TL;DR; How to handle bullying partner in a group discussion where he is bullying and degrading his partner in plain sight of everybody?

This situation is some time past me, but is still nagging me, because I was very uncertain on how to react, and I still am. Also, it was already the second time I didn't know how to react.

Situation: BBQ in our Garden. 2 or 3 other couples with kids are there as well. We know each other because our kids share the same kindergarden. Not some precious and old relationship, but since the kid of Alice and Bart is best friends with our kid, we developed some kind of friendly relation towards Alice. When the food was served it came to my attention that Bart was always degrading his wife Alice in front of the entire group, who all knew each other at a basic level. Especially announcing foreign heritage, and how she should at least use it to teach their kid an additional language. And that she was not able to take care of her self, and how clumsy she was, and how embarrassing on another occasion, and how she could not speak the language well. (I can't tell that she is not a native speaker) This was not the only incident he used to pressure her in front of all others, and you could really feel the awkwardness gaining control of everyone else. I sort of spoke up, but not in the way I intended, or that I deemed neccessary. I gave a slight sign of disaffirmation and then switched the topic.

Later on my partner and me discussed this, and we couldn't find a satisfying solution to this. Is it right to confront the bully in the moment he is bullying and to stand up? How to weigh victimizing Alice in this situation? She might feel weak and like not being able to take care of her self.

I am not trying to be their defender, or fight their fights for them. But it is a kind of behavior that I totally despise and that I think is totally unacceptable. No one should talk to somebody else in that manner, and given that this was their "beloved" partner, who was attacking (Especially when being the host...)

The very first incident was another neighbour who told his partner how thankful she should be that "we" have her in this country... And I was like... Wooohh FIRST don't include me in this "we" you used, and WTF!?! You have a degree in social studies and I need to explain to you what a person can decide on birth and what not?

Again, I wasn't the main target of the attack but absolutely thought that I NEED to say something.

Feel free ask further information, I guess it is confusing. I'll try to explain further if needed.

2 Answers 2


Regarding Alice's husband, if he doesn't want to be a jerk then saying something simple like:

That's not a very nice thing to say.

will most likely be very effective at getting him to change his behavior. (It's worked on me before.)

If he doesn't care that he is a jerk, but cares about what other people think about him, then saying the above will probably only change his behavior in public, which will provide at least some relief to Alice.

If he doesn't care about what kind of person he is and doesn't care about your opinion of him then it won't have any effect on him at all.

Be warned no matter what sort of man he is, he is likely to get defensive and possible tell you to but out or say some thing rude to you as well. If he does be prepared to say something like "You should treat your wife with courtesy and respect" and then walk away.

Regarding Alice, You can't know if she will appreciate your standing up for her unless you ask her. But it has been my experience that when you stand up for someone they usually appreciate it. Simply telling Alice's husband that you don't think he should talk like that to his wife, may help Alice realize that she shouldn't have to sit there and take the rudeness.

She might feel weak and like not being able to take care of her self.

The thing is if she is not standing up for herself then she probably already feels weak. Strong people don't typically let others treat them poorly (although there are exceptions).

Telling someone to stop being rude doesn't victimize the victim (they are already a victim); rather, it shows the victim that some one will give them support if they want it.

Given that you felt

the awkwardness gaining control of everyone else.

You are probably not the only one who felt that you should have spoken up. Speaking up next time will probably give others around you the courage to do the same. Hopefully you'll find that at least one other person will back you up.


My husband had a friend who used to love making fun of his wife in front of everyone. I didn't say anything the first time I heard it because she didn't look unhappy - she was smiling/rolling her eyes as he spoke. So I wasn't sure if she would appreciate my interference.

After a few visits, I just had to speak up. After one of his 'jokes', I turned to his wife and smiled as I said 'I really appreciate your patience. I can't imagine I would continue to stay with my husband if I had to listen so much nonsense everyday' and then, I turned to him and said 'You are lucky you are married to such a sweet lady'. I kept my smile intact and my tone light so as to give an impression I'm not very serious.

I don't know if his wife appreciated my help or not, she never actually thanked me, but I surely felt better. The husband never said anything insulting about her in front of us again, probably because he now knows I don't enjoy insulting jokes/anecdotes.

So, you should really speak up but in a soft manner. If you sound rude while confronting him, you may have a situation where his partner supports him and you wouldn't know why you even tried ! You can crack a joke at him (a bit degrading) and ask him how he felt (or) you/your partner can say something similar to what I did (or) you can just say 'it's not very nice' as mentioned in the previous answer. Whatever you do, get this off your chest, you will feel far better.

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