but most important: is she OK? That this situation seems extreme. They send up warning flares–of abuse on his side, or of a really bad fighting style of her side (maybe she keeps bringing up the OP during the conflicts, which she shouldn’t), etc. And of course I don’t know, and I don’t want to make any assumptions. But I want her to have a calm and happy life, and so I hope she would think of me as an ally in that. And I would make sure she knows about any Employee Assistance Plan, or any provisions in our health-care coverage that would cover counseling of any type.

      Then I’d make sure that the employee bulletin board had “couples counseling” and “mental health” and “safe at home” information clearly findable.

      1. OP*

        This is great. I really needed to see this kind of response. I am so new to the company I have NO idea how my boss is going to respond.

      2. caryatis*

        “• That she needs to never mention her colleagues to her husband, especially in this situations; the content of her conversations with them are not to be shared with him anymore, no matter what they are”

        I don’t think a manager gets to control what an employee talks about with her spouse. That demand is over the line (and impossible to enforce). I would say that even in an nonabusive situation, but in an abusive one it seems unfair to discipline the employee for conversations she might not feel free to avoid.

        1. jo*

          I wound up here today via a link in another post, and I know it’s really old news, but this is for anyone coming back to read:

          I know from experience that if your abusive spouse asks you about someone in your life that they see as a threat (a friend, a coworker, a family member), and you try to say “I can’t / don’t want to talk about them,” it is almost guaranteed to lead to a fight. The abuser wants and expects their partner to soothe their insecurities about the perceived threat, and attempts to evade that expectation often backfire. I expended a lot of energy trying to make sure various people were not mentioned around my spouse, and I certainly never brought them up, but my spouse remained hung up on these people and made a point of proactively bringing them up or asking about them. It was like a scab she had to pick. My attempts to change the subject were always unsuccessful, and usually led to me getting no sleep that night because I was dealing with the fall-out into the wee hours.

          So as a manager, telling your employee not to talk about a coworker with a spouse you suspect to be abusive … is super unhelpful. (And patronizing. Because she has almost definitely thought of that strategy and tried to implement it.) Beyond obvious confidentiality or proprietary information issues, you can’t tell employees not to discuss their work in general at home. You certainly can’t and shouldn’t try to give directives about how employees will behave in their intimate relationships. You can only dictate how they’ll behave at work.

          From time to time I see abuse stories on this site, and there are a lot of insightful, informative comments (informative to me, too, because it’s not like I know everything about abuse). I also see a lot of comments and suggestions that may be well-meaning but demonstrate a lack of understanding, and I really want more people to understand how abuse works, because virtually all of us know someone who has been or is being abused.

    11. Turtle Candle*

      Oh, that gave me absolute chills. I’m sorry. That would be intensely scary to me.

      Definitely say something to your manager. Also, while I am often dubious of the value of documenting, I would definitely do that here–make a note of the times and contents of his prior contact with you, make a note of when he came in, and continue to keep track. Save texts and voicemails and emails if you have them still. I hope it isn’t the case that you will need them, but if you do, you will be glad you have them.

    12. animaniactoo*

      Oh, you definitely need to loop your manager in on this. This is escalating nowhere good.

      My best guess is that she didn’t “bring” him to work, but that he insisted on going as a condition for letting her leave the house without further argument…. and is working to keep her from actually talking to you. She’s avoiding eye contact in an effort to prove that she really doesn’t care about talking to you or not. You may have felt threatened but I suspect she was the one being primarily threatened in that situation.

    13. Whats In A Name*

      OP, given your update you 100% need to loop your boss in on this – pronto.

      Print out anything he has email/PM’d/texted to you or your husband with date stamps. Take copious notes detailing any verbal conversation.

      You do not need to say anything in regards to coworker being in abusive relationship. You need to say “Co-workers husband has been contacting me regarding my personal relationship with co-worker. It’s made me very uncomfortable and is inappropriate. He is now in our office and I am worried about what he may do next.”

      Don’t worry about co-worker getting in trouble, don’t try to reach out to her to “fix” her marriage. Don’t try to make her see his behavior as controlling and abusive. Protect yourself from potential escalation – a drunk message is one appropriate behavior. Coming to work with wife to keep an eye on you is an entirely different level and you need it handled.

    14. Artemesia*

      Oh no. The husband needs to be barred from this workplace for everyone’s safety. This is a red alert situation. These are the people who end up on the front page.

      1. Tyrannosaurus Regina*

        If you have security onsite, contracted or in-house, they NEED to know. When I was working security we had a similar situation and nobody bothered to make my boss aware until some Very Troubling things had happened, and a scary guy got away with some truly unacceptable behavior. It might be more appropriate for your boss to go to security than for you to approach them on your own; I don’t know. But please loop them in. Give them the tools to do their job. Help them keep you all safe.

        1. BananaPants*

          We have on-site security with a binder of photos of people who are not allowed entry to our buildings. If they present at the front desk asking to meet someone or to have someone called, our (armed) head of security is summoned and the police are called. Some of the folks in the “no entry” binder are former employees or scammers, but many are ex-spouses and ex-partners of employees who have restraining orders against them.

          OP, your manager needs to be in the loop 100% on this, immediately.

  7. Jessica*

    This is the sort of thing that sounds ridiculous until it happens to you, but some U.S. states still have “alienation of affections” laws, under which a disgruntled spouse can sue anyone they wish to blame for ruining their marriage. Doesn’t have to be an affair partner; could be someone like you.

    1. Brogrammer*

      I had to Google this because it sounded so ridiculous. But right you are, in the US this is still a valid concept in Hawaii, North Carolina, Mississippi, New Mexico, South Dakota, and Utah.

        1. Redstrider*

          I looked up the North Carolina cases (the state with the most victories on this) in LexisNexis.

          You don’t meet any of the requirements for bringing suit.

          This is an issue that would not apply to your case even if you were in NC.

          People always bring this up, but most don’t understand what it takes to actually win.

          You would have to interfere with an already healthy marriage. The couple would have to fail to reconcile after your interference.

          You did nothing other than listen. You didn’t try and say, seduce your co-worker or beg her to leave her husband. The marriage was not healthy to begin with. They have “reconciled.”

          No COA here.

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I was going to say what Redstrider said—your situation is nowhere near an “alienation of affection” claim, even if it did exist in your state.

          1. Gadfly*

            Although there is a difference between it being a winnable case on his part versus one he might be able to use as a form of harassment.

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              Yes, but that’s true of all lawsuits (i.e., a person can file a non-meritorious lawsuit, and you can’t really protect yourself against the filing).

    2. KG, Ph.D.*

      Oh my god. Do you happen to know, does this extend to therapists/counselors/etc.? Because it’s somehow extra horrifying if an abusive partner is able to sue a therapist for recommending that someone GTFO.

      1. Emi.*

        I’d expect that a case like that would be hard to argue, since the recommendation would probably be confidential, right?

        1. KG, Ph.D.*

          Right, but (a) an abusive partner might draw a line from “my partner started doing to therapy” and “my partner is now standing up for himself/herself and asking for a divorce,” or (b) the abused partner might admit that his/her therapist or counselor advised leaving.

      2. Anon This Time*

        IANAL, but as posted below, the law is intended for affair partners, not health professionals. It would not apply to a therapist advising a client to end an abusive relationship.

    3. Observer*

      In theory. It’s going to be extremely difficult to find any lawyer to take a case like that though, outside of fairly bizarre circumstances.

      In any case, a lawsuit is one thing – nuts but not something that should make her afraid. 3:00am messages and coming to work is a whole different level of nuts and into scary territory.

      1. Anon This Time*

        This. My SO is a family law attorney in one of those states, and they’re very rare. And only really then for long-term hidden infidelity. Even then, they are rarely successful.

        1. Jessica*

          Well, I don’t doubt your SO knows more about this than I do, but they are at least sometimes successful, because Google found us some actual cases in our state with big scary judgments. Also, consider the fact that a lawsuit like this could be aimed at almost anyone the spouse knows, and that without even doing it the disgruntled spouse could get a lot of mileage out of threatening to do it. Plus, being sued can be a traumatic and expensive experience even if you win. These are terrible antiquated laws that give terrible people extra scope to be terrible. Sane people have trouble even believing they exist… like I said, until it happens to you. Glad you don’t live in my backwards state, OP.

          1. Redstrider*

            “Well, I don’t doubt your SO knows more about this than I do”

            How about you take advice from a lawyer on this and just stop fear-mongering. That’s what you are doing. I don’t understand why. What is it you are trying to prove?

            If you read those cases and had any clue about them, you’d see that to win you have to be an affair partner and the marriage had to be ok to begin with.

            You are doing the equivalent of diagnosing someone else with an illness b/c you used web MD.

            Please stop.

            1. Kate*

              Whoa! First of all, lawyers aren’t a uniform unit with one opinion about everything. A different family law attorney might and probably will have a different opinion.

              Second, even if you don’t win the case, you can still sue and force the other person to spend a lot of money defending themselves, possibly bankrupting them, depending on the state’s laws around lawsuits.

              Third, I don’t think that Jessica is fear-mongering or armchair-diagnosing, as you suggest. She is simply stating that LW and others in similar situations should move cautiously, which is very good advice.

              1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                No, that’s not right in this case. Although Redstrider is being very brusque, s/he’s also right. It does no good to scare someone by raising a legal issue that doesn’t apply to the situation, and it’s frankly irresponsible to keep arguing the point.

                There are enough barriers to DV survivors leaving an abusive relationship; let’s not add fake ones to the list or discourage Good Samaritans from protecting themselves.

          2. Anon This Time*

            No ethical attorney would bring such a lawsuit against a well-meaning coworker. And by no ethical attorney, I mean they would be sanctioned by the BAR for abusive litigation for trying. So knock off the fear-mongering.

            1. Kate*

              Plenty of well-meaning people get sued for things like this.

              And perhaps I read the wrong publications, but I have never heard of any attorney getting sanctioned in a case like this, or even in a more obvious “ambulance chasing” case I read about. I have only heard of that happening in cases of bribery or blackmail, etc. Probably it depends on where you live.

              As I wrote above, regardless of whether or not the case is won, or the lawyer involved is sanctioned, the person being sued is still out of a lot of money, possibly financially ruined, depending on the state’s laws.

              1. Observer*

                Ambulance chasing is very different than taking on a case to sue on an utterly off the wall claim.

                It’s just NOT likely to happen, even in a state where it is THEORETICALLY possible.

              2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                Attorneys get sanctioned for bringing frivolous lawsuits (which is what this would be) all the time. Seriously, why are we arguing this point?

                And yes, whether a case is good/bad doesn’t prevent you from being sued, but that’s true of literally everything under the sun. So if the chances of being sued for a legitimate reason are slim (or nonexistent, since OP doesn’t live in a state with this tort), then what purpose does it serve to keep arguing why it’s a legitimate fear when it truly is not?

              3. Anon This Time*

                Well-meaning people rarely get sued for things like this. I don’t want to get into tort law, but it is very rare. Frankly, it’s unhelpful to raise a misleading and flat out wrong barrier in front of someone trying to help a domestic abuse victim.

              4. a different Vicki*

                I am not a lawyer, but there are specific federal and state rules against bringing improper lawsuits. One of the bases for sanctioning an attorney is bringing a lawsuit for an “improper purpose,” including harassment.

                Any random person can walk into a lawyer’s office and say “I want to sue Joe Schmoe for thus-and-suck.” That doesn’t mean the attorney will take the case, if she sees not just that her client will absolutely lose, but that she’ll get into trouble for filing the suit. Even a lawyer who would say “yes, sure” rather than “if you really want to sue, you can, but you’ll just be wasting your money” for an unwinnable case is unlikely to file a lawsuit when the risk is to her own livelihood.

    4. Redstrider*

      This is NOT how alienation of affection works at all.

      Almost all the cases that are brought involve lovers. Almost all that win involve cases where there were no known previous issues and then the lover “seduced” the married partner away successfully.

      Simply being a third party who listens to a spouse complain and/or agreeing with them when they do is not enough. You have to take active steps to undermine a happy marriage.

      This is NOT a happy marriage. The co-worker is not actively trying to undermine it. She’s just listening.

      1. Marisol*

        it seems like such laws would be overridden by the federal freedom of speech law, even if they weren’t patently absurd in their own right. Though IANAL.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          They’re not preempted by federal laws (this isn’t about the government regulating your speech—it’s about extramarital affairs). But they’re also rare, hard to win, and very unlikely to be brought by a lawyer with any integrity.

        2. Bartlet for President*

          The concept of freedom of speech only applies to protecting someone from the government, and only the government. It has zero applicability to what a private citizen says to another private citizen. It isn’t blanket immunity from consequences for one’s speech. It protects someone (in most instances) from being prosecuted or censored by the government.

          Granted, alienation of affection laws are ridiculous. But, freedom of speech is entirely irrelevant to the issue as these laws involve a lawsuit brought by Private Citizen A against Private Citizen B.

          [I’m not a lawyer, but the misapplication of freedom of speech protection is a giant pet peeve of mine.]

          1. Marisol*

            You’ve homed in on my misconception – “it has zero applicability to what a private citizen says to another private citizen” – I thought the law did apply in that circumstance; so for example, if I want to advise someone to leave their husband, I have the guaranteed legal right to do so with impunity. Thanks for giving me a better understanding of the scope of that law.

  8. Observer*

    There is not a lot you can do here, unfortunately. Keep it profession, but kind at work, but do block her and her husband. Look your boss in, the way Alison suggested. And if Husband contacts you again, don’t involve your co-worker. Rather document what happened and tell him explicitly to leave you alone. Do NOT engage otherwise.

    Hopefully that will keep you out of it, and won’t make things any worse for your coworker. If he continues to harass you after that, you may want to talk to the police, depending on what he says / does.

  9. Bend & Snap*

    Why would she bring her husband to work? There is a lot wrong with that whole situation.

    I agree that you need to talk to your manager and get this on the record, both for your safety and your future at the company if he snaps and tries to denigrate you. (It happens–very early in my career an awful boyfriend sent my boss a detailed email about my, ahem, personal preferences to retaliate for my breaking up with him).

    I’d be worried about your coworker too, but she’s overtly rejected any personal relationship, so now you just have to look out for yourself.

    1. Murphy*

      I’m assuming he insisted on coming and she was too scared/thought it was easier to just let him come.

    2. Fluffer Nutter*

      I worked in DV a long time. I suspect the husband brought himself, probably as a condition that she be “allowed” to keep the job. She’s likely mortified under the thorniness. Sorry OP, you got tangled up in something very complex but if you want info. on how to support her check out the Nat’l Coalition against DV website, or similar.

      1. Natalie*

        You can also call the hotline if you would prefer to talk it out with someone. They’re not just for people being abused, bystanders can call for advice and/or a sympathetic ear as well!

      2. Turtle Candle*

        That’s my guess–he decided to come along on his own, and she couldn’t stop him (or was too frightened to try, understandably). I second calling the hotline. They can advise you from an expert POV.

      3. Gadfly*

        Or even worried/trying to protect the OP. Sometimes victims do try yo drive away people who want to help to protect them from the abusers…

    3. Pro Bono Manager / Pro Bono Coordinator*

      At one of my former jobs, my coworker was being abused by her boyfriend, and he would occasionally show up outside our building or threaten to do so. It probably was more of a him action than a her action.

      I do agree that OP needs to put himself first here, because this other dude sounds unhinged. If I were OP, I might also let my husband know what was going on, because this guy sounds like a dangerous wacko.

  10. TootsNYC*

    Since this guy has a “male dominance” thing going on, my own inclination is for your husband to contact hers and say, “Don’t you ever contact my wife again,” in the strongest macho terms. That’s not how the world should have to work, but I’m thinking about effectiveness, and about how “being under the protection of a man” is often something that guys like this one understand (or, like this one seems to be).

    And then of course take all contact down to bare-minimum at work, but smile nicely when you see her.

    3am? I would worry that he’s a substance abuser. Or Trump.

    1. OP*

      My husband actually had that suggestion. If I was sure it wouldn’t escalate the situation I would have let him. I was also worried that he was a bit of a narcissist. And that contacting him back would give him too much attention and encourage the behavior. My dad is a lot like that, and he loves getting into it with people. I got that vibe off of him the two times I met him.

      1. Addison*

        It’s not a terrible idea, but I think in this case it would be better not to involve your husband as that probably would escalate the situation more. But most definitely do loop in Supervisor – asap! Today if you can. Especially since the husband is now showing up in your workplace… that’s unbelievably threatening even if he doesn’t say/do anything to you.

      2. kb*

        I think you’re probably right that further contact would only escalate the situation. I highly recommend reading The Gift of Fear, it addresses situations like these, and contacting him, even kindly and professionally, may serve as his “justification” for escalation.

      3. Temperance*

        Your instincts are probably right here. I think involving your husband might escalate things, especially because this guy seems like his entire life is a dick-measuring contest.

      4. Turtle Candle*

        Yeah, I absolutely would not do that. The chances of escalation are just plain too high. Feeding into the machismo/male dominance games can end up in some very, very scary places, especially if he decides he has to ‘one-up’ the other guy, which is all too plausible.

      5. Chriama*

        Oh gosh, no. Don’t turn this into a family-wide drama. This guy needs to stop and it’s not your responsibility to do it in ‘his’ terms. Also, if this gets escalated to HR, you don’t evidence that you stooped to his level.

      6. Lablizard*

        Don’t bring your husband into it. Right now her husband is the only one being threatening, but if your husband starts threatening him, the clarity of who is right and who is wrong will be lost.

      7. Whats In A Name*

        I personally think you should leave your husband out of this. I know husband contacted him via social media but if your co-worker says she wants to keep this professional that is what you need to do.

        Loop boss in, only have contact with co-worker when necessary (but by all means be pleasant) and be very careful.

        I know I probably sound heartless but to me the husband is escalating this from you being co-workers concerned friend to target of his anger. Maybe I’ve watched too many late night ID shows but I am really worried about your safety with regards to how quickly this escalated.

      8. Observer*

        I think you are completely correct in not doing this. I know your husband just wants this guy to GO AWAY. But, what most reasonable guys often fail to realize is that people who are NOT reasonable don’t react the way you would expect them to. And this guy is the definition of NOT reasonable.

    2. Emi.*

      This might work, but it could backfire hard by escalating things. In my experience, getting guys to go to bat for you works best when the guy on your team is someone the guy bothering you looks up to or wants to impress. Like, there was a boy in my karate class who wouldn’t stop playing with my hair until an older and higher-ranked boy told him to cut it out, but I think in this case it would just be pouring gasoline on a fire. Especially if Coworker’s husband is already showing up at the office.

    3. Redstrider*

      I’d actually ask a lawyer to write you a “do not contact me” letter to the husband and cite the state’s harassment laws and caselaw.

      Don’t bring the husband into it or you might get into a dick-measuring contest.

      As someone who has had to write those letters more times that I care to, they usually work. When they don’t you have to get HR and the courts involved.

      It also helps to do this just in case a restraining order is warranted.

    4. kimberly*

      I’ve seen this work and backfire
      Work A friend worked for the county in adult protective services. It was during that brief window when you could google a landline and google would give you the physical address. She made a mistake one Friday night and answered a page using her land line, because she thought she was contacting a LEO. It was disturbed adult, who then kept calling and making threats including giving her address. Her boyfriend answered and told him where to get off – the calls stopped. Further action was taken on the following Monday

      Did not work – A coworker had a man is head of the house and boss of all women he has contact with husband. He tried to boss our female principal and his wife’s teammates around RE: required afterschool events, training outside of work hours. (required to get 8 hours training on our own time, then everyone gets a comp day Good Friday). He called the team/grade level leader about something he didn’t like and got her husband who told him to take a flying leap. The aggessor interpeted that as they were on the same page and in total agreement. Showed up at school threatened to tell on the team leader to her husband so he would “show her who is boss”. Result man was banned from all school district property and he forced his wife to quit. The way Texas law works you have up to a few weeks (want to say 30 days) before the start of term to get out of you contract. After that point quitting can actually cause you teaching licence to be revoked or suspended. It isn’t usually done – I’ve had several coworkers resign mid year because of health problems or deaths in the family without this being used. In this case I’m not sure what the district did but they sent out a memo reminding people of the consquences of quitting mid term.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        This probably touches on what the OP is concerned about. Many times the victim gets fired because no one knows what else to do.

    5. Chris*

      Not piling on, but this completely misunderstands that personality type. This isn’t a “women are children, hush the men are talking”, this is a dominance/”how dare you steal my property” situation. If anything, this would cause more anger and jealousy than is already the case.

  11. H.C.*

    Agreed with AAM with telling your manager & also hoping that you are documenting this (screenshots for social media, saving down voicemails as audio files, etc.) so you can go to law enforcement and/or office security if the husband continues to escalate his harassment.

  12. Elise*

    Wow, in light of your comment about him coming in with your co-worker, your boss definitely needs to know about the inappropriate contact outside of work. I agree with Alison that you should be kind to your colleague at work, but definitely don’t initiate non-work related contact at this point.

    1. HRish Dude*

      Sorry – that was my initial reaction, but Jesus Christ, please tell your manager.

      While you may worry your coworker is being victimized in some manner, this is straight-up harassment of you.

  13. kb*

    Whoa, this guy is escalating. Definitely tell your manager what’s going on and see if they can keep him from coming to the office all together or at least while you’re there. This could be because I just read The Gift of Fear, but my gut is telling me that this is only going to get worse and you shouldn’t be in his cross-hairs.

  14. Master Bean Counter*

    I would definitely mention it to management. The dude is coming to work with her. Also if you are so inclined, and you get the chance, talk to her when she’s alone and let her know you are there is she needs anything from you. Then switch everything back to strictly professional.

  15. Marisol*

    Whoa, some total nut is calling you and harassing you at 3 am? As well as contacting YOUR FRIENDS?? I’m surprised that Alison only suggests that you mention this your manager. Maybe she limited the scope to the workplace because that’s the nature of this blog, but I personally think this is a bigger issue.

    I would take a harder line than just having a demure conversation with my boss. If it were me, my response would be something like, “listen asshole, I don’t know you and you’re harassing me. This is totally inappropriate. Knock it off.” And then I’d have my attorney send a cease-and-desist letter. In L.A. you can get a letter sent for two hundred bucks, and you can probably find it cheaper if you look. You could probably find the verbiage online and send it yourself.

    I definitely would not rely on the coworker as a go-between. He is harassing you directly! He’s not going through her to do it. So I would take it up with him directly. In fact, I wouldn’t wait until he does it again. I’d sit right down and write a letter myself, outlining all his offenses “On December 10th at 3 am, you called my cell phone and said ‘[etc…]'” and then explain that if he continues to harass you, you will take legal action. Then I’d send the letter registered and certified. Fuck that guy. No one gets to disrupt your life without consequences. Yes, you want to be professional in the workplace; yes, you are concerned for your coworker; yes, you want to be kind and discreet–but he’s causing problems for YOU and you are entitled to put a stop to it. And you don’t owe it to your co-worker or your employer to be confederate in someone’s choice to harass you.

    I wish Alison had addressed this question a bit more robustly.

    1. OP*

      Thanks for this. I felt like this right after it happened, if I hadn’t felt like the coworker and I were close before all this, I probably would have done this. But I don’t want to make it bad for her.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        You are not the one making it bad for her. He is. Protecting yourself is not the same as throwing her under the bus.

        1. Venus Supreme*

          I’m going to repeat for emphasis: Protecting yourself is not the same as throwing her under the bus.

          Protect yourself. He’s cyber-stalking you, harassing you, following your coworker to your workplace… This isn’t normal, nor is it safe.

        2. Marisol*

          Yeah, there is only so much responsibility you can take in this situation. Personally, and although it might make me sound cold-hearted, that is not something I would be concerned with. She makes her choices; he makes his choices; you are not responsible for either one’s choices. Even thinking along those lines–“I might make it bad for her”–to my mind is getting entangled in the dynamic in an unhealthy way. What I would want is to stay clean and out of the drama, and let others live their own lives. Plus, I think there is merit in modeling healthy boundaries for other people. Everyone wins when we advocate for our own needs. But, that’s me.

          1. Weezy*

            I agree. The OP is too involved and needs to stop caretaking for the coworker.

            I get that people are worried about domestic violence. But OP worrying about domestic violence is not going to cause the coworker to leave. You’ve already suggested counselling, her husband is harassing you, she is still in the relationship, and you’re worrying about her? This sets off my codependency radar.

            1. Natalie*

              I don’t see people bringing up the likely possibility of DV to suggest that the OP should get more involved, but simply that she can take that into account when she figures out how to respond. And it’s a huge leap to suggest the OP is co-dependent because they are worried about a co-worker who is clearly in a scary situation. That’s just normal human empathy.

              1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                Yeah; OP’s reactions sound like the reaction of a good person who has not had to deal with this kind of crazy before. That doesn’t make her codependent.

          2. Amy the Rev*

            While I agree with your point that its important for OP to protect herself first and foremost, I just want to push back on the idea that the ideal thing to do in these situations is “to stay clean and out of the drama, and let others live their own lives”, as this type of argument has been used for decades, by police and bystanders alike, to ignore intimate partner violence, in turn protecting abusers by dismissing this sort of behavior as ‘a family matter’ or simply ‘relationship drama’. Somewhat tangentially, regarding remaining in an abusive relationship as simply a ‘choice’ that someone made was one of the reasons why a couple states tried to pass laws that would criminalize a woman for staying in an abusive relationship if one of the consequences of that abuse was a miscarriage.

            I doubt there’s any legal responsibility that bystanders have to victims of abuse, but I think there’s at least an ethical responsibility to consider what kinds of messages we perpetuate in the ways that we choose to respond or justify our response (whatever that response may be- someone could unintentionally contribute to a dangerous message in the way that they choose to intervene, as well, so I don’t want it to seem like I think I’m speaking from anything resembling a high horse)

            Also I’m probably off-topic here, so feel free to delete, Alison, if you think so, too.

            1. Not So NewReader*

              Sometimes people write laws that show how high up in the ivory tower they are living. That is an amazing law, so I suppose if she leaves the guy and he stalks her then hurts her and the baby, she is guilty of that too? wow. Just wow.

            2. Marisol*

              I think it is perfectly fine for the OP to proactively get information about a domestic abuse center and pass it on to the coworker, or take any action along those lines. If I were in that position, I would most certainly do something like this. The OP is/was a friend to the coworker, and a friend tries to help their friends. Even if the coworker told me to leave them alone, I’d have one final conversation where I forced a business card of a crisis center into her hand before dropping the matter. I haven’t in the slightest suggested that the OP ignore the problem.

              But I am saying that the OP should not be expected to take so much responsibility for this situation that she fails to take action that protects her own interests. This psycho has called the OP at three in the morning, two times if I am reading correctly, although it could be only once, which is still crazy, and he has contacted her friends on Facebook. He is harassing her. I am arguing that the OP should make a clear distinction between what is her responsibility, from a moral standpoint, and what is not her responsibility. I am debating whether or not that help should extend to failing to put a hard stop to the harassment. I say, that is going too far. She can and should help. She should not, or at the very least, is not obligated to, take on some of the harassment by the abuser in order to protect her friend.

              You mention the police and society at large ignoring the problem of domestic violence for decades. Well, women have been expected to sacrifice their own well-being for the sake of others for millennia, and I am encouraging the OP not to sacrifice her own well-being in order to help a (totally hypothetical) situation with her friend.

              Please don’t lump me in with the police who fail to help after they are called out on a domestic violence call (I assume this scenario is what you are referring to as I don’t know what other ways the police would be involved)–this situation is totally different, and I think you misunderstand what I mean by staying clear of drama. Staying out of drama in this case means not taking responsibility for something you are not responsible for. It doesn’t mean refusing to help in any way. What I am suggesting is that this woman, the OP, not sacrifice her well-being by tolerating harassment. My argument is that this woman should stand up to her harasser by sending a cease-and-desist letter.

              And the truth is, individuals ARE responsible for the choices they make. That is a simple, irrefutable fact. Pointing that out is advocating for healthy boundaries. It is NOT suggesting anyone turning a blind eye to domestic abuse. Good God.

              1. Amy the Rev*

                She absolutely shouldn’t sacrifice her well-being by tolerating harassment. Yes, people are responsible for their choices, but it seemed like you were framing being in an abusive relationship as a ‘choice’, when the psychology of abuse and trauma have proven that it’s much, much more nuanced than that. If I misunderstood you and that’s not what you were implying, then I absolutely apologize!

          3. ZVA*

            Even thinking along those lines–“I might make it bad for her”–to my mind is getting entangled in the dynamic in an unhealthy way.

            +1 million to this. I do think it might be worthwhile for the OP to call a domestic abuse hotline, just to see if they might have any tips as to the safest way to approach this… Like the OP, I would probably be afraid I was making an already bad situation worse for my coworker—or that I was endangering myself, even… I have no idea what the proper procedure is with someone as scary-sounding as this guy. But ultimately, I agree with you that OP needs to take care of herself first and foremost. The husband has directly involved himself in her life, and she has every right to address that as she sees fit. And I absolutely agree that when we advocate for ourselves, everybody wins.

            1. N.J.*

              I would have to disagree with the last statement. When we advocate for ourselves, we win, not everybody. There is nothing wrong with advocating for ourselves, it is preferable actually. We are in charge of our own needs etc. However, it is naive to ignore that some situations are losing propositions for at least some parties involved. In a situation like this, if the OP advocates for herself, that is a healthy and valid course of action. But it does not follow as a matter of course that the abuse victim’s situation would get better, and I’m not sure why you or Marisol would believe that. When we advocate for our own needs we win, not anybody else. Advocating for our own needs is based on protecting our own self-interests, not someone else’s.

              1. ZVA*

                And I disagree that when we advocate for ourselves we win, not anybody else! I think others absolutely can benefit—for example, by seeing someone else model healthy boundaries, as Marisol mentioned. I guess what I meant to say is that when we advocate for ourselves, it can benefit those around us—not only ourselves. Not that it necessarily will in every case, but in my personal experience taking care of others at your own expense isn’t good for you or for them. Whereas caring for yourself can end up benefiting yourself and others, too.

              2. Marisol*

                It depends on the perspective you take. Frequently, what’s bad in the short term winds up being a hard lesson learned that turns out to be a wonderful experience in the long term. An example would be, someone getting fired. The company has to do what’s best for them, so they fire an employee who wasn’t working out. The employee has a very hard lesson to learn. But then they go on to realize something like their poor attitude made them get fired, and they work to improve it and are successful in their next job; or they realize that they are actually in the wrong field, so they change careers and get a job they love…etc. The universe often has something better in store for people who undergo crisis, but we can’t see it immediately.

                I think this is how life works more often than not. Can you find an example where this doesn’t apply? You probably could, but then I would say usually that’s the result of the person refusing to learn their lesson. So the bad employee who doesn’t change his attitude only has himself to blame, ultimately.

                I didn’t say that the coworker’s abusive situation would get better. In fact, it may indeed get worse. But, the coworker needs to learn the lesson that other people don’t have the right to abuse her. It’s not the OP’s job to teach her this. She can try to facilitate it, and I think calling the DV hotline would be a good thing to do, but I don’t think she can reasonably be expected to sacrifice her own well-being. What I meant by suggesting that the coworker would “win” as a result of the OP defending her interests was that she would witness a woman standing up for herself, in this case standing up to her monster husband. Women don’t get to see this behavior modeled enough. Everybody *does* win when a woman stands up to a harasser. The world wins.

                1. Marisol*

                  I guess another way to summarize my position would be: life has hard knocks, and we needn’t be afraid of either receiving them, or catalyzing them for other people when necessary. We don’t have to protect others from the lessons they need to learn or the experiences they need to have. Taking too much responsibility for what other people go through is unproductive and neurotic. That’s for the universe/God to take care of. We are not God. We just have to trust that doing what is right, including doing what is right in terms of defending our own interests, is the best action to take, and let events unfold from there.

                2. LBK*

                  Personally, I would have serious moral problems writing off someone I thought might be getting abused as “learning a lesson they needed to learn”. That sounds like pretty much textbook victim-blaming to me.

                3. N.J.*

                  The world wins, definitely. I agree that the OP needs to protect herself. That ties back into self-interest for me though, though it is the correct reaction. Looking out for herself is important and benefits the OP. Where this view point is problematic for me is that the example set by the OP may benefit society, as you described, but it is not realistic to think that a coworker standing up to the abusive husband is somehow going to flip a switch in the abuse victim’s head that lets her see the horrible situation she is in and finally leave. It doesn’t work that way, at all. I say this as an abuse survivor myself. It didn’t matter who was around me, who was modeling healthy relationships etc. and standing up for themselves as great, empowered role models. Igot out when I had finally had enough and been scared and scarred enough. I do think a lot of your perspective is great though.

                4. N.J.*

                  To your point below, I know what you are trying to say, I think, but I would caution that looking at rough situations as somehow our duty or interest in uses them to encourage someone to learn a lesson is problematic. As people responsible for ourselves, we all have the right to wash our hands of a situation and protect ourselves, but besides your earlier point of this modeling good self protection to society at large, it is still not a good vehicle for teaching a lesson to an individual or justifying actions itself-interest as somehow altruistic or commendable because they will force the victim of the bad situation to fend for herself too. That’s disingenuous.

                5. Not So NewReader*

                  “But, the coworker needs to learn the lesson that other people don’t have the right to abuse her.”

                  I think this assumes that the coworker could learn her lesson and walk away, no problem.

                  It’s a two step process. One is the lesson. I see enough here to assume she has learned the lesson. The second step is actually breaking away without ending up dead.

                  I think if OP could detach from the situation enough she would have just gone to the police rather than Alison. I believe that OP sees enough to realize that she (OP) has to chose her next steps wisely because a human life could be at stake. The conflict comes in when it might be OP’s life as well, so OP knows she has to do something.

                  While it is true that we have a moral obligation to ourselves to protect our own selves, OP has the freedom to move about and interact with others that Coworker may not have. This could give OP a sense of having the odds in her favor and the Coworker not having such good odds.

                  This could lead many people, OP included, to decide, “before I make a Big Move, I need to know that I have exhausted all other options.” I suspect this is where OP is at because (back to the fact that) OP asked Alison not the police.

                  If a person in this story ends up injured or dead, OP might want to know that she did everything she could think of to get the best outcome possible.

                6. Marisol*

                  NJ, you are reading things into what I am saying and/or misunderstanding me and/or taking too absolute a perspective. I never once said modeling good behavior will “flip a switch” inside the coworker’s head. Change of any sort can happen incrementally, or all at once, or never. I haven’t given any opinion on how specifically I think the coworker will react to any action the OP takes, and I don’t have an opinion on that matter. I merely think that there is more benefit–however slight–to modeling good behavior than modeling bad behavior. Do you think the coworker will benefit if the OP refuses to stand up to the husband? Because there are really only two choices. The OP takes action, or she doesn’t. So which choice is more beneficial to the OP? You might say, “it’s better if she takes no action, because that will prevent the abusive husband from getting more abusive” but really, you have no idea how things will play out, and neither do I. There are lots of ways this could potentially work out.

                  I don’t really appreciate you calling my deeply held principles disingenuous either. Not going to parse out and respond to your argument except to say you misunderstand.

                7. N.J.*

                  I can’t reply directly to your comment at 6:57. I’m not implying that you don’t care or that you think modeling good behavior will always turn out well for both the person modeling it and the victim. The reason I called part of your perspective (as a lot of your perspective is good) disingenuous, is that the OP standing up to the husband, and situations like this, in which someone stands up to an abuser, is about self-protection, not about modeling behavior. When you are in an abusive relationship you either learn to stop someone from abusing you or you don’t, or sadly, you learn too late. I understand that you sincerely think that the OP standing up for herself could ultimately benefit the victim too, but I think that ignores, rather glaringly, the very real and complicated situation that an abuse victim is in. I find the oversimplification (that someone standing up to an abuser models good behavior and will therefore have some likelihood of inspiring the abuse victim to stand up for herself as well) and the categorization of an abuse victim as similar to someone who gets fired for a bad attitude, in which the “victim” does need to learn a lesson about fit, attitude and responsibility, to be disingenuous or if you prefer, obtuse, imperceptive, willfully naive or willfully ignorant of the common factors in abuse situations. I understand that you sincerely think that the OP can enact something positive not only for herself but also for the abuse victim. But it is a very dangerous idea to assert, even slightly, that an abuse victim just needs to be inspired by example or that she will learn something from her abuse situation that is valuable (it is true that you learn many things from surviving an abuse situation, as we do from all situations in life) which implies that the value of that lesson somehow legitimizes all the suffering that a victim goes through to achieve it. I would counter with the idea that the OP acting in her own self-interest is enough…if she is to consider how her actions will affect the abuse victim, that is honorable and compassionate, but that is not the motivation or the value of standing up to the abusive husband. The only guaranteed value is the OP’s safety and the safety of her workplace. She will not inspire the abuse victim to do anything just by standing up to the husband. Inspiring an abuse victim is engaging with her, helping her find resources, in cases of financial abuse helping her figure out how to get the money to leave and oftentimes becoming personally involved with the victim’s life to provide personal safety and shelter etc. An abuse victim doesn’t need a role model, she needs help. Being a role model helps the other women in our lives who are not trapped in an abusive relationship to learn the way to avoid these situations and certainly benefits society, as you have pointed out. But to view it as anything beyond that is not helpful or effective.

          4. LBK*

            Even thinking along those lines–“I might make it bad for her”–to my mind is getting entangled in the dynamic in an unhealthy way.

            I think, though, that there’s pretty good evidence that trying to intervene in an abusive relationship does usually make things worse for the victim. I’ve definitely seen it brought up here before, I’m fairly certain by someone who was an expert in DV (maybe Marie? can’t remember).

            I think the OP is smart and kind to be cognizant of balancing her own safety with her coworker’s. No, she can’t save her coworker, but the alternative shouldn’t just be throwing her coworker to the wolves to save her own ass.

            1. Marisol*

              She didn’t set a boundary that she was entitled to set because she was afraid of a hypothetical that she wasn’t responsible for. I disagree that this was necessarily smart or kind, although I think it was well-intended. I think the OP should contact the DV hotline if she is so inclined, and maybe she can proactively help in some way. But “throw coworker under the bus” vs. “advocate for one’s own safety and well-being” is a false dichotomy.

              1. LBK*

                But that seems to be the one people are advocating here, where she takes a hard line with the coworker’s husband regardless of how that might cause him to retaliate at her coworker. I don’t think it’s as easy as just saying “Prioritize yourself, you can’t fix her situation” with zero thought about the potentially very real and serious consequences that might entail for the victim.

                1. Kate*

                  But what about the “potentially very real and serious consequences” for the OP. Husband sounds dangerous and violent. OP should have to be in danger at her job every day, or have to quit her job.

                  No one is saying that Coworker should get hurt.

                  What they are saying is that OP cannot save or rescue Coworker, that she may choose to leave open the lines of communication between herself and Coworker, but that at a minimum she needs to take action to protect herself and maintain her own and her family’s safety, even if that does mean potential negative consequences for coworker.

                2. Jessesgirl72*

                  You are the one who is textbook victim blaming, for all that you’re accusing others of it. If the LW advocates for herself and gets a restraining order, and the coworker gets the brunt of his anger, the person to blame for that is the abuser. Not the OP, who is also being abused.

                  It’s just false to say “You shouldn’t come down hard on this obvious and clear threat because he might take it out on the coworker” because he takes everything out on his wife. If someone cuts him off in traffic. If he gets yelled at by his boss. If she forgets to iron his socks. Nothing the LW does will save her or make it worse for her.

                  Except that police/court involvement might have a tiny chance. Of at least establishing a pattern, and hopefully of helping his wife see that this isn’t okay, and giving her a push to get out.

                3. LBK*

                  If the LW advocates for herself and gets a restraining order, and the coworker gets the brunt of his anger, the person to blame for that is the abuser. Not the OP, who is also being abused.

                  Whoa, I definitely wasn’t saying it’s the OP’s fault if something she does makes the abuser retaliate against the coworker. I’m saying that for me, personally, if I were in this situation, I would have a really hard time doing something that I thought might possibly make things worse for my coworker, even at potential cost to myself. It wouldn’t be as simple as saying self-preservation comes first.

                4. LBK*

                  All I’m saying is that I can understand the OP approaching the situation very cautiously and wanting to balance what will be best for her with what will be best for her coworker. And ultimately there may not be any kind of “happy medium,” such as it is, that allows the OP to feel safe with no potential risk to the coworker. But people are making it sound like a really simple and obvious call to just do whatever’s best for the OP and stop caring about how it affects the coworker, and I don’t think it’s that clear cut.

                5. Marisol*

                  Zero thought? It sounds like you mistake me for some sort of psychopath. I think the OP should contact a DV hotline and get some advice for how to proceed. I think that she should probably give the number of the hotline to the coworker, depending on what the hotline suggests. But the reality is that the OP CAN’T fix the coworker’s situation. Thinking that abstaining from protecting herself will protect the coworker seems like magical thinking to me.

                  I’d be curious to see how you responded if someone called you at three a.m. and started harassing you in various ways. Especially if you were a women and the abuser was a man. Would you take it? Or would you shut it down swiftly?

                  You saying the OP shouldn’t take action to protect herself is just like the advice that women receive to “be nice,” advice which often results in them failing to say no to abusers. I’m telling this woman to stand up for herself, and you’re giving me grief about it. It’s just another manifestation of sexism.

                  Regarding framing getting out of an abusive situation as learning a life’s lesson, you’re taking a very uncharitable read of a simple truth that I’ve stated. Life brings us lessons to learn. There’s no judgement in that statement, it just is. Do you disagree? Most of us have to learn about setting boundaries and raising our level of self-esteem. This is a very basic sort of lesson. Women who stay in abusive relationships have more to learn in this regard. Ask any woman who has gotten out of a domestic abuse situation if she didn’t learn anything. I’m not judging anyone for needing to learn lessons; I’ve got plenty of my own to learn, including the self-esteem kind. Saying that someone needs to learn lessons is not the same thing as saying that someone deserves abuse. And I certainly didn’t write anyone off. I try hard to take an unflinching look at the truth, as best I can see it, and the truth is that we learn our lessons alone. Others can help, but ultimately, we have to choose to learn. People can’t do it for us.

                  I read once, in a book, I think it was a book on Co-dependence, may have been Codependent No More by Melody Beattie, that people who have healthy boundaries are sometimes seen as being cold and uncaring by people who have poor boundaries, because those with healthy boundaries refuse to take on shit that isn’t theirs. To be frank, I wonder if something like that is happening here. You are characterizing me as someone who advocates “throwing [an abused woman] under the bus,” “writing her off,” giving “zero thought” to this person, etc. and I really don’t think I am thinking that way. I am definitely not victim blaming, which you also accuse me of. Victim blaming would be saying something like, “she brought the abuse on herself” and I have not said anything remotely like that. I think you may be bringing your own blind spots into this conversation.

                6. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  I’m going to ask that we move on from this thread as it’s becoming argumentative in a way that I don’t think is useful to the OP. Thank you.

          5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Yes, to both of the points Marisol has raised.

            OP, there are two problems here. One is that coworker’s husband may be abusive. The second is that he’s harassing and threatening you. While they may be related problems, it is fully reasonable, and I would say incumbent upon you, to address problem #2.

            He is the one making things bad for coworker, not you, and you have to really let go of any guilt associated with taking necessary steps to protect your safety.

      2. Amy the Rev*

        Yeah, given what you’ve said about his behavior, I’d worry that there’s a significant chance that aggressive legal retaliation (while absolutely your right to pursue) might have dangerous consequences for your coworker, especially so long as they are living together/he has access to her.

        1. Jessesgirl72*

          The OP can’t leave herself in danger as the target of this abuser, just because it “might” put the coworker in more danger.

          The coworker being caught in traffic and being 5 minutes late getting home does that. Or her not ironing his socks, or whatever other triggers he has. The fault of all this is the abuser’s- not the OP’s and not the abuse victim. The only way it will ever stop is if someone presses the legal side of it. The coworker is very likely unable to do that.

          1. Amy the Rev*

            Oh absolutely, I probably wasn’t clear enough: I 100% agree that one’s own safety has to come first, its why the airlines have you put on your own oxygen mask before your childrens’, for example. I just meant that if she decides to pursue legal action, if she feels concerned for her coworker, it might be worth getting in touch with a DV organization for advice on how to do so in a way that would least likely end up with her coworker being killed. Like having the restraining order be served at a time when the husband is at work or the coworker is away from him. Not saying she shouldn’t pursue legal action, just that there is probably a way for her to both protect herself AND not feel like she is putting her coworkers life in danger.

        2. Observer*

          I don’t really think this matters. The husband here is not a reasonable person, and has already blamed the OP for his problems with his wife, even though she hasn’t done something that warrants blame. So, at this point, I don’t think it really is reasonable for the OP to worry that doing reasonable things might make the situation worse for her co-worker.

          I’m not sure that an aggressive legal response is a good idea *at this point*, but the OP needs to make her decisions about this based on her safety. The only somewhat exception that I see is if she can see a specific way that her taking one course of action over another would clearly or almost certainly help her coworker. Even then, she can do what she needs to. In the current situation, worry for her friend simply can’t enter into the picture – there is no way she is going to “right enough” to placate the husband *even if she disappeared*.

      3. Jessesgirl72*

        You aren’t making anything bad for her. Her husband is. You need to get that clear in your mind immediately.

        Honestly, just based on what you laid out in your original letter, my brother (and he even had been sleeping with her, the idiot) got a restraining order in Ohio against an angry husband for less.

        The harassment from his man isn’t going to stop- for you or for her. She can’t seek police help. She’s too scared and beaten down. *YOU* can. And then I hope he violates the protection order so he gets thrown in jail, and she has an opportunity to escape.

      4. Beanie so Meanie*

        Yeah I agree with Marisol, OP. I was sadly the girlfriend of one of these psychos when I was 19. He came to my work unannounced as a way to, I guessed, catch me sleeping with all my coworkers! He’d see an attractive guy and accuse me of sleeping with him. I wished someone would have said something to my manager. I sure couldn’t. He ended up going to prison which was the only thing that snapped me out of it. And I am a woman, and was a girl, with a good head on her shoulders. I simply got in a bad relationship and he broke my will. Once someone does that, s/he can do what s/he wants with you. I can even see myself going along with him because I was so broken and defeated.

        Creepy, creepy. I don’t think calling the cops is the way but, damn! I’m so sorry for you and for her.

      5. MadGrad*

        You do not have the power to protect her, and are not responsible for how her husband treats her.

        Seriously, as long as you feel even semi safe doing it, END THIS DUDE. He is used to using secrecy and deniability to get away with things – take that away from him. Save all his texts and show it to your boss, including a response in which you tell him to NEVER AGAIN contact you in any way. Bring the Facebook details. Expose everything. If he shows up at work, tell him in view of others to leave or you will call the police, noting that his harassment has been documented and the workplace is aware. Have your boss help you set up a safety plan and openly treat him like the psycho threat he is. If things get scary or you think it might, do what you have to to protect yourself. But this guy wouldn’t even look at you on the elevator? He’s trying to hide like a snake in the grass. BURN HIS FIELD DOWN.

        1. Marisol*

          Yeah, I think the fact that he wouldn’t look at the OP in the elevator probably reveals that he’s more of a paper tiger and than anything else and that it’s safe for the OP to defend herself. (I’m no expert on stuff like this but he seems cowardly if he won’t even look her in the eye.)

      6. I'm Not Phyllis*

        It sounds like your coworker is in a really bad place, and I feel for her, but you cannot allow this harassment of you, your husband and your friends to continue. If she ever does need to seek legal help, a cease and desist letter may actually help her case, if you want to look at it that way.

      7. Artemesia*

        Time to protect yourself and your co-workers. I’d complain to management, get him barred from the office and send a cease and desist. And I would make sure your management had you escorted to your car for the near future and would be taking whatever personal steps you need to protect your home. This guy is dangerous.

  16. Creative Manager*

    OP, you should possibly not be surprised to find out that your co-worker has delivered her own messages to her husband in your name, as “backup” for her point of view.

    It’s a common thing that happens when someone feels that their own opinion does not carry enough weight, and co-worker may have interpreted facial expressions and one off statements out of context to say what she wanted them to say rather than what you actually wanted to say “This sounds wrong, but if you’re this unhappy, you should try counseling”.

    Which isn’t to say that he may not be controlling, etc. and that might even be part of why she doesn’t feel her own word carries enough weight and is looking for “proof” to push back at him with (if this is what is happening), but just to say that it’s strong possibility behind why you’re being targeted as the “cause” of their divorce if they have one, etc.

    1. OP*

      Friends have mentioned this as well. That she might be using my name to express feeling she has herself. Which is shitty as hell.

      1. animaniactoo*

        High likelihood, she did not see his reaction to you coming and was only trying to give herself support. If this is what is happening, please keep that in mind. Which is not to excuse her for doing it, but only to say – she likely thought it was a benign sort of thing to do and is now learning differently.

      2. Doodle*

        Yeah, that is terrible.

        I think it might help, though, to realize if she’s really in that circumstance, she’s in a place where she feels unsafe expressing how she feels to the person she is married to, which seems much worse (and much scarier for her).

        I’m not saying that’s right — just that empathy might be the right response here. If this is what he’s doing to you, it’s terrifying to imagine what he might be doing to her.

      3. Mona Lisa*

        It might not have been an intentional thing. When I was in an abusive relationship, I related some of the conversations I’d had with my friends to my ex in a “Jane mentioned this thing she noticed to me, and I thought it was something we could discuss” way. It wasn’t until I did that and he called my best friend to yell at her for thirty minutes about how she was interfering in our relationship that I realized my situation was incredibly messed up. Your co-worker might not have realized what the ramifications of introducing your name into a conversation would be when she first started talking about you.

      4. Chalupa Batman*

        Keep in mind, though, that mentioning your name even in passing could make you the enemy. I had a close friend who confided in me after suddenly leaving her husband. He sent my husband a long message indicating that I was a bad influence, a bad person, and was giving his wife terrible advice (we’d all previously had a friendly relationship). My husband promptly told him to leave us both alone and we cut off contact. Turns out she hadn’t even told him we’d talked-he looked through her phone records. The funny thing is, I was the ONLY person at the time encouraging her to try counseling before giving up on her marriage. She had been too ashamed and afraid to share that she’d been in a verbally and emotionally abusive relationship for years, and he’d already refused counseling. I told her he was right, I had given her bad advice-she should run.

        Tell your boss what’s going on. Focus on keeping yourself safe and cut off all direct contact with him. My friend’s ex was grasping at straws. When she was covering for him, he didn’t have an issue with me. I wasn’t the focus of his anger, she was, and attacking my character was a power play against her, trying to scare off her support system before she had a chance to use it against him. What you said about your coworker not looking at you when he was in the office spoke buckets to me. My guess: she was sure that if she showed any sign of acknowledgement to you, you’d be back on his radar as an enemy, and all she wants is for this to blow over. You can’t help until she lets you. You were there when she needed you, I doubt that will be forgotten. It’s not unkind of you to back out of the situation if she’s showing signs she’s not ready to accept your help right now.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Yeah, that jumped at me also that the Coworker was doing everything she could think of to do to protect OP.

        2. OP*

          Thank you for giving me your input. This sounds very much like her. She’s a great person and I really really hope this is what is happening.

      5. Theletter*

        Hey OP, I’m so sorry that this is happening to you and your friend.

        I unfortunately have been in your shoes before, and your letter sounded like classic abuse/DV to me.

        She might have mentioned your name to him, but if she did, it’s probably not her fault. Remember that he is the abuser in this situation, and his goal is to gain complete control of his victim’s life.

        There’s a subtle thing that happens at the beginning of an abusive relationship. The abuser starts asking a lot of questions about their victim’s lives and how they spend their time, and the abuser can get very insistent that they receive detailed answers. This is how they start to break down basic boundaries. (there’s usually a lot of BS about trust or whatever). The next step is to whittle away the support system, starting with anyone who has personal, private time with the victim, and it usually involves a whole lot of abuse directed to those people in order to scare them away. He has purposefully made you the enemy to achieve his goal, probably because he knew you spent time with her, and possibly because he needled your opinion of the marriage out of her through less-than-appropriate tactics, and then turned that information around into something it was not. Was your opinion so harsh at the beginning? No. Lots of people get counseling. He had no reason to react with such effect unless he wanted to push her away from you on purpose.

        But again, he might have made you the victim simply because he knew you and her were having personal, private conversations, and that, in his mind, was too much power for her to have.

        In any case, your coworker is a victim. This is going to be very challenging for her, and one of the hard parts may be the criticism she hears from her support network, so that’s where it’s critical to employ tact and whatever self-esteem-boosting smiles you can send in her direction.

        I agree wholeheartedly with Alison’s advice.

    2. Imaginary Number*

      The part where he contacted OP again after OP was gone for three weeks and hadn’t had any contact with his wife … that made me think this. That the friend had used OP as an alibi or falsely quoted her about something.

      1. Doodle*

        Yeah, that fits. I’m never beyond ascribing mere irrationality to people who are acting irrationally, but given that the OP was actually DOING what the husband asked her to do, and he escalated anyway, it may be because the co-worker brought the OP back into the conversation.

      2. Brisvegan*

        Or he has cycles of abuse.

        My Dad was abusive and followed the classic abuse cycle in his patterns of rages, honeymoon phase, build up etc. He would also sometimes fixate on people my mother used to be friends with and/or her family. He knew it hurt Mum and made her scared to start friendships. Thus, I knew the names of people that Mum had ceased to be friends with before I was even born, that Dad would accuse her of conspiring with 10-20 years later. Fortunately, there were no mobile phones or internet back then. Dad didn’t contact them.

        It is quite within the realm of possibility that the husband has moved through the abuse cycle to loop back to the abuse phase. Only 3 weeks later, he may quite likely be still blamimg OP or still abusing the wife via showing her that he can drive off a friendly supporter. The wife may not have invoked the OP’s name.

        Either way, I feel uncomfortable with blaming the poor wife for the jerk husband’s behavious.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Yeah—it’s a classic abusive move to try to separate the victim from her support network. It’s totally possible that that’s what coworker’s husband is doing here. It wasn’t enough to try to harass OP; now he wants to ensure all of his wife’s ties to OP (even the professional ones) are severed.

      3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Or he’s just crazy. Abusive people often fixate on people they see as threats to their power. In this case, coworker’s husband thinks OP is threatening his relationship, so even when OP does nothing, he’ll still fixate on wanting to “deal with” her.

    3. RD*

      He may not be controlling?

      The friend may have been misrepresenting her own opinions as coming from the OP, but that does not erase or justify the behaviour of her husband.

      There is no justification for contacting someone at 3am, then finding ways to contact that person’s spouse and friends. Regardless of the trigger, that behavior is controlling, as is escorting your wife to work.

      1. Natalie*

        I think you misread that, Creative Manager says “Which isn’t to say that he may not be controlling”.

  17. Temperance*

    I think it would be best for you to talk to management, OP. You can let them know that X’s husband threatened you, and that he seems unhinged. It could get him banned from your building, which would keep you both safe at work.

    Alison’s advice upthread is good as well. It sounds like her husband could be an abuser, and he’s already cut her off from friends and family, and you’re a threat to his distinct control over her life. That’s why he’s harassing you and trying to assert his dominance. I misread the situation from the OP; at first, I thought you were a dude married to a dude, and he was angry about another man near his wife.

    I recommend blocking his number from your phone, too.

    1. kb*

      I actually wouldn’t block the number because it may serve as a warning if his ire is directed her way again. That way if she receives anymore 3 am messages she can take the proper precautions (requesting that he isn’t buzzed into the building or even calling the police, depending on the contents of the messages).

      1. Natalie*

        Something like Google voice, or a silent ring at least, would probably be good so the OP isn’t getting woken up by three am phone calls. That would be unsettling.

      2. Pebbles*

        You can set up a block so that it seems like a regular call but that it doesn’t ring your phone. It will record who and when someone called and the other person doesn’t know they’ve been blocked. I do this with all the spammy telemarketers that call my number. I add the number to a “Do Not Answer” contact list and it just shows up in my call log. If the OP creates a blocked contact with coworker’s husband’s phone number (and probably needs to add coworker’s number as well), she won’t be woken up at 3am, but will still have the call log info for documentation purposes. I think it even allows for voicemail messages to be left.

        1. Software Engineer - 15+ years*

          My phone doesn’t have this feature – but OP, I -can- assign a custom ringtone and text received tone to a number. Including completely silent. If you can’t block other ways, check whether your phone can do this.

      3. Jessesgirl72*

        When my brother got the restraining order against the nutjob husband of the woman he’d been sleeping with, the lawyer told him he had to change his number as part of seeking the restraining order. Just as an FYI. The judge backed it up. (He was living with my parents, so they had to change the phone number that had been in the family ever since they went to 7 digit phone numbers!)

      4. OP*

        I thought about that, but I really wanted to be able to sleep at night. I was finding myself waking up at 3am automatically and frantically checking my phone and then couldn’t get back to sleep. I was so worried for my coworker and so upset that he had made me so scared.

    2. OP*

      Oh yes! That happened directly after the second incident. I took screenshots and stuff and immediately blocked every social media outlet and phone numbers. It helped me sleep better knowing that a phone call at 3am was an actual emergency instead of a rant.

  18. Turtle Candle*

    I would absolutely say something to your manager–not to get her in trouble (it’s very possible to phrase this in a ‘I’m concerned’ way that is not blamey–Alison’s suggestion would work well, I think) but because this is worrying, and your company can do risk assessment best if they have the relevant information. (Also, you want to have spoken to your manager first in case the coworker or her husband decides to accuse you of inappropriate behavior or something.)

    I’m so sorry. This is awful for you and doubly awful for your coworker.

  19. Aphrodite*

    Not to be an alarmist, OP, but I wonder what he might do if she does suddenly decide to leave him (and maybe the city, job, state)? I suspect her workplace, and, you, might become targets for his anger–and god knows what else. Your workplace needs to know about this and maybe, depending on what her boss and HR do, contact the police.

    1. kb*

      I agree. If anything provokes this guy, it seems likely he’ll feel justified blaming OP. Based on the update in the comments him coming to work, it seems like he’s trying to monitor your interactions with coworker. Its not right that you have to alter your behavior to satisfy a loon, but for your safety I would distance yourself from her. Loop management in so they’re aware and can make proper precautions. Offer help discreetly if you can, but this guy knows where you work and is acting irrationally towards you. Your number one job is to make sure you are safe.

  20. Amy the Rev*

    There are several DV organizations that have VERY discreet services, think: business cards that don’t say what the organization does, and the receptionists don’t say what the organization does when they answer the phone, such as The Second Step. If there’s a way to discreetly slip this woman a number or card, or leave a few in the office restroom, it might be a literal lifesaver. If this husband is so tech-controlling, it would be reasonable to assume he tracks her browser history, and it might be worth it to tape some information about a local DV organization inside the bathroom stall doors in your office- I see this a lot at bars/restaurants.

    1. FDCA In Canada*

      At my workplace we have a bulletin board in the washroom with the numbers and contact info for tons of services: DV assistance, child help, Telehealth, food banks (which many people are reluctant to ask for information on), you name it. We have a little pen on a string and a basket of paper slips so people can write the number they are in need of in the privacy of the washroom without anyone else seeing or knowing about it. I don’t know who makes use of it, but we refill the papers every week, so clearly they’re coming in handy for some people.

    2. IP*

      Don’t slip it to her directly. If her husband finds it – she will likely shift blame to you. But you can scatter it around the office discreetly.

      1. Natalie*

        I’m not sure if she comes around much, but a regular commenter here (pfcMarie) who is also a DV survivor suggested putting a card on a little stand on your own desk. The information is there, but it’s not directly putting someone on the spot when they might not be ready to get there.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Same. I feel like she would be able to synthesize what we’re all saying with compassion and greater clarity.

    3. Adam V*

      (Very very off-topic, but… you wouldn’t happen to be the “Amy the Rev” that I went to high school with?)

    4. CAinUK*

      Disagree. This has escalated to the point where ANY (perceived) intervention from the OP will make things worse. The coworker and her husband have both threatened the OP. I’d wash my hands of it, not only because it is not the OP’s responsibility, but because any further attempts to help could make matters much worse. You cannot help someone unless they want the help. The maximum I’d do is have HR put info on a common bulletin board re: DV support.

      This may sound callous, but at this rate I would distance myself completely from the coworker, explain what has happened to the boss in order to ensure the husband cannot come into the office, and move on.

    5. Liane*

      Late to this, but the women’s hospital where I had one of my kids, put the info for one of the organizations on tiny slips of paper– 1/2 inch by 4 inch. There were tons of these in the bathroom in the women’s room in the Labor & Delivery area. This was where patients were evaluated before being admitted or sent home, so not a restroom for anyone but patients and where there would be plenty of nurses to ask “Mister, WTH are you doing near this bathroom–even if your wife’s in labor, the men’s room is *out there*!” So very hard for an abuser to find out they existed.

  21. Jenbug*

    In addition to everything else that has been said, it might be worth asking if there is an EAP in place and have HR or your manager discretely provide that information to your coworker. Or you may want to contact a domestic violence hotline for advice on how to handle this situation.

    The fact that he showed up at work with her during a shift is a huge escalation and he could be very dangerous to her, you, and a lot of other people.

  22. Katie the Fed*

    Many, many years ago I was in a similar situation, where I started getting threats from the wife of someone I worked occasionally with, but not at the same employer (she misinterpreted a friendly email). I got a series of threatening emails and messages from her that got more and more frequent in a 36 hour period, to the point that I was terrified.

    I ended up hiring a lawyer for a small retainer and he wrote her a certified letter telling her if she contacted me again I’d be pursuing a protective order.

    Last I ever heard from her.

    1. Marisol*

      This is the gold-standard, exemplary response to something like this, as far as I’m concerned. A letter from a lawyer can be mighty intimidating! Good for you for defending yourself!

      1. Katie the Fed*

        Thanks. I still get really stressed thinking about it.

        The lawyer told me that she was probably just working herself up and had seen way too many TV shows (she was threatening to call my friends and family, my employer, etc), and this would snap her back into reality. It worked.

        1. Jessesgirl72*

          My brother filed the restraining order (the crazy husband was making vague threats about the kids of a FRIEND of ours, in retaliation) but it did the trick too, and brought him back to sanity.

      2. kb*

        In this situation the letter could be intimidate and stop the husband, but if the husband is a violent dude he may interpret it as provocation and justification for escalation against OP. Clearly that’d be an irrational response from the husband and it shouldn’t be OP’s job to deal with the psyche of someone she doesn’t even work with, but it seems like he’s already made himself comfortable physically crossing boundaries by coming to her workplace.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Yes, but it’s much better to have the restraining order, nonetheless. It’s bad enough to commit assault, but it’s much worse (at least in the eyes of well-trained law enforcement and courts) to walk through a restraining order and commit assault.

          1. Tex*

            Doesn’t “The Gift of Fear” say that restraining orders may escalate the situation? That it makes the abuser feel out of control and so they ramp up the bad behavior?

            That being said, I would talk to the boss/HR. The person who says something first sets the narrative going forward.

            1. kb*

              Yeah, that was definitely in my mind when I wrote my comment. I also think that a strongly worded letter would be likely to have the same risk of provocation as a restraining order, but none of the immediate effective benefits. That’s not to say it won’t turn out to be an effective option, I just thought I’d point out there are risks I wouldn’t have immediately considered.

            2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              Yes, but as an attorney who has done TRO work specifically in the context of DV, I think the Gift of Fear is wrong on this point (it’s entirely wrong on DV, full stop).

              It’s true that an abuser may escalate in response to a letter or TRO, but for most people, the letter/TRO will get them to stop. If someone does escalate, they usually would have escalated even if a person had not pursued a letter/TRO. As OP notes, she complied with her coworker’s request, and the husband showed up at work in a quasi-menacing/threatening way (i.e., he escalated his threats).

              Unless you’re in a jurisdiction with terribly trained law enforcement (which is totally possible), your risk of escalation is the same whether or not you obtain a letter/TRO. But the penalties for someone who violates a TRO are significantly higher than someone who harasses you in its absence. So what do you risk by obtaining a letter/TRO compared to your risk of not obtaining one?

              1. So Very Anonymous*

                Princess Consuela, I’m really glad you’re here for this question. Just wanted to say that.

              2. kb*

                I appreciate your input as a professional who has worked in the field. My response was in reference to a strongly-worded letter from a lawyer rather than to a restraining order. My thought process was that it may be worthwhile in this case (because he escalated by showing up at work) to go directly to a restraining order, if possible. I know this would vary by state, but do you think it’s likely that OP could effectively obtain one? I would think recurring harassing phone calls along with showing up at OP’s workplace would merit one, except the harasser’s wife also works there, so it could be explained away.

                1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  In this situation, I would recommend a letter before pursuing a protective/restraining order, mostly because what’s been shared is just short of a TRO for the jurisdictions I’ve worked in. Unfortunately, it’s really hard to advise whether a TRO is possible without knowing a lot of granular data about OP’s locality.

              3. Artichoke*

                Since you say “The Gift of Fear” is wrong about DV, are there any books you do recommend? So far the best resource for me has been “The Body Keeps the Score” but it doesn’t focus completely on DV.

          2. kb*

            My response was referring to a letter from a lawyer, which isn’t the same thing as a restraining order. A restraining order would be more helpful in that she could potentially call police on a violation if he were to come to the office, near her residence, or anywhere she habitually goes. Certain states also have laws which remove firearms from those with restraining orders against them, which is hugely helpful, but not a benefit of a letter from a lawyer. A restraining order may be more difficult for her to get at this point in time than a letter from a lawyer, but may be more effective at keeping her safe.
            The function of a letter from a lawyer in the immediate sense would be to demonstrate you are serious about legal action/ get someone to snap back to reality, which generally works with rational people, but does have a potential of setting off adverse effects
            with irrational ones. I don’t know what type this man may be or how large of a threat he poses to OP’S safety.

      3. Putting Out Fires, Esq*

        We are good at strongly worded letters. Pointed emails too.

        Get a lawyer. They can be the sunshine this situation needs. (Sunshine is the best disinfectant- Justice Brandeis)

  23. hayling*

    The only advice I have is to document everything. Screenshot all the emails/chats/IG posts, when he came in to the office, etc.

  24. Lora*

    Please tell your boss and HR right away! Also provide a clear timeline that the husband showed up to work *after* all the texts, emails etc.

    If this happened to one of my employees, I would seriously have to investigate and it would possibly come to having our security staff make husband Persona Non Grata and routing any emails from him to IT for review before they would go to the intended recipient. And I would be watching your co-worker very carefully for signs of something bad happening in case she needed to use the EAP. I would never in a million years blame the co-worker and do everything to support her, but hubby would get exactly one stern warning that further contact with the OP or the company would be considered harassment. This sounds like it go very badly very quickly.

    1. Christine*

      I had an ex that wouldn’t leave me along after I dumped him. My employer sent a letter to him banning him from the premises. Maybe OP’s can do that.

  25. The Strand*

    Just to reiterate –

    Please read “The Gift of Fear”.
    Please talk to your boss and also HR.
    Don’t worry about getting your work friend in trouble; the trouble she got into is her husband first and foremost. It’s safer and easier for her to be mad at you than mad at her husband, who caused everything.
    He’s stalking you, your husband and your friends on social media and calling you in the middle of the night. Then he shows up the next time you have a shift with her?
    This is not cool. Not cool at all. Your company – HR and your boss – need to know.

    It’s a “DANGER WILL ROBINSON” moment. Please listen to your gut, and look into domestic violence resources.

    1. Maggie*

      Exactly. He has decided that the problem with his marriage is YOU.

      You need to alert your company, which will I hope have policies in place for this kind of thing, and then the police.

      You have to stop worrying about not getting your co-worker in trouble and instead focus on keeping you safe!

      (Read The Gift of Fear to understand what I am getting at. But do that after everything else. )

  26. Corky's wife Bonnie*

    In the meantime, I would ask someone to walk with you to and from your car (if that’s how you get to your building), no matter what time of day it is. You can never be too careful. This guy seems unhinged.

    1. Consuela Schlepkiss*

      Great advice. It wouldn’t be too off the wall that he might wait around outside.

      Another benefit to calling a DV hotline is that OP can ask specifically for help with safety planning. Your advice made me also think of this: in the event he does show up at work again, try to make sure he is not able to get between her and the exit, or that she is not in a kitchen or other place that has something that can be used as a weapon with him.

        1. Consuela Schlepkiss*

          Where I live, that would be a possibility, hence the advice about not letting him between the door and her. But even assuming he doesn’t have something on him, I worry about him being opportunistic.

    2. The Strand*

      Yes, this is great. Don’t be afraid to ask for additional support in your public facing moments, also. That this guy is coming to your workplace is a serious concern.

  27. Christine*

    OP, please document and take actions to protect yourself. Inform you boss, be sure to block both the co-worker & her husband from all of your social media accounts, and on your cell phone, home phone, and inform your boss & HR. I recommend that you tell you boss what is happening, than turn around and ask him/her to go to HR with you. That way you and your boss are on the same page with HR. It’s easier for the husband to blame you for your problems, versus looking at his own actions.

    She put you in the role of a marriage counselor, then it’s gotten ugly. You cannot help in this situation, it’s not your role as a co-worker and you need to take yourself out of the equation. Because if she does leave him, who do you think he’s going to blame next, you. If she runs and he cannot locate her, he will show up at her place of employment. If you are in the office that day, you’ll be his target. HR needs to be aware in order to put safety protocols in place. I’m sorry she’s going through this and you can have all of the empathy in the world for her, but you do not want to get drawn into a domestic situation with a work place acquaintance. Be careful that she doesn’t expect you to be her rescuer, that would put you at risk as well as your fellow employees. It sounds like he’s trying to isolate you. She made a work friend and he’s making her pull away, and make it uncomfortable for you to continue it. You may be able to block him on your work e-mail also. I would ask IT about it, after meeting with HR/Boss. IT might be able to set it up so that any e-mails that come from him, goes to them versus your in-box to monitor any possible threats.

  28. Blue Cat*

    This is one of the rare times I disagree with AAM.

    My advice is to call a domestic violence hotline before doing anything else. They aren’t just for victims themselves, but they can also answer questions about how to approach the situation.

    This situation has all the red flags of an abusive relationship, and if your coworkers husband escalates or retaliates, she is going to be the primary target, not you or the workplace, but those are possibilities too.

    Please talk to someone with expertise in domestic violence and abusive relationships, as well meaning attempts to help can make the situation worse.

    1. N.J.*

      As someone who has gone through something very similar, as an abuse victim, I personally support Alison’s advice on this. Consulting with a DV support group is a good piece to add though.

      In my situation, an abusive marriage deteriorated enough that I had confided in an older female coworker. My husband at the time did make vague threats about this coworker involving herself in our troubles to me, though he didn’t contact her directly. This coupled with threats he made in relation to other people in my life and the fact that he owned a gun, prompted me to do two things myself: file a restraining order and tell my boss about the restraining order so that he wouldn’t just show up at my job some day. I would never have forgiven myself if someone else got hurt, at work or elsewhere, because of him and me being tied to him. I wouldn’t have blamed my coworker if she had decided to fill in my boss, I probably just beat her to it. I definitely support your suggestion for the OP to find information and resources to deal with the complexities of a domestic violence situation. But I agree strongly with Alisonand the commenters here that work needs to know right away, regardless of how this will affect her coworker. It is the work place’s job to ensure employee safety and they can’t do that if they don’t know about a threat.

      To the point of well-meaning attempts to help can make a situation worse, you are right, but I do t think Alison’s advice to the OP included anything beyond looping her boss in and the boss suggesting EAP or that they are there to help if need be.

      1. Blue Cat*

        I agree that management or HR should be looped in, but I still think a domestic hotline should be contacted first. The reason I say this is that not all managers or HR people are competent at handling these types of situations, and if the LW goes to someone who isn’t adequately trained, it could make the situation worse instead of better.

        A lot of hotlines operate 24/7, and the call might only take 15 minutes but allow the LW to get a lot of helpful safety information, including information on how to talk to their employer and what to do if the LW suspects that their employer will handle it poorly. Theres no reason that the LW can’t do both, or that calling a domestic violence hotline can’t happen first.

        1. OP*

          Thank you! I am worried about what my boss will do as well. And I think that is why I’ve hesitated to contact my employer about this.

  29. Sunshine Brite*

    Oh my… that was bad enough but that he came into the office right after?!? Even if it is a public place this should scare you quite a bit. This is a fast escalation based on your short time involved if you’d just started.

    -Screenshot everything & maintain hard copies as well
    -Loop your manager in and HR if available
    -Keep your distance from her, don’t check on her anymore outside of work (but leave the door open if she finds her way back eventually)
    -When you discuss with your boss/HR, advocate for her to not get in trouble as you noted it’s his actions, not hers; review any safety plans with them or request some guidelines or security measures be put in place, ask them to consider if his actions would fit criteria for the building to issue a trespass on him

    1. Sunshine Brite*

      Depending on your work too, she may have already violated policies/procedure (like giving access to work email or other passwords) that may put her job in jeopardy in an effort to placate him and NONE of that is your fault.

      1. Sunshine Brite*

        -And check if you can change desks/not work close to her if the layout in that office allows

      2. The Strand*

        Wow, you brought up an excellent, excellent point that HR and the boss really need to know about.

        I am 99% certain that if you mention this, and that you think he may have used her account to contact you, and that he has come by the premises, they are going to take it more seriously than if it appears to be a “spat” between women work friends (an attitude a dysfunctional, ignorant office might have – as I witnessed much earlier in my career).

  30. Student*

    Confirm that your actual co-worker, in person, would like to move from a friendship to strictly professional relationship. This lets you make sure that it isn’t controlling husband speaking for her. Tell her the door is always open if she later wishes to resume the friendship, and that you have no hard feelings towards her over it, if she opts to tone down your friendship – this isn’t about you and it’s important to recognize that; her husband is trying to separate her from her support network and undermine her professionally, and you don’t want to be a party to that.

    If needed, use your phone’s little-known “voice calling” feature to make an old-fashioned phone call to your co-worker, so you can confirm that you are talking to her instead of her husband,

    Tell your manager what is going on. Depending on your manager’s awareness of related issues, you may need to very clearly spell out some of the controlling subtext and that your co-worker is not at fault and has an out-of-control husband threatening you, that you are personally frightened, and that you are worried for your friend/co-worker. Show the texts, if needed. Start some personal log of what has happened and update as needed, in case this eventually goes to court.

    Realize that it is easier for both your co-worker and her husband to blame you than to fix their problems. There is a good chance this is the outcome. Don’t take it personally, and if you can, try to keep the door open to a friendship with your co-worker. If you can’t, that’s okay too; your first duty is to protect yourself.

    1. Jessen*

      I might point out the “voice calling” feature still has the problem of someone standing behind her listening. I’d say stick to an in-person conversation when OP can verify the husband isn’t around.

      1. Kyrielle*

        Yes, if he’s following her into the office, he is almost certainly with her / nearby and controlling phone access. Whether she is typing or speaking, even if it’s her doing it, you can’t be sure it’s her _intentions_. She may be trying to protect herself because he’s a foot away.

        Calling the coworker could increase OP’s risk *and* coworker’s risk, by further setting off the husband, and is very unlikely to yield a good result.

  31. New Window*

    In case this hasn’t been posted already, or as I type this, there were some posts several years back about how to handle workplace situations when a coworker is being abused, and a reader named Marie had some very in-depth comments/comments-turned-posts that might be helpful for this situation. I’ll add the links as a reply to this post.

    1. New Window*

      Once upon a time, Alison or someone posted a comment that these links and probably some others, but I can’t find it. What I could find were these:

      This is a post based off of a comment from an AAM reader who was in the position of being a coworker experiencing domestic violence, and it has a lot of solid, practical advice on how people around a DV survivor can be supportive. It also has some really good explanations of how someone being abused perceives the world as result of the abuse they’ve suffered, which can help with trying to understand what your coworker is doing.* It links to the original post that sparked the reader’s comment which also has useful info.

      The comments thread is only 48 posts, but one to highlight is

      Lots of good stuff, but worth highlighting:
      – On victims being the best judges of how to maintain their safety:
      – On when it would and wouldn’t be appropriate to call police:

      *I know that at this point we don’t know 100% for sure that the husband is being abusive, but the signs are alarming. My two cents: Better to proceed with the caution and care of handling a DV situation when it’s not needed, than the opposite.

      OP, I’m really sorry that this situation is causing you this kind of distress, and I’m sorry that (it appears) your coworker is in this situation to. I hope and pray that it can be resolved with her husband out of your life and, preferably, out of your coworker’s too.

      1. So Very Anonymous*

        Thank you for posting these. I was just trying to remember the “victims being best judges of how to main safety” one, since that’s what I’m thinking re coworker telling OP to leave her alone.

      2. OP*

        I actually came here to AAM immediately to see if something like this and did read a few of these posts. Thank you for linking them into a thread for me. I’ll check out the ones I didn’t get to read. I really appreciate it.

  32. Emi.*

    A couple of people have recommended the Gift of Fear upthread. In other places (other posts here, and other websites), people have said that the way de Becker talks about domestic violence is way off-base–that he basically says “The first time, you’re a victim; the second time, you’re a volunteer.” I haven’t actually read the book, though. Can someone who has weigh in on how accurate that is and how relevant it is here (in recommendations to the OP)?

    1. Sarah*

      Yeah, the chapter on domestic violence is pretty bad, but I think the rest of the book is quite useful, and probably most applicable to OP since she is not the victim of DV herself.

    2. FDCA In Canada*

      I think the Gift of Fear advice is generally good on stalking/harassment of unrelated parties–so, the OP and the husband harassing her. In that case the advice is to document but not to respond, even kindly and firmly, because it teaches the harasser that the cost of a response is X number of contacts. His advice on DV is pretty poor, though, but that would be between the husband and wife if this is in fact a DV situation. You’re right that it’s reductive and dumb–I think it was here that someone said that while the rest of the book is good, in that chapter on DV it’s like he reverts to being the child growing up in an abusive home and wanting everything to just stop.

    3. Jayn*

      I feel like that line is pretty in line with the theme of the book (which is about learning to listen to your instincts to stay away from trouble) but is pretty bad in isolation and probably not a great message for DV victims even in context.

    4. kb*

      I attributed that line to the age of the book. He’s given talks since and backed off that line/ explained himself better. Clearly nobody is asking for domestic violence. The advice for how to respond and warning signs are all good, but that chapter isn’t up to participate with the rest of the book.

        1. ancolie*

          Seriously! The rest of the book is absolutely amazing but that chapter is so bad that it almost taints the rest just by association.

          C’mon, de Becker! Fix that chapter, add in another about the internet/social media, release a second edition and RAKE IN that money!

    5. Tuxedo Cat*

      I’m not sure how I feel about that line myself (I myself am a domestic violence survivor), but IIRC, his point was that the victim needs to feel like there’s a way out. Otherwise, they might get into a mentality where they’re stuck in a horrible relationship with no options except to stay in it.

      Domestic violence is more complicated than that, of course.

    6. Anon Accountant*

      I read the book and he encourages those in an abusive relationship to say “I am choosing to stay with my abuser or I am choosing to leave”. He writes when you view staying as a choice then you can view leaving as a choice. And those leaving abusive relationships need to be able to see leaving as an option.

    7. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      That chapter (and several paragraphs from other chapters) are pretty bad. But I think from a very high level, it can be useful to skim/read for the proposition that your gut knows when you’re stressed/worried/scared, and you should listen to it.

    8. Junior Dev*

      The Gift of Fear is a really great resource but you have to take some parts with a grain of salt. I think it’s best to learn from the strategies while setting aside some of the editorializing on why dangerous situations happen or what they mean about the people caught in them.

      If you want to learn more about abusive dynamics, Lundy Bancroft’s “Why Does He Do That?” is a good place to start–although it also has it’s own problems, most notably being skeptical that female-on-male abuse is a thing. But if your main goal is to learn how to protect yourself from a harasser (particularly one who’s become obsessed with you despite not knowing you closely), The Gift of Fear is a good resource.

    9. The Strand*

      de Becker himself is a survivor of domestic violence. He lived through many beatings and witnessed his mother murdering his stepfather, the last in a line of abusive father figures. Consider that similar, original comments may once have been the justification he needed personally, to get out of the abusive situation he lived in.

      When a person is in the first stages of dealing with an abusive or deeply dysfunctional situation that they’ve escaped, they may need to engage in black and white thinking that, over time, evolves to a more nuanced view. When you have left an abusive, dangerous situation, and you still have other family members or close friends who haven’t broken the cycle, it may be inevitable that you try to explain why they’re still in that world, and you’re not.

      The black and white thinking isn’t necessarily accurate, but what is needed to propel you out and think you have a chance. It’s possible to unpack all the reasons why people respond the way they do to a given situation, but that’s not necessarily what is best for an individual survivor to spend their time on – especially if you consider the pins and needles that abused people, children of addicts, and other walk on to avoid “trouble”, gaming out “maybe if I do this, then Mom and Dad won’t hurt me.” I think like fear itself, this seemingly harsh attitude is a protective mechanism. I know more than a few people who talk tough like that, but continue to retain empathy for people who are still trapped.

      Personally, I wish I’d read the book when I was much younger and still getting pummeled. Letting a few paragraphs distract from the entire book’s message means the baby is being thrown out of the bath water. There is a really empowering message about having a right to be afraid, to listen to your gut, and to protect yourself, rather than other people’s feelings.

  33. Academia Escapee*

    Something else to consider is that NOT doing anything could put non-involved co-workers in danger. If Husband does go off and shows up at the office, he could just as easily take his anger out on people who have nothing to do with the situation simply because they are there or because he associates his problems with with his wife with her work in his mind. To keep the situation to yourself would be irresponsible when there could potentially be other people affected through no fault of their own.

    1. LA*

      THIS. Especially since he can easily gain access to your work and knows where your offices/etc. are.

      Your managers need to know about this, now. Because at first, they’re probably going to be dismissive, until the next time he escalates, at which point they’ll probably realize they underestimated the situation and actually do something (it’s possible they’ll take measures when you first tell them, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they were slow to act, just because change/potential conflict is often something people want to avoid if they can talk themselves into thinking someone’s just overreacting). The more chances he gets to escalate, the more dangerous those escalations will become. You’re not the only one in danger. Your coworkers, your customers(or at least, other people in that public space), and yes, your coworker.

      Also, think of it this way–if something changes and coworker does leave, you’ve already done some of the groundwork for making the work aspect of it easier, because your bosses will know *something* was off about her husband. If it gets to the point you need to get a restraining order/etc., that’s going to be one more piece of evidence she can use later in court to show that he’s dangerous, and it’s not just her making it up to get more money in the divorce or whatever.

    2. OP*

      I never thought about him getting aggressive with other coworkers. When we first met (when I got hired) she was pretty aggressively friendly asking me to carpool and go to dinner and suggested drinks pretty often after we carpooled. She often made the invitation open to my husband and hers as well. I got the impression later that she didn’t have many close girl friends and that she was happy to have someone to chat with. But if this has happened to me it might have happened to other coworkers! Eeek!

      1. Observer*

        Even if you are the first person who she’s gotten friendly with, it wouldn’t keep him from getting aggressive with others at the workplace. Say he shows up when you are not there and he wants to know where you are. And, no one knows where you are. What do you think happens next? It might just be an unpleasant experience, or it might be worse.

        1. Christine*

          I would hope that her co-workers wouldn’t tell him which office she’s working out that day.

  34. Chriama*

    I see a lot of people commenting as if the coworker is in an abusive situation and therefore needs to be given the benefit of the doubt or handled with kid gloves. I don’t think that’s necessarily the best thing for OP. So far we know husband is aggressive to OP and coworker is not ready to leave yet. Trying to discuss things with the coworker is just as likely to make her run back to him as it is to encourage her to leave, and in the meantime you have to deal with the aggressive, irrational and potentially dangerous retaliation from the husband. This isn’t a situation where you keep ‘checking in’ with the coworker to see if she’s ok.

    I think OP needs to disengage from the coworker and her husband (including social media as the coworker requested, and putting this on record with your boss just in case). Talk to the coworker one final time (I would say not email because you don’t know if the husband has access to her work email and what he might do if he saw your message) and say this has you concerned and if she ever wants to reach out you’re willing to help her find resources. That way she knows you’re there if she ever decides she really needs help. And from then on, treat her like a distant coworker. Be polite to her when she’s around but don’t go out of your way to chat with her about her weekend or get too friendly. This whole thing is just way too much drama to involve yourself in, OP.

    1. seejay*

      That’s what my comment centred on. Coworker told her to leave her alone, and the OP, at this point, has no vested emotional interest in staying involved with this coworker. It sucks to be the victim since yes, abusers do rely on isolation for their victims, but unless the OP has the resources and the emotional energy to step up to the plate and start actively fighting for the coworker, *and* if the coworker has shown some initiative in getting out, there’s not much else she can do other than step back, disengage, and protect herself first and foremost.

      There’s resources out there for the coworker. She knows there’s some people willing to help if she needs it. Pushing her to try to get help or stage an intervention when she’s not ready isn’t going to help her, it’s just going to push her away and further into the DV situation probably, and quite likely make the husband retaliate, towards the wife and/or the OP and her workplace. This is a bucketload of drama that needs to be stepped away from and given distance. The coworker doesn’t need to be tossed out or totally isolated, but OP can’t worry about her safety primarily, she needs to focus on herself.

      1. So Very Anonymous*

        Yes to this. I might not even have one last conversation with the coworker. If the husband is abusive, she may feel that she needs to cut off contact with the OP in order to protect herself. That doesn’t mean she doesn’t know that the coworker is there for her — she likely does, but her having acted on that knowledge may be what’s feeding this situation.

        I think all the advice here about looping in the manager etc. is fine — OP needs to take care of herself here for sure — but I would give the coworker what she’s asking for at this moment and leave her alone. That doesn’t mean you aren’t there for her if she does want to ask for help. It may just mean that she’s doing what she needs to do to maintain whatever safety she can.

      2. Marisol*

        That’s a good point. We have to respect others’ choices even when we think they’re atrocious. The coworker is an adult and has asked to be left alone, so that’s what the OP must do.

    2. AD*

      I’m glad you said this, because the other comments advising OP to reach out to the coworker, HR, domestic violence centers, etc. are ill-advised.
      Why would OP further want to enmesh herself in the personal drama of someone else, who clearly is in a relationship with someone unhinged at the very least. OP should disengage, disengage, disengage.

      1. Amy the Rev*

        For clarification, how might reaching out to a DV hotline for advice be ill-advised? Also I’d caution against dismissing domestic violence as “personal drama”- that kind of message can be one of the reasons why victims often don’t feel able to speak up about what’s going on.

      2. Marisol*

        There’s a difference between healthy engagement, and unhealthy entanglement. The OP was friends with the coworker. So, she feels some responsibility for speaking with a DV center to get some information. That doesn’t seem like getting further entangled to me; it seems like the normal behavior of a concerned friend. She is concerned for her own safety, so she needs to alert her boss and/or HR to let them know that someone who has demonstrated inappropriate behavior towards her (by calling her at 3 am, etc.) was in the workplace. She wants to shut this guy’s behavior down, so me recommendation is that she send him a letter warning that she will take legal action.

        I agree that since the coworker has requested the OP leave her alone, she should do so. But I don’t think the other suggested actions would get her further entangled in the situation. The fact is, she has already been involved in the situation against her will by the husband harassing her, and it’s imperative that *some* action be taken to protect her interests. At the very least she needs to alert her employer that the guy is coming into the workplace. I don’t see that as seeking drama at all. I see it as responding to a situation that is potentially a crisis.

        1. So Very Anonymous*

          Yes, this. I think OP should be contacting manager, DV hotline, etc. on her OWN behalf since she’s gotten dragged into this by the husband. A DV hotline/center may well be able to advise OP on how to deal with the part of this that is affecting her — the husband’s inappropriate contact, his presence in her office, etc. OP is at this point not in a position to help the coworker directly, but OP can use these resources for advice on her own situation.

          1. Natalie*

            Yes, as someone else who suggested talking to DV professionals, I was definitely thinking of the OP doing *for their own benefit and support*, not as some kind of step in “saving” the co-worker or whatever.

            1. So Very Anonymous*

              Yes! I was also imagining that DV professionals might also be able to offer OP some support on NOT trying to help the coworker. Can be super hard to feel like you’re just standing by watching as something potentially terrible happens, so OP might benefit from talking with DV professionals about *those* feelings.

              1. Tuxedo Cat*

                One of my friends recently called a rape crisis center (RAINN) to figure out how to support a friend who has been assaulted. They were able to give them some good advice. I imagine a domestic violence hotline might be useful for the OP to not only discuss what’s happening to the OP but also if the OP has any lingering feelings about stepping in.

      3. Doodle*

        I haven’t read every comment, so it’s possible I’m missing something, but the ones I’ve seen about contacting a DV organization were for the *OP* not her coworker. It’s “these organizations have a lot of experience dealing with violent people,” not “you should counsel your coworker on how to proceed.”

      4. Tuxedo Cat*

        Reaching out to a domestic violence center and HR is more for the OP than for her coworker. The OP is already somewhat involved, and she needs to know how to protect herself. The coworker’s husband has already used inappropriate means to contact the OP and is pretty irrational towards the OP- it’s better for the OP to know her options and how she should act.

      5. Jaguar*

        Why would OP further want to enmesh herself in the personal drama of someone else, who clearly is in a relationship with someone unhinged at the very least?

        The answer to this question is that someone she knows and cares about might be in trouble and need help. This seems pretty obvious to me. “Why would you help someone drowning?” is the same as “Why would someone want to jump into the same water that is currently drowning someone else?”

        1. TootsNYC*

          I agree. And of course, we WOULD say, “Don’t just jump into that same water that is currently drowning someone else! You could drown too, and that’s no help at all. Be smart–get a pole, or throw out something that floats, and send someone else to get help in the meantime.”

  35. specialist*

    I hope you’ve been to talk to your supervisor and also HR at this point. There is a great story about a woman who was abused by her husband. The boss didn’t know what to do. He had been making notes on his calendar when she was coming in with bruises. This ended up being the evidence that made a difference when she finally got away and he was prosecuted for spousal abuse. Protect yourself. Document with your company. I would hope they would keep this husband out of your office entirely.

  36. KayKay*

    I’m sure I’m not the first to point this out, but if it really was the coworker who sent the last email, why would she tell the OP to block coworker on social media instead of just blocking OP herself, if that’s really what she wanted? I’m pretty sure it was actually the husband who sent that.

    1. Mephyle*

      I think you are the first to point it out. I didn’t catch it when I read the letter, but now that you’ve drawn my attention to it, that is really, really off.

      1. seejay*

        Nah, I’ve had people who have told me to block them when I told them to stop contacting me. Their exact words, when I said “do not contact me anymore” was “there’s an ignore button”… in other words “you make the effort to make me stop contacting you first”.

        Some people will try to put the onus on you to put the protective barriers up even when they’re the ones being the butthead. If the coworker knows the abusive husband will try to contact the OP, it’s better if the OP takes the steps to sever contact instead of the coworker doing any blocking. The husband will not necessarily want to see his wife blocking people out, but he’ll want to see her *not* contacting people. If he sees them blocking her as well, it’ll also help him feel more in control.

  37. Putting Out Fires, Esq*

    Something like this happened to me when I was a kid: best friend’s mom and best friend escape abusive dad and go into hiding, after a few days of that dad shows up at school and finds me and asks me where they are, cue furious phone message from my mom late that night and him being banned from campus.

    OP, you didn’t invite this by being friendly or concerned for your coworker. Men who control their romantic partners will try to spread their influence. You have more power than he has though and can shine light on what he’s doing. It may not help your coworker immediately, but it will protect you. Who knows, getting locked up for a violation of a restraining order against you might give her time to get out.

    Note: as a lawyer, you may not be able to get what people think of as a restraining order. Some jurisdictions limit them to victims of DV directly. Definitely worth looking into your specific area. (They’re also called temporary orders of protection sometimes)

    1. Not So NewReader*

      People can check with their police department to find out what the procedure is. In NY there has to be a charge entered in a court then an order of protection (temporary) can be issued. If there are no pending charges then not much happens. Added wrinkle, if the Judge is not required to issue an order then she may not. The reason for this is anyone could ask for an order of protection for any random reason. Not a road we as a society want to start down.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        That’s true, and depending on the state, it can be hard to get a no-contact order.

        Speaking to one’s manager and the police, however, can help OP cover her bases. The employer likely has the power to ban husband from the premises, and a police report can provide helpful ammunition/documentation later, if a formal restraining order needs to issue.

  38. LivesInAShoe*

    In addition to The Gift of Fear, Lundy Bancroft’s Why Does He Do That: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men is really eye-opening. A must-read, I think for everyone, because if you don’t know one, you know someone who does.

  39. she was a fast machine*

    Oh dear, this reminds me of one of the videos we had to watch at my previous job about recognizing the signs of domestic violence. A woman’s husband insisted on going with her to work, told off her co-workers for interfering in their relationship(i.e. noticing how controlling he was), and shot her to death in her house in front of her two year old son when she tried to leave him. This situation sets off all my alarm bells, for sure. Your manager needs to know if(when) husband escalates things so there is a paper trail somewhere that others noticed his behavior.

  40. Rose*

    What’s the city where you live like? If its a suburban, smaller place, have you thought about going to the police? I’m thinking the suburb where I grew up is well-funded and doesn’t have much going on, so I wouldn’t think twice about calling their non-emergency number/swinging by. I feel like if this does escalate to an obvious MUST call police situation, sometimes you’re like, ugh, why didn’t I call them sooner. Like if he shows up at your house, it would be better if you had spoken to police before. Obviously this is useless advice in a place like new york city, where police don’t care (source: was threatened by a gang of scary dudes by a police station in Harlem, walked in to get safe, they told me to go home (through the gang) and call 911).

  41. Canadian J*

    Please heed Alison’s advise, particularly the part about being warm and kind to your coworker when you interact at work.

    I had a friend who was in an abusive relationship, and their abusive partner made them contact all their friends with the same message: “Stay away from me, we are no longer friends”. The partner even held on to my friends’ phone, so they could monitor the messages. It was posed as a “proof of trust” or “proof of love” exercise, and used as a tactic to alienate my friend from all their possible support structures, so they could be more easily controlled; after all, who can you turn to for help, when no one is talking to you?

    This may not be the case for your coworker (however, I would consider the red flags in: the fact that he took your coworkers phone to contact you; the sudden cold response from your coworker after the second contact; and that the husband came to your office), but at least if you’re warm and kind, you are presenting an option for her to safely confide in you if she ever needs to, later on.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        It’s unfortunately extremely common in DV situations. In that context, even the abuse is a sign of love (or the victim’s failure to “prove love” in the way the abuser wants).

  42. HO'N*

    Please tread carefully. This woman sounds like she is in an abusive relationship, at least emotionally abusive if not physically, and it sounds like she has put the idea of divorce on the table. Woman are at MUCH MUCH greater risk of being killed by an abusive partner when trying to leave the relationship than at any other time during the relationship. If it quite likely that she is in a very dangerous situation, and you may be as well.

    1. AnonForThisOne*

      Yes. Just a couple of weeks ago, one of my partner’s coworkers was shot to death by their spouse in the parking lot at work, and then the spouse committed suicide with same gun. Found out later that coworker was trying to leave the relationship. We were so sad for coworker, yet so relieved no one got caught in the crossfire. I sure hugged my partner extra tightly that evening.

      1. The Strand*

        That is so sad. I hope your partner’s work is providing resources to help everyone cope with their grief and shock.

  43. MuseumChick*

    OP, if the husband contacts you again in ANY way please go to the police and get a restraining order. This guy sounds dangerous. Keep you manager/HR in the loop, document everything, and if he is ever in the office again for any reason do not be alone with him.

    I feel for your co-worker, at the very least she is in a controlling and emotionally abusive relationship. But you have to protect yourself.

  44. turquoises*

    Oy. I don’t have much to add that hasn’t been discussed, but OP, I wish you and your coworker all the best and I hope you can update us!!

  45. BadPlanning*

    As a side note, the OPs description of their work friendship seems fine and normal to me. Don’t kick yourself, OP, for being nice to coworker in the first place, even though things have crashed and burned.

    I had situation with a coworker that turned south very quickly and I rehashed our interactions several times and have to keep reminding myself that I wasn’t doing anything strange or “excessively” friendly or something. The other party was not right.

    1. BadPlanning*

      An additional note, I did give my manager a “no action now, but I wanted to tell you about this unpleasant thing” heads up and then later had to say, “Need action now!”

      Although it sounds like OPs situation has already bumped to Possible Action Now.

    2. seejay*

      Sometimes you become friendly with someone that winds up taking a turn for the worse and it can totally blindside you without realizing it. I made an online friend in a video game I play and a few months later, he went totally 180 batshit on me and caught me off guard. We’re talking blocked me out of the blue, put me on ignore, no explanation. I tried to figure out what I might’ve done to upset him and couldn’t put my finger on it. When I finally managed to get him to talk to me, he went off on me about how he couldn’t stand my “teasing” of him… except he never said anything about how friendly teasing was a problem or that it bothered him until he flipped his wig about it. Thing is too, he was always dishing it out *worse* than anything I’d ever done, to everyone else around him, then screaming obscenities at them. I apologized and never talked to him again, but then he wound up getting kicked out of the group we were in (I had nothing to do with it) when others complained that he was attacking them for them responding back to him when he’d “tease” them. And then he started sending me shitty/harassing messages accusing me of getting him kicked out of the group (!) because I couldn’t stand the fact that he didn’t like me. Say what? O_o

      I genuinely had no idea he was that bucketful of drama until he went off the rails at me over what could have been resolved with a “hey, I don’t like being teased, could you stop?” conversation. Dude just seemed to like dishing it out but had a tanty whenever it came back at him and then I was the best target when it blew up.

  46. BRR*

    Having the perspective of reading all the comments, i would definitely loop in your manager. If your manager is the inactive type, go to their manager. HR as well. You’ve been wrongly dragged into a coworker’s personal life and are now being harassed. As Alison suggested, be warm and professional to your coworker. Block her and her husband in every way possible. Besides the suggestion of calling a DV organization, I’d try and stay away from this.

  47. Geographer (GIS)*

    Talk to HR!! They need to know.

    At a former job one of the workers in the mailroom broke up with her abusive boyfriend telling nowhere. He went to the mailroom and fired shots because the other women in the mailroom had said that she could do better than him and stand up for her dignity.

    Luckily, no one was hurt and the only issue was some drywall. However, if the company had known they could have added security guards on the backside and replaced the 70yr old retired guy on the front. Also, the company had a free benefit that allowed anyone to call in to a special hot line if they were in any type of crisis. Shewould have been able to get free counseling and help.

    In the end, the company helped her rebuild her life after boyfriend burned everything she owned.

  48. Physician Assistant*

    I would have let said husband know in no uncertain terms the first time I’d better never hear from him again. Coworker lost my sympathy when she told OP to leave her alone.

    1. Jessesgirl72*

      Coworker is an abuse victim, who was probably told that if he catches her talking to OP again, he will beat/kill her.

    2. Natalie*

      I won’t go into it since this thread is already pretty long, but the psychology of abuse is a little more complicated than it seems like you’re giving the co-worker credit for here. Someone upthread linked to a few good comments by a former regular commenter here that I urge you to read.

      1. Physician Assistant*

        The point an unstable person enters and potential threatens myself or my household, I take action. It’s gone way beyond workplace etiquette.

        1. Natalie*

          Huh? I said nothing about etiquette. I was referring to your comment that you no longer had sympathy for the co-worker. As evidenced up and down this thread, it’s perfectly possible to take action and still remain compassionate.

    3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I think you may be missing context on how abusive relationships work. If coworker is in an abusive relationship, her telling OP to leave her alone (assuming she’s the one who sent that note, not her husband) is a symptom/sign of the abusive dynamic and shouldn’t be counted against coworker.

      1. So Very Anonymous*

        Not to mention that OP telling the husband to back off isn’t likely to have much of an effect, being that he’s already shown that he doesn’t respect boundaries.

  49. T*

    Oh boy. I have to put my two cents in here. I’m a recruiter that has been in an abusive marriage. I have also worked in a generalist capacity assisting employees that were victims of domestic violence. I am sorry to say this, but you assume wrongly that the employer will not take action. As soon as I told my employer that I needed time of work to get a TPO, I was fired shortly afterwards for unrelated, unjustified reasons. I was awarded unemployment. The SAME thing happened to two different employees that reported domestic abuse at a different employer. No employer wants, nor has to, deal with domestic abuse. They will most definitely try to fire the employee out of fear that the abusive partner/spouse could be a security issue. They will also, justifiably, think that victim’s performance will slip (duh!).

    I must, respectfully, disagree with your advice. Call the police, and report the couple. Let them investigate. Do not jeopardize this employees job and put the victim in more danger.

    1. Natalie*

      Calling the police and sending them to the co-workers home is far more likely to escalate the abuse than to end it.

      1. T*

        Hi Natalie! This is T. My abuser tried to kill me by choking me to death. I was soo glad my neighbors helped me and called the police. Up to that point, I had been badly beaten and verbally abused for two years. I was terrified of my abuser, completely isolated, and did not even have access to my own money for fear of being beat up. The police detained my abuser, instructed me how to file a TPO, and connected me to an advocate all because my neighbors were brave enough to help. They saved my life, because an abuser that chokes a woman WILL attempt to kill her. On top of that, I was suicidal because I didn’t see a way out. I can only thank my neighbors, the angel police officers, and advocate that saved my life. Don’t ever hesitate to help a victim of abuse by calling the police. It will give the woman a chance to get out of a bad situation and possibly save her life.

        1. Observer*

          Your missing something – they called the police about an actual attack. In that case, of course you call the police. However, at this point there is no evidence that the husband has actually assaulted his wife. If the police show up to do a “well check”, they won’t find anything to justify detaining him (unlike in your case, where here was assault and attempted murder to consider), but it will leave every bit as enraged as her losing her job – or even more enraged.

          As others have noted, not all employers will fire someone who is the victim of domestic abuse. In fact, in some states it is illegal to do so. On the other hand, given that this guy has made it clear that he’s capable of crossing some serious boundaries and WILL bring the issue into the workplace, there is a safety issue that the OP needs to consider. Going to the police is not going to do anything to keep him away from the office.

          1. T*

            Hi Observer! You are right, it won’t keep the abuser away from the office. I mentioned this in my original post as a reason that the employee may be terminated. In order to prosecute and get a TPO against an abuser you need to prove that they were abusive over a period of time (as if being beat up wasn’t enough). Although an incident isn’t mentioned, I would be willing to bet this guy has come after his partner since he is so bold to come after her coworker. Telling the employer won’t have much of an impact. The victim sounds like she has the beginnings of battered woman syndrome. Report the guy so the police can investigate, provide resources, and the victim will have proof of his behavior for a future court case. Another plus is that the coworker will also have proof now that she is also a target. I cannot stress how dangerous domestic abuse is. Our prisons are filled with women that have murdered their abusive partners. Take it seriously and get this woman out.

        2. Natalie*

          Of course, calling the police during an actual act of violence makes sense. Your original comment sounds like you were suggesting calling the police randomly to check on the couple of something, which is NOT generally going to do anything but escalate.

    2. Jenbug*

      I’m very sorry you had such a horrible experience, but I think a good employer will be helpful and provide the employee with the tools they need to get out of a terrible situation. From what I have seen in my 15+ years of working, your situation is an anomaly.

    3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      T, I am so sorry that you had to live through such a terrifying experience, only to have the harm compounded by your employer. That’s not right, and no one should ever have to go through what you went through.

      I want to gently push back on the notion that employers will retaliate against DV victims and then try to justify that firing post-hoc. What you’re describing certainly does happen, but there are also many employers who would take action to protect their employee and would not fire her. There are also several states where firing someone for being the victim of intimate partner violence is unlawful, and for the most part, “large” employers in those states have done a better job of complying with protecting the victim/survivor.

      But regardless, all OP can do is try to deliver her message to her manager with sensitivity and kindness. At this point, coworker’s husband’s conduct has escalated and is threatening the safety of other people (here, OP). Management has a right to know when someone is harassing or threatening their employees—what they really don’t want is an act of violence to take place on their property.

  50. Nathaniel*

    You should keep it professional and stop going out to dinner and shopping with coworkers when there is potential attraction involved. This is called a “work spouse” in the industry and her husband has rightfully identified it as a potential form of infidelity. The issue may go even deeper than you know, especially if she has talked to him about her feelings for you. It is possible that she has been vocal about her attraction to you in private, and that she wishes to keep it professional to salvage what is left of her marriage.

    That said, if you go shopping and dinner dating with everyone, some of the implications are removed. My guess is that this is a “special friend” taking up personal time that you should be spending with your wife and family.

    At this point, I would not mention it to the boss. If you do, it should be in the context of noting that the coworker’s husband has been aggressive to you through private channels. However, if you do this, be prepared for all of your private social media to become public during the investigation. If there is anything at all there you don’t want out there, then you have no choice but to get back to work and keep your head down. In the future, remember that you are there to do a job and that does not include personal romps with female coworkers.

    1. Jenbug*

      You have seriously misread the letter. The OP is also a woman in a heterosexual marriage. There is no attraction. The OP is not trying to be a “knight in shining armor”, she is trying to help a woman who appears to be trapped in an abusive situation.

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Nathaniel, you’ve totally missed what OP is writing about, and you’re focusing on the wrong part of the letter. Nothing in this has to do with “work spouses” or anything else intimate, flirtatious, or otherwise inappropriate.

      (Sidenote: Going to dinner 2x with a coworker or shopping with her is not abnormal or inappropriate fraternizing outside of work.)

    3. Shakti*


      He also friended my husband and sent him a message stating the same thing he told me and friend-requested a few of my friends on Facebook for some reason.

      There is nothing in the text to indicate romantic attraction of any sort. Nor is there anything to indicate whether the OP is a man or a woman. Your advice is unhelpful.

    4. Tertia*

      OP, I vehemently advise you to ignore any advice that implicitly condones the husband’s behavior.* Even if all the wildly counterfactual assumptions in Nathaniel’s post were true, the appropriate response is to see the husband’s menacing actions as a potential threat. No amount of deflecting blame for the past should change the measures that you should take for the future.

      *I know this recommendation is probably not necessary, but it still bears saying.

    5. kb*

      I think we read different letters?

      But even if the coworker did express to her husband that she was attracted to OP, it would still be hugely inappropriate for him to harass OP, especially for what friendship. In no situation is the husband’s behavior normal or acceptable.

  51. Nathaniel*

    You wish to be the knight in shining armor and solicit the aid of the king in defeating her warlock husband. In doing so, perhaps you will save the princess and gain honor.

    In reality, your feelings are hurt and you are now trying to punish her for your rejection by making her private business a matter of gossip and professional reproach.

    1. Some Sort of Management Consultant*


      Did you somehow read a completely different letter than everyone else did?

      1. Nathaniel*

        Admittedly, I did read it as the voice of a male. If there is no attraction between the two parties then it does change the picture. The OP should definitely file a complaint of harassment with HR and it is likely that the co-worker will either quit or lose her job over the issue.

        The manager has a vested interest at this point since it is disrupting work for two employees.

        Apologies for the misread.

  52. Nathaniel*

    I would agree that I misread this one. Proceed accordingly and file a complaint of harassment with HR and also get a restraining order.

    At this point the husband’s behavior is threatening the work of two employees.

    No way this is going to end well for the spouse. She will likely resign or get fired if this continues.

  53. Nathaniel*

    One more comment – this is also a good reminder for many folks to update privacy settings on facebook and instagram when these types of harassment occur (or before).

  54. ~ECB*

    I didn’t read the whole comments thread, but yes, report this to HR immediately and contact the Police and file a report about the harassment. The spouses behavior is way over the line, dangerously so.

  55. anu*

    Its a bad Idea to let your higher official know about all this thing. Because they are no way concerned with your personal life. As the situation took place out side of office, Its not good to let them know about it I feel. you are giving all chances for ur boss to judge you with this. Think about it. Keep it to yourself!! Let your family members know about it and let them be aware… and do not move closer personally with your collegues.. It sucks sometimes you need to face akward situations like these….

    1. Ellie*

      Really? This has nothing whatsoever to do with the OP’s personal life and everything to do with an abusive co-worker’s husband threatening the OP!

  56. CM Knippling*

    I know this is old, but…holy crap. I would absolutely bring this up to my boss and HR. Guys like that don’t stop, especially after having zero consequences from the prior attack. We had a coworker in an abusive relationship (she showed up to the company baby shower beaten so badly my other coworkers’ kids started crying when they saw her face). That psycho also ended up trying to get to her in our offices, prompting immediate installation of key cards and electronic double doors. It’s not a matter of respecting your coworker – it’s protecting your life and career. I’m sorry she’s going through this, but that doesn’t impose an oigation for you to have to go through it too.

  57. TheSpouse*

    Interesting! I’m in a similar situation except I’m the spouse. The self proclaimed “party slut” aka co-worker has texted numerous times shortly after 3Am. Spouse and boss have spoken to her about it. Each time I’m up for the rest of the day! Spouse says she harasses other guys at work, talks about her sex life, etc. Oh yeah, it’s the bosses daughter! So, I gave her a morning wake-up call, per her request, even texted it “good morning! This is ___ wife. You requested a wake up call, so I’m giving you one! Enjoy your day!!! Then sent copy to my spouse…. To be continued. Meanwhile did research and found out having “innocent encounters” outside of work is a sign of an emotional affair. And me responding puts that other person on notice. Oh yeah, the same boss informed me she was *ing my husband. Then unapologetically said “just kidding”. Now if co-worker continues and spouse/ boss doesn’t do anything about it, well, let’s say, a “trip to the office” has crossed my mind. But knowing myself, I’ll just take my documents with me, pack and leave.

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