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What About the Abuser?

If your partner is abusing you, you probably wonder…

Can he really change?

Yes, but only if he recognizes he has a problem and is prepared to work hard and for a long time. And he shouldn’t expect or demand rewards or support from his partner for his efforts.  Change does not occur overnight, if it occurs at all, and many men give up along the way.  Long term improvement is more likely if the abuser completes a state-certified 48 week Batterers Intervention Program, but even that is no guarantee as many men continue to be violent and controlling after completing the program. For information about our local Batterers Intervention Program run by Kathryn Miaetta, LCSW, click here.

If he’s sorry, will he change?

A man may be apologetic after being abusive, but this doesn’t mean he’s changed or even wants to change.  In fact, many batterers go through a very predictable cycle:  increasing abusiveness, an incident of violence, a period of regret, and attempts to make up.  He may apologize and promise to change in order to get you to take him back, to drop a restraining order, or to drop criminal charges.  This remorseful stage is another abusive and controlling tactic and does not lead to any lasting change.

Is he violent because he drinks?

Alcohol does not cause a man to be abusive; it gives him a convenient excuse.  If he is violent and also abuses alcohol or drugs, then he has two problems to take care of.  A substance abusing batterer typically has a period of improved behavior when he first gets off the substance, but then heads rapidly back to his old abusive ways.

Should there be couples counseling?

No.  Abuse is a problem in the abuser, not a problem in the relationship. Couples counseling allows the abuser to focus on criticism of his partner instead of dealing with his own problems.  He may retaliate against his partner physically or verbally for what she says to the counselor.  He may even put pressure on his partner to give up certain things that are important in return for his giving up his violence, but that’s another controlling tactic and doesn’t lead to real change. 

How Do I Know If He’s Changing?

You’re the best judge. If you feel that he has not changed, trust that impression regardless of other signs.  Here are some of the things to look for:

  • Has he completely stopped doing and saying things which frighten you?
  • Can you express anger towards him without being punished for it?
  • Does it feel safe to bring up topics that you know upset him?
  • Can he listen to your opinion and respect it even when he disagrees?
  • Can he argue without being abusive or domineering?
  • Does he respect your wishes about sex and physical contact?
  • Has he stopped expecting you to do things for him?
  • Can you spend time with friends without being afraid that he’ll retaliate?
  • Can you do other things that are important to you, such as go to school or get a job?
  • Are you comfortable with the way he interacts with the children? Do you feel safe leaving them alone with him?
  • Is he being supportive and giving compliments? Does he listen well to you?
  • Does he do his share of housework and childcare?

Here are some signs that he is not changing:

  • Does he tell you that you are abusive?
  • Is he pressuring you to go to therapy for yourself or couples counseling for the two of you?
  • Does he minimize his abuse when he talks about it?
  • Does he tell you that you owe him another chance? Does he say that he can’t change without your support?
  • Does he try to get you or the children to feel sorry for him?
  • Do you have to keep after him to attend his meetings and appointments?
  • Does he expect something from you in return for attending a Batterers Intervention Program?
  • Is he pressuring you to make up your mind about the relationship or to move back in together?
  • Is he pressuring you to drop criminal charges or your restraining order?

Should I Stay With Him?

It’s your decision.  Your first consideration should be safety for you and your children.  Get support for yourself, if it’s safe to do so.  Your abusive partner may pressure you to stay with him while he attends a Batterers Intervention Program.  This is a tactic of abuse and control.  If he is serious about changing, he’ll respect your limits and wishes about the relationship.

Thanks to Emerge, one of the oldest and most replicated batterer intervention programs in the country, for much of this material.