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can abusers change

Is Change Possible In An Abuser?

People change.

That small, two-word sentence is actually a huge, significant statement that carries a lot of weight. We grow up learning about change — the inevitability of it, the uncertainty it can bring. We change — our opinions, personalities, careers, friends and much more.

Some changes feel like they happen overnight. Others are more conscious, and they have to be, like overcoming an addiction or correcting a personality flaw that’s harmful to ourselves or others.

If you’re the one wanting a loved one to change, it can feel impossible — but we hold onto the hope that they will change, because we desperately want them to, because we remember how they were different in the past (and if they changed for the worse, can’t they change for the better?)

Can an abusive partner really change?

While people do have the capacity to change, they need to deeply want to and be committed to all aspects of change in order to begin to do so — and even then, it’s a lot easier said than done.

In discussing why abusers abuse , it’s clear that a lot of the causal factors behind these behaviors are learned attitudes and feelings of entitlement and privilege — which can be extremely difficult to truly change. Because of this, there’s a very low percentage of abusers who truly do change their ways.

One part of changing may involve an abusive partner willingly attending a certified batterer intervention program that focuses on behavior, reflection and accountability. At the Hotline we don’t recommend couples counseling, anger management, substance abuse programs or mental health treatments for abusers to learn about and deal with their abusive patterns (although oftentimes these can helpfully supplement a batterer intervention program).

How can abusers change?

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

  • Admitting fully to what they have done
  • Stopping excuses and blaming
  • Making amends
  • Accepting responsibility and recognizing that abuse is a choice
  • Identifying patterns of controlling behavior they use
  • Identifying the attitudes that drive their abuse
  • Accepting that overcoming abusiveness is a decades-long processnot declaring themselves “cured”
  • Not demanding credit for improvements they’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 their weight and sharing power
  • Changing how they respond to their partner’s (or former partner’s) anger and grievances
  • Changing how they act in heated conflicts
  • Accepting the consequences of their actions (including not feeling sorry for themselves about the consequences, and not blaming their partner or children for them)

Learn more about Lundy Bancroft here and check out some of his helpful books, including “Why Does He Do That? Inside The Minds of Angry and Controlling Men.”


As Bancroft notes, truly overcoming abusiveness can be an ongoing, often lifelong process.

No one deserves abuse, and it’s never too late to seek help. While we hope abusive partners will change, it’s not always realistic to expect that they can and will. Focus on changes you can control to improve your own life, because you deserved to feel loved, happy and safe.

In the words of artist Andy Warhol, “When people are ready to, they change. They never do it before then… You can’t make them change if they don’t want to.”

recommended books

Life After Abuse: Helpful Books to Check Out

Moving on from an abusive relationship can be an incredibly hard process. If you find yourself struggling to cope and heal, consider a trip to a bookstore or the library to pick up one of these books.

1)  After abuse ends, feelings of inadequacy and shame can last. In The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, author Brené Brown explores these difficult emotions and places importance on accepting imperfection and vulnerability. She guides readers through a process of beginning to “engage with the world from a place of worthiness” and learning to love yourself just as you are.

2) Author Pema Chödrön echoes Brown’s advice in her own book, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times. Through an explanation of basic Buddhist beliefs, she instructs readers on how to cope with the difficulty of the past and present. Her text is filled with positive affirmations while she discusses communication, reversing habitual patterns, using pain to cultivate courage, and more.

3) If you’ve recently left a relationship and you have children, their wellbeing will undoubtedly be one of the most important concerns through your own healing process. In When Dad Hurts Mom: Helping Your Children Heal the Wounds of Witnessing Abuse, Lundy Bancroft offers advice for how to talk with your kids about the abuse, help them deal with the separation, and rebuild your life together.

4) Figuring out where to begin again after a relationship ends can leave survivors feeling overwhelmed and hopeless. It’s My Life Now: Starting Over After an Abusive Relationship or Domestic Violence by Meg Kennedy Dugan and Roger R. Hock discusses this complicated and frightening time. The book acts as a manual for rebuilding your life after abuse, by focusing on strategies for recovery, learning how to establish healthy relationships in the future, and more.

5) One of the essential ways to begin coping with abuse is to start to understand the dynamics of the abuse: why it happened, why your abuser didn’t change, and why it wasn’t your fault. In Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men, Lundy Bancroft addresses all of that and more, painting a clear picture to help survivors (or those still in an abusive relationship) understand what they’ve gone through.

6) Even long after abuse, experiencing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can be common. Healing the Trauma of Domestic Violence: A Workbook for Women by Mari McCaig and Edward S. Kubany is full of trauma recovery techniques called ‘cognitive trauma therapy’ to help cope with the aftermath of abuse. The book contains exercises for breaking down negative thoughts, dispelling feelings of helplessness, and beginning a happier, healthier life.

If you’re struggling with abuse or have left an abusive relationship, what books have you read? Which were most helpful?