Approaching Behavior Change As An Abusive Partner: Evidence of Progress

By Paige H., a Hotline Advocate

This is the second installment in a two-part article on behavior change. Read part one, Approaching Behavior Change As An Abusive Partner: Planning and Goals here.

As a recap, let’s revisit the steps to behavior change:

  1. See that there is a problem.
  2. Identify which behaviors are the problem.
  3. Set goals for behaviors you want to stop and start.
  4. Create a plan for how to reach the goals.
  5. Put in effort to reach the goals.
  6. Review the evidence of change/improvement over time.

After you set your goals, create your plan, and put effort into achieving those goals, it’s time to turn your focus to evaluating any change that has occurred. There are a few ways to document evidence of change over time. You should have already made a list of problem behaviors and a list of healthy replacement behaviors. The more you refer to your lists, the easier it will be to commit these goals to memory. It can be really helpful to keep your lists and tracking sheets somewhere accessible, like posting it on the wall, mirror or fridge where you’ll see it a lot, or by making a three-ring binder to hold your lists, notes and tracking sheets in one place. Create reminders for yourself to document your behavior by setting an alarm on your phone, using sticky notes in places you go frequently (bathroom, fridge, desk, on the TV, etc.), or writing messages on a mirror or window with dry erase marker.

As far as tracking goes, there are a few different ways to do that. One method can be making a copy of your lists and tallying every time you engage in a problem behavior or a healthy behavior. You can even use different colored pens/markers for different months, so you can see your progress over time.

You could use this tally mark data to graph the frequency of your behaviors over time.

Another option is keeping a diary or a log of behavioral incidents with dates and timestamps.

Another way to get a good visual of your progress is to label jars for healthy and unhealthy behaviors. Each time you engage in one of those behaviors, drop a token, coin, marble, bead or other item into the jar. You may start to notice that you’re filling up one jar faster than the other, which can show you a lot about the frequency of your healthy/problematic behaviors.

Lastly, you need to periodically give yourself time to reflect on your progress or lack thereof.  Take time to look over your notes, data, tokens, etc. Look for trends and patterns, such as increases or decreases in good behavior and problem behaviors. Look for plateaus in your data graph, or signs that you are remaining in the same state without getting better or worse. Look to see if you relapsed at all. Take note of the dates you have documented, and the events going on at the time that might have influenced your behavior. Be mindful of holding yourself accountable, and not making excuses or blaming others, when reflecting on the events. If your behavior is staying the same or getting worse after a week or two, that might be a sign to try something else. This could mean revising your action plan or trying to reach the same goal in a different way.

Sometimes it takes a few attempts before we can see a positive change, so it might be a good idea to give yourself at least a week of trying before changing strategies. Of course, if it’s a dangerous situation, you might have to be more immediate with making changes to your action plan, such as living separately immediately if you harm your partner. Remember that if you truly want to change and make your relationship healthier, your action plan has to ensure that your partner is emotionally and physically safe as you work on your behavior.

For example, say your problem behavior is yelling, your behavior goal is talking calmly and respectfully, and your strategy is to leave the room to cool down before beginning the conversation again. The first opportunity arises for you to practice this new behavior, and you leave the room when you start to yell. But after taking a break, you come back to the conversation and still feel like yelling. Even though it didn’t work, you keep practicing this skill the next few times you feel like yelling, to see if it starts to help. After several attempts, you conclude that leaving the room for a few minutes really isn’t helping you stop yelling at your partner. While that might feel discouraging, it’s really okay. That just means it’s time to try something else! Maybe next, you try to have conversations over text so you can have more time to respond and make sure your language is respectful. You could even work with your partner to make a list of communication rules to refer to while you’re having difficult conversations, and keep it with you as you text.

Don’t forget to reward yourself! You may have already planned out some rewards when you put together your action plan. Your periods of evaluation and data analysis are a great time to decide what rewards you’ve earned for your efforts. You could give yourself rewards for good behaviors and rewards for absence of problem behaviors. Think about big rewards you can give yourself for important milestones you reach, such as 1 week without problem behaviors, 1 month, 3 months, 6 months, 9 months, and a year! It’s important to remember that practicing healthy behaviors is a lifelong process, and you will only get better the more you engage in these strategies.

Need more support? Our advocates are available 24/7/365 by phone at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or by online chat at

Please keep in mind that advocates are different from counselors and have a focus on education and safety rather than on treating any emotional, mental, or behavioral issues.  We also can’t give advice or tell people what to do because we respect your right to make choices that work best for you!

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