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Can Abusers Really Change In A Way That Lasts?

by Louise
(USA)



Hello, my name is Louise. I have been married for 22 years. My husband has a very low frustration tolerance in general. Traffic, lines, when his sports team doesn't play well, hunger, and many other things can illicit explosive rage outbursts from him.

We have 3 teens who have witnessed their dad's anger on a regular basis. I have seen my husband scream and yell at all of us again and again. I have lost so much respect for him as a husband and a father over the last 22 years.

I used to try and make sure he didn't get angry and try and keep the peace as best I could. Other times if I felt he was speaking to me in a very disrespectful manner I would say, “Don't talk to me like that.” His usual reply would be, “I'll talk to you any way I want.” Our children have seen this dynamic over and over their entire lives. I am afraid that our daughters are going to marry verbally and emotionally abusive men, and our son will become a verbal and emotional abuser.

My husband also has a drinking problem. The last 2 years have been extremely difficult and he has been intoxicated around our children many times. I have been very open and honest with our children regarding their father's drinking. I myself go to Alanon and our children who are almost 20, almost 18, and almost 14 are well aware that their father is an alcoholic and I have encouraged Alateen but none of them will go.

I finally hit rock bottom and after a particularly rough outburst from my husband, I filed for divorce. My husband agreed to get intensive couples counseling and address his drinking. He is making changes and making progress. I still see the old behaviors and actions here and there but not nearly as much or severe as before. We have been in counseling since March, and do a 2 hour session each week.

My concern is: can someone truly change abusive behaviors and actions? Although I don't like to label or speak negatively regarding my husband, I have seen an extremely selfish individual who has very poor coping skills. Everything stresses him out and when he gets stressed he starts to lash out and blame others. It is very exhausting and as I mentioned before, I just don't feel the same way for him as I used to and I have been honest about that.

To say that I am worn out and exhausted is an understatement. I feel like I have lost my ability to be joyful and lighthearted. Living with an extremely negative abusive individual has worn me down and I don't view life the way I used to. When I get away from him, I do not miss him and I feel so much happier and less stressed. I really do not like him as a person. I have seen him do and say so many things that have just made me question his moral character and his empathy/kindness toward others. It's him first and everybody else after.


I have asked my husband for a very long time to get anger management therapy. These issues have been with us a very long time. Do you think there is any hope? Can someone truly change and get over these rage/anger issues? Our counselor has made it very clear to my husband that he will not treat us with an active drinking problem because the therapy will not work. My husband is staying within the bounds of this for the most part. My husband has also apologized and said that he realizes how much pain and damage he has caused us. Sometimes I'm not sure that he really does understand it. Our counselor has asked my husband to read a book on empathy. My husband can be very cold and distant.

I still get so very tired of trying to have conversations that should be very calm and easy and because my husband gets so stressed they just don't. I have been a stay at home mom for 20 years and my husband has made numerous remarks about me not working very hard and spending money. He has said things to our children about me as well like, “What does your mother do all day? All she does is sit around and spend my money.” I can assure you that I rarely sit and I have given a 110% to being a stay at home mom. My husband speaks out of both sides of his mouth. He will compliment me and then say something like I stated above.

I feel like he has done so much damage to me, the kids, and our relationship. Sometimes I feel as if I am in a bad dream and cannot get out of it. Mostly I feel exhausted and frightened. I would love to hear your thoughts. Thank you.

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Aug 09, 2016
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Some Answers For You
by: Dr. DeFoore

Hi Louise - Thanks for telling your story and asking your question here. I will try to help.

You express yourself well, and I think I have a very clear understanding of what you're dealing with.

First, I'll answer the question you asked: "Do you think there is any hope? Can someone truly change and get over these rage/anger issues?"

My answer is yes, to both questions. There is always hope, and I have worked with many people like your husband, and have seen that they can indeed heal and get lasting results. However, this (in my experience) only comes with individual, in depth counseling for the person with the anger issues.

The couples counseling you're getting sounds excellent, and I'm glad that your husband is participating and responding well. Your concerns are valid, however. You don't just want immediate results, you want lasting change. You might consider asking your counselor some of the same questions you're asking here.

And I will now answer the question you have not asked...

You are wondering if you can ever love and respect this man, after all of the pain and damage he has caused for all of these years. That's not any easy one to answer. It has to do with how much anger you have built up yourself toward him (which would be totally understandable and unavoidable). Your internal protector probably sees your husband as the single greatest threat to you, emotionally.

Marriages are worth saving, and healing is possible...though not quick or easy after all you've been through. Only you can decide what is right for you.

I hope this helps.

My best to you,

Dr. DeFoore

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