Will He Change?
Hoping He’ll Change is Normal
If you’ve recently realized you’re married to a covert abuser, the question of whether your husband will change is huge– so huge it likely consumes most of your waking thoughts.
I remember the months and years of hoping my ex would change. Any little glimmer of change would make my heart soar. But it was always followed by that despair and dread when he showed his true colors again.
I had thought that, as husband and wife, our commitment and love could get us through anything that threatened our marriage. I never imagined that the biggest threat was my husband, and I’d be left alone to get through this by myself.
I cried for months and was overwhelmed by betrayal, loss, and grief as my life became an unrecognizable nightmare. I couldn’t believe this was happening to me.
To face the fact your husband won’t change is a devastatingly painful betrayal. As I write this article my heart weeps for you. But the truth must be faced if we want to move forward and heal.
Here’s the fact we have to take seriously: statistically only about 2% of abusers change. (Lundy Bancroft)
It’s totally normal to spend a season seeing if your husband will change before making decisions about your marriage’s future. You’ve given your all to the marriage for as long as you’ve been married, and that’s a hard thing to stop doing.
Take as long as you need. You can make good decisions for yourself.
Why MOST Abusers Don’t Change
Abusers feel entitled to act as they do because it gets them what they want. Remember that if your abuser is like most abusers, he doesn’t have empathy and isn’t like you inside.
If you haven’t read Why Does He Abuse Me? please do– it’s crucial information. When you understand who he is and why he does what he does, you can get free from the lie that there was something YOU were doing to cause him to act that way.
You’ll also get free from the hamster wheel of trying to figure out what you can do to change him. This hamster wheel will go around and around until you get off because there is nothing YOU can do to make him change.
What Does Real Change Look Like?
If you’re a woman of faith, you’ve probably been taught a lie about what change looks like. The church tends to accept one “I’m sorry” as proof of change and be done with it. That’s nothing close to real change.
True change is not just promises of change or small changes in behavior. True change is a transformation of personality and character.
I’ve seen it once and here’s what it looks like:
A close friend’s husband had been very controlling and verbally abusive to their children for decades. He’d never been abusive to her, but he ignored her pleas to stop for years. One day she had enough, moved out, and told him that if he didn’t change she was done.
Initially he was defensive and mad. But the fact that his wife had left him woke him up, so he genuinely sought the Lord and faced who he was. In a few days, he was on the floor crying before the Lord, and that went on for months. He lost 30 lbs in a month from throwing up every day over utter disgust at what a wretched, selfish man he was.
He told everyone in their lives that they were separated because of what he'd done. He took full responsibility and didn’t say one word against her. He made sure that her friends supported her rather than turning them against her.
He said that her moving out was the best thing that had ever happened to him because it forced him to change.
He respected EVERY boundary she set and bent over backwards to make things work FOR HER so she could feel safe. He offered to move out of the house so she could live there safely.
He never demanded to talk to her- he let her decide when she would talk to him. He never acted entitled to her forgiveness or her presence. In fact, he was grateful that she didn’t just divorce him because he felt that he deserved it.
He stopped doing the talking and started listening to his wife.
She let him have with both barrels and poured out her pain and rage for months. He listened and owned everything he did. He never blame-shifted, got mad, or justified what he had done. Instead he’d end up on the floor sobbing in shame and guilt.
He was truly and utterly broken. He made no promises of change, nor did he tell her what she wanted to hear. He did say he was sorry and that he couldn't believe how selfish he was, but never in a manipulative way, and never watching for her reaction.
He asked God to change him and God answered. Their marriage is restored and he is a humble, safe, kind, softhearted man. And yes, my friend is an incredibly lucky woman to have had this outcome, and she knows it!
This story is rare
It’s really important to understand this: My friend’s husband is not character disturbed. He’s not a narcissist. He never used covert abuse tactics. He’s one of the rare abusers who needed insight to see who he was. He was raised by a character disturbed father who was cruel and abusive, and he became what he knew. But he honestly faced who he was and made no excuses.
He’s capable of true, sacrificial love and genuinely loves his wife and family so much that he was willing to face the pain of his childhood and change.
So Let’s Look At The Signs Of True Change:
A man who is truly changing:
~ Respects your boundaries
~ Puts your needs first- truly sacrificial
~ Fully admits to his abuse, selfishness and attitude of entitlement
~ Tells others the truth about his behavior- no blame shifting
~ Listens to your feelings and thoughts without dismissing them or justifying his behavior
~ Faces exactly how he hurt you without playing the victim
~ Is caring toward you in your pain
~ Is humble, broken, and knows he doesn’t deserve you or the marriage
~ Doesn’t pressure you to reconcile, forgive him, or behave in any certain way
~ Doesn’t ask you what he needs to change– he knows what he needs to change or is willing to seek help elsewhere
~ Demands nothing from you or of you.
There’s an excellent video about true repentance at the bottom of this post.
While You Are Watching To See If He’ll Change, Here Are Some Strategies To Help You.
Learn all you can
Spend this time learning about covert abusers. I recommend some great books here. Get support from others who know what you are going through so you can run things by them to get a knowledgeable perspective.
Set a goal to understand what’s really going on in your marriage
Study the tactics and observe what your husband is doing so you can educate yourself about his manipulation.
Pay attention to his actions and tactics rather than his words
It’s important to start seeing his promises to change, his playing the victim, and his “need for help” as part of the manipulation.
Don’t confuse promises to change with real change
Remember that you’ve believed his promises before and they’ve never led to real change, so take this season as a time to gain wisdom and to learn to see clearly.
Compare his behavior with the signs of true change listed above.
Prepare for re-grooming/hoovering
When abusers realize that their targets are beginning to understand what’s going on, they often start the re-grooming/hoovering process. They do this to gain your trust.
Be prepared that he’ll start being sweet and sensitive to try to draw you back in, and to get you to believe that he’s changing. His loving and sweet behavior is incredibly captivating and it’s tempting to believe that, finally, your dream has come true, he understands what he’s doing wrong, he wants to change, and that he really loves you.
Try to remember that it’s a re-grooming tactic. How many times have you been through this cycle before? Where it has led to in the past?
If you fall for it again (and again), there’s no shame. We’re here to support you- we’ve been there and we get it!
Look at how you’ve been affected by the abuse
Face the truth about what goes on inside of you, how you’ve been brainwashed to see the relationship through his narrative, and your tendency to believe in false hope. Journal as much as you can. Remember that none of this is your fault and that we’ve all been through this.
Learn about boundaries
Begin to learn about setting boundaries. Boundaries are a great way to test the waters to see if he’ll respect you and change.
You may want to set a protective boundary for yourself that you’ll stop sharing your heart and feelings with him, or if you do, you’ll pay attention to how he uses them against you.
There’s an excellent video about boundaries at the bottom of this post.
Take the time you need
If you think he’s changing, determining if the change is real takes a long time. Protect your heart and be cautious. Test the waters continually by being honest about how he has hurt you to see if he can handle your anger.
Use this time to begin to rediscover yourself, get strong, live as your own person, and see what happens. Be who you really are and see if he will accept you. If you aren’t safe to be real, is the relationship worthwhile?
As painful as it is to face whether your husband will change or not, you’ll get strength and healing from the truth,
and only continued confusion and emptiness from living in a lie.
Boundary video (faith resource)
(start at 15 mins)
True repentance video (faith resource)
What have you learned about real change?
Feel free to share below or in our private Facebook support community for women of faith.