Reconciliation. What does this truly mean? Many abusers beg or demand their victims to forgive them for their past behaviors, even though they take no steps to change their future behaviors. At this point, in the abuser’s mind at least, you are reconciled. They may even berate you for not feeling lovey-dovey toward them once you’ve had this conversation. The victim is then left with a feeling that they “should” be able to forgive, and there must be something wrong with them. Is this true reconciliation? I believe it is not. Karla Downing from Change My Relationship agrees. She has a brilliant YouTube video that describes what reconciliation truly is. The video takes about 7 minutes, and is worth the time. I will summarize it below:
Karla begins her video talking about her relationship with her husband. He had stopped doing some of his negative behaviors, but Karla still felt a wall between the two of them. If she ever mentioned his past behaviors, he would deny he ever did those things, or say that they weren’t as bad as she thought and that his behaviors didn’t hurt her as much as she believed. In other words, he trivialized her concerns and feelings. Because of his defensiveness, she felt she was not truly reconciled to him. She realized she needed to tell him she was not okay with this breach between them, that they were not completely reconciled. After they talked about it, he was finally able to do the steps she needed him to do. The reconciliation process Karla outlines is below. It can be used no matter who is the offender or what s/he has done. I focus on the actions of an abuser.
The Reconciliation Process
The offender must understand why his* actions have hurt you. The offender needs to fully grasp how and why his actions have hurt you. He should care about your feelings, be able to listen and not make excuses. Why was that abuse so hard for you? How did it make you feel? What impact did his actions have on your life? How much have you struggled and suffered?
The offender must grieve over his actions. You must see your abuser humbly, truly grieve over how his actions have hurt you. He must be truly sad and sorrowful for the pain he has caused you. He should feel some of the feelings you have felt. You can see him grieving, see his concern over how he has hurt you. In other words, he should empathize with you and your pain.
The offender promises not to do these things again. Karla acknowledges that this is the only step many offenders will ever take. Has your abuser told you over and over again that he would never yell at you, hit you, rage at you, belittle you again? If he says this and then continues doing it, you know this step by itself means nothing. The most important step is step 4.
The offender must do WHATEVER IT TAKES to make SURE he will never do these things again. Basically, the abuser should proactively seek out help for himself. It should not be your job to do this for him. In my blog entitled How Can a Victim Know If/When to Reconcile? I list some things your abuser can/should do in order to make things right with you: If your abuser truly realizes he has been abusing you, he will freely confess it to others and renounce his former behavior in public. He might choose to read books about abuse, seek accountability partners, and/or meet weekly with a counselor who is trained to deal with abusers. The most important step he should be willing to take is to enroll in a group treatment program for abusers. He can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1−800−799−SAFE(7233) or TTY 1−800−787−3224) for information about programs in his 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. Group members hold each other accountable, and aren’t swayed when he tries to portray himself as the victim.
If your abuser skips any of these steps, it will not be possible for your relationship to be truly reconciled. Sure, you might choose to forgive him, and try to move forward, but there will always be a level of mistrust between the two of you. Tweet This
I thought this video was brilliant. The abuse victims I work with are often made to feel it is their fault if they cannot get past the pain they have experienced at the hands of someone who is supposed to love and protect them.
Acts 3:19 (NASB) talks about the reconciliation/repentance process:
Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come . . .
Repentance is a turning around 180 degrees from the former path. It implies humility, compassion, understanding of the sin you have committed and a true turning away from that sin. When a person truly repents, reconciliation with others can occur. Note: just because your abuser takes these steps does not mean you MUST reconcile with him, only that it will be possible for you to do so.
Question: Does anything in this video ring true with you? What steps have been skipped in your abuser’s attempts to reconcile with you?
I hope this video brings clarity about why you might still feel a breach in your relationships. I pray those who wrong you will be willing to go through the steps toward true reconciliation.
*Note, abusers and their victims can be male or female. In this blog, for ease of writing, I portray the abuser as “he” and the victim as “she.”