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Monday, September 5, 2011

Can he change?

Probably the question asked most often by a woman in an abusive relationship.   Fundamentally, I think most of us don’t want to give up on the relationship and the potential of a happy family.   Some women still really love the men involved and don’t want to give up what was once the ‘love of their life’.   We just want the abuse to stop.   If you are in any doubt whether what is being done to you is abusive, here is one of the most comprehensive lists I’ve ever seen. 

Men who do these things are abusive and most likely will continue to be, and most likely it will get worse over time.  Statistically speaking, the chances he will change are extremely small.  I’ve seen 3%, I’ve seen 5%.    Of course, since there is no good way to measure this, the statistics are not completely meaningful, but they do give an indication of the challenge.
For me, I had been done with the relationship from early on.  It was so stressful living with him, that if it had been just me, I feel fairly certain I would have left him much sooner.  The fact was, though, it was not just me.  Even before he became physically abusive, there were two kids to think about.   I wanted them to have a real father.  I wanted to be part of a family. I did try to change to be more passionate for him.  I tried to answer his questions correctly to keep him from getting mad. I kept thinking if I could keep things relatively calm and explain to him how what he was doing was hurting me, that he would change.  It never happened. 

What about intervention programs?
Brad went into a battering intervention prevention program (BIPP, for short) somewhat voluntarily.   We had been in therapy for a short while and the therapist convinced him he should go.  Most of the other men there were ordered by the court.   I was very torn when he went, because I was pretty much done at that point and  was just getting things lined up so I could leave.   But I felt that I had to give him a chance, so I delayed my leaving a little.

He brought home a list of abusive behaviors in his paperwork.  I could have checked off almost every one.  I felt vindicated when I saw the list because it was given to him by the counselors in BIPP, where he had gone voluntarily.  It seemed like a vague admission of guilt.   He had to recognize himself on those pages, I thought. 
He came back from one of the later sessions and said “I found out I’m extremely manipulative.”   It was all I could do not to say “No sh*t.”  They had given him a checklist of manipulative behaviors, again I could have checked off almost every one.   He did seem to recognize himself on those pages at first.  It didn’t last very long, though;  he was back being manipulative a few days later. 

There were two things I noticed while he was attending BIPP.  First, he did not physically touch me or threaten to kill me as much.  That was, to him, a clear line.   He was still just as verbally and emotionally abusive, he still prevented me from leaving the room, he was still physically intimidating.  But now he usually threatened to throw stuff, rather than threatening to beat me or kill me.  It was only vaguely better, because I knew he could snap at anytime and he did.
Second, now he had an attitude.   His attitude was all high and mighty.  He would say, “I’m trying to change because I’m going to this class and you’re not trying.”    He would say, “I can’t change unless you do.”  He never really accepted that he was responsible for his behavior, and has not to this day.    He insisted my poor communications skills, my lack of passion, my ‘lying’, or what have you, were the cause of his behavior.    If I would change, then he could change. He went to BIPP for almost two months before I left him and there was no real improvement during that time frame. It was almost worse because of his attitude.  He kept throwing that in my face.  For me, it was a case of way too little, way too late.   It was very hard, but I knew I had to leave, in spite of the fact that he was now in a treatment program.  I felt a little guilty leaving him in the middle, but there was no way I could wait for the six months to be up.

He quit going to BIPP for about a month because after I had him removed from the house he was in a drunken stupor for two weeks, and then he was in rehab.  He was now court ordered to go because of the protective order.   It was a six month program, but he ‘failed’ the first session because he refused to write me some sort of letter, apologizing, perhaps, I’m not sure.  So he had to go for another four months.    It was the day after moving day in December, when he cussed at me and physically prevented me from leaving my house, that I received a form letter from the BIPP program saying he had completed the course.  Ironic isn’t it?  I wanted to scream “It didn’t help.”  I know these programs provide the right information to these men, I have done a fair amount of research.  The problem is that getting the men to truly want to change and to recognize that they are responsible for their behavior is almost impossible, it seems.    You hear cases of men getting better and then teaching the BIPP type programs.  Most, however, continue to blame others, or circumstance, or substance abuse for their behavior.  
It’s so ingrained in their personalities that they seem incapable of seeing their way through to change.  This article is very helpful in explaining the situation and providing some evaluators for whether he has changed.

As I was going through the divorce and now as we are into the routine, there are moments when I think he gets it, and I think he might have changed.  But I am always disappointed.  Eighteen months after I left him, and he repeatedly called and texted, and was verbally abusive to me today on the phone.  Of course he was, he has not changed at all.  The difference is,  I could hang up on him and not worry about any repercussions right away.   I will still have to deal with him at soccer practice tomorrow.  But maybe he won’t show up, maybe he will have calmed down.  At least it will be in public, so the chance for him to do something really bad is minimal.  

Bottom line, without serious intervention, they will never change.  You can’t change them.   They have to get help to understand what they are doing is wrong.  Some of them have to go to jail to understand that they need to change.  They have to really want to change.  Only you can decide if you are willing to wait around on the off-chance that they might get better. 

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