this is why it matters

remorseful manI had the most amazing telephone call this week while at work.  Normally I would never have answered the phone at that time of day as it was during a session hour, but my client had just called in sick and I was available to respond.

The caller ID said it was from a southern state, one where I knew no one.  When I answered, a man’s voice spoke to me, something that is not part of the ‘daily’  in my practice as my counseling center is only for women.  Occasionally a male doctor or a spouse will call, but this was not a voice I recognized.

He gave his name, and his wife’s name, and shared that I had counseled them briefly, almost two decades before when I worked in another practice and saw marital couples as well.  I had a slight memory of them. He shared that, for a reason unknown to me, he had been looking at my website and had been both struck and convicted by the statistics shown there on domestic violence, because he realized that he had contributed to the statistics.  He was a batterer.

We knew that then.

Somehow they survived.   Somehow they managed to raise a family.   Somehow this man’s wife has had the strength to demonstrate healthy boundaries and yet still has patiently loved him as he has been dealing with the demons of his past, working hard not to pass them on to his children.   This man loves his family.   For all these years he has been working on changing the monster he was.

He called to thank me and, in tears, wanted to bless me for the ministry and the work that I do.

I will never forget that phone call.   This is why it matters.   One person at a time, one family at a time.  There is hope.


when it’s not such a merry Christmas … domestic abuse at the holidays

broken_christmas_ball_by_heart_drops-300x225Mistletoe, stockings hung, Christmas lights twinkling in the dark, presents under the tree …. and a raging alcoholic coming through the front door while his wife and three children hide in the back bedroom.  For all too many families, the stress of the holiday season brings with it even more fear.

Domestic abuse occurs to at least one in every four women during her lifetime.  She might witness it growing up, as in the illustration above, date a teen abuser, or end up in an intimate relationship where she is battered – emotionally and/or physically – by the person she believes loves her.

Life in a financially strapped household is hard enough, but top that with the stresses of gift buying, more alcohol consumption or drug abuse at the seasonal parties and, in some families, the inevitable demand on who will be where at the holidays, and life can be hell.  Then you have the families where divorced parents mean shared holiday times, often resulting in an angry confrontation with an abuser-ex.

The Pixel Project, a campaign in honor of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence, has come up with a list of 16 safety tips for women facing domestic abuse over the holiday season.  If you or someone you care about needs to read it, please go to their link here.   (Photo courtesy of The Pixel Project)

Patrick Stewart on domestic violence

I had no idea that Patrick Stewart, this brilliant, witty & deeply caring man, had grown up in an abusive home.   He chose to be different from the father who modeled life for him.

Patrick Stewart on domestic violence:

“Our house was small, and when you grow up with domestic violence in a confined space you learn to gauge, very precisely, the temperature of situations. I knew exactly when the shouting was done and a hand was about to be raised – I also knew exactly when to insert a small body between the fist and her face, a skill no child should ever have to learn.”

can the abuser change? a re-blog

Can the abuser change?  Can a batterer ever be trusted again?  Cindy Burrell knows all about living in an abusive relationship, so when she posts something pertaining to the subject, I listen.   She says “compliance and change are not synonymous. Do not confuse the two.”

The Abusive Relationship – Understanding the Difference Between Compliance and Change

Can the abuser change? The short answer: Yes.

Anyone can change. It’s a matter of desire, will and motive. Healthy people are generally desirous of change when they genuinely care about how their actions affect others and will accept an opportunity to contribute to their relationships in a meaningful way.

Does the abuser really want to change? The short answer: No.

Abusers don’t care if you’re happy; they care if they’re happy. Their control is far more important than your happiness. Therefore, on the occasion where his enabler-victim identifies an area of dissatisfaction or conflict in the relationship, the abuser will quickly attempt to squelch any discontent through verbal jeopardizing, diminishment or yelling.

However, there are times when a victim is committed to requiring that the abuser face and address an issue. It may reflect a legitimate need for additional help around the house, an increased measure of financial responsibility, or more freedom for a family member to pursue a favorite hobby, pastime or academic objective. When the abuser feels truly cornered, he may agree to accommodate his enabler’s request.

But, is he committed to change? Or is what he offers merely compliance? There is a cavernous difference between them. As enablers, we are often quick to accept the abuser’s smallest measure of movement toward meeting our needs as evidence of sincere change. But, what is he offering: compliance or change?

Remember, an abuser doesn’t want what is best for the relationship; he wants what is best for him. With this in mind, when you confront him, often he will initially deny there is any problem at all. The problem is yours. You are wrong.

Then, he may become resentful that you are asking him to alter his behavior at all or contribute to a greater degree to the relationship. You are being selfish.

Under pressure, he may concede. You are willing to accept this concession as a sign of his deep-down love for you. You tell him how much you appreciate his willingness to help. You think he will see that such a small gesture makes you happy – and that will make him happy. In truth, he believes that you are demanding. You are asking something of him that he does not want to give. He simply wants to get you off his back.

What happens over time will begin to tell the story. Here are some clues to tell you if he is intent on changing or if he is merely complying.

  • Real Change is Voluntary; Compliance is Obligatory
  • Real Change is Sincere; Compliance is Half-Hearted
  • Real Change is Lasting; Compliance is Temporary

These stark differences reflect attitude, motive and commitment.

Attitude In a healthy relationship, a mature and genuinely caring husband wants his wife to feel supported, fulfilled and encouraged. He wants her to know she is appreciated at home, and he is willing to help her (as she is similarly willing to help him) with the management of the household, children, finances, and the balanced fulfillment of her life’s goals.

When it is understood that there is an imbalance, he will willingly commit to additional responsibility, even acknowledging some inconvenience and flexibility as he adapts to change. If the change is genuine, you will see a positive attitude. If it is merely compliance, his attitude will be one of benign or perhaps even resentful accommodation.


In the days that come, you may see a little extra effort. You embrace it with gratitude and believe that he will see that his contribution makes a positive difference that benefits the household. You are almost gleeful that he is willing to contribute to the relationship in a more meaningful way. Don’t get too excited yet.

An abuser often rejects boundaries or limitations on his life, and views them as unacceptably confining or rigid. Although he may initially conform, his tendency will be to sabotage the change using any number of subtle or not-so-subtle strategies.

He will forget.

He will perform his duties poorly.

He will become frustrated.

He will make excuses.

He will complain.

He will make himself unavailable.

He will fall ill.

He will claim he is too tired.

He will claim he is incapable.

He will decide the duty is “not for him.”

The abuser is determined to find a way to get you to let him off the hook, or conjure up evidence that you’re nit-picky or demanding. This is not change.

Commitment Sometimes the signs of compliance may not be so overt. The abuser may initially accommodate your request. It may just be that the “change” is temporary, fading into nothingness over time. You feel obligated to pick up the slack as a means of trying to show that you can be flexible and to set an example of the give and take that is evident in a healthy relationship. You once again assume his share of responsibility, and he readily absolves himself and allows you to carry on. In fact, he seems so much happier when you relieve him of his obligation that you feel guilty asking him to share the burden when other needs surface. The gradual fading away of your original understanding could give way to frustration and anger, yet should you confront him, he will likely assert that:

You’re impossible to please.

You need to accept him as he is.

He did what you asked.

It’s your job, anyway.

You’re a nag.

You have learned that it is simply easier to do things yourself to shield yourself from the anxiety and disappointment, even while recognizing that the imbalance remains. Best of all (for him), the abuser got what he wanted, which is not to have to do what he doesn’t want to do.

My former husband was habitually late to virtually every commitment and appointment. I once asked him why he never made an effort to arrive on time, and he responded quite matter-of-factly, “Because no one is ever going to tell me when I have to be anywhere.” From what I have been able to tell, that attitude is pretty indicative of an abuser’s mindset. It makes no difference to him whether what he is being asked to do is helpful, cooperative, considerate, beneficial or necessary.

Unfortunately, the abuse victim may have difficulty grasping that the abuser doesn’t want to contribute anything unless he is assured of a direct and immediate benefit as a result. Even though an abuse victim has witnessed – perhaps time and time again – the deterioration of what she had optimistically embraced as evidence of change, the abuser’s initial effort is enough to keep her hopeful. True, the abuser didn’t meet her expectations in this particular instance – or did so only temporarily. But, surely his fleeting consideration must be a sign that – somewhere deep down – he is genuinely receptive to her needs and desires, right? Or perhaps it is too much trouble to even beg for his attention. Instead, she may do her best to accommodate her abuser’s every whim and live in his shadow, ever hopeful that one day he might want to change while history cautions that compliance may be all she ever gets.

Clearly, compliance and change are not synonymous. Do not confuse the two.

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