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How Can an Abuse Victim Know If/When to Reconcile?

UK_Coventry_Statue-of-Reconcilliation

How can an abuse victim know when it is safe to reconcile with her* seemingly repentant abuser? The average number of times an abuse victim will return to her abuser is 7.  If after she leaves, a victim returns to her abuser 6 times, then leaves again, this implies her abuser wasn’t really repentant, (i.e. ready to make real changes).

There are many reasons an abuse victim might return to her abuser:

  • She fears for her life because he has threatened her

  • She has no income, or place to live once she leaves

  • She may have a low self-esteem, due to the abuse she has experienced

  • She may love and miss her abuser.

This is a time to lean on others. Ecclesiastes 4:12 says:

Though one may be overpowered,
two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

Your local women’s crisis center can help you stay strong when your self-esteem is low, and you feel lonely and scared. They can also help you with safety planning and finding a new place to live, as well as finding a (new) job and getting financial help for you and your children. In addition, your family and your church may be able to help you now. This is not a time to be proud—seek the help of others.

If you are a Christian, you might return because you receive no support from the Christian community. Many Christians look down on divorced people. What can you do if you find yourself in this situation? I encourage you to look for other women in your same circumstances, and most likely, you will find some. Ask your church or your local women’s crisis center to introduce you to other Christian women who have recently left abusers, or to recommend support groups for Christian women. You can also read my book, A Journey through Emotional Abuse: from Bondage to Freedom, where I discuss this at length.

It may be that the above are not the reason a victim returns. It may be that:

The victim believes her abuser has changed, and is no longer abusive.

Very few abusers will make significant changes in their behavior. Yet, it does sometimes happen. So, how can a victim discern whether her abuser has made the changes he needs to make before she returns to him?

Beware of Empty Promises

After you leave your abuser, he will probably try to get you to come back. He will most likely go into the honeymoon phase of the abuse cycle. This phase is also called the “hearts and flowers” stage. He might bring you flowers or other gifts. He will probably tell you he loves you, he is sorry for the abuse, and he will “never do it again.” These aren’t signs he has changed however.

If you are a Christian, he might tell you he has recently accepted Christ. If your husband has recently come to accept Jesus as his Savior and Lord, this will be a big help to him as he makes the difficult changes he will need to make in his life, but it does not mean he will no longer abuse you.

If your abuser is in a honeymoon stage, he has not had a true realization that he has been treating you abusively. Emotional abuse will not disappear overnight. In order to stop this habit, your abuser will have to commit to some serious, difficult work over a long period of time. He will need to realize, remember, and admit to what he has done in the past. He will have to recognize and have empathy for what you have endured. He will need to understand what is causing him to behave this way, and make a serious commitment to ending those behaviors. You will both find this process difficult.

If your abuser truly realizes he has sinned by emotionally abusing you, he will freely confess it to others and renounce his former behavior. In addition, you should notice him seeking help on his own to correct this problem. He might be:

  • reading books about emotional abuse,

  • seeking accountability partners,

  • and/or meeting weekly with a counselor who is trained to deal with abusers.

One thing you should insist on is that he enrolls in a group treatment program for abusers. Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1−800−799−SAFE(7233)   or TTY 1−800−787−3224) for information about programs in your area; many cities have treatment programs for abusers.

Group abuse treatment programs are unlike any other type of counseling he might receive. Your abuser will be assigned to the program for a set period of time depending on how he has treated you in the past. The time period may be at least nine months. The treatment provider will be trained to deal with abusers, and will usually be able to see through lies he may try to tell about his current or past behaviors.

What are the chances for true reconciliation?

Given the circumstances that led you to leave your abuser, chances are slim he will truly change enough to eliminate abuse in your home in the future. However, in some cases, the two of you together can accomplish reconciliation through the Lord, as it says in Luke 1:37:

For nothing is impossible with God.

In her book Keeping the Faith, Marie Fortune writes,

“Reconciliation is possible if he is willing to get help and stop his violent behavior. In this case, once you see real evidence over a long period of time of real change in him, of true repentance, then you may choose to consider reconciliation. Or you may not. You may feel the damage is too deep between you. In this case, you need not feel guilty. But if you and he do seek to come back together, you will need to consider this a new covenant between you in which you are both really clear that no violence, under any circumstance, will be tolerated. In this case, with God’s help, your broken relationship may be healed.”**

Before returning to your abuser, please make sure you are completely at peace with the Lord in the decision. As Philippians 4:7 says:

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

You know your abuser better than anyone. Is he apt to promise things he doesn’t mean? Is he very good at convincing others outside your family he means well, and has changed? Do you believe he has truly completely changed? Also, please make sure you have the counsel of many who understand the dynamics of domestic violence. The best person to judge if he has completely changed will be the group leader of his abuse treatment program. If he and others are still afraid for your safety, please wait for a longer period of time before taking this step.

Keep in mind, if you return to your abuser the courts might be less likely to support you in the future. Even though many victims return to their abusers more than once, then leave again; judges may view your future claims of abuse as suspect if you should ask for a restraining order.

Lets pray.

Lord, I pray you will help victims of abuse discern whether it is wise to return to their abusers. Give them strength please Lord. Amen


* Note: I use “she” to portray the victim, and “he” to portray the abuser. The same principles apply if he is the victim, and she the abuser.

**Fortune, Keeping the Faith, 39.

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This Post Has 11 Comments

  1. Kladwig says:

    Thank you for the read. My situation – of course there’s context however, I had my husband arrested for putting a pillow over my face and holding me down. I’m willing to get marriage counseling however he says he can’t trust me and is unwilling to live with me. How is that? And what should that say to me?

    • Dear Friend,

      Good for you for calling in the police! What he did was extremely dangerous. Many DV victims are killed in this way. I do not recommend you do marriage counseling with this person. Please check out this blog: http://www.carolineabbott.com/2012/09/my-experience-with-marriage-counseling/
      Doing marriage counseling with an abuser can put the victim in extreme danger. If he says he cannot trust YOU, this says a lot about his unwillingness to look at what he is doing. He tried to smother YOU and he is making your reasonable response all about HIM. Not a good sign. Also, not at all what you would want to see if you were considering reconciling with him, as I explain in this blog. Please be careful. If you would like me to walk through this with you, please friend me on Facebook. There is a Social Media link on my home page. Blessings to you, Caroline

  2. Ruben Sanchez says:

    I have an 8 yr marriage and been with my wife for 21 yrs. May of last year I physically abused her, I snapped and lost it. I’ve never done this before, and she left me because of it. I’m so sorry for my actions and I have no excuse for what I did. I see now that I was a point of blowing up and told her how I felt, however I thought I was going to leave or something like that. She’s hurt and angry at me understandably and says she can’t come back because it’s not okay what happened and that she is angry with me for making her leave because she loves me and she could handle and endure anything else but that. I believe our love for each other is really strong and we may be able to reconcile once she truly forgives me. If she does. I also know it will time for that to happen I understand her and trying my best to leave her be, but I’m having my own difficulties. Any suggestions on how I can rebuild her trust in me that I broke by my own hand?

    Sincerely,
    Ruben J Sanchez

    • Hello Ruben,

      Thank you so much for commenting. I am pleased that you seem to understand the gravity of what you have done. This might not have happened if your wife had not had the good sense to leave when you hurt her. So, even though this is a painful time, it is probably necessary for you both. I have written an article about just this topic. Here is the link: http://www.carolineabbott.com/2015/11/advice-to-a-repentant-abuser/ . I hope you find it helpful. If you would like to contact me as you go through this process, you can friend me on Facebook, and I will be happy to assist you if possible. Blessings to you.

  3. mjones says:

    My husband has been emotionally abusive towards me off and on for 21 years of our marriage. back in 2014 he did push me and I hit my head and blacked out. He was under the influence of alcohol and drugs at the time. He promised never to do anything like that again he stopped his substance abuse for a while and we had a good cycle for about six months. After that he lost his very good 15yr job due to failing a drug test. The job that he lost sustained our home and our family. After that I got two jobs and I’m going back to school. I found out that he was arrested in 2016 for possession. after which he started back drinking and getting high again. Once he knew I found out, basically he committed to continue that behavior. As a result he has become increasingly more disconnected with the family staying out all night staying away for days at a time and hours of unexplained time. When asked he says it’s none of my business what he’s doing. He continues to drink and get high he’s gone through thousands of dollars of our pension money and he recently became verbally abusive to our chronically ill child. Snd constantly threatens to leave us and sell our home. As a result of that and all the emotional abuse and threats I have put a restraining order out on him. We are going back for the 2-year permanent order and I have had struggles within myself regarding if I should follow through with this. He has not physically hit me at this time but he owns guns snd he is very selfish very self-centered. EVerything is about him all the pain that we’re going through is about him, so he doesn’t seem to understand what he’s doing to everyone else around him. I know that he is sick. I know he needs help. But I don’t not know if we can survive the separation. Financially I can manage for a while maybe a few years without him. And I’m sure I’ll be fine as I go forward but I am having struggles right now.

  4. Hello, thanks for your comment. In this blog I give what I think are good steps to insist on if a person is considering reconciling with an abuser. One is going willingly to group counseling for DV offenders. Another is remarkable change over a long period of time. It doesn’t seem like your husband is doing either of these.

    I can fully understand needing financial support. Can I ask you if he was giving this support to your household before, or is he just using up whatever money you do have in his drug habit? If that is the case, I am not sure how going back to him would help in any way, financially or emotionally. What do you think?

    Good for you for getting two jobs and going back to school. There are many programs to help single moms. Many people are too embarrassed to use these programs. My thought is using the help for a short time while getting on your feet is not a sin. If you would like to friend me on Facebook, we could talk about this more.

    Many blessings to you,

    Caroline

    • mjones says:

      Carol thank you for your reply it is very comforting to have a resource out there that addresses this issue specifically. I agree with you that he has decreased and his financial support since the loss of his job. The pension money was a lump sum payment that recently came and was supposed to be put aside for our retirement and our children’s education. However he has gone through over half of that money at this time. He did have one sober moment and I was able to sustain the other half of which I will use now to support myself and my children through this transition. We have three children one in college one on the way to college and one on her way to high school. You are absolutely right, I do believe financially I will be better on my own as a single parent with 3 children progressing through college and high school as well as myself in college. There are a lot of programs that I am recently finding out about that will help me financially sustain our family. We also have a small not-for-profit business that I am looking to gain support to continue on my own with the help of my children. You are absolutely right I believe that until my husband seeks help on his own without force and threat of losing everything, then until that time there really is nothing to talk about. And honestly I don’t know that he’s not already very happy about the decisions that have been made. I’m having some anxiety about the upcoming court case and just wanted to get some information and preparation in case he tries to come back into the home. At this point I’m not even sure about visitation for my children because of his drug and alcohol use. I will talk to the judge about that and present of course evidence for everything that we have gone through throughout these last several years. Emotional and Financial abuse are just as real and as hurtful if not more than physical abuse. The bruises have healed from the pushing but the heartache and the Heartbreak and the emotional damage that has been done to myself and to my children is very very hard to get through. The rejection the not understanding why he doesn’t want our family is very hard for all of us especially my girls. Thank you for taking the time to answer my post and I will friend you on Facebook. Is there a private group that I could be invited to?

  5. It sounds like you are thinking this through very logically, which is great. When you do go to court, my advice is to focus on all the things he is doing besides abuse. Share that too, but don’t focus on it. Instead, discuss his drug use and lack of a job. This is because often judges sadly don’t take emotional abuse into consideration when deciding custody. You can check my blog tag called court system to read many articles about how to get the courts on your side.

    Right now I don’t have a private group, though I’m thinking about starting one. We can chat via Facebook messenger.

    I am proud of all the steps you are taking to make a good life for yourself. I look forward to talking with you more on Facebook.

    May God bless you,

    Caroline

    • mjones says:

      Thanks again. It’s an OP hearing so visitation is all we are discussing. I have his record to show drug and alcohol use. His verbal abuse of our youngest also opened a DCFS case investigation. And there’s been physical abuse medical report so I’m pretty sure the judge won’t reverse his original order. I feel bad but I gave him do many chances to get him self back on track but when he started hurting our kid then it had to change. I’m still hopeful he will do the work for himself and our kids.
      There are several caroline Abbott how do I know which one?

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