Help for Abusers

Are you concerned that you might be abusive to your partner?

Have you ever thought that you may be behaving in a way that could be physically or mentally harmful to your partner? These behaviors are often difficult to recognize if you’re the one doing them — but acknowledging that you may be hurting your partner is the first step in moving toward a healthier relationship.

Check in with yourself: How do you act toward your partner?

Do you…

  • Get angry or insecure about your partner’s relationships with others (friends, family, coworkers) and feel possessive?
  • Frequently call and text to check up on your partner, or have them check in with you?
  • Check up on your partner in different ways? (Ex. Reading their personal emails, checking their texts)
  • Feel like your partner needs to ask your permission to go out, get a job, go to school or spend time with others?
  • Get angry when your partner doesn’t act the way you want them to or do what you want them to?
  • Blame your anger on drugs, alcohol, or your partner’s actions?
  • Find it very difficult to control your anger and calm down?
  • Express your anger by threatening to hurt your partner, or actually physically doing so?
  • Express your anger verbally through raising your voice, name calling or using put-downs?
  • Forbid your partner from spending money, or require that they have an allowance and keep receipts of their spending?
  • Force or attempt to force your partner to be intimate with you?
  • Blow up in anger at small incidents or “mistakes” your partner makes?

How does your partner react?

Do they…

  • Seem nervous around you?
  • Seem afraid of you?
  • Cringe or move away from you when you’re angry?
  • Cry because of something you don’t let them do, or something you made them do?
  • Seem scared or unable to contradict you or speak up about something?
  • Restrict their own interaction with friends, coworkers or family in order to avoid displeasing you?

If any of these behaviors sound familiar to how you act or how your partner reacts, it could be a red flag that you may be hurting them. This can be a difficult and unnerving realization to come to.

By acknowledging now that your behaviors might be questionable and taking responsibility for them, you’re a step ahead in beginning to correct them.

Is Change Possible?

The simple answer is “Yes,” but they have to want to change and be willing to put in the work to change! (As the joke goes… How many counselors does it take to change a light bulb? Only one, but the light bulb has to want to change!)

According to author Lundy Bancroft, the following are some changes that could indicate you’re making progress in your recovery:

  • Admitting fully to what you have done
  • Stopping excuses and blaming
  • Making amends
  • Accepting responsibility and recognizing that abuse is a choice
  • Identifying patterns of controlling behavior used
  • Identifying the attitudes that drive abuse
  • Accepting that overcoming abusiveness is a decades-long process and not declaring yourself “cured”
  • Not demanding credit for improvements you’ve made
  • Not treating improvements as vouchers to be spent on occasional acts of abuse (ex. “I haven’t done anything like this in a long time, so it’s not a big deal)
  • Developing respectful, kind, supportive behaviors
  • Carrying your weight and sharing power
  • Changing how you respond to their partner’s (or former partner’s) anger and grievances
  • Changing how you act in heated conflicts
  • Accepting the consequences of actions (including not feeling sorry for yourself about the consequences, and not blaming your partner or children for them)

As Bancroft notes, truly overcoming abusiveness can be an ongoing, often lifelong process — but change is possible. Acknowledging that your behaviors might be unhealthy or abusive is a great first step in beginning to change. It’s never too late to seek help.

How do I get help to stop abusing?

Most experts agree that a Batterer Intervention and Prevention Program (BIPP) is the only truly effective approach to stopping abusive behavior.  A BIPP is different than other counseling and intervention programs in that it is based on complete accountability, victim safety and education about the behaviors that likely brought participants there in the first place. 

BIPP is based on the idea that domestic violence treatment is not anger management, couples counseling, individual psychotherapy, family therapy, pastoral counseling or any other intervention.  These modalities are not a substitute for specialized domestic violence treatment and have been known to exacerbate the risk to the victim.

These programs teach all about abuse: the range of coercive or abusive behaviors, common abusive tactics and the effects that abuse has on partners and families. Participants learn about healthy relationships and non-violent behaviors. BIPPs also challenge pre-existing beliefs that abusive partners might have, such as entitlement/ownership and gender roles.

The program should be structured around a clear understanding that abusive behavior is chosen, and that while substance abuse or mental health issues can occur simultaneously, they should be addressed through separate services. Violence is treated as the problem, not a “symptom” and abusers are held accountable for their behavior choices.  The abuser alone is responsible for changing their abusive behavior.

People enter into BIPPs for various reasons. Many are required by judges to attend as a condition of probation or as part of a sentence. Others enroll to try to save a relationship and keep their partner from leaving. The best reason for joining a BIPP is a genuine desire to change.

As a result of attending this type of program, the abusive partner would ideally learn how to:

  • effectively communicate with their partner instead of being emotionally, verbally, or physically abusive
  • support their partner’s decisions even if they disagree
  • encourage their partner to spend time with friends and family
  • build trust and empathy within the relationship
  • refrain from using coercive actions to control and intimidate their partner
  • identify ongoing harmful behavior
  • behave respectfully toward their partner