Can an abuser change?

By:  Kelly McBride, Executive Director, Domestic Violence Network

We all know that people can change. Victims of domestic violence often wish that the person abusing them would change. They want the abuse to stop because they love this person. Often times the abuser will apologize for their actions after-the-fact and promise that it will never happen again. But is this enough?

No. It’s NOT enough. While people can change, they have to WANT to change and ACTIVELY WORK at changing. They need to seek intervention in the form of Batterer’s Intervention Programs and actively work at the program. We know that abuse is a choice and the abuser can absolutely choose not to abuse, but it will take work and deep commitment. As advocates, we do not recommend couples counseling. Each partner needs to work on their own issues and the person using abuse needs to complete a Batterer’s Intervention Program before even considering coming together for couples therapy.

According to leading expert Lundy Bancroft, there are signs indicating that your partner is changing:

  • Admitting fully to what he has done
  • Stopping excuses
  • Stopping all blaming of the person being victimized
  • Making amends
  • Accepting responsibility (recognizing that abuse is a choice)
  • Identifying patterns of controlling behavior, admitting their wrongness
  • Identifying the attitudes that drive the abuse
  • Accepting that overcoming abusiveness will be a decades-long process, not declaring him/herself cured
  • Not starting to say, “so now it’s your turn to do your work,” and not using change as a bargaining chip
  • Not demanding credit for improvements made.
  • Not treating improvements as chips or vouchers to be spent on occasional acts of abuse (e.g. “I haven’t done anything like this in a long time, so why are you making such a big deal about it?”)
  • Developing respectful, kind, supportive behaviors
  • Carrying his/her weight
  • Sharing power
  • Changing how he/she is in highly heated conflicts
  • Changing how he/she responds to his/her partner’s (or former partner’s) anger and grievances
  • Changing his/her parenting
  • Changing treatment of the victim as a parent
  • Changing his attitudes towards members of the opposite sex in general
  • Accepting the consequences of his/her actions (including not feeling sorry for him/herself about those consequences, and not blaming the victim or the children for them)

If your partner wants to change and is actively working on changing, here is a quick quiz to help gauge their process.

No one ever deserves to be abused. Being in an abusive relationship is detrimental to your health and the health of your children. You can not change the abuse, only the abuser can do that. If you are a victim of abuse, please call 2-11 to be connected to an advocate. If you are ready to stop your abusive behavior, please reach out to a certified Batterer’s Intervention Program.