Thursday Thought — What does the process of change look like for an abuser? Can an abuser change? – Insights from Bancroft and Crippen

Lundy Bancroft provides some insight into what it looks like for an abuser to do the real work of changing and why it seldom happens.

Well, he can change, but what ends up mattering much more in the life of a woman who has a destructive partner is “Will he change?” And we know that he won’t change, for example, unless he completely admits to all the things he’s done. If he’s continuing to deny a lot of the ways he has torn her down, or the ways he’s been violent or the ways he’s bullied her about sex — if he’s still denying part or all of what he did he’s not going to change.

And he’s not going to change by some sort of overnight realization that what he’s done was bad and he doesn’t want to be that way any more. That kind of epiphany change never goes anywhere. And he’s not going to change if he’s still abusing alcohol and he’s not going to change if he’s still finding different ways to make everything her fault. The change only comes if he starts to really take her seriously and respect her. And what I hear so many times — more times than I can possibly count from the stories of abused women — is the time when the guy says, “Oh, I feel so bad. Oh, I realize what a jerk I’ve been. I’m going to treat you really good from now on.” That never goes anywhere. That, unfortunately, I can tell you never goes anywhere. The only thing that does go anywhere is deciding to get really serious — saying ‘Yeah, I’ve got a real problem here. I have had real issues for a long time in how I’ve been behaving and I have to really look at this.” And then more importantly sticking with it for a long time — two or three years of working really, really hard on himself. So if she thinks a few months have gone by and he’s so changed — it doesn’t mean anything.

And women struggle a lot with the question, “Well, does he mean it when he says he’s sorry? I have trouble telling. He’s apologizing, but I have trouble telling whether he’s sincere or not — whether he really means it.” It doesn’t make any difference. This is what I’m eager for women in these kinds of relationships to understand. It’s not even worth putting a bunch of energy into trying to figure out if he means the apology or not. Because the real sincere apology and the fake apology are worth the same amount. They both go to the same place — they both go nowhere. The only thing that matters is does he get down to doing the work.

Unfortunately most abusive guys don’t really get down to doing the real work. There has to be a whole bunch of action over a substantial period of time that backs up the words….It only matters if he gets consistent about it. For an abuser to have sort of a period when he’s really generous and really focused on doing things for her is no different then how he always is. Like I’m sure at the beginning of the relationship he went through a period when he was super focused on doing things for her. I mean all abusers have these phases when they’re doing things for her. And it doesn’t mean anything.

So again — does he get consistent about it? Does he stick with it? Does he start to actually see that what she needs is just as important as what he needs? And that’s where these guys tend to fall down. Pretty soon they’re back to “No, it’s what I want — me, me, me.”1

When Lundy says that the abuser needs to work really, really hard on himself for at least two or three years, Lundy is not talking about the abuser working through some self-help book and using his buddy as an accountability partner. No, the work is going to have to be through a program that is specifically designed for abusers and run by trained professionals who really understand the mentality and tactics of abusers. But yet there is still no guarantee the abuser will change. Lundy explains one problem with abuser programs:

I have not had a lot of clients make really significant changes. Now I’m not the world’s most stellar abuse counselor, but I was pretty good at it, so I don’t think that it was lack of technique. There are people who are definitely better at it than I am, but I was pretty good at it. But you don’t see huge rates of change in any really chronic destructive behavior pattern. In an abuser program we expect in the state of Massachusetts abusers to go once a week for 40 weeks. A substance abuser which is no more serious a problem, in some ways I would say it’s easier to overcome substance abuse problem than a woman abuse problem — a substance abuser is expected to go on the order of 150 – 200 meetings just to be considered to have made a good start towards sobriety. You do three, four, five meetings a week for a year and you’re considered to have made some significant beginning — you’re not considered to have done your work — you’re considered to be significantly out of the starting block. And yet after 40 meetings for someone who has been physically violent to women and this whole pattern of behavior that I have been talking about, we somehow think that in 40 meetings he has done his work?2

Christians need to be cautious of what we might call an “either / or” error at this point. Here we see Bancroft, a non-Christian, speaking about real change requiring hard, hard work over a long period of time. As Christians, we believe that what is really needed is a genuine new birth through faith in Christ. But holding to that biblical truth, we must not somehow think that the Gospel negates the hard work Bancroft is speaking of. That is to say, we must not start thinking that faith and works are two different ways. Genuine faith and repentance will evidence themselves in the kind of hard work that Bancroft is talking about. I think that some Christians start thinking that “we will just pray that he gets saved and then instantly the whole thing will be fixed” and so they wait and wait and pray and pray for some miracle “zap” from the Lord. Rather, what we should say, and what is perfectly consistent with Bible doctrine, is what John the Baptist told the hypocrites — “bring forth fruits in keeping with repentance” (Luke 3:8  [NASB1977]). Show me an abuser (I have yet to meet one) who claims a new faith in Christ, who claims repentance, AND who has done the work Bancroft is speaking about, and I will say “now, perhaps, maybe here is a man who has made a good start toward reformation.”

And by the way, such a man will fully agree that his previous victim need not have any relationship with him ever again.

1Lundy Bancroft: Strategies for Healing from Domestic Abuse & Avoiding Abusers — Interview with Lundy Bancroft from The Audacious Life podcast

2Lundy Bancroft pt 7 on DV in Popular Culture video

IMPORTANT NOTE:  While we endorse Lundy’s writings about the dynamics of domestic abuse, we do not recommend anyone attend the ‘healing retreats’ Lundy Bancroft offers or become involved in his ‘Peak Living Network.’ See our post, ACFJ Does Not Recommend Lundy Bancroft’s Retreats or His New Peak Living Network for more about our concerns.

[September 4, 2022: Editors’ notes:

—For some comments made prior to September 4, 2022 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be an exact match.
—For some comments made prior to September 4, 2022 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be found in the post.
If you would like to compare the text in the comments made prior to September 4, 2022 that quoted from the post to the post as it is now (September 4, 2022), click here [Internet Archive link] for the most recent Internet Archive copy of the post.]


Further reading

You Cannot Drive Abuse Out of the Abuser


UPDATE Sept 2021: I have come to believe that Jeff Crippen does not practise what he preaches. He vilely persecuted an abuse victim and spiritually abused many other people in the Tillamook congregation. Go here to read the evidence. Jeff has not gone to the people that he spiritually and emotionally abused. He has not apologised to them, let alone asked for their forgiveness.

48 thoughts on “Thursday Thought — What does the process of change look like for an abuser? Can an abuser change? – Insights from Bancroft and Crippen”

  1. I think targets of abuse and especially the church have to wake up and understand that real change sounds something like this, “Wow, I was really wrong in the way I lied and manipulated you. If you want, I’ll leave the house (or church) while working on my issues. I’ll do whatever it takes that suits you. If you have anything you want me to do, please let me know. I want to give you space, if that’s what you desire. If my presence at church makes you uncomfortable, I understand. I’ll worship elsewhere. If I’m welcome at the church by you (target of abuse), I’m grateful and will stay. But I want to do what’s right in your eyes, not my own.”

    Instead, the church tries to force “reconciliation” (in name and appearance only) and forgiveness — most often on the target. The church lacks depth of understanding (or simply doesn’t care) about real repentance — just appearance. White-washed tombs.

    1. SR,
      That all sounds so good. The problem is once the words are said and some of them were used by the abuser, but one by one all taken back, is seen as too much to ask.

      I’m so glad to have moved on!!!

  2. Too often we are led to believe that the abuser only needs to give a soft apology and if he mixes it with tears, it is somehow believable and is supposed to be accepted.

    Thank you for this post. Took me awhile, but I finally realized that if my abuser had been truly repentant, he would have first off admitted his abuse and second, enrolled himself in a lifetime treatment program for abusers and third, stood up and told everyone he had duped into believing him that he was an abuser and had lied about everything. He also would have removed himself from our lives and as you say, never expected reconciliation.

    Perhaps the only way the church can really help an abuser, is to help him find his way to an abuse program, see to it that he enrolls in it and goes to the meetings and then pray he will come to true repentance. (Like the abuser would ever submit to the church telling him what to do or stay with it long-term.) We all know there are two kinds of repentance and all too often we settle for the one that is not real.

  3. This is a great post!
    I don’t believe an abuser can change….I really don’t. And it was when I finally accepted that, that I felt free to live MY life and to stop placating my H, hoping that my behavior would influence him to want to change. HA!! All that got me was him expecting more and more of the “good stuff”….loving, affectionate wife, sex on demand, compliments on what a manly man he is, etc….now that I’ve stopped all that, his TRUE character has popped out….he’s selfish and only cares for himself!

  4. I’m past the point of caring if he does change. It’s been two years since I woke up to the abuse and left (with the help of the Elders). We get along for the kids’ sake but all he is is “nice” and works hard to not show “anger” but likes to “play the victim” given the chance. The Elders keep a reign on him, no leadership opportunity, but he puts on a show so others will think he’s changed. No outside counseling, tries to deny he is narcissistic, won’t take off the wedding ring that he didn’t wear before I left, etc.

    (Note: It’s okay to post this as is, I’m in no danger since this is an alias.)

    1. This is interesting to me….my spouse didn’t wear his wedding ring when we were married either….also, started wearing it after we separated. Very similar pattern as well.

      1. The latent putting on of the wedding band is a feigned selfish attempt to show to everyone he is a victim and gain some self-centered pity.

  5. Thank you for this post. So stuck in waiting for evidence of real change versus empty words and false promises.

    1. You’re welcome, Anonymous. It’s a long wait for nothing. Abusers don’t change because they won’t change.

  6. Just….excellent. And this, right here:

    I think that some Christians start thinking that “we will just pray that he gets saved and then instantly the whole thing will be fixed” and so they wait and wait and pray and pray for some miracle “zap” from the Lord.

    Abusers exploit this in the church. “I’m changed! I’m fixed! Its a miracle!” and everyone just rejoices and praises God for the over-night miraculous change. When this happens repeatedly, and the victim of the abuse wearies of it, she begins to look “faithless” or “cold”. But, she has seen it all before. Time and time again.

    1. So true Megan.
      So many times my deluded ex-pastor would look at me and say, “don’t you think our God is big enough to make your marriage wonderful? Think of how this would ultimately bring God such glory!” (As if the problem was all about my lack of faith in God.)

      But as I pondered this whole concept of a “magical marriage transformation by divine intervention”, it occurred to me that there was a devastating emotional / psychological / physical / and financial train wreck that my abusive husband had created in my life and in the lives of all of my children from very early on. How would God fix all of that collateral damage?

      That’s when I compared what my abuser had done with the Word of God. I realized that the abuser is reaping exactly what he has sown, and the destructive path to others that follows him is the evidence of the “rotting fruit on his tree”, so as to warn those in Christ who have eyes to see and ears to hear. God won’t erase the damage that an abuser does to the lives of people around him. Instead God allows it to be used as “compelling evidence” that this person is destructive, and we need to start taking measures to remove ourselves from their presence.

      1. SFT — thank you for that! I especially love the part about how you stepped back and realized that he was reaping what he had sown. So true!! And bless you for being able to recognize that! I remember telling my ex-husband that he needs to understand that there are consequences to his actions for 11 years (after I had left him) and he looked at me viciously and said, “But YOU don’t get to be the one to put them ON ME!!” as though I was being vengeful. I’m pretty sure he tells people a mixed story about how innocent he was but also how vengeful I am. I really hope people can see through the double-talk.

      2. Oh yes, Megan, I understand that! My ex tells me I am getting revenge on him and that I only want to punish him (by enforcing boundaries and putting distance between us with sep [separation] and div [divorce]). He has avoided consequences all these years and now he is reaping what he has sown. He is squirming. Let him squirm.

      3. Standsfortruth,

        Your ex-pastor’s words:

        Don’t you think our God is big enough to make your marriage wonderful? Think of how this would ultimately bring God such glory!

        —make me gag.

        Every time I hear the phrase “God is big enough to (fill in whatever someone wants)” I think they’re envisioning the Creator of the universe and Lord of all His creation as some magic fairy that answers their every wish in take-out order type fashion. The whittling down of Scripture into catchy phrases and twisting the Word of God into self-serving pap is one of the most offensive things in contemporary Christianity.

  7. ….so they wait and wait and pray and pray for some miracle “zap” from the Lord. Rather, what we should say, and what is perfectly consistent with Bible doctrine, is what John the Baptist told the hypocrites — “bring forth fruits in keeping with repentance”

    Strangely enough, my h’s discovery weekend started off with the “zap.” He has claimed from the start that he was miraculously healed of his affliction: a 30 year addiction to porn and compulsive sexual behavior. He denied that he needed any sort of therapy or “work” on his own. At our first counseling session with his therapist, he told the counselor he was ready to forge ahead into marriage counseling because he was “so far ahead” of me on the path of recovery. This after just 2 months of finding out the years of lies and deception. He never did put in the work recommended by the 12-Step groups (Christian or otherwise) by attending daily meetings, instead doing the bare minimum of weekly attendance. He told me “You ought to hear what those FREAKS do; I’m nothing like them!”

    This bare minimum attendance / effort was to be the template for his personal counseling, too. As I attended weekly sessions, he opted for every-other-week sessions because, you know — he didn’t need it as much as I did. Six months in, he smugly told me he thought his sessions were wrapping up since he couldn’t imagine what there was left to work on. Most sex addiction recovery specialists indicate a 2 – 3 year timeline to establish a “new normal” and we were working with one of the best in the country.

    He never did take a sponsor from CR. He has been jockeying for a position of leadership in that organization all while proudly collecting his sobriety chips. Who knows if he truly is sober — he has never had authentic accountability as outlined by the programs we attended at the beginning. Oh, he has accountability partners, but no one is asking him the “tough questions” and no one is staying in contact with me along the way. His cousin — a non-Christian and sex addict himself — is his closest accountability partner. Even his therapist said this was not advisable.

    When evidence of his abuse came forward and I pled with him to seek help from an abuser intervention program, he opted, instead, to seek out another therapist, telling me this one was trained in abuse. I discovered a year later he was seeing this therapist for marriage counseling – not abuse issues.

    Yet, when I deny him reconciliation and tell him I see no fruit of true repentance, no evidence of transformation in keeping with the heart and mind of Christ – he gives me a laundry list of “all the hard work he has done”: goes to men’s Bible study, weekly counseling, weekly CR, tells me he reads his Bible — the list goes on. I’m sure it sounds convincing to his allies, too; many of which are friends from the church I used to be welcome to attend. Although his biggest allies are his family members; none of whom are Christian and most of whom are addicts and abusers themselves.

    I bet his testimony will be a tear-jerker & get a standing ovation at CR. He’s been working on this for a long time; he told my parents 2 years ago: “I want her to be there in the front row to hear my testimony, proud of the work I’ve done.”

    It brings to mind Macbeth [Internet Archive link]1: he will be

    ….but a walking shadow, a poor player
    That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
    And then is heard no more: it is a tale
    Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
    Signifying nothing.

    1[January 11, 2023: We added the link to a page containing the quote Charis quoted. The Internet Archive link is a copy of that page. Editors.]

    1. Charis,

      My now-husband, then fiance, had a 10 year porn addiction. I was so naive. He went to see a counselor after I found out and asked him to go. I believed if a Christian confesses a sin like that — “presto!” — it’s all gone. He went once a week for about 5 months. No. A mind saturated with filth has a big battle ahead. Looking back I don’t believe he ever stopped, because many times he refused to have s-x with me as newlyweds and beyond or [he] tried to make me feel bad for initiating. He also flirted a lot and brought up certain women at work or mothers we’d meet at school activities. He spoke frequently of s-x in joking manners and allowed other women to speak to him with sexual innuendos. And he abused me verbally, physically, and emotionally. He has minimized or re-written history about all of it. There is no way with after 30 years it’s not there anymore. The way he talks about the other people in the group is a tell-tale sign of what an arrogant man he is and that [he] is not taking this sin seriously. That’s why he attends meetings so infrequently and doesn’t hold to any rigors of the programs. “He” isn’t like “those” horrible men; he’s above them in his twisted mind. And really, a sex addict keeping another a sex addict accountable?! — totally laughable!

      Here is a great post on sex addiction; how I wish I had this advice all those years ago: Dealing With a Potential Mate’s Sexual Past [Internet Archive link]

      [Note from Barb: I’ve looked at this post by Gary Thomas and it seems pretty good. We don’t normally publish any posts that have links in them, due to the workload it adds to the moderators, but I’m making an exception here.]

    2. Charis,

      My ex has done the same thing — listed a laundry list of “things” he has been doing since I filed for divorce and we separated. Now, he tells me he wants to reconcile but already has a girlfriend….?!?! I flat out told him I don’t see the changes in him and he gets SO angry and tries to rile me up. I just have to cut off the conversation and leave. And try to go “no contact” as much as possible. Which is hard when you have children. 😦

    3. Both of the accountability partners that my husband selected for his porn addiction were also members of a church. Sadly, as I later found out, they too were also struggling with porn and abuse.

    4. So what is driving all this, Charis? Why would a man go to all the “trouble” of doing the programs, albeit half-way, and still have no real change? It makes me so confused, and I wonder if I have any tendencies toward that same kind of thing — the thinking we are doing it all right when, in fact, we are not.

      If the abuser can convince all the onlookers of his sincere attempts to “get well”, and he himself thinks he is sincere in it as evidenced by his proudly announcing it everywhere, how can we be sure we are not being too critical of him? Maybe he really IS trying to do all the right things. Maybe. Maybe he just has a blind spot that keeps him from really “getting” at the heart of the matter. It’s like he is taking all the right medicines and expecting them to work on his symptoms and even convincing himself they are, but we still see his disease. What am I missing here???

      1. Hi, TB, sorry that we had this comment holding in moderation for some time. We’ve been busy as usual….

        What are you missing here?

        If the abuser can convince all the onlookers of his sincere attempts to “get well,” and he himself thinks he is sincere in it as evidenced by his proudly announcing it everywhere, how can we be sure we are not being too critical of him? Maybe he really IS trying to do all the right things. Maybe. Maybe he just has a blind spot that keeps him from really “getting” at the heart of the matter.

        Yes, the abuser can convince all the onlookers that he is sincere in his attempts to “get well”. However, he himself knows he is insincere. His proud announcement of it everywhere is a mark that he is insincere in his attempts to “get well”. Notice the word “pride”. Notice the effort he puts into his image management and controlling the perceptions of others. That is the giveaway.

        If an abuser were really sincere in reforming his highly deficient character, he would not be focusing on telling others he was reforming, he would be focusing on just doing the humble work of reforming. No blowing his own trumpet.

        His ‘taking the right medicines’ is just part of the faking of reformation. It’s part of the smoke and mirrors.

        You’ve probably read it before, but here is a link to my Checklist for Repentance post.

      2. I think one of the biggest drivers is allies and image management (as Barbara has already pointed out).

        From the standpoint of allies, my ex-h still attends the church I had to leave. If he were living “honestly” — meaning from the core of his true self — and not in “recovery”, he would lose all his ‘C’hristian allies that he has duped. He would also lose his therapist (who I believe is also snowed). If he was not able to tick through a laundry list of “look at all the hard work I’m doing” – the jig would be up, and he cannot afford that or he would be revealed for what he is: a LIAR. He desperately NEEDS his allies. He needs them to believe he has sobered up, transformed — even though it is a lie. And, I think he needs them to believe the lie to further cement his self-deceit.

        He needs the deceit (layers of it), the list of “look how good I am” to further malign me (his ex-wife) to those who live in cognitive dissonance that his ex-wife is not who they thought she was. How could I abandon him? How could I make such a drastic choice (divorce)? How could my story of abuse and addiction POSSIBLY be true — besides, look how “reformed” he is. That was all in the past….right? Poor little lamb. How unforgiving a woman she must be to give up on such a hard worker and changed man.

        And just like that! I am ostracized by his false claims of good deeds. He has built a fortress of allies: pastors, Elders, police officers, therapists, group leaders, CR leaders, former mentors and friends — some I’ve known deeply for over 20 years!

        Otherwise, no – there is no driver. His family? Cares not. None of them are religious and none of them see his “issues” as sin. In fact, they endorse it. “Guys will be guys.” or “women just need to know who’s boss” kind of mentality. They are probably stymied by the fact that he chooses to be “in recovery” and if anything – it further casts me as an evil witch in their eyes (which is how they always saw me) and this, too, works to his advantage.

        So, he wins. Allies on every side.
        And my job? To learn to let go my need to be justified in the eyes of others. That has been one of the hardest lessons of this journey. Hands down.

      3. Charis,
        I’d think we were married to the same guy except my ex-anti-husband left us and filed first for divorce. But all the other deets [details] are the same for me, right down to the church and family supporting him. Even when I’ve gone back on occasion to that church that he still attends and I do not, I’ve been told by some that they refuse to take sides and then turn right around and sit with him for a meal. They don’t want to hear anything I have to say. And no one has called, not after years of my working alongside them for years in the nursery, in Sunday School classes, in Vacation Bible schools and youth camps, etc. It really does give me pause to consider whether or not these can possibly be my true family in Christ. I thought they knew me and I them. Apparently not.
        I echo your sentiments about letting go the desire to have others validate or accept us — especially those in the church. As hard as it is to live it, I find myself thanking God for it. In some ways, it feels a lot like sharing Christ’s alone-ness when He walked the earth.

  8. When I stopped asking anti-h for help of any kind, stopped asking his permission, stopped looking for his approval, wouldn’t put up with bullying then the bottom started to fall out for him. I insisted he go to an abuse counselor / program. He said he would do it, but it was followed up by him also saying, “If — I — go — will — you — stay — with- me?!!!” (his voice and eyes reflecting anger while he was hitting the back of one open hand into the palm of the other with each word spoken). I told him there was no guarantee. A few weeks after he said he would only go to a marriage counselor (at his point he had gone to a lawyer and was taking all the clues from him). Then the financial abuse started. His tune changed in a heart beat when he found a fresh supply of control.

    1. Incredibly, 7stelle, it seems as if we married the same man.
      I was young and naive when I married my abuser long ago, but tried to get free many times. He had me convinced that he needed me, but also needed his box of Playboy magazines to keep him happy when we were first married (as if I were some how lacking and could not fulfil him). He ceremoniously threw them away about 15 years later, when the internet became an available source of porn.

      He has denied that he is addicted to porn, and prefers to say he is addicted to sex, but no matter what, it is all damaging to the family. He has gotten more covert at hiding this addiction, and now locks the door when he seeking his fix. He has also gone through the “transactional phase” with me where he only offered restitutional acts, if he could expect something back towards reconciliation. Otherwise if I was not working with him towards reconciliation, he had no incentive to actually do the works of change.

      But my eyes have been opened (thanks to this site, and many books on abuse), in spite of all the false council from churches, and his enlisted allies. And with each step I make towards independence and freedom, I see more light at the end of the tunnel that helps me press on towards the goal to be ultimately free.

      [Paragraph breaks added to enhance readability. Editors.]

      1. Standsfortruth,
        Thank you for sharing that. I have to say that in my early days with my now ex-husband – very early on in the relationship I noticed Playboy magazines in a box in his garage and there was a Playboy calendar on the wall in the garage too. They bothered me, but at the time I was too shy to say anything about it. I took to it jokingly instead, dropping hints and later even adding little word-bubbles above the girls’ heads, saying things like “Gee I wish I looked like (insert my name here).” It was my way of saying that he doesn’t need those girls.
        Eventually when we got more serious (or so I thought) in the relationship, I asked him to take down the calendar and get rid of the box. He protested, but the box eventually disappeared. I presumed at the time that porn was now out of his life. He also had a box of photos of former girlfriends though. Not naked, but more like trophy pictures. That box disappeared too, yet I long wondered whatever happened to those things. It’s likely they weren’t abandoned. I never found them though or other evidence of porn, although I looked from time to time.
        Given the fact that he has a tattoo of the Playboy bunny silhouette on his arm from his military days, it’s likely that porn never really did disappear from his heart. Only my sight.

  9. This post was written so timely and in such an inspired way, as I’m right on the verge of deciding whether or not my husband has truly changed after 3 months of no abuse, or if he has not. With additional pressure from my church to forget and forgive, praising my husband for his charismatic personality and willingness to serve within the church, I feel like I no longer know right from wrong, up from down, left from right. My mind and heart are completely confused. This post will help me assess whether or not he is truly repentant, thank you so much.

    One question I have: my husband has high-functioning autism. I’ve been counseled to let go of his errant behavior and let things slide because he “knows not what he does”. I have been told by my church and family that I will be blessed for staying in and lovingly teaching him how to act appropriately, as my life-long mission. In many ways, he has been learning and has made amazing improvements over the last year, but still no accountability and even outright denial of his abuse (especially now that he’s been non-abusive for awhile). Are those with special needs as accountable for abuse? I feel guilty wanting to leave someone who can’t help what they do.

    1. Cagednomore,
      My child has high-functioning autism. I hold my child accountable for all actions and words, and she knows right from wrong. When she’s sorry, I know it. She’s really sorry. And she can recognize lies and wrong-doing (by and large — when they’ve come to light, that is) by our abuser, so….

      If you want to talk about the diagnosis, I’m okay with the moderators of this website sharing my private email address with you. Granted, it’s not the same relationship (parent-child versus spouse-to-spouse), but I’m guessing there’s commonality of behaviors (social misunderstandings, inability to understand things ‘typical’ or ‘normal’ people glean through experience, etc.). But if you don’t mind my saying so, please be careful about his using a diagnosis of high-functioning autism as an excuse.

      My child knows the name of her diagnosis (which may be the same as your spouse’s) and she knows what comes with it. She never uses it as an excuse for poor behavior or disrespect. Everything that’s expected of typical kids is expected of her; some things may just take additional explanation and patience, but she doesn’t get away with poor behavior. Neither should your spouse.

      [Paragraph breaks added to enhance readability. Editors.]

    2. One more thing. It’s only my opinion, and I don’t know you in real life, but…. I’m wary of any spouse taking on a life-long mission to teach the other spouse how to behave appropriately.
      Example: In my case with my child, I worked years on auditory processing issues. My (now ex-) husband had similar issues, but it was hard for me to discern if he really just wasn’t interested or didn’t register information I told him (as he described it). When our child exhibited similar listening issues, I took her for hearing tests at a local university, found her to be relatively normal in hearing, and started researching auditory processing. I shared what I learned with my husband at the time, but he just walked away while I was telling him, so I remarked, “You don’t seem to be very interested”, to which he replied, “If you want me to be interested, tell me something interesting.”

      I realized he really didn’t care about how his own issues may have commonality with the diagnosis of our child. So I worked with her for years on the auditory processing (mostly via computer CD programs and other advice for at-home ways to help develop brain processing of auditory stimuli), observing change, and my husband chose to not participate. He could have changed and grown in this area, but a lack of willingness kept his issues — whatever they may be — stagnant. It wasn’t my job to teach him.

      If your husband really wants to change, he’ll seek it out. It’s not your role as his wife to parent him. (I hope that doesn’t sound too bossy or direct. I don’t mean it to be. It’s just a suggestion, and I’m only sharing from my own experience here.)

      [Paragraph breaks added to enhance readability. Editors.]

      1. Thank you for your response, Still Reforming. I have a child with the same issue and he gets no free passes for his behavior. Even though it’s harder for him to understand social norms and integrate, he is still held accountable for tantrums and errant behavior.

        Where it becomes difficult with my husband is that he has been making improvements, but there’s still no emotional connection between us, no remorse for the abuse, just a lack of abuse finally after years. I spent so long trying to “train” him gently to consider his behavior and how it was affecting others, and he slowly learned how to treat me better. So many in my family and church community have seen this as a huge change that I should celebrate. It’s harder to explain that so much damage has already been done, I don’t know if I can celebrate it. I don’t know if I can do anything but walk away.

        He has also just recently realized he has this disorder, so I went into my marriage fully believing that he was “normal”. It was a tremendous blow to realize he wasn’t who I thought he was.

        I appreciate your thoughts and am glad you shared them.

      2. Cagednomore,
        I’m really glad that you can connect here with people who know what you’re going through and also some of us who have family members with high-functioning autism and who understand the behaviors or ways they do not understand social norms.

        You write:

        He has also just recently realized he has this disorder

        If you don’t mind my asking, how did he come to this realization? It’s interesting that in your marriage, you have been working with him to explain what’s hurtful and that intellectually perhaps he can grasp that and learn to change the outside appearances, even in the home (if I understood correctly what you wrote). Aspies (as you may have heard that term) can learn to do that. My child has managed and continues to learn to navigate the social world with appropriate responses and behaviors — by and large through nearly five years of therapies (occupational, speech, social skills classes) and other interventions.

        A few thoughts, if they can be at all helpful.

        1) One of the things that presents with high-functioning autism is a host of physical issues (sensory in particular, auditory processing, allergies, food sensitivities, etc.). That was one of my steepest hills to climb after my child’s diagnosis because every time I turned a corner I’d run into yet one more issue to tackle. I write that because alleviating some of the physical challenges, if at all possible, can modify the behavior. Not always but it can, which leads me to my next thought:

        2) If your husband has a diagnosis of Asperger’s (or related autism disorder), would he agree to go to therapies? With a diagnosis on paper, he may qualify in your state for free or reduced-cost therapies that can make a real difference. Granted, early intervention is best, but any intervention is likely better than none.

        My child attended pediatric therapies, but there was an adult side to the rehab facility and they treat big people too. If there’s a university within driving distance of you, many times they have departments that can work with or advise him (or you) of possibilities. While in therapy, for example, we learned of an autism research study at the local university in which we participated and that helped us learn how to more effectively discipline someone with an autism disorder. (The approach used was counter-intuitive: ignoring bad behavior thereby not fueling it with attention. I hated that, but it worked.) Also, that is where my child was diagnosed — at the university — and that is where I got the referral for therapies. So a local university may be a place for him (or you) to consider as well.

        My thoughts don’t mean that you need to stay with him if / when he pursues any route to help himself. I just wanted to offer these ideas for you (or him) to consider because if he really does have Asperger’s, he may want to help himself this way for all of his relationships – no matter whether or not you stay together.

        I hope this wasn’t too much information about the Aspie part of it all. If you want to communicate about it off-blog, I’m okay with that too.

    3. Cagednomore, my youngest son, mid-teens, has Asperger’s….and he knows right from wrong! He comes to me after arguing with his brother and tells me, “Sorry mom, I know God isn’t happy with my behavior, I’ll try to do better” and he’ll go lay on my bed and pray and ask God to forgive him and help him to be more kind and loving!
      I call HOGWASH on what you’ve been told!

      But let’s say that what you’re being told is true….then NO abusers are accountable for their behavior! YAY!! It’s a free for all for abusers because MOST of them use their “bad, abusive pasts” to abuse us now….my H has even suggested that (a) maybe he’s depressed and that’s why he is the way he is or (b) maybe he has a learning disability….LOL!

      My H is GREAT at using his FOO (family of origin) to blame for his behavior! He even cut his entire family out of his life after I discovered his latest affair a few years ago….it was his parents’ fault because he never felt loved by his mother and his father is a cheater and alcoholic!

      As for your “lifelong mission”, wow! Did they REALLY say that? How about it’s your husband’s lifelong mission to stop being an abuser, step up to the plate and admit his mistakes and fix what’s broken inside of him?? Now THAT’S a life-long mission I can get behind!!

  10. Jeff, thank you for this post. It’s a powerful point you make about the hard work involved in achieving change. I can say I haven’t met any women who have had partners willing to undergo this level of commitment to change. The humility it would take seems to fly in the face of what these abusive men are made of. My sense is that they would have to already be in counseling and have had some sort of epiphany to agree to undergo 40 weeks. So unless it’s mandatory, I don’t see many men going this route. And anything mandatory isn’t intrinsically driven and is more likely to be “gamed” by attendees, as we know these men are experts at manipulating people and systems.

    Here’s a more direct link to Lundy’s interview on “The Audacious Life” website: Lundy Bancroft: Strategies for Healing from Domestic Abuse & Avoiding Abusers [The original The Audacious Life link was broken. We replaced it with a YouTube copy of the interview with Lundy Bancroft on The Audacious Life podcast. Editors.]

  11. Thank you once again for your “Thursday Thought” on change of abusers. Every time I gather strength and true knowledge through your postings. God bless you and this site that I check and read every day.

    1. Hi, Escaped, please remember to check the screen name you have given before you submit comments here. If your device automatically fills in the ‘name’ field, please check what it says and change it to “Escaped” if that is not what was prompted. 🙂 We want you to keep safe. 🙂

  12. This is interesting, I have never had a church person involved in my relationship with my abuser. I have no idea what that would even look like. Any time I went to a pastor or someone in authority or even one of his mentors, they politely listened, sat there as I cried, and when I left – not a thing was said or done about anything. It was as if it never happened! His counseling and work with a licensed, trained professional counselor made him even more covert. He played her like a fiddle, charmed her and as far as I could see, he just learned even better how to be covert in his actions and abuse of me and my children. He was never physically abusive of me again, but he was, looking back, even better at being covert in all his controlling, manipulative, vengeful actions than before. I had told him when we separated that if he ever laid a hand on me again, I was out with the children. It seems as if that may have been more of a challenge to him, than an actual respected boundary that I had set for myself.

    Anyway, I have found a church now who has pledged to protect me and allow me to be a member and serve and grow there, while separated from my N h. I am grateful for that and that God lead me there so kindly & gently, as He has always done in my life. He is so loving and I cherish the way He always has my back and protects me and will in His time avenge me from all of this madness. He will never waste my tears! Glory to God!

  13. Why is it so hard for me to believe?

    I can look back through my marriage notes from the last several years and SEE plainly with my eyes that he hasn’t changed. I can see the pattern. And yet it is so hard to wrap my brain around it.

    He has professed to be a believer and yet has shown me nothing but contempt, continue to blame me for “our” marriage issues (infidelity, porn and abuse), and maintains strict control over money he gives me. It is infuriating!

    And the fact that he ran to a new church, got baptized, and now suddenly has a new girlfriend — well that boggles my mind that his church is so stinking stupid and allowing it. I am sure he gave them a song and dance and they have all pitied him and believe that I wrongfully divorced him and kicked him out. WAKE UP, PEOPLE! There is a wolf right in your midst! (And his new gf has another thing coming if she believes he won’t do to her what he did to me.)

    1. ….it is so hard to wrap my brain around it.

      Microgal, I don’t know the reasons why you are finding it hard to wrap your head around it (but I’m confident the Lord will make it clear to you in time) but I can offer you this, in case it helps. It can sometimes be really hard to wrap my head around the fact that a person is actually so malevolent towards me that he cold-bloodedly intended to ruin my life.

      1. Barbara, the denial is very hard to shake sometimes. I know I don’t want anything to do with someone who lied, cheated, and stole from my children and me. He treated me like garbage.

  14. Thank you so much for this. I have long insisted on this one —

    And by the way, such a man will fully agree that his previous victim need not have any relationship with him ever again.

    —as a litmus test, since my abusive ex has created a community around himself based on a narrative of being a really great guy abandoned by a crazy wife. He has never admitted the abuse except to a couple of professionals who called him on it, and to me. He insists he has changed, but I fully believe that if he understood the depths of what he did, he would not only agree that a relationship would not be restored, he would insist against it.

    1. Sandy – exactly right. My experience with the worst abusers is that they are soooo arrogant and demand to “win”, they will do all they can to force the victim, after separation or divorce, to maintain a relationship with them. I had cases in which the abusers continued to put themselves on the victim by sending unwanted gifts, birthday and anniversary cards, etc. They eventually stopped when we made no response to them at all, shredded any gift cards, and they realized it was to no avail. See the evil cunning in this? They do a “kind” thing to hold up their false facade of saintliness and when the victim tells them to stop, the perp can then go and tell others how unkind the victim is and how hard the perp has “tried” to show the “love of Christ.” Wicked, wicked, wicked.

  15. I left an often-covert abuser when it came to the emotional / verbal stuff (although he would lose his temper multiple times in a day and yell, criticize, and demand from the kids and I, he didn’t cuss or outright call me a b*****!). Anyway, I left after he punched a hole in one of our children’s bedroom door (3rd or 4th time over more than a decade). There were other dynamics of physical [abuse] (kids and I) and isolated sexual abuse (I only) I’ll not get into here.

    Now he seems determined to win us back. He’s offered a car, painted a picture of our future in a nice house in the country (somethings he knows I want). He’s given us the house while he rents a room in another city. He is going to individual counseling and [is] a “star” pupil in an abuser program. He seems to admit that he was in the wrong to me and other people we know. I have a PPO [Personal Protection Order] which he is respecting. He has supervised parenting time with our children through my parents and has been patient waiting for the youngest kids to feel safe with him. He doesn’t seem to have the cocky attitude that other abused women speak of when they talk about their partners. I feel confused by this. He would like me to revoke the PPO. He would like to have unsupervised time with the kids. I’ve said “no” because I feel that keeping one’s patience under supervision is one thing but dealing with it day after day when no one is looking is quite another. The kids have been traumatized by his parenting methods — and that’s when I was there to shield them from the worst of it. What will happen when I am not there to protect them? It’s been a handful of months since I left. I’m probably driving myself crazy trying to figure out whether he is genuine or just working really hard to have us back under his control.

    My parents are tired of supervising his time with the kids and [are] pressing me to discontinue. We can’t afford to pay the hourly fee which the agency in our area charges for supervised access. He was isolating before so I have no friends to ask this of. My parents say he’s good with the kids and he has changed. I’m not so sure. I believe he is a narcissist with mental illness (possibly bipolar) and my counselor pointed out, sociopathic. But I’m genuinely grateful he doesn’t appear to be poisonous with our children at this time.

    Sometimes I think I will divorce and sometimes I think I will try to work it out if he stays nice….but underlying that is fear that the wolf will come out to prison me — only this time, I won’t get away. And while he’s being good, I want him — but I don’t know if it’s real or just my desire to be loved is strong enough to warp my hope and thinking. My kids need to know that true love doesn’t abuse.

    1. Dear Elle
      A few months is not nearly long enough for an abuser to have changed enough to be safe to live with again. Abusers need to change deep-down attitudes and beliefs, and they need to practise new thinking & behaviour ’til it becomes habitual. Character formation takes a long time. Anyone can put on a good behaviour for a while, under non-stressful circumstances; the real test is, how do they behave when they are under pressure? There has not been enough time or evidence accumulated yet to indicate that your husband will behave non-abusively even when he is under pressure.

      He is actually showing at least one sign that his ‘change’ is just superficial and manipulative. He is asking you to drop the PPO so he can have unsupervised visitation. In other words, he is pressuring you to do something you don’t feel sure and comfortable doing yet. That suggests to me that he has not changed his underlying mentality of entitlement to control you. He is not respecting you enough!

      In regards to your parents being reluctant to continue their role of supervisors of his access, and the fee that a professional agency might charge for supervised visitation: I would suggest that your husband ought to pay that fee on his own. If he needs to work more hours or find a second job to cover that fee, so be it. That fee is not your responsibility. The fact that your parents think he is changed is not enough. He has very likely shown some changes, but not enough, and I doubt your parents are educated enough about the mentality and patterns of abusers to be good assessors of risk for you and the kids.

      The abuser program which your husband is attending — do they have a member of their staff who makes contact with the abusive man’s partner or ex-partner, to offer her support and hear her perspectives on whether or not she senses any change in the abusive man? Can you discuss your feelings and thoughts with the professionals who run that program? Good programs ought to make a practise of contacting the abusers’ partners or ex-partners, to offer them support and hear their perspectives on whether or not they are sensing change in the abusive man. Good DV professionals would be much better at helping you assess your risk (and the risk to your kids) than your parents would be, and how safe or unsafe you may be feeling.

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