By Dr. Jeanne King, Ph.D.
Many people will tell you that abusers don’t change. Some will say that they can’t change. I’m here to tell you that I see positive change in many people who previously abused their domestic partners.
I’ve seen these people evolve into loving, caring and responsible men/women. They tell me that they love the new options they have integrated into their lives. These patients have shown me that learned battering behavior can be unlearned.
The operative word here is learned. And this little word could account for some of the debate around the issue of whether partner abusers can change. (Are these dysfunctional behaviors learned or are they integral to a personality disorder?)
Do you think your partner can change his/her abusive behavior? Here are some of the key indicators of and elements to domestic abuse transformation…that you can expect if the dysfunctional behaviors are “learned.”
1) Accountability and Responsibility
Batterers who genuinely know that their actions are in violation of the integrity of their partners hold the first ingredient to abusive behavior change. Further, once they acknowledge their choice in violating their partner over other options a transformational window opens.
Often times it takes therapy and/or a set of other extraneous circumstances to inspire this attitudinal perspective. But once done, we are off and running…making movement toward positive outcome in domestic abuse counseling.
2) Exercising Nonviolent Behavior
Behavioral change in action stabilizes the positive attitudinal shift. Once these people have exercised nonviolent options in the context of the triggers and cues that were previously associated with verbal and/or physical assaults new behavior patterns can be established.
Take Sam for example. Sam used to become frustrated, irritated and angry at his partner’s lack of enthusiasm around activities that they pursued. He believed that her lax attitude was an expression of her lack of interest and love for him.
The rejection that he read into that coupled with the bodily rage building under his skin soon became his signal to reach for a nonviolent action over his previously habitual domestic assault.
3) Nonviolence in Personal and Relationship Satisfaction
This patient cultivated numerous behavioral options for himself, all of which honored the integrity of his partner. What became obvious to Sam over time was that his behavior change to nonviolence brought outcomes that effectively eased (and in some cases erased) his original discomfort.
In twelve-month follow-up with Sam, I learned that he actually enjoys his new options and the way in which he can actively nourish both his relationship and himself simultaneously, without hurting anyone.
I have observed countless examples of long-standing domestic abuse behavior change. So if you ask me, I say people change if they choose to change.
For personal help and your own insights on the psychology of abusive relationships, visit Domestic Abuse Therapy
For more professional insights about domestic abuse dynamics and healing, visit InnerSanctuaryOnline.org. These writings have helped thousands of people worldwide find clarity, wholeness, and well-being in their journey to heal the trauma of intimate partner abuse.
© Jeanne King, Ph.D. — Domestic Violence Prevention and Intervention