Can a verbal abuser change? I’ve heard that question so many times and it is always delivered with a longing tone. Verbal abuse victims very much want their abuser to want to change. Some verbal abusers honestly do want to change. I don’t know how rare those types of abusers are, and there’s no way to know if your partner wants to change by listening to what they say because it is so easy to lie.
Can A Verbal Abuser Change Without Saying A Word?
A verbal abuser who wants to change will not have to say a word. He or she will, however, prove that change is happening because the abuse will end. Eventually. It is a good idea to have individual therapists at this point, not marital counseling.
Abusers want you to pay attention to their words, not their actions, because
- their words can be so sweet and convincing (causing you to stay) or
- so hateful and mean (causing you to doubt your perceptions and abilities).
Diverting your attention to what they say over what they do keeps you under their control – that is how verbal abuse works and why it is so effective. Proof of change is in their consistent action and behavior. You can simply ignore their words.
When you point out discrepancies between what they say and what they do, the ones who do not plan to change abuse you more. The abuse can be sugar-coated lies that sound like apologies or it can be a thundering accusation about how you never give them a chance. No matter how the abuse reveals itself, the point is to put you back into your place as the unquestioning partner who shuts up and acts how they’re supposed to act.
Testing To See If Your Abuser Can Change
I spent many years going back and forth in my head between wondering if he was the problem or if I was. Or if he had a mental disorder or if I did!
Finally, after realizing I was dealing with domestic violence and abuse and not a mental disorder, I decided to follow Patricia Evans’ advice in her book The Verbally Abusive Man: Can He Change? I prepared a contract similar to the one she prescribes, then gave it to my husband.
The first test is to see if your partner is willing to work with you on the contract.
- If they are not willing, you’ll know they won’t change.
- If they are willing but does not hold up their end of the contract (through their actions and behaviors), you’ll know they won’t change.
- Or, if you see definite signs of change in their behavior, then the miracle of miracles, they could change.
- On the other hand, they could change for just long enough for you to think they’ve changed, then revert back to abuse. At this point, believing there was real change, you will feel more confused than ever and probably immediately start to blame yourself for their abuse (again).
The contract I made doesn’t exactly follow the plan in Ms. Evans’s book because I’d already left my husband when I wrote it. If you want to see it anyway, you can view it here.
My ex-husband took it and read it. When I saw him next, he said, “I will never go to counseling.” That was that. The divorce proceeded.
Can You Change Your Noble Desire To Help Your Abuser Change?
In earlier days I may have continued trying to convince my husband to go to therapy, believing in my heart that it was in his best interest. This time, after studying domestic abuse and analyzing his answer with my brain, I decided to believe him when he said he would never go to counseling.
Everything he had ever done (his actions) supported his statement. There was no reason to disbelieve him. And if he couldn’t accept outside help for himself or for us, then I couldn’t continue the relationship.
Some decisions are absolute deal-breakers. (Example of a deal-breaker? See What is Battering?)
I wish I could tell you a sure-fire way to get from thinking you know what is best for your partner and believing that they know what is best for them. That thinking leans toward co-dependency and is an attempt by you to control the abuser. Sure, your motive for wanting to control them is noble, but giving your partner the ability to answer and you believing their answer is just plain smart. (If your abuser constantly lies, believing the lies and going on about your business will confuse him or her for a change!)
In fact, everyone, even mean nasty abusers, deserve to lead their lives as they see fit. Who are we to tell them otherwise? Leaving or staying with an abusive partner boils down to giving them control over themselves only. To do that, you must believe them when they say “I like who I am.” Then you have to decide if you can live with your partner just as s/he is, or if the behavior is a deal-breaker for you.
*Both women and men could be abusers or victims, so do not take my pronoun choices as an implication that one gender abuses and the other is victimized.