My little sister has been with her boyfriend for five years, since the two of them met in college. (They're both about 25 now.) My sister has a big heart; she's talented, a hard worker and just all-around wonderful. On top of all of her great qualities, she currently works two jobs—he works, too—and she does most of the cooking and cleaning in their apartment, etc.
Her boyfriend, while he can be fun (in an energetic puppy dog sort of way), has a short temper, drinks way too much, especially when he's stressed out, teases her in a mean-spirited way and is emotionally immature. On top of all that, he's helpless with dishes, cooking, etc. I live far away from them, but at family gatherings, I've seen him explode at her in front of my whole family in a very ugly fashion more than a couple of times.
My older sister also relays stories to me. In a more concrete example, several months ago my sister had a complicated and painful surgery, and afterward, she recovered for a week at my parents’ house. When my mom went to drop her back off at their apartment, it was completely trashed with pizza boxes, beer bottles, dirty laundry strewn everywhere, etc. Apparently it looked like way more mess than one human could possibly make in seven days. My sister and mom apparently cleaned it all up while he was at work. (Enabling behavior, anyone?)
My mom, older sister and I have all had conversations with my little sister about how she does not need to put up with his behavior—everything short of saying “dump him”—but she either ends up shutting down or defending him and saying that he loves her. My question is, do you know a constructive way to talk with my sister about this so she won't shut down? Like I said, I live far away and don't see her more than a few times a year.
Your little sister is an adult who can make her own horrible decisions, but I totally understand why you wanna save her from this relationship, because it sounds like it's headed south. Messiness and a biting sense of humor could be charming to her, but the scary outbursts are a serious warning klaxon. If he disrespects her in front of her own family—that is, in front of people who would run to her defense and beat the shit out of him if he crossed the line—then who knows how he talks to (or physically handles) her when they're alone?
If she's 25 and they met in college, she wasn't even able to drink legally when she started dating this guy. Is he her first serious relationship in adulthood? She's grown up while being with this not-great dude, and he's become such a part of her life that she thinks his love conquers all. She's definitely codependent in this relationship, and she might be telling herself that this slob needs her to live. She might think that he won't eat if she doesn't cook, he won't have clean clothes if she doesn't do laundry, there won't be clean dishes if she doesn't wash them.
Even if that's true, she should understand that she's dating this guy, not adopting him. An affluent 25-year-old man should be able to keep a clean house and remain well-fed without his girlfriend at his feet. Also, she might enjoy being subservient. I doubt it, though, because she'd probably say so instead of just shutting down when confronted.
Next time y’all discuss this guy with her, don't talk love. Talk about the future. Talk about where she sees herself in 10 years and who she wants to be with. Remind her what happens in relationships when one partner has license to get violent—physically, verbally or emotionally—with the other person involved. Demand that he apologize in person to the family for his violent outbursts towards your sister. That's gonna be awkward as hell, but if he doesn't want to do it or insists that what he did wasn't wrong, hopefully your sister can see in that response that he does not respect her.