Abuse: Can an abusive partner really change?
Question: How many times did you look back at your ex and be like “Wow, what the hell was I thinking?”
That is how powerful being infatuated or falling in love can be. It is so powerful that you literally fall head over heels into an obsession with the other person, and in most cases, the IDEA of what the other person should or could be. When it comes to dysfunctional relationships, people usually hold on because they are deeply invested; whether it be finances, dependence, emotions, or even that so much time has passed that they feel there is no way out.
it’s not always loud. it’s not always obvious. the poison doesn’t always hit you like a gunshot. sometimes, it seeps in quietly, slowly. sometimes, you don’t even know it was ever there until months after.
The truth is, it is extremely difficult to for abusers to change, because behaviors that cause them to abuse others are learned over many years and includes attitudes and feelings of entitlement and privilege. While people do have the capacity to change, they need to deeply want to and be committed to all aspects of change in order to begin to do so — and even then, it’s a lot easier said than done. Unfortunately there is a very low percentage of abusers who truly do change their ways.
Please note: it’s impossible to change in one month. We develop behaviors over a lifetime that become part of our nature. At the root of abuse is a need to dominate and control. Different circumstances may account for behavior, but it doesn’t change the fact that it is there. That didn’t occur overnight, and the only way it can change is to re-program the person for new behavior, but that original programming is still in there.
According to author Lundy Bancroft, the following are some changes in your partner that could indicate they’re making progress in their recovery:
- Admitting fully to what they have done
- Stopping excuses and blaming
- Making amends
- Accepting responsibility and recognizing that abuse is a choice
- Identifying patterns of controlling behavior they use
- Identifying the attitudes that drive their abuse
- Accepting that overcoming abusiveness is a decades-long process — not declaring themselves “cured”
- Not demanding credit for improvements they’ve made
- Not treating improvements as vouchers to be spent on occasional acts of abuse (ex. “I haven’t done anything like this in a long time, so it’s not a big deal)
- Developing respectful, kind, supportive behaviors
- Carrying their weight and sharing power
- Changing how they respond to their partner’s (or former partner’s) anger and grievances
- Changing how they act in heated conflicts
- Accepting the consequences of their actions (including not feeling sorry for themselves about the consequences, and not blaming their partner or children for them)
Difficulty tolerating injury.
Knowing how to have your feelings hurt without retaliating is an important relationship skill. Most abusers have a problem with anger management and have a problem tolerating being hurt. Many men never develop this skill. If you get hurt, don’t show it. Don’t cry. If someone hurts or embarrasses them, you have to hurt them back.
Male entitlement plays a significant role in abuse. Abusers consider abusive behaviour not only acceptable but justified — both a right and a privilege. If I think that I have a right to not be hurt or embarrassed, than I’m likely to punish you when my entitlement has been violated. Men who use violence and control feel entitled to exercise these behaviours in relationships because they are men – an entitlement which is reinforced by communities inside and outside the Church. They might believe that power at home is a man’s entitlement, whereas power in public has to be negotiated. Domestic abusers do not abuse their bosses, their colleagues, or their friends, which makes the victim doubt what is happening to them.
Lack of empathy.
We talk about “putting ourselves in other people’s shoes” all the time. Abusive people do put themselves in their partner’s shoes, but they don’t necessarily do it with generosity. They imagine that the other person wants to cause harm. The kind of empathy that helps us to be decent, requires generosity and a willingness to give the benefit of the doubt.
Lack of accountability.
One of the most crucial characteristics of a morally centered, responsible, and mentally healthy individual is the ability to be accountable for one’s actions and feelings. Abuse happens in the context of a world that says that it’s okay to hurt others when we are hurt. Abusive partners behave abusively, to some extent, because they can. They cause their partners to end up with a broken sense of self. You as victim are being manipulated into blaming yourself.
People with narcissistic personality disorder are extremely resistant to changing. Narcissistic personality disorder — one of several types of personality disorders — is a mental condition in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others. But behind this mask of extreme confidence lies a fragile self-esteem that’s vulnerable to the slightest criticism. https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/the-legacy-distorted-love/201901/lack-accountability-in-narcissists
Any abusive partners have histories of complex childhood trauma, living in homes where they witnessed or were themselves abused and a history of unresolved trauma can result in high reactivity to injury.
Stop Waiting for Your Partner to Change
This is the biggest mistake a person can make when deciding to stay in a relationship in which you’re being mistreated. According to People Opposing Women Abuse (POWA), it takes women 10 to 15 years (you may ask again ”What was I thinking???”) to leave an abusive relationship.
- You have to accept that the only person you control in this world is yourself.
- Accept that it will hurt. There is no easy way of getting around it.
- You’re worried about missing the feeling of being desired and wanted, the intimate and close moments you shared.
- Getting over the initial discomfort of being alone is the hardest part. But once you get past that stage, life becomes a whole lot easier.
- The lessons you learn along the way will allow you to grow and become a better person.
- The pain will not last forever. Time is your best friend.
Please note: To get out or get away, you have to put a safety plan in place for your self and your children:
These are the 17 ways that POWA recommends every abused woman should consider following as she plans to leave for good.
1. Have a safety plan
To leave an abusive relationship safely, think things through carefully. You need money and somewhere to stay, and to know how you are going to keep yourself – and your children – safe.
2. Never tell your abuser that you are leaving
Don’t threaten to leave in a heated argument, as this is when most women get killed. Even telling him when he is calm might lead to him planning an act of violence against you. Just plan and then quietly leave.
3. Plan to take your children with you
Not only will this protect them from potential harm in your absence, but it also makes it easier to make the case for obtaining legal custody later. Don’t plan to come back for them, as this can make things more complicated and even dangerous for you. It may be harder to plan, but taking your children with you is an important step for these reasons.
4. Save a stash of money secretly
Abusive partners often prevent their partners from accessing money. Start saving up change from anything you’ve spent, or returning items to shops and hiding the cash.
5. Get a second secret phone
Abusive partners may check your phone and even install a tracking app. Try to get hold of an affordable second phone and keep it secret so that you can make plans and call for help if you need to.
6. Identify a safe space that you can go to when you leave
This could be the secure home of a trusted friend or family member, or a women’s shelter. Contact POWA for assistance in finding a shelter near you.
7. Pack a bag of things you need and hide it somewhere away from your home
This is so that you can leave quickly when you are ready without anyone knowing that you are going. Include money, a change of clothes and important documents including: proof of address (even though you are leaving), ID documents, proof of income, financial records, medication and marriage and birth certificates.
8. If you have a car, hide the spare keys
This is so that you can still leave if your partner takes the original set away from you.
9. Learn your partner’s schedule
Work out when you have a long enough gap to leave uninterrupted.
10. Create a fake trail
Make calls using your usual phone to women’s shelters or hotels that are far away from where you will be going. If you have the funds, you can even pay for a hotel with a shared credit card, and receive a booking confirmation on a monitored email address.
11. Get the law on your side
The police and courts can help keep you safe from your abusive partner, but you need to know what steps to take:
Write up a diary and evidence of any physical abuse that can be used later as proof. Take photos if there are visible marks. If you visit a doctor, ask them to note that the injuries are as a result of domestic violence. If sexual abuse has taken place, keep the clothes and sheets as evidence in a paper bag or wrapped in newspaper (but get these to a police station sooner rather than later). The diary should include the type, time and date of the incident, because these are the questions that they might ask in court.
12. Report the assault to your local police station.
Take any evidence including photographs or stained items of clothing or sheets along with you. The police may not refuse to open a docket for domestic violence.
13. Obtain a domestic violence protection order from your nearest family court.
You will need to take your ID and any evidence of abuse along with you. You will first receive a temporary protection order, and then after a court appearance, you will receive a permanent protection order. The court may still grant your partner visiting rights to see his children if the abuse was only against you – although it can be argued that allowing them to see violence against their mother is an act of abuse. Every case will have a different outcome. Once obtained, if your partner ignores the restrictions, call 10111 and report him to the police immediately.
14. Make sure you have transport arranged for the day of leaving
Arrange a taxi or an Uber, a reliable friend or family member or your own vehicle.
15. Visit ForWomen
Visit www.for-women.co.za, an information hub that offers access to a growing network of causes, all fighting to bring an end to woman abuse. Connect with any of them quickly and easily to get the help you need.
16. Inform your place of work that you have left your abusive partner
Ask them to prevent your partner from entering the building or gaining access to you.
17. Be careful about what you post on social media
Don’t give away any information about where you are or who you are with. It would be best to stay off social media altogether.