January 9, 2000
Dear Dr. Irene,
Thank you so much for your site!! The article about "Protecting
the Children" was especially important to me this week.
Briefly, here is my story:
Nine years ago I left my emotionally and verbally abusive husband when my
son was almost 2. I worked very hard to boost my self-esteem and go
from victim to survivor. I graduated from dental school with a 4.0
while working part time at the shelter and trying to be a great mom.
I tried to build a loving home for my son to grow up in, and I was sure I
would never allow an abuser in our life again.
Three years ago I met a "wonderful and caring" man. He worked
with people in the helping professions, and he seemed to know what it takes
to make a relationship work. After about a month, things
started to slowly change.
The relationship was full of turmoil and
great times. He let me know that the bad things that happened were
my fault or my son's fault. Of course I believed they must be my
fault since he was such a "great guy". He exhibited every
behavior in Evan's book as well as financial and sexual abuse. For
the most part I was able to keep my son out of the direct line of fire,
but he was obviously still greatly affected (he and I have talked about
his feelings about this a lot - he is a wonderful healthy child!)
I was so devastated and confused I couldn't get my bearings. The
memories are still so painful, it is hard to remember them without
crying!! About 1 year ago I hit my limit. I left, started
counseling and got my perspective back (for the most part). He came
back with promises of change, and I have slowly let him back into our lives
(big mistake!). I no longer react the same way, and so he has been
The major outbursts of yelling, name calling and 1 episode of physical
abuse have occurred every 3 months for the past year. The next is due
in February, and I don't want to go through that again. However,
over the past 2 months he has been much better with words and actions, but
I am still cautious.
Is it possible that this change is permanent or real? He hasn't gone
through counseling and I still see brief glimpses of of his lies and need
to control. He is so smooth, I am concerned that he is just
adjusting his abuse to be more covert and less frequent because he knows I
have figured him out. My gut says it's not worth taking the chance
with him. What is your experience with an abuser's ability to change
when he won't label his "bad" behavior as abusive and hasn't
received professional help? Your advise/input would be greatly
I have also joined the "Ouchhh" support group and have found
lots of support and caring. Thanks again for all you are doing to
help victims become survivors!! Shannon
It is likely that the
changes in his behavior are a function of the changes in your
behavior: he can't get away with some of the old stuff anymore - since you
set limits and won't put up with it. Good for
Unfortunately, this essentially means you can never really let
up, trust him, and enjoy a partnership. He is likely to remain
"good" as long as you remain on guard. That's a tough job for
you, especially since abused people tend to want to trust very,
Abusive thinking and the behavior
that goes with it is not so easily remedied. It's elimination is not an
act of will, though self-control is a
mainstay of anger management and is a necessary step in the right
direction. But that's just the tip of the ice-berg. Recovery
requires a change in your husband's underlying
thinking patterns; in his overall philosophy of life and distortion of reality. That's hard stuff: not the
act of being benign as much as "getting" what it is he has to
do. (The way he lives life now is really, really hard!)
Your three-month cycle? It
is 99.99% inevitable from how I read your letter. You may have slowed it
down with your caution, although your husband seems to get into abuse very
quickly - judging by your solitary one-wonderful-month together in the
beginning. But, you don't need to go through the abuse phase again. You
know the warning signs. When you see the storm clouds approaching, have
him leave. This is not the time to listen to pleas, explanations, and
promises. Listen to your inner voice of knowing.
Insist he get treatment,
and remain in it, no "if"s, "and"s or "but"s.
My very best wishes, and
thanks for the kind words, Dr. Irene
Dear Dr. Irene,
After your initial response to my question - Is this change in him real? -
I read some more books and spent a lot of time thinking about what I
needed to do. I read Vanzant's book "In the Meantime", and started working on
"cleaning house". It helped me to focus on what's best for
me and put aside the fears, anger and blaming. Once I did that, I
could clearly see it was best for me to leave.
My partner agreed, on our 4th anniversary, that it would be best to split.
We had a long talk about our feelings and the relationship. During the
conversation he admitted to being abusive in the past, and it was because
he was so afraid of commitment (I don't believe this is why). He
didn't want to go talk to someone because that is part of "white
culture" (more excuses). Then he said he could have any woman
he wanted, and I told him not to say things like that to me. He back
peddled and said he meant that he could have anyone, but doesn't want
anyone but me.
After our talk I felt very uneasy, so I picked up Evan's book "Survivors of Verbal Abuse Speak Out". I
went right to the section about abuser's recovery. It confirmed in
my mind that an abuser who has fully admitted he/she has a problem will
seek out information and help. It becomes a high priority. YES!
I began to see my ex-partner's patterns even in our separation. The
very covert abuse and unwillingness to take full responsibility for his
I feel a great weight lifted since our separation, as well as sadness and
grief over the lost hopes. I know I made the right decision and
wanted to thank you again for all your help!!
p.s. I love the cats!!
Shannon. Dr. Irene