Can I get them to change?

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“Mostly we get along ok, but when he gets angry he says nasty things about me and pushes me around. I’ve told him I hate him when he acts like that. He apologises, but he keeps on doing it. How can I get him to change?”

A young woman thinking

If your BF or GF keeps on treating you badly, it shows that they aren’t really prepared to change. They probably make excuses for their behaviour or blame you for it, or think ‘it isn’t that bad’.

You can’t make someone else change -  only they can do that.

Unfortunately, most people who have been abused say it gets worse, not better. Only a small number of people who are abusive change their behaviour for good. There are no guarantees that abuse or violence won’t happen again.

Should I tell them I’ve had enough?

If you think that you are not in danger you might consider telling them that you don’t like how they’re treating you, and that you don’t want it to happen again. Maybe you have done this already.

Think carefully about confronting or standing up to an abuser, as they could become angry and aggressive – so only do this if you feel safe to.

Make sure other people are around to help protect you when you talk to them.  See Tips to stay safe.

What if I speak up?

  • They might deny that they have treated you badly.
  • They might get angry with you or threaten you.
  • They might make excuses for their behaviour, like ‘I was drunk’ or ‘I was stressed’.
  • They might tell you that they wouldn’t have abused you if you had done the right thing – the abuse was your fault because you made them so angry.  But remember that you are never responsible for someone else’s abusive behaviour no matter what you do. Abuse is never justified.
  • They might apologise and promise that it will never happen again.

Should I believe them if they promise to change?

When I’d say I was leaving and we had a bit of time apart, he would start beseeching me. He’d come around to where I was, saying “no, everything has changed, I’m going to get help, I’m going to go to anger management”. At the time I said to him “you’ve got things you need to deal with but you need to want to deal with them for yourself, don’t do it for me. If you are not going to do it for you, there is no point”.  He would be like “okay, okay, I agree, I’ll go and do this”. And so I thought “okay, if he is going to take this proactive step to deal with his issues, then I can take a chance on him again”. But then he didn’t actually go ahead and do it.

Read Alison’s story

It is common for someone who is abusive to apologise for their behaviour.  They might genuinely feel bad about how they treated you, or they might just be saying it because they don’t want you to leave. But what often happens is that the abuser behaves better for a while, but then goes back to their old behaviour.

Be suspicious if the person only promises to change when you threaten to leave them. If they haven’t shown you respect so far, how likely is it that they’ll change now?

True love and respect is about behaviour, not just words.

They need to do more than just apologise. They have to…

  • accept that what happened is their fault, and not blame you or make excuses or get defensive
  • see that they’re not going to get the kind of relationship they want by behaving abusively
  • accept that they’ve hurt you and damaged your trust in them
  • listen to what you have to say
  • find out from you what they can do to help you rebuild your trust in them
  • accept that you can express your opinion, see your own friends and family, and make your own choices
  • accept that you might never fully trust them again, and
  • accept it if you tell them to stay away from you, or if you want to end the relationship.

You also have to consider – even if they seem prepared to change, how confident do you feel about trusting them? Do their actions seem genuine?

Most people need help to make changes to their behaviour. They have to change their attitudes and their desire to dominate others. There are services available to help them. See Do you need help?

Look after yourself too

The most important thing you can do is look after yourself. People who are abusive make you spend too much of your time looking after them. Think of things you can do to take care of yourself instead.

Talk to others. This can help you weigh up whether the person is really going to change or not. See How do I tell someone?

Do they need counselling?

Counselling programs are available that help people stop abusive behaviour.

These programs can help some people to stop making excuses for their actions, and to realise that they have to admit what they’ve done and take responsibility for the hurt they have caused. See Services that can help. Just remember, they are not a guarantee. Change can take a long time and lots of hard work.

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3 Responses to “Can I get them to change?”

  1. Three years ago, I reconnected with my ex from five years prior. We were both in the process of leaving unhappy relationships and even in all of that time, I had a mental fixation on my ex that made me decide to revisit the relationship. Somehow, the history of emotional/sexual abuse I suffered by him years ago went out the window and we gave things another go. Exact same stuff. When I would try to talk to him about it, he would immediately become defensive and either: outright deny that he was doing anything wrong, deny that I was feeling bad (wouldn’t I know my own feelings?), say I wasn’t acting like myself as if I was going crazy and imagining things, or accuse me of the very thing I wanted to talk to him about and making himself sound like the victim. Conversations would get no where, so I would take a break and stop contact with him for a few days or week to give him time to cool down. In that time, he would turn his friends against me and post things about me online. He created a fake profile for me where he would make “me” say whatever he wanted me to say, which was usually really lovey-dovey type stuff onto his profile. One of us would relent and start talking again..and things would be great, until he would become very lewd with me again. It never felt good. I felt like a fantasy object that he wanted to own and have completely with no regards to my own will or goals. I can’t even say which chance number he’s on right now, because I have given him so many. We haven’t progressed any further in the relationship in three years and that is because I am too cautious about getting trapped into something I can’t get out of, yet sometimes I think the best route in leaving would be to just totally disappear from him (cruel as it sounds). He has made me so afraid in the past that I was prone to panic attacks. He has stolen items from me (even clipped my hair while I was sleeping) because he feels that having objects of mine gives him some kind of power. I’m tired of feeling anxious and scared over this, yet I don’t want him to hate me.. but no matter what I do, I always become the enemy.

  2. Dear Juli,

    Your story is similar to mine, so I really understood where you were coming from and how you must have felt and are still feeling.

    I had the same fixation with him. I experienced an on again off again relationship with him for a period of 2 years.

    I kept hoping things would improve, that he would see me as something more than just a sexual object and that he would make a commitment to me.

    I was continually lied to, left out of his life, questioned about my loyalty, accused of things I had not done, manipulated and ignored whenever I had a genuine concern.
    That “silent anger” that destorts your sense of self.

    Abusers are masters of manipulation and know exactly how to get what they want at all costs. Rarely taking into account the other persons feelings and turning every situation around so that we feel we are at fault. Even better! We end up apologising to them.

    They usually have dual personalities, that’s why we think we are going crazy. We try and try and try to work out what’s going on but nothing seems to make any sense to us.

    I invested everything into my relationships. A product of being in an abusive environment as a child. My father is an abuser. I learned to please and for go my own needs to make others happy. Just as my mother behaved towards my father.

    I’m here to assure you…they don’t (usually)change. They are disturbed people with serious issues. They place their issues directly onto us, until we can no longer keep our head above the water.

    They don’t love us, they don’t know how to love or how to receive love.

    Take a stand, you don’t need to be friends and it doesn’t matter if you are enemies.

    Love yourself for who you are and find someone who will appreciate you for who you are.

    Best of Luck!

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