Dealbreakers: Does Domestic Violence Always Doom a Relationship?
Some say abusers can change
But the reasons for their hesitance vary. The National Network to End Domestic Violence reports victims can feel "a real fear of death or more abuse if they leave." They are also "made to think they cannot survive on their own" (often because abusers create financial situations that make leaving nearly impossible). And the most common, yet challenging reason: "She believes his promises to change."
Though many of you may be sighing and shaking your heads at the naiveté of a seemingly helpless victim, even experts with the National Network to End Domestic Violence don't deny that change is indeed possible -- if the abuser makes the "choice" to do so.
Can some couples truly overcome domestic violence?
WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY:
Carole Lieberman, psychiatrist and author of "Bad Boys: Why We Love Them, How to Live with Them & When to Leave Them": "Once a man has become physically violent, you need to get out of the relationship, no matter how much he begs you to forgive him. The violence is only going to escalate. It may start as a push or a slap, but the next time it will go further, and then further."
Tina Tessina, psychotherapist: "Domestic violence doesn't have to be a dealbreaker if the person with the anger and violence issues gets help. Once that person acknowledges that and learns to control his or her temper and tantrums, then it is possible that the marriage can be saved. People who are violent often have an exaggerated sense that their anger is not a problem and are usually psychically wounded from childhood, so this requires some work to resolve."
Jim Bouchard, co-author of “Love Like a Black Belt: Cracking the Code to Being a Happy Couple": "Staying with someone who has a history of domestic abuse is, at best, a very risky decision. You need to consider why it is you would even want to give your partner a second chance. Is it really that you see the potential for change, or do you fear rejection, being alone or even continued violence outside the relationship? Also, you must be prepared to leave at the first sign of a return to past behaviors."
[ALSO READ: WHY ABUSED WOMEN STAY]
WHAT YOU SAY:
Vicky Darden, 55, of Ephrata, Pa.: A survivor of being beaten, raped and "almost killed by a person who claimed to love me," Darden says domestic violence is always a dealbreaker.
"For many years, I found myself believing if I just waited it out, things would change," Darden says. "I believed I could change him. I soon realized I can never change another person. Initially, I stayed because I didn't want my kids to have divorced parents. When I finally got up the courage to leave it was because of my kids. I knew that divorce was better than one dead parent."
Christine K. Clifford, 58, of Minneapolis: When Clifford's husband broke her nose in 2008, he willingly went for an evaluation for alcoholism. But after being diagnosed as a "severe alcoholic" and suggested treatment, he refused and opted to try and "treat himself by quitting drinking." Clifford ultimately ended up having to get a two-year order of protection against her husband.
"I think that if he had gone to treatment, we might have had a chance at salvaging our marriage," says Clifford. "But when he made a decision that he wasn't going to go, things deteriorated pretty quickly. If both parties are willing to do the work to make changes in their behavior, you can certainly give it a shot. But after something as severe as domestic violence has taken place, it is extremely difficult to forgive and forget. It forever changes the dynamics of the relationship, and it would take an enormous effort on the part of the victim to accept that the perpetrator is willing and able to change."
THE FINAL SAY:
Rose Hanna, marriage therapist and professor of psychology, and women's, gender and sexuality studies at California State University, Long Beach: "If a woman wants to continue a relationship with an abuser, they must [first] separate -- no question about it," Hanna says. "He should not know her location or phone number and she must have a restraining order in place. He needs to attend therapy and once he's done that for, at the very least, two months, she should meet with the therapist to discuss her partner's improvement. At that point they can begin to see each other for very short dates, once a week in public, to see how he responds with brief amounts of conflict or anger that may arise."
Jillian Bullock, 51, of Upper Darby, Pa.: As the creator of Fighting Spirit Warriors, a fitness-for-self-defense program for girls and women, Bullock teaches her students how to reduce their chances of becoming a victim of rape, sexual assault or domestic violence.
"Even if the abuser gets counseling, I always tell women never to accept an abuser back into their life. The emotional pain a woman deals with often takes years to overcome and work through. She needs to have the time to get counseling and work through her own issues so she can heal, and more importantly, so she doesn't end up in another abusive relationship."
If this doesn't help, then maybe it's a dealbreaker.