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If He Doesn't Recognize This As Abuse, Can He Ever Change?

by Tanis

I met my boyfriend over a year ago, and we quickly became good friends and then partners. We are both single parents and our children are very close to each other. Our relationship has been less than perfect, but always respectful and quite loving. We talk through our problems and we have supported each other through tough times.

He has spent most of his adult life in a very emotionally, verbally and physically abusive marriage. I have also experienced abuse in past relationships, to a lesser extent. We're both damaged by our pasts.

Our kids have all experienced losses recently. His children's mother has lost her custodial rights and is no longer allowed contact with any of them due to violence and abuse, and my daughter's father moved away the month before last without telling her. My boyfriend and I are both loving, involved and competent parents... hoping that it's enough to make up for the hurt their other parents cause.

Recently, I found out that I'm four months pregnant. I was on birth control, but it failed and I tend to have very few symptoms of pregnancy in the first trimester. It's an unwanted pregnancy for both of us. It has been only a few weeks since we've known and since I told him, he has become extremely angry.

He immediately broke up with me, said he wants nothing to do with me. He texts me every day since, and he insults me, swears at me, says horrible, demeaning and cruel things. I get very angry and respond by belittling and mocking him. We live next door to each other and our children still play together, so we see each other or interact somehow every day.

He doesn't recognize what's happening as abuse. I have stated several times that I will not listen to him or communicate if he talks to me the way he is, he just tells me that I'm a drama queen, or exaggerating, or completely wrong. He expresses confusion and hurt that I won't talk to him, as I often ignore his attempts at communication.

If I do communicate with him, it always sinks to angry name-calling. He thinks I should just "get over it" and try to get along. I think his version of "getting along" is submitting to and accepting his insults.

I don't accept or condone how we're treating each other. I think I understand it, because I think that in a period of stress he's reverting back to familiar patterns from his past, and I'm reacting to past memories of similar abuse. In any other situation I would immediately end the relationship and cut off all contact. But I'm pregnant with his child and I will always have to have some form of a relationship with him.

What do I do? Do I just leave and cut off contact between him and his child? Do I stay involved and, if I stay, how can I stop the pattern of abuse that's developing between us? And how do I protect all five of our children from our dysfunction? His children, my child and our child that's coming all deserve better, more secure lives than we've managed to give them so far.

Response from Dr. DeFoore

Hello Tanis, and thanks for telling your story here. I'm glad you're making every effort to stay away from the verbal abuse by your boyfriend. I also hear clearly that you are not pleased with your own behavior towards him. I will try to help.

First, I suggest that you address your own anger issues, using the tools described on this FAQ page. If some of that does not seem to apply to you, just focus on the exercises that do seem to ring true.

Your situation is very challenging, to say the least. In terms of priorities, I suggest that you come to terms with your pregnancy, and begin welcoming this new child into your life and into the world. The fact that it was an unwanted pregnancy does not need to create a life of feeling unwanted for the child.

Regarding your ongoing relationship with the child's father, I suggest that you set some kind of internal criteria for deciding whether to stay in the relationship or cut yourself off completely. You may or may not share this with your boyfriend (I realize that title may no longer apply), but do it for yourself.

You absolutely have to take care of yourself, for your own sake and for the sake of your children. As you communicate with your boyfriend, regardless of what he says or how he responds, continue to repeat to him, in words and actions, that you will not be in his presence of communicate with him in any way if he is disrespectful to you. For that to work at all, you have to be respectful to him as well.

Finally, Tanis, I suggest that you begin using the power of your positive intention to improve your situation. You understandably have a negative view of your future at this point, but it doesn't have to be that way. Decide what you want, regarding your child, your children, and your relationship with your boyfriend. Make your desired vision as attainable as possible, but make sure it is truly something you want.

Regarding the question in your title, "Can he ever change?" that is entirely up to him. He can, if he decides he wants to, and works on it.

Then focus on that desired outcome on a daily basis, and say to yourself, "That's where I'm going. That is what I want. I will have healthy, happy relationships with my children and significant other." The positive journaling exercises in the link above will help with that.

You can do this, Tanis. I can tell you're an intelligent woman, and a good person.

Believe in yourself, and the goodness in your heart.

My very best to you,

Dr. DeFoore

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