Can An Abuser Change?

Domestic violence is unpredictable.  After an incident of abuse, some abusers may act remorseful and promise to “change” in an effort to maintain the relationship (read: secure more control).  The question is: Can an abuser break this cycle and genuinely change?

An abuser has the potential to change if he* first acknowledges that:

  • What he has done is wrong.
  • It was his choice.
  • His behaviors were not provoked.
  • His partner is entitled to respectful alternatives.

This is not easy and as with any change, it will take time. And in the case where someone’s safety and well-being are at risk, professional help is required.

The abuser also has to look at his beliefs around why he deemed his actions to be acceptable in the first place, which could prove to be a very complex process.  A male abuser, for example, needs to identify:

  • What behaviors does society support (male privilege)?
  • What was modeled (anger expressed only as violence)?
  • What does he perceive from his peers about what it means to be a male?
  • What are his expectations of an intimate partner (that she will meet his every need and should do so) and how does he use these to minimize and justify his actions?

The community also plays an important part in the likelihood that an abuser will even consider making changes.  Meaning that the community needs to hold him accountable, including the neighbors, police, prosecutors, judges, probation/parole, coupled with an appropriate program that addresses all of the issues.  Unfortunately our surrounding communities are lacking in this arena, which is clearly a reflection of society as a whole.

We live in a culture where finger pointing and victim blaming seem to be more the norm than empowering and supporting a survivor in their recovery from abuse. So in trying to understand whether or not an abuser can change, we must also reflect on our own role in preventing abuse. For an interesting read on the subject, check out author Lundy Bancroft’s book entitled: Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men.

In the end, it comes down to the abuser taking responsibility for his actions and working diligently to change beliefs that support abuse.  And of course, most importantly establishing and understanding respectful boundaries with anyone he enters into a relationship with, romantic or otherwise.

If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, HAVEN is here to help.  The Crisis and Support Line is available 24-hours per day, 7-days per week and can be reached at 877-922-1274.

* While we recognize that women can also be violent, men perpetrate the vast majority of intimate partner violence.

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