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.
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.