Steps to Change
- Admit fully to his history of psychological, sexual, and physical abusiveness toward any current or past partners whom 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 to himself, important parts of what he has done.
- Acknowledge that the 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.
- 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.
- Recognize the effects his abuse has had on you and on your children, and show empathy for those. He needs to talk in detail about the short- and long-term impact that the abuse has had, including fear, loss of trust, anger, and loss of freedom and other rights. And he needs to do this without reverting to feeling sorry for himself or talking about how hard the experience has been for him.
- 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.
- Develop respectful behaviors and attitudes to replace the abusive ones he is stopping. You can look for examples such as improving how well he listens to you during conflicts and at other times, carrying his weight of household responsibilities and child care, and supporting your independence. He has to demonstrate that he has come to accept the fact that you have rights and that they are equal to his.
- 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 and to begin instead to compliment you and pay attention to your strengths and abilities.
- 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 whom 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. (At the same time, he needs to accept that he may never be able to fully compensate you.)
- 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 he is on probation.
- 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 call you names as long as you don't raise your voice to him. If he does backslide, he cannot justify his abusive behaviors by saying, "But I'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.
- 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 with his friends all weekend while you look after the children, and to being allowed to express anger while you are not.
- Accept that overcoming abusiveness is likely to be a life-long process. He at no 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 control 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.
- Be willing to be accountable for his actions, both past and future. His attitude that he is above reproach has to be replaced by a willingness to accept feedback and criticism, to be honest about any backsliding, and to be answerable for what he does and how it effects you and your children.
Phew! If you are in or have ever been in an abusive relationship you will probably look at this list and think "that'll never happen" like I did/am. I think it probably highlights how long and difficult the process of changing core beliefs and values will be. I look at a few of these and can see that my dh will find those probably reasonably easy but others virtually impossible for him. Properly - I suppose any change can be faked (and I'll copy over the list of 'how to tell when he's not changing' another time!) but they can't fake it indefinitely. The truth of what they think/believe will have to come out at some point.
For my husband, I can see he's right at the beginning, making headway on some but probably hasn't achieved any of the above steps yet. Step one - admit fully, without minimizing etc - well even yesterday I reminded him of when he sat on the bed saying "why can't you just obey me?" (in a half-jokey way) and his response was "but you said stuff like that". (Which I didn't) So, even with step one his sense of entitlement is (as Bancroft says) "like a rude, arrogant voice screaming inside his head". I do have to wonder how far he can drag his sense of entitlement and justification before he falls back. Pessimism, or realism? Time will tell.