Abusive Behavior and Change

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Know Your Rights - Abusive Behavior and Change


Serina* has been going out with John* for six years since they were in college. Having a quiet disposition, Serina always let John make the decisions in their relationship, from which film to watch to recently when they were thinking of purchasing a house together. John has always been protective and possessive of Serina's attention. Initially, Serina thought it to be a sign of his commitment. However, it has escalated to an extent where she was not allowed to spend time with her friends without him around, and he would question every male friend she has. He became suspicious of her male colleagues and they have been having more and more arguments because of his excessive jealousy. Not only that, John checks her mobilephone at the end of the day to see the phonecalls and SMSes she has made or received. Sometimes, John became so violently angry that he punched and hit her. However, after every violent incident, he would cry and apologise about his "bad temper", promising to change. Holding on to his promise, Serina gave him chance after chance.

However, she is beginning to feel more and more suffocated by the relationship. Thinking that things might change if they separated for a while, Serina ventured to discuss this with John. He became aggressively livid and began accusing her of having another man. He would not listen when Serina denied it and in fact started to hurl objects around the room at her. Worried for herown safety, Serina left the place and stayed over with a friend. She started to question the state of her relationship with John. Will he change?


Abusive men batter women to have power and control over their intimate partner in order to manipulate, intimidate and rule over them. Men who abuse their partners come from all races, religions, socioeconomic classes, areas of the world, educational levels and occupations. Although they may appear normal and even charming to outsiders, and even to their partners at first, once a relationship is established, they become more and more abusive.

Although there is no guarantee that men who abuse can change, it is possible for them to learn to change how they act, and more positive ways of relating to women. Men who abuse must want to change. If a man really wants to stop the violence against his partner, he must take responsibility for his action. He must stop blaming his partner, alcohol, stress, drug or anything else for provoking him to be violent. Men can also seek counselling and agree to attend several sessions.

While a boyfriend or husband may apologise for his actions and vow to change, this can be another phase in manipulating the wife or girlfriend to stay. Consider the following questions before deciding if he has changed or is changing:

Some signs that he is changing:

  • Has he completely stopped saying and doing things that frighten you?
  • Can you express your anger toward him without being punished for it?
  • Can he argue without being abusive or domineering?
  • Does it feel safe to bring up topics that you know upset him?
  • Can he listen to your opinion and respect it even when he disagrees?
  • Does he respect your wishes about sex and physical contact?
  • Has he stopped expecting you to do things for him?
  • Can you spend time with your friends without being afraid that he will retaliate?
  • Can you do other things that are important to you, such as go to school or get a job?
  • Are you comfortable with the way he interacts with the children, if you have any?
  • Do you feel safe leaving them alone with him?
  • Is he being supportive and does he give compliments? Does he listen to what you have to say?
  • Does he do his share of housework and childcare?

If the answers to most of the above are positive, then chances are, the abuser really wants to change and is making a difference.

Some signs that he is NOT changing:

  • If he is receiving counselling or treatment, does he use it against you in anyway? Does he tell you that he is not as bad as the other abusers there?
  • Does he tell you that you are abusive?
  • Does he tell you that you owe him another chance?
  • Does he say that he can't change without your support?
  • Does he try to get you or the children to feel sorry for him?
  • Does he instil fear in the children about the future, or finances, or where they'll live etc?
  • Do you have to keep after him to attend his counselling sessions?
  • Is he making his abuse sound like a lot less than it really is when he talks about it?
  • Is he pressuring you to drop any protection order you may have against him?

If the answers to most of them are yes, then he is not changing his abusive behaviour.

Although everyone wants to have a healthy and long-lasting relationship, not all relationships are that way. To help build a healthy relationship, consider:

  • Respect
    This means acting in ways that show you value your partner. You listen to his or her ideas even when they are different from yours and you treat your partner as an equal. This also means not forcing your partner to act in ways that are contrary to their wishes.
  • Understanding
    Being understanding means that you think about your partner's feelings and that you care about how your behaviour might affect him or her, and your relationship.
  • Responsibility
    This means that your partner can count on you. You take care not to harm your partner by, in example, taking risks that could lead to sexually transmitted diseases. 
    To get more information, call a woman's organisation or your nearest Welfare Office.

*Names changed to protect WAO's client's confidentiality.

Prepared by Jaclyn Kee
Women's Aid Organisation - 20 Years of Service to Women and Children

Fortnightly Column by WAO on Sunday Mail (Reprinted with permission from Sunday Mail)