Can I get them to change?
“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?”
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.
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.