What About the Abuser?

If your partner is abusing you, you probably wonder:

Can they really change?

Yes, but only if they recognize they have a problem and are prepared to work hard and for a long time. And they shouldn’t expect or demand rewards or support from their partner for their efforts.  Change does not occur overnight, if it occurs at all, and many people 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 abusers 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 they’re sorry, will they change?

An abuser may be apologetic after being abusive, but this doesn’t mean they’ve 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.  They may apologize and promise to change in order to get you to take them 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.

Are they violent because they drink?

Alcohol does not cause anyone to be abusive; it gives them a convenient excuse. If your partner is violent and also abuses alcohol or drugs, then they have two problems to take care of. A substance abusing batterer typically has a period of improved behavior when they first get off the substance, but then heads rapidly back to their 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 their own problems. An abuser may retaliate against their partner physically or verbally for what the partner says to the counselor. They may even put pressure on their partner to give up certain things that are important in return for his giving up violence, but that’s another controlling tactic and doesn’t lead to real change.

How do I know if they’re changing?

You’re the best judge. If you feel that your partner has not changed, trust that impression regardless of other signs.

Here are some of the things to look for:

  • Have they completely stopped doing and saying things which frighten you?
  • Can you express anger towards them without being punished for it?
  • Does it feel safe to bring up topics that you know upset them?
  • Can they listen to your opinion and respect it even when they disagree?
  • Can they argue without being abusive or domineering?
  • Do they respect your wishes about sex and physical contact?
  • Have they stopped expecting you to do things for them?
  • Can you spend time with friends without being afraid that they’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 they interact with the children? Do you feel safe leaving the children alone with your partner?
  • Are they being supportive and giving compliments? Do they listen well to you?
  • Do they do their share of housework and childcare?

Here are some signs that your partner is not changing:

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

Should I stay with my partner?

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 them while they attend a Batterers Intervention Program. This is a tactic of abuse and control. If your partner is serious about changing, they’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.

Remember, abusers can be men or women, old or young, and of any culture, education, or socioeconomic level. If we say “partner,” we mean current or past wife, husband, girl- or boyfriend. If we use the word “she,” you can substitute “he” if that makes sense in your situation.