How can I know if my abuser is changing?
Do you think that your abuser might be changed or changing? Is he love bombing you? Is he making you wonder whether he finally really sees that you love him, that you have value, and should be treated with respect? Do you keep the phone with you hoping for the repentant email or text that will show he’s seen the light and you can go home? What if you get a message that he’s had an epiphany? How can you know if it’s true?
As I have reflected on my experience, and the experiences of friends who have fled their abusers, I have noticed some patterns. Abusers want their power back. They want to make people feel guilty or sorry for them. And they want to protect their image.
I will share with you some things abusers might say. I will translate in red and comment in purple italics.
Abuser: Every day I wake up hurt and angry that you’re not here. I am hurting. Your actions are hurting me. Come back to comfort me. Guilt and pity play.
Abuser: We’ll just tell everyone that you went crazy but you’re better now.
Target: Why can’t we say that we had problems but we got better?
Abuser: That would make me look bad. You will be the sacrificial lamb to make me look good and I will have even more power than before because now if you tell people about the abuse, they will assume you’re crazy and not to be believed. Image management.
Abuser: We’re both hurting. I’m hurting as much as you. We’re both victims of this bad situation. Guilt and pity play.
Abuser: Nothing to do but move on and try to get past it. No. That’s not true. He could seek Christ and change.
Abuser: When are you going to start apologizing? We were both wrong. If you had been better, I wouldn’t have abused you. Betrays his transactional thinking. He is only “sorry” to get something. It’s not the abuser’s job to make you apologize, but to make you safe.
Abuser: You think __. You want ___. You like ___. You feel ___. You believe ___. I know what you’re thinking. I define reality. Anyone telling us what we think, want, like, feel, believe, etc. is looking to manipulate us.
Abuser: Even if I had abused you like you claim, you made ___ mistake and that makes me a bigger victim. I am not going to admit to anything, but I will try to make you believe that you’re as bad as me, worse in fact, and you should be grateful that I’d still have you. Sin leveling and gaslighting.
And this conversation is the straw that broke the camel’s back for me. When my abuser uttered this to me, I knew he believed he had earned the right to abuse me; he’d never value me or respect me and he’d abuse me for the rest of my life. I filed for divorce the very next day. He had made this assertion this many times before, but that day is the day I heard it for what it was.
If your abuser is bossing you, blaming you, attempting to make you feel sorry for him so you offer him comfort, or throwing you under the bus so that he can save his image, he isn’t safe.
A changed person will want people to know that you were right and he was wrong. He will vindicate you in public, not in texts, emails, and conversations he hopes no one else gets wind of. He will value you and respect you and not try to define reality. He will share power with you and ask for your input instead of issuing commands.
Change, true change, will be lasting because he would have a new heart, a heart to serve Christ and honor Him. And it won’t be dependent on your actions. If an abuser is telling you he could change if you would just ____ or ____, if you could be more supportive or thankful, if you could lose weight, or like football, then he is putting the responsibility on you to be someone worth changing for. No. Change isn’t for you. As I wrote in The Reason, “I am NOT so wonderful that anyone should change FOR ME. No one is. I will fail and become undeserving of that change and then the changer will go right back to his old ways.
There is only One who can change us. Christ changes us as we learn to love Him and embrace His redemptive work on the cross.
When I finally heard what X was saying — that I needed to help him change, that I needed to be worth his efforts — it helped me break free. Don’t change for me. Change because you see that you were wrong and you want to be right. Change for Christ. Change because you’ve repented, because you love God and you hate and forsake sin, not because you think I’m worth it today.
You don’t owe anyone another chance, especially since by the time you found this blog, you have almost certainly given him countless ‘second chances’ already . . .
Your priority is getting safe and getting healing, not saving a relationship. Let him change (or not change) and let him do it without your help … while you get healthy no matter what choices he makes.