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is it possible for an abusive husband to change?

(28 Posts)
happykay Sun 27-Oct-13 13:02:36

My husband has been periodically verbally / emotionally abusive for a year and a half (we've been married for 13). Money problems - I am the main breadwinner, he emasculated, spent more than he earned, debt stress. Being abusive made him feel manly, it completely threw me so I gave him money (him refusing to tell me where it went). I had anxiety/depression issues (work and him) and couldn't deal with the anger, insults and aggression (he didn't hit me, but it felt close a few times - police involved once).
I have hung on because there were calm patches between, and if we separate it would split up our 2 DCs. Eldest is his (my stepchild) and would live with dad only. I'd go from 2 kids to one shared kid, and both kids losing their family and family home.
So, instead, I have sought mental health help for me (helped me label it as abuse), and for the last few months, I have tried to reassert myself.
I now bite back on every single insult/abuse, and I send very clear texts of what I think of his behaviour (he always twisted my words if I tried to speak to him). I try and do it firmly and reiterate that I love him.
My approach is to treat him like a tantruming spoilt toddler, and put in clear boundaries. I think the frequency of abuse is diminishing (although the level of occasional anger/aggression is still foul).
Am I kidding myself that I can retrain him like a spoilt toddler? Is abusive behaviour like alcoholism (once there always there)? I am aware that my personality means I will keep trying to fix a problem, rather than give up on it. I am aware also that abused women lose objectivity. Objectivity please! Can he be retrained or should I accept break up of my family?

scarevola Sun 27-Oct-13 13:11:32

I think you may well be approaching the end of the marriage.

Yes, I ink people can change, but they have to want to and they have to do the work. Tight now, it sounds as if you've put far more into e family than he has. Unless that changes, nothing will.

It's not up to you to "retrain" him. It's up to both of you to put things right, and if he isn't going to do his part, then it is hard to see a positive future. Now, it seems he was able to change (for the worse) 3 or so years ago. Is isn't about ability to change, it's about willingness. And your post doesn't show any of that from him.

Minnieisthedevilmouse Sun 27-Oct-13 13:14:04

All things are possible. The question is actually is it LIKELY they will change?

I'd guess no

DownstairsMixUp Sun 27-Oct-13 13:17:15

People can change but only if they want to. I know that sounds obvious but it's true. You can't ask him to he will need to want to himself if you understand what I am saying. That's my take on it but there are others that believe abusers can never change, I'm sure you will get some fantastic advice on here though.

sapfu Sun 27-Oct-13 13:19:40

In all honesty I think the only way you can change him is make him an abusive ex-husband, instead of an abusive husband. Which I think would be better for you.

You can't fix him, it's not worth anything if he can't fix himself. Don't treat him like a toddler, he's an adult.

If he wants to stop and look at his behaviour, that's entirely up to him. Don't waste energy trying.

If that means splitting temporarily or permanently, so be it. I don't think you'll get anywhere until he addresses his behaviour and decides to change. I think there's a chance this could happen though. But it could take an ultimatum that you carry out, in order to get there.

Twinklestein Sun 27-Oct-13 13:29:20

Am I kidding myself that I can retrain him like a spoilt toddler

You are kidding yourself that you can retrain him. He is the only one who can retrain himself. And he's got to want to. Very much. And stick at it. For the rest of his life.

Like the addictions you mention, abusive behaviour will always be there in the background, but, unlike addictions, abusive behaviour does not disadvantage the abuser. (Unless of course you bugger off, but even then he may not be honest with himself about your reasons for going).

Does he want to change?

EricLovesAnyFucker Sun 27-Oct-13 13:34:10

You can't retrain him. Absolutely not. He's not a toddler, he's an adult who is choosing to abuse you, so treating him like a toddler is completely inappropriate. Additionally, it's a dreadful dynamic for a marriage.

Abusive people rarely change, and if they do, it's because they recognise their behaviour, feel genuine remorse and put the work in with a therapist. Not because their spouse put them on the naughty step every time they abuse.

AttilaTheMeerkat Sun 27-Oct-13 13:40:42


re your comment:-

"My approach is to treat him like a tantruming spoilt toddler, and put in clear boundaries. I think the frequency of abuse is diminishing (although the level of occasional anger/aggression is still foul)".

"Am I kidding myself that I can retrain him like a spoilt toddler"
In a word, yes.

What do you get out of this relationship now?.

The above will simply not work and he is an adult, not a spoilt toddler. He has to want to help his own self, you cannot influence any part of that process. He also does this because he can, you're there.

Abusers as well do nice/nasty very well but its a continuous cycle. This is about power and control.

This is no legacy to leave the children; they are learning about dysfunctional relationships from the two of you. What are you both teaching them about relationships here?. Would you want them to replicate the same crap as adults?. There is nothing to rescue and or save here with regards to him, you can only help your own self and your only realistic option going forward is to leave your H.

thecatfromjapan Sun 27-Oct-13 13:45:08

Hello HappyKay.

I think we may have some similarities. I ended up seeing a psychiatrist for "my mental health". He, too, named "my" problem as being, in large part, my abusive husband.

One thing the psychiatrist did for me was explaining to me that I could not control the situation. Bless him, he spent some time trying to get me to see that I couldn't change my husband (and thus make our marriage lovely) - that was beyond my control.

I'm still assimilating this truth. I truly believe it takes time to really absorb and accept this. Even if you know it, rationally, it somehow takes time to accept it emotionally, absorb it into your self, and then act on it. It certainly seems to be taking me forever ...

I think the problem is that, if you are a reasonably kind and rational person, you cannot understand why anyone would act in such an irrational and destructive manner in the most important, valuable and intimate areas of life.


I honestly don't think he's going to change. But I think that the truth of this is a journey, rather than a "thing" that you have to walk, yourself.

Much love to you - and all the best. flowers

AndTheBandPlayedForAnyFucker Sun 27-Oct-13 13:52:13

A highly recommended book may help you:Why Does He Do That? By Lundy Bancroft.

He makes a choice how to behave. He could just as easily choose to be nice. That he does not may be all you need to know.

Imho, the more you put up with, the worse it will get. You said the police have already been involved. Do you know what your boundary is on how much of this you are going to tolerate? Or does the goal post, so to speak, keep moving (ie you are being conditioned, even conditioning yourself for the sake of the dc, to put up with it)?

Your relationship may have just run its course. Breaking up does not necessarily mean a failure. It is a mature, adult awareness of the reality of the circumstances. Perhaps it is simply time to move on...except you have more concrete reasons to do so, than just drifting apart. He is not just on a different page...he is onto a different book altoghther.

The emasculated line is bull crap, btw. He is more or less (extorting?) manipulating you. Stop paying him off. It is not your fault you earn more.

Good luck and sorry you are going through this.

thecatfromjapan Sun 27-Oct-13 13:53:36

By the way, I also think that half the problem is that, outside of mn, the world is very much structured in a way that actually doesn't tell abusive men that what they are doing is wrong.

So when you are trying - from within the relationship (which is already structured in an unequal power relationship) - to argue (to your husband) that his behaviour is wrong ... you are already fighting not just this unequally positioned partner, but a man who has the implicit backing of society. Either society's silence, which implicitly colludes with gendered inequality, or actual discourses (often embodied by unhelpful people, such as unwittingly (or wittingly) sexist family and friends) who belittle and dismiss your arguments that he is being abusive ....

All this powerfully argues that your, rather small, attempts to "change" him are going to end in failure.

You are trying to change him in a rather unhelpful context.

It sucks.

thecatfromjapan Sun 27-Oct-13 13:55:48

So agree with that last post.

Seriously, if you were earning less he would be calling you a leech, or lazy, or a bloodsucker, or whatever.

The abuse is the constant, it's just the words that change ....

WideScreenViper Sun 27-Oct-13 13:57:56

Ok. Supposing he respected your boundaries and the verbal abuse and emotional manipulation stopped. There was a "calm patch" that lasted for years. Would you go back to completely trusting him ? Believe he's got your back in any rough patch? Or do you always have to be a little bit guarded, never completely lose control of the game, be seriously ill or needy?

He has you dancing to his tune whether he is abusive or not, because you cannot resist trying to fix emotional problems. Who does that for you? Do you want to spend the rest of your life with this drama? Do the kids?

TerrorTremor Sun 27-Oct-13 14:04:57

It tends to be a deep routed personality trait. Like arrogance and patronising behaviours. You can't just turn these things off. So in that front, I can't see it being likely.

Someone who is abusive is aware they are being such and gets off on making others feel bad. They are not going to all of a sudden stop enjoying putting others down, so on that front I can't see it happening.

If there is a reason behind it such as abuse that happened to themselves, I think there is a possibility of change but only if that person really, really wants it. Not because they are going to be alone, but because they can't stand being an abusive idiot anymore.

So in summary for the most part, no.

happykay Sun 27-Oct-13 14:23:29

thank you - particularly thecatfromjapan for sharing experience of same issues (I do feel so isolated). Of course I was hoping for "yes of course he can change". Instead I hear - unlikely unless he really wants to, and even then hard to trust him.
There are glimmers of him wanting to change. Increased religious activity, and last night (after a screaming verbal attack with physical anger against my possessions the day before) an apology for "everything". He doesn't do apologies - three times in 13 years - so I am thinking maybe he wants to change. I think it's the confusion of anger/apology that made me post.
I do hear you all - thank you. I can't trust myself to give an ultimatum - as I might not follow through, which would be worse than no ultimatum. I think i must sort out an internal ultimatum. first I have to get my head round it - thecatfromjapan you are right it takes time to overcome bemusement at how someone can act this way. not there yet. still hoping he the nice guy I married having a forgivable bad patch. So hard to accept that the nice guy has disappeared for good.

AndTheBandPlayedForAnyFucker Sun 27-Oct-13 14:29:25

..he is onto a different book altogether...[sorry to quote my own post thlblush but a development]

It may be that he has already emotionally checked out of your relationship. And the emasculated line comes back too: he doesn't have the balls to end it, so he will push you until you do the dirty work and be the bad guy (and what mileage he will get from that crying down to anyone who will listen the dc.) More manipulation, happykay.

It appears you can pay him to stay, but you can not pay him to be a child's allowance (or a doggie treat for good behavior). That would be degrading behavior on your part and also not a sustainable solution. I agree with the above posters in that you can not/should not believe or attempt to make him fit your template for the person he was or who you think he should be. He changed. It is up to him to change again.

AttilaTheMeerkat Sun 27-Oct-13 14:30:51

"There are glimmers of him wanting to change. Increased religious activity, and last night (after a screaming verbal attack with physical anger against my possessions the day before) an apology for "everything". He doesn't do apologies - three times in 13 years - so I am thinking maybe he wants to change"

Why do you think that maybe he wants to change?. You also need to look at why you think that and reign in those innate fixing tendencies you have. Why is there such a need within you?. They were learnt from somewhere, most likely your own childhood.

None of the above to me are actual indicators to change.

Also he is not above using violence against your possessions; yet another red flag in a sea of many. Presumably too, the children heard all his shouting if they happened to be at home, is this really what they need or deserve in their young lives?.

WideScreenViper Sun 27-Oct-13 14:47:04

A lot of insightful advice above from other posters. I did not mean to come over so blunt, hope you can see where I was coming from. I have, unfortunately, a lot of experience both personal and second hand in this and am just worried for your safety, particularly as there is physical threats and police have been involved. Please don't feel isolated as many have had to walk this sucky journey, as PP put it.

It is good you have mental health support and hope you also have family or friends inRL to help. Have you spoken to Women's Aid? Baby steps. You've had the insight that the ultimatum is with yourself. Make a plan to implement when he I instigates a " final straw" moment and stick to it ( provided you have no current fear of physical attack). Women's Aid can help with this. You can't fix his broken but you can fix yours.

happykay Sun 27-Oct-13 14:49:22

PS No-one has addressed my main reason for trying to hang on - the separation of my children (and separation of me from my stepson) if I pull the plug. How do I weigh that up?

WideScreenViper Sun 27-Oct-13 15:04:24

That is indeed the tough question and the main reason many accept abuse( along with financial freedom, but not a problem for you).

But just think about that phrase, "accept abuse". Does it not stick in your throat? Does it not seem that it should NOT be accepted, in any circumstances? How old are the kids? How adaptable? Is it worth living a prison sentence till they grow up? When they grow up will they understand, and wish you'd had a happy life sooner? Or will they see your relationship as normal and feel devastated and not understand?

Not one of the people I know are pleased they stayed for the kids. They regret lost years, and wish they had found financial freedom/ self esteem/ knowledge/ help/courage much sooner.

whatdoesittake48 Sun 27-Oct-13 15:04:33

You are lucky in that this is quite new behaviour. You know that he is capable of being a good man. My husband had thus far, changed. The process was this:I put boundaries in place, after continued outbursts I made it clear I had had enough and would leave, books were read and courses taken, a few more outbursts but less frequent, eventually just normal arguing. It took about a year for me to trust him again. You both need to be committed, especially him.

thecatfromjapan Sun 27-Oct-13 15:04:40

sad happykay.

The children ...

You see, that is why so many of us stay. We're not idiots. We're normal, sentient human beings, who are being eroded, inch by inch, and are having our boundaries of what is acceptable moved, little by little. But, by and large, we understand that, and we resist that. Hence, I think, why so many of us end up with "mental health issues".

The children is what keeps us there. Obviously, it should work for the abuser as well. he should be thinking: "What am I doing to my children? I must stop!"

But he doesn't.

And if you start thinking about the implications of all that, it gets vey awful.

The simple answer - which is also the complex answer - is what other posters have already said: if you leave, you are actually doing your children a favour. The current situation is teaching your children bad things about relationships. However much you think you are protecting them, you aren't. You can't. It's not possible.

As to the situation with your step-child - it is awful. But in a way, all you can do is accept your lack of control there, too. This is not what you chose. You chose, you acted for, you did everything you could, to create a happy home, a safe place for you, the children and, yes, your husband.

Your husband does not want this. What he wants, above anything else, is control of another human being - in this case, you. Though if he really, really cared about you, as you, he wouldn't behave like this.

He really doesn't care enough about the children to stop.

I write all the above feeling as though I am writing to myself. I still am "held hostage" by my desire to give my children what I so much want them to have.

I keep telling myself that it is only me that he is so awful to, and that it just doesn't matter - I can take it. I tell myself that if I can just cope, I can hide everything from the children and give them this happy family and childhood that I am so desperate for them to have.

But I am slowly coming to believe that it is already not there, and that it is wrong to collude with someone so sick that they will use this (very human) love for our children to exert a horrible, cruel pressure on me.

I think, honestly, that you and I need to learn not to be held hostage by our love for the children and our optimism/hope. I think we have to let our dreams/wishes go, here, and make the best of what is.

whatdoesittake48 Sun 27-Oct-13 15:05:49

Sorry...has changed, not had

happykay Sun 27-Oct-13 15:54:10

thank you so much whatdoesittake - for glimmer of hope. since I am not quite ready for ultimatum, it gives me something to hang on to while I wait for myself to gird my loins.

thecatfromjapan - you write what I feel (tears in eyes as I write that). I don't discuss this with family/friends as I know to them only an idiot would stay. We are not idiots. Like you I've been hoping that if it's just aimed at me I can keep normality going. Like you I'm realising that I may need to give up on hope/optimism. ( Yet still I grab on to the hope offered by whatdoesittake! )

happykay Sun 27-Oct-13 15:59:43

whatdoesittake - book suggestions pls - one for him? (that would be good test of any commitment to change)
and yes I know it sounds as though I am still focussed on fixing rather than ending, but it will probably take more time to put my fixing urge on the backburner - and yes childhood issues made me this way - very hard to change!

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