Many victims of betrayal and abuse desperately want to know if their abusive partner is changing, or if he even can change.
This yearning to know and understand is a natural part of being in a relationship with an abuser; however, just because abusers can change, does not mean they will. BTR advocates for victims to prioritize safety over all else.
When Anne Blythe read Why Does He Do That? by Lundy Bancroft, she studied the “13 Signs of Change” and realized that her abusive ex-husband was simply not on the road to becoming a safe man. Join Anne on the BTR podcast and read the full transcript below to take a deep dive into what it really looks like when an abusive man chooses to change.
Can My Abusive Husband Change?
The short answer is yes. The long answer is, it’s complicated.
Yes, abusive men can absolutely change, but as Lundy Bancroft explains: true, lasting change is a deeply transformative process requiring “deep work” and committing to living amends for a lifetime.
Few men choose to take this road. Staying in your relationship because he might be changing or has committed to change may not be the best option for you.
Instead, taking a step back and setting firm boundaries to keep yourself separate from abuse, may be the right course. From a safe vantage point, you can live your best life while also watching to see if he is truly changing.
How Can I Know if My Abusive Husband is Changing?
Detecting real change can be extremely difficult, because for most abusers, the “love-bomb” piece of the abusive cycle includes:
- Promises to join an abuse cessation program
- Commitments to never doing that again
- Partially or fully admitting to what he’s done and the hurt it has caused you
- Joining 12-step groups or starting therapy
These actions that abusive men take may seem like signs that he really wants to change – but unfortunately, most of the time it’s just the abuser “grooming” his victim to believe that he is changing enough that she chooses to stay.
The 13 Signs Of Change Can Help Victims Understand What Real Change Looks Like
Lundy Bancroft’s ’13 signs of change’ are extremely helpful to victims who are caught up in the abuse cycle and may have difficulty discerning reality due to gaslighting and constant devaluation.
Learn what the 13 signs of change are in the full transcript below and on the BTR podcast.
Betrayal Trauma Recovery Supports Victims of Betrayal & Abuse
At BTR, we understand the “hopium” that most victims experience: the painful and deep desire for their partner to change and stop hurting them. Tragically, most men will not choose to change and will do all they can to keep their victims locked in the vortex of abuse.
That is why the Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group meets daily in multiple time zones: so that women can receive the daily support, validation, and answers that they need as they begin their journey to healing. Join today.
Anne Blythe: For the first few weeks after my husband’s arrest, I felt like the domestic violence shelter wasn’t really helping me. I couldn’t get answers to my questions. They looked at me like I had some disease.
I know now why they were looking at me like that – they were very concerned. They were concerned because I said things like, “My husband is such a great guy! He can’t be abusive. He has an anger problem he’s been working on, but it’s not abuse.”
Then I learned more and I realized that he had been abusive since before we married. So then I said, “Well, he’s not the typical abuser.”
“Why Does He Do That” by Lundy Bancroft: Must Read For All Victims of Betrayal
I said, “He’s struggled with a pornography addiction and comes from an abusive family; he needs help! How can we get him some help?”
Basically, they kept saying, “You need to read this book. Have you read the book yet?”
The book was Why Does He Do That? by Lundy Bancroft. And no, I hadn’t read it yet.
And then I read it. And then I understood why they were worried. I was in denial. I was in danger. I was the one who needed help. I needed some serious help. Around this time, I started working on my own recovery.
Here are some excerpts taken from Why Does He Do That? by Lundy Bancroft.
Abused Women Need To Know What To Look For
Bancroft says, “My fifteen years of working day in and day out with abusive men have left me certain of one thing: There are no shortcuts to change, no magical overnight transformations, no easy ways out. Change is difficult, uncomfortable work. My job as a counselor is to dive into the elaborate tangle that makes up an abuser’s thinking and assist the man to untie the knots.
“The project is not hopeless – if the man is willing to work hard – but it is complex and painstaking. For him, remaining abusive is in many ways easier than stepping out of his pattern. Yet there are some men who decide to dig down inside themselves, root out the values that drive their abusive behavior, and develop a truly new way of interacting with a female partner. The challenge for an abused woman is to learn how to tell whether her partner is serious about overcoming his abusiveness.
You Cannot Control Your Abusive Husband’s Decision To Change
“The first challenge with an abusive man is to motivate him to work on himself. Because he becomes attached to the many rewards that his . . . intimidating behaviors bring him, he is highly reluctant to make significant changes in his way of operating in a relationship. This reluctance cannot be overcome through gentle persuasion, pleading or cajoling by the woman. I am sorry to say that I have never once seen such approaches succeed.
“The men who make significant progress . . . are the ones who know that their partners will definitely leave them unless they change, and the ones on probation who have a tough probation officer who demands that they really confront their abusiveness. In other words, the initial impetus to change is always extrinsic rather than self-motivated. Even when a man does feel genuinely sorry for the ways his behavior has hurt his partner, I have never seen his remorse alone suffice to get him to become serious [about changing his behavior].
Abusive Men Must Do “Deep Work” To Change
“After a few months of deep work . . . some men do start to develop intrinsic reasons for change, such as starting to feel real empathy for their partners’ feelings, developing awareness of how their behavior has been harming their children, or even sometimes realizing that they themselves enjoy life more when they aren’t abusive, despite all the privileges of abuse they have to give up. But it takes a long time for an abusive man to get to that point.
” . . . the majority of abusive men do not make deep and lasting changes . . . For an abusive man to make genuine progress he needs to go through a complex and critical set of steps . . . “
BTR Does Not Advise Victims Giving This Book To Their Abusive Partners
When I learned about these steps, my first thought was to give my husband a copy of this chapter of the book. Then he would know what to do! I thought. But my victim advocate, my sponsor, and my therapist advised against it. Over the seven years of our marriage, my husband had become expert at mimicking healthy behaviors without really changing. He was an actor. And I did not want to give him the script. I needed to see real change to amend the “do not contact” order, and he had to figure that out for himself.
Same goes for you. It is not advisable to give your abuser or the addict in your life this list. The wise thing is to set boundaries until you see the following behaviors. That is the only way you can know if they are really changing.
13 Signs Your Abusive Husband Is Changing
Taken from Lundy Bancroft’s book, Why Does He Do That?
1. Admit fully his history of psychological, sexual, and physical abusiveness toward any current or past partners who he has abused. Denial and minimizing need to stop, including discrediting your memory of what happened. He can’t change if he is continuing to cover up, to others or himself, important parts of what he has done.
2. Acknowledge that abuse was wrong, unconditionally. He needs to identify the justifications he has tended to use, including the various ways that he may have blamed you, and to talk in detail about why his behaviors were unacceptable without slipping back into defending them.
3. Acknowledge that his behavior was a choice, not a loss of control. For example, he needs to recognize that there is a moment during each incident at which he gives himself permission to become abusive and that he chooses how far to let himself go.
Most Abusers Choose Not To Progress Past Number 3
4. Recognize the effect his abuse had had on you and your children, and show empathy for those. He needs to talk in detail about the short – and long – term impact his abuse had had, including fear, loss of trust, anger . . . And he needs to do this without reverting to feeling sorry for himself or talking about how hard the experience has been for him.
5. Identify in detail his pattern of controlling behaviors and entitled attitudes. He needs to speak in detail about the day-to-day tactics of abuse he has used. Equally important, he must be able to identify his underlying beliefs and values that have driven those behaviors, such as considering himself entitled to constant attention, looking down on you as inferior, or believing that men aren’t responsible for their actions if “provoked” by a partner.
6. Develop respectful behaviors and attitudes to replace the abusive ones he’s stopping. You can look for examples such as improving how well he listens to you during conflicts and at other times. He has to demonstrate that he has come to accept the face that you have rights and they are equal to his.
Abusive Men Must Have a Full Change of Habits And Perspectives
7. Re-evaluate his distorted image of you, replacing it with a more positive and empathic view. He has to recognize that he has had mental habits of focusing on and exaggerating his grievances against you and his perceptions of your weaknesses to begin instead to compliment you and pay attention to your strengths and abilities.
8. Make amends for the damage he has done. He has to develop a sense that he has a debt to you and to your children as a result of his abusiveness. He can start to make up somewhat for his actions by being consistently kind and supportive, putting his own needs on the back burner for a couple of years, talking with people who he has misled in regard to the abuse and admitting to them that he lied, paying for objects that he has damaged, and many other steps related to cleaning up the emotional and literal messes that his behaviors have caused.
9. Accept the consequences of his actions. he should stop whining about, or blaming you for, problems that are the result of his abuse, such as your loss of desire to be sexual with him, the children’s tendency to prefer you, or the fact that his is on probation.
Relapse Is NOT A Part Of The “Change Process”
10. Commit to not repeating his abusive behaviors and honor that commitment. He should not place any conditions on his improvement, such as saying that he won’t . . . [swear] long as you don’t raise your voice to him. If he does backslide, he cannot justify his abusive behaviors by saying, “ButI’ve done great for five months; you can’t expect me to be perfect,” as if a good period earned him chips to spend on occasional abuse.
11. Accept the need to give up his privileges and do so. This means saying good-bye to double standards, to flirting with other women, to taking off . . . while you look after the children, and to being allowed to express anger while you are not.
12. Accept that overcoming abusiveness is likely to be a life-long process. He at not time can claim that his work is done by saying to you, “I’ve changed but you haven’t,” or complain that he is sick of hearing about his abuse . . . and that “it’s time to get past all that.” He needs to come to terms with the fact that he will probably need to be working on his issues for good and that you may feel the effects of what he has done for many years.
13. Be willing to be accountable for his actions, both past and future. His attitude that he is above reproach has to be replaced with a willingness to accept feedback and criticism, to be honest about any backsliding, and to be answerable for what he does and how it affects you and your children.
Your Abusive Husband Is Changing If He Has Given Up His Sense Of Entitlement
Bancroft asserts that, “Abusive men don’t make lasting changes if they skip any of the above steps, and some are easier than others. Most of my clients find it fairly easy to apologize, for example. In fact, an abuser may weave apologies into his pattern of abuse, so that when he says “I’m sorry” it becomes another weapon in his hand.
His unspoken rule may be that once he has apologized, no matter how cursorily or devoid of sincerity, his partner must be satisfied; she is not to make any further efforts to show her feelings about his mistreatment, nor may she demand that he fix anything. If she tries to say anything more about the incident, he jumps right back into abuse mode, saying such things as, “I already told you I was sorry. Now shut up about it.”
An Apology is Not Enough To Show You That Your Abusive Husband Is Changing
“But even a genuine and sincere apology is only a starting point. Many of my clients make it through the first three steps: They admit to a substantial portion of their abuse; they agree that their actions resulted from choice rather than a loss of control; and they apologize. Then they dig is their heels at that point. An abuser’s sense of entitlement is like a rude, arrogant voice screaming inside his head.
It yells at him: “You’ve given up too much already. Don’t budge another inch. They already talked you into saying your abuse is all your own fault when you know she’s at least half to blame because of [what she does]. She should be grateful to you for apologizing; that wasn’t easy to do. She’s lucky you’ve gone this far; a lot of guys [wouldn’t do that]” And the voice drags him back into the mud that he had finally taken a couple of baby steps out of.
Your Abusive Husband Is Changing If He Actively Listens & Thinks About What You Have To Say
“Step number four, for example, demands that the abusive man accept his partner’s right to be angry. He actually has to take seriously the furious things that she says and think about them rather than using her emotional pitch as an excuse to stuff her opinions back down her throat. When I explain this step, my clients at first look at me as though I had an eye in the middle of my forehead. “I should do what?? When she is yelling at me, I’m supposed to just sit there and take it??” To which I reply, “More than that, actually. You should reflect on the points she is making and respond to them in a thoughtful way.”
Abusers often think, “I don’t mind changing some of what I do as long as I don’t have to give up the attitudes and behaviors that are most precious to me”
Most Men Will Not Fully Change: Be Prepared
“At some point during the first few months that a man is in my program, I usually stumble upon the core of his privilege, like a rear bunker on his terrain. He may abandon a few of his forward positions, but this fortification is where he surrounds himself with sandbags and settles in for protracted war.
A client may agree to [answer his wife’s questions in a calm voice], for example, but when I tell him that he needs to [stay engaged in a conversation, even it it’s uncomfortable], he draws the line. If being a respectful partner requires [he stop stomping out of the house when his wife is trying to talk to him], he’d rather be abusive.
“An abuser who does not relinquish his core entitlements will not remain non-abusive. This may be the single most-overlooked point regarding abusers and change. The progress that such a man appears to be making is an illusion. If he reserves the right to bully his partner to protect even one specific privilege, he is keeping the abuse option open. And if he keeps it open, he will gradually revert to using it more and more, until his prior range of [intimidating] behaviors has been restored to full glory.
Your Abusive Husband May Be Changing If He Is Surrendering His Privileges
“Abusers attach themselves tightly to their privileges and come to find the prospect of having equal rights and responsibilities, living on the same plane as their partners, almost unbearable. They resent women who require them to change and persuade themselves that they are victims of unfair treatment because they are losing their lopsided luxuries. But they can’t change unless they are willing to relinquish that special status.
Signs Your Abusive Husband Is Not Changing
Mr. Bancroft gives a list of things that indicate for certain that the abuser is not changing:
- He says he can only change if you change too.
- He says he can change only if you “help” him change, by giving him emotional support, reassurance, forgiveness, by spending a lot of time with him.
- He criticizes you for not realizing how much he has changed.
- He criticizes you for not trusting that his change will last.
- He criticizes you for considering him capable of behaving abusively even though he has in fact done so in the past as if you should know that he “would never do something like that”, even though he has.
- He reminds you about the bad things he would have done in the past, but isn’t doing anymore, which amounts to a subtle threat.
- He tells you that you are taking too long to make up your mind, that he can’t “wait forever,” as a way to pressure you not to take the time you need to collect yourself and to assess how much he’s really willing to change.
- He blames his behavior, the situation or his choices on you.
- He says, “I’m changing. I’m changing.” but you don’t feel it.
Lundy Bancroft’s Book Can Help You Determine If Your Abusive Husband Is Changing
I encourage you to read Why Does He Do That? It helped me put all my husband’s past and current attitudes, behaviors, and choices in perspective. It gave me a way to tell, even with a Do Not Contact Order, if my husband was safe enough to interact with. I held my no contact boundary and will continue to hold my boundary until my husband exhibits the recovery behaviors from this list.