Resources for abusive spouses seeking help?
February 19, 2014 5:51 AM   Subscribe

I've just left an abusive relationship and have found information and support from domestic violence organizations, churches, therapists, etc. for myself as a victim of domestic violence. What I haven't found is information I can pass on to my ex to support his willingness to seek help. Is there a comprehensive list of links to mental health resources that explain to an abuser/person with anger issues how to seek help or, even better, how to do the work necessary to make that help useful?

Corollary: do people like this ever improve or find enough self awareness to keep themselves in check?

I recognize it is likely that he does not actually believe he needs help but is saying he is willing to seek treatment in order to get me back. We have children together and anything that improves his restraint and anger management will help our kids have a good relationship with him in the future.

I contacted a family therapist back in November but had difficulty pinning him and my ex down at the same time for a meeting. I left my job shortly after that (for reasons directly relating to the abuse). My ex contacted the therapist yesterday to set up an appt (at my urging) but it became clear shortly afterward that despite the fact that I was packing my belongings and very direct about the reasons I was back at the house, he believed I was home to stay and it is unlikely he intends to follow through with the appointment.

I am still in the early stages of momentum, of accepting that his treatment of me was in fact abusive, and of moving past my own fear that he will retaliate against me or my kids so that I can do the work necessary of getting us into a house and making it into a home as quickly as possible. We live in as small town and I have few if any friends here. I also need therapy and as soon as I have my kids in a safe place I will be contacting one, possibly also for mediation (my ex is making it difficult to get my things, and when I find myself in his presence and he starts behaving as though I've told him I'm staying I find myself not correcting him to keep him calm long enough to get away). Thanks Metafilter.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (22 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
This is not your job. If your husband is sincere in finding help, he'll move heaven and earth to do it. His rehabilitation will not depend upon YOU exerting this effort on his behalf. This is just another part of your abuse, that if you don't cure him, it's your fault. It's his job to find his own help.

NOW is the time to take care of yourself and your kids.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:00 AM on February 19, 2014 [36 favorites]

There's no telephone number or website you can give him that will help if he's unwilling to acknowledge he has a problem and do the work he needs to do to fix it.

Abusers don't see themselves as abusers. They're the hero in their own tale, they often tell themselves that they were wronged.

His therapist should be able to help him with this if he actually cares enough to try. But this is entirely on him, not you.

In the meantime, do not spend any time with him alone and restrict your communication with him to only what is absolutely necessary. Do not stay in a place where he knows where you are. Work with a lawyer to protect yourself and your kids from him. He shouldn't be allowed to be around them as long as he is a potential danger to them. Spend your time working on you and your recovery. You've done the right thing by leaving. Use the domestic violence resources in your area to protect you and your kids.
posted by inturnaround at 6:02 AM on February 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Getting your ex help is not your job. Focus on yourself.
posted by dfriedman at 6:19 AM on February 19, 2014 [4 favorites]

I spent a lot of time doing this for my abuser.

All it did was keep me involved with him and his life for longer.

I understand that with children you'll need some contact and interaction with him. I'm so sorry for that.

But I would limit the amount I talked or interacted with him as much as possible - which means not giving him resources to better himself. Actually, it is a good way for you to clearly see how invested he is in change: by leaving all the changing up to him, all the hard work, you'll see how serious he is about it.

Based on experience I'm willing to bet he's not all that serious about changing himself. I know that recidivism rates for violent abusers who have been in court-mandated batterer programs (so granted this is a small subset of abusers, but they have gotten professional help) are high - in 2000, 40% had battered their wives again, most of them within six months of graduating from the program.

He's probably not serious about change. He is pretty serious about getting you back, though, and if playing along for a little while will stop you from walking out, or will get you to come back, he will do it. You need at least a year or two of effort and sustained change before you can even consider returning (and by that time you won't want to go back, probably).

Take care of yourself. The first few weeks after leaving an abuser are the hardest. I wanted to fix him and help him so so badly. I got him to therapy. He went twice, threw a glass coaster at her wall, and she kicked him out because of the violent display. I gave him books on abuse from the public library and he read three or four pages from one of them, declared them horseshit, and destroyed several of them. I had to bring them back in pieces and the woman took one look at the titles and my face and she decided not to charge me for the damage.

Trying to help just kept me involved for longer and brought me more shame, sadness, and violent behavior.

Put on your own oxygen mask first. Take care of yourself and your kids. Don't engage with your abuser unless you have to. Stay strong.

I am so proud of you for leaving.
posted by sockermom at 6:25 AM on February 19, 2014 [27 favorites]

my ex is making it difficult to get my things, and when I find myself in his presence and he starts behaving as though I've told him I'm staying I find myself not correcting him to keep him calm long enough to get away

He's not ready for therapy. They say addicts have to hit rock bottom before they can change. You have to help him hit rock bottom by getting out of his life for good.
posted by bleep at 6:48 AM on February 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

The city of Seattle has a resource page for abusers. I'm only familiar with Wellspring, having seen some pretty compelling presentations from them.

Even if you aren't in Seattle, your ex might reach out to them and see if they have suggestions for local to him resources.

They can't help, though, if the person perpetrating the abuse doesn't want to change.
posted by Gorgik at 6:51 AM on February 19, 2014

IIRC Lundy Bancroft runs a treatment program for abusive men, and you can read his book, Why Does He Do That for information about treatment.

From what I experienced, your desire to help him is strong and genuine right now because your life is really tough and it would be way less tough if he would change. So you understandably want that. Plus you're possibly still thinking of your success in relation to his success/approval/benefit. Totally understandable.

Unfortunately, and frighteningly I'm sure, you don't have control over him or his behavior. That will become less scary over time, I promise. Hang in there and prioritize your physical safety and get all the help you want.
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:06 AM on February 19, 2014 [6 favorites]

Also, I know you're trying to hang onto hope here, and I'm sorry to not be helping with that in the specific way you are asking. I don't want to bullshit you, though.

He's likely not ever going to change unless it is to abuse a different woman, change his tactics slightly, or increase his level of violence.

Couples or family counseling is physically dangerous for you.

There is hope, though, in the aspects of your life that have nothing to do with him. They will slowly improve until his shitty behavior wrecks less and less of your life, and it will be so sweet. I promise.

Sources: my father is a domestic abuser, my many readings on the topic.
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:13 AM on February 19, 2014 [5 favorites]

Is there a comprehensive list of links to mental health resources that explain to an abuser/person with anger issues how to seek help or, even better, how to do the work necessary to make that help useful?

I am still in the early stages of momentum, of accepting that his treatment of me was in fact abusive, and of moving past my own fear that he will retaliate against me or my kids so that I can do the work necessary of getting us into a house and making it into a home as quickly as possible. We live in as small town and I have few if any friends here. I also need therapy and as soon as I have my kids in a safe place I will be contacting one, possibly also for mediation (my ex is making it difficult to get my things, and when I find myself in his presence and he starts behaving as though I've told him I'm staying I find myself not correcting him to keep him calm long enough to get away).

I could be completely off-base and if I am or if you can't followup just ignore my answer. I am wondering if this is a way to think about it.

You are thinking about giving him what he's asking for-- a list of mental health resources.

If you give him the list he's asking for, maybe it'll be easier for you in the short term to deal with him and get away.

Right now your concern is setting yourself and your kids up in a safe place. And if you don't play along to some extent it makes it dangerous for you and your kids.

But you say "when I find myself in his presence and he starts behaving as though I've told him I'm staying I find myself not correcting him to keep him calm long enough to get away." Maybe giving him a list makes it harder for you in the short term to get away.

You should call a hotline or your domestic violence support group. It seems to me that the question isn't what happens down the road. Whether he changes or not is out of your hands. The question is whether giving him the list makes it easier for you to get away.

He'd probably be satisfied with anything you give him. Like everyone said, it's up to him to change, etc. But maybe giving him what he wants improves your safety. Maybe not. You should make that decision with the people who have been supporting you locally, or call the national hotline.
posted by vincele at 7:47 AM on February 19, 2014

In Why Does He Do That? , Lundy Bancroft talks about what he sees in running a treatment program for men. You might read that.

I don't think it's a good reference for him. I think it's his job to find his own path if he sincerely wants to change.
posted by salvia at 7:55 AM on February 19, 2014

In my experience people seek this kind of help when it is mandated by their boss or the courts (and family members who control trust/foundation/assets distribution.)

For the sake of you and your children, I hope your spouse is outside the scope of my experience.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 7:59 AM on February 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm so sorry you are going through this, but as others have said, you must save all your energy for yourself and your kids. Your ex's issues are far too big for you to have any responsibility for. He must step up and claim responsibility, if he's willing to do so, without trying to manipulate you into doing it for him (which won't work anyway).

It is trivially easy for him to get help; all he has to do is go to the therapist you set up for him and ask for it. You have done more than enough already.

I think the pull of your old role (his accomodator, caretaker, excuse-maker) is strong and that's what you are feeling here. It's comfortable, familiar, sounds very compassionate and noble, and you are used to doing that kind of work for him. Whereas the future you are in the middle of creating is unknown, frightening, confusing and uncertain. It's understandable to be attracted back into what you know and are used to, even if you also hate it.

But that role is over now. It really really is. Your ability to help him ended when he became abusive. You have to let that role go. Mourn it, if you need to. Probably it made you feel good to be so needed and so helpful and so capable in a crisis. But it's toxic to you, right now. It's not even good for him; so long as you are his helper and his accomodator, why should he change, really?
posted by emjaybee at 8:23 AM on February 19, 2014 [4 favorites]

I will suggest you seek out books on negotiation for yourself. Two good ones:

Getting to Yes.
The mind and heart of the negotiator.

You might also consider reading things like philosophy/religion resources. I am not religious and I am not suggesting this as a "forgive him and take him back" kind of thing. In fact, I hesitate to suggest it because it often gets twisted into something like that. I view religion and philosophy as a human/cultural effort to pass on learned social wisdom about what works in settings where there is a big disconnect between immediate action and ultimate payoff. For example: The bible says that "the sins of the father are passed on unto the fifth and sixth generation." I think that fits well with the fact that, in most cases, it is a good rule of thumb to assume that something as bad as physical violence within the family is not going to be solved on a time scale such that it is realistic to try to get back with him but on better terms.

I am, in a way, suggesting this as a direct answer to your question for how you can help him. The single best thing you can do help him is to protect yourself without being vindictive -- get yourself to safety and do not pursue action that is merely retribution. If you need to call the cops, have him charged, etc, do so only for purposes of protecting yourself and the children you are responsible for, not to get back at him, make him suffer, etc.

Setting the example without lecturing is the most powerful message you can give him about how and why he needs to change. The bar you need to set is about "people should behave a certain way." You need to let go of getting him back though. You cannot successfully pursue both goals. Only if he can meet the standard do you consider getting back together. No exceptions. Given how long it will likely take for him to really change, it is best to assume this relationship must end.

My abuser did change some. I suspect his uncontrolled anger was due to an undiagnosed head injury syndrome and I suspect he drank and drugged for years as self treatment for that. He did make some kind of amends to me and he does seem to have mellowed with age. We are still essentially not on speaking terms. It took decades for him to get somewhat better. I don't expect to ever have any kind of close relationship to him, though I don't bear him any ill will anymore either.

My personal position: Forgiveness is a gift. Trust is earned. Anyone who wants you to "forgive and forget" is asking you to play the fool so they can abuse again. Forgiving someone is not about saying "Oh, sure, I will trust you to not stab me in the back AGAIN in spite of your track record of doing so repeatedly, so, here, I am giving a free shot right now, undefended." It is about saying "I am letting it go emotionally and moving on, without seeking vengeance -- for MY emotional health." For an abusive relationship, that is usually as good as it gets, even in cases where the abuser does want to genuinely change and make amends.
posted by Michele in California at 12:28 PM on February 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Let me join the chorus.

He has to not only want this help but seek it out for himself. That is the only way he will VALUE the help that he has to get.

Yes, it is possible for people to change but possible in no way means likely.

I know you still care about him-that is totally normal. But you cannot fix him, and it is not your job to fix him.

And by the way-his shame IS NOT FOR YOU TO BEAR.

Repeat that last point as necessary.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 12:28 PM on February 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

PS. Don't go alone to get your stuff. If that is your only option-I would leave the stuff.

I am not kidding.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 12:32 PM on February 19, 2014 [6 favorites]

His abusive behavior is his problem and his responsibility. He has to see that what he's doing is wrong and hurtful, which is unlikely. That's why he's abusive. He has to care about someone other than himself, which is also unlikely. In my experience with abusive men (and people in general) like this, they tend to be narcissists or at the very least have a very strong narcissistic streak. Extremely difficult for people like this to change. And the only way he will ever change is to make up his mind that he doesn't want to live like that anymore and seek help on his own.
posted by strelitzia at 1:06 PM on February 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

In other words, you cannot fix him. Nor can you help him to fix himself. He has to put on his big boy pants and grow up.
posted by strelitzia at 1:10 PM on February 19, 2014

Pulling away (while ultimately the goal) is not necessarily safe for yourself or your children, as you mentioned his retaliations could put you or your children at risk. What I would suggest is that you call the domestic violence shelter and ask for multiple sessions to design a safety plan to protect your children. Ask for in person sessions and if you need to, get on a waiting list (most places do not have a waiting list for emergency counseling sessions, often up to 5 or 10).

You need to specifically ask them to help you work through safely disentangling yourself from his threats/known potential to retaliate if he doesn't get his way and isn't being coddled. If he were a non-dangerous person without access to your children, disengaging completely would be ideal- if he has legal rights to your children it's more complicated than that.

You need to have a plan of how you will deal with his retaliations as you set clear boundaries and refuse to take care of him or be manipulated/controlled by him. This should include things like seeking supervised visitation if possible, if not possible making sure the kids know to tell you if something bad happens or dad is aggressive/harmful to them, and it includes a legal strategy to ensure if he behaves dangerously you know immediately what to do- steps can include documenting in a notebook that you write on the top "property of your lawyer name here". If you don't have a lawyer, they domestic violence shelter should have a free legal adviser and you can address your writings to them. Other steps might include immediately filing a restraining order, or reporting an act of abuse to the police.

You need to know what your rights are in the event you file a restraining order, or make a report, B=`1and how that would affect your visitation and how you would keep yourself safe---- again, work this out with a trained professional who should be available to you free at the domestic violence shelter, as well as the legal consultant to help you create a strategy for ensuring you are documenting abusive behavior and planning to keep your children safe by limiting custody, requiring supervised custody, or making a case for no visitation if possible.

In addition, when you talk to them about a safety plan, talk about his desire to "get better" with a DV counselor and they will help you work through how to deal with that on your end (which is not going to be take over his healing process and ensure he has the resources he needs as much as that is a kind and understandable reaction on your part. )

Other things you should discuss with them:
-Whether you could require alcohol or drug testing as part of visitation requirements
-Whether you can require mandatory battery prevention classes
-Whether you can present specific requirements (including offering the availability of specific resources such as counseling, drug treatment, or other forms of support) as part of the visitation or custody agreement

I don't know the answers to these questions as I don't know the details of your situation/state/ and am not a lawyer. It's possible that creating a list of resources and handing it to him would be ok in your situation but you need to talk to a professional about what your expectations are, how to create a safety plan, and you need to make sure you aren't just participating in a dance where he "wants help" and you bend over backwards to give him his way just because he keeps saying that. There's a lot you need to tease out here (with a professional), and you need to create a strategy that matches your situation and provides the maximum amount of safety from and separation from entanglement with him as possible.

It's WONDERFUL you want to help him and keep your family safe, and I wish it were easier to help dangerous people-- but really there is a point where I think we need to be longer sentences for violent offenses or even threats (which often come with no legal repercussion for offenders) and mandatory behavioral counseling and less leaving vulnerable people to try to manage people like this at great personal risk and harm.

If you really deeply are concerned that dangerous people don't have enough resources and feel bad for them ( I personally do) then the solution is to focus any energy you have toward that on stronger systemic educational and support structures that create safe ways to deal with the manipulative and dangerous tendencies of people like this NOT on the individual level.

And I suggest you let that sort of mission fade at present while you focus on you and your children. This is really way bigger than you can fix, the best you can do for now is keep you and your children safe. I recognize helping him heal would help with that goal, and I played that game a long time too, but supposing you help him and he becomes a better father just enough to fool the system into giving him custody he shouldn't have because he's still occasionally dangerous? You're better off letting him ruin his own custody case by not getting resources (of his own choosing) and document the bad behavior. DO NOT try to help him get better or prioritize him spending time with the kids if he is aggressive and dangerous, even if only to you. Your goal if possible should be total custody with no visitation, or with supervised visitation, and if you're afraid to seek that because of the danger of his retaliation you need to focus on having a good safety plan in place. In terms of keeping your location secret and in terms of dealing with how to respond to a dangerous temper tantrum or aggression towards your children if he is given legal custody.

Again, I want to state really clearly, a lot of therapists are only trained through books on these situations-- you need to find some people who work with this stuff all the time and know the ins and outs of these situations-- do not work on this with a therapist who has not worked in domestic violence on a daily basis for some period of their career. I have a lot of therapist friends who really don't know much about what to do in these situations but plenty of people are happy to pretend they do. Go through the DV shelter to get resources and counseling- and find a counselor who is trained in this stuff and can give you evidence of their experience.

Even within a DV shelter there are various levels of quality of service, if the person doesn't seem to get what you're needing (safety plan, disentangling, legal advice navigating courts) or understand the basics of working through this, call the director and ask for a change of counselor and tell the director exactly what your seeking and they can usually help you get a match with someone who has those skills.
posted by xarnop at 2:27 PM on February 19, 2014 [7 favorites]

Another thing you need to know if you don't already is whether you are legally required to provide visitation or you can just go into hiding immediately and completely disengage with him (which is the ideal but may or may not be legally possible in your situation).

Only let him talk to you in writing/email so that you have documentation of any aggressive or dangerous statements he makes to you.
posted by xarnop at 2:34 PM on February 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

I have worked in the violence against women prevention community, and known former batterers who became advocates against domestic violence. So yes, it does appear to happen, and if this question was from your partner I might be able to scrounge up some resources.

But given that this question is from you, I ask you to please contact a local domestic violence organization for help (if you are in the US, there's a list of state coalitions here, among other resources).

PLEASE do not spend time with this person or go get your stuff until you have created a Safe Plan.

The most dangerous time in an abusive relationship is when the abused partner is leaving the relationship. I am concerned about your safety. Please listen to the many excellent responses you've received here and take care.
posted by camyram at 7:06 PM on February 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

Lundy Bancroft wrote two books that were very helpful in dealing with my own abuser. In my experience the are 100% required reading if you are even remotely considering returning to your abusive spouse. They list reasons and excuses abusive men use and also they list in enormous detail what real change looks like, what kind of changes are toxic hope, and what are the typical ways abusers use to justify their abuse and how they apply their abusive thinking to their recovery in order to stay stuck. Being in an abusive relationship creates a lot of confusion in your life. An abuser's excuses, justifications, blame shifting, and distorted rationalizations can make you very confused about if you are seeing real change or this is just another step in the wheel of abuse.

My own abuser was very remorseful when he learned of his abuse. That remorse faded very quickly and was replaced with first complacency and then a very disturbing embrace of his abuse. The process of going to therapy to address his problems gave him enough knowledge to further hide his abuse and also to control my reactions to his abuse by claiming that I was abusing him (by not letting him continue to lie and manipulate me...)

You may think that agreeing to see a therapist and admitting to a problem is a big step towards change. Sadly, recognizing that you have a problem and being able to overcome that problem are two very different things. While you do need the awareness to take the necessary steps, it is the daily grind of working every single day towards change that will actually give results. Most abusers do not have the patience and motivation to do this. I truly believe that my abuser was sincere when he promised to change, and he was even able to stick to the program for a limited amount of time, but ultimately he decided that he was unwilling to give up all of his abusive behaviors, and any abuser who reserves the right to keep some of his abusive behaviors will ultimately return to being abusive. There are simply too many privileges that an abusive man must give up for most of them to make real progress. I'm sorry. I wish I had better news for you.

Why Does He Do That? is the first book you should read. It details what abusers think, why they act the way they do, and what is necessary in an abuse program to effect serious, long lasting change. The necessary dynamics of an abuse intervention program, whether private or in a group setting, are very very different than what is offered in traditional therapy. Traditional therapy, or worse, couples therapy, can be extremely counterproductive to treating abuse. Even if the abuse is tied to a personality disorder, an abuser who has successfully dealt with his issues in personal therapy will become a well-adjusted abuser. Before you proceed with seeking mental health services, you absolutely must check that they fit the requirements listed in the book.

Should I Stay or Should I Go? is the second book. Even though you have already decided to leave, I think this book would also be very useful for you to read. It has a series of exercises for you as well as two chapters you can print out for your spouse. These are the very beginning steps of what he needs to do before he can begin to make changes. Monitoring how he answers these questions will give you an idea of whether or not he is willing to undergo the process towards change. My own abuser took several months to start the chapters after I gave them to him, and it was only until he started doing those exercises that I felt a real change in the way he treated me. It was only then that I realized how different real respect felt like from the false hope he had given me from the times he promised to get better. This book lists in incredible detail what's going through in his mind as he's doing this work, his obstacles towards change, and much more information. More importantly, it gives you guidance on how to take care of yourself at the same time without making you feel guilty for holding out hope for sincere change.

Being able to discern real change from false hope is so important. These two books were my guide. Unfortunately my abuser followed the trajectory of the man who ultimately decides that it was better to remain abusive than to make deep changes. He didn't deviate at all from the path laid forth in the book. I don't know where I would be today without them. I do not wish to forecast doom for you. I truly hope your spouse does change. Reading these two books will show you the path that needs to look like, tell you what the cost will be to you for waiting, what you stand to gain for continuing in your own growth, and help you on your healing process. I wish you the best of luck.
posted by hindmost at 9:12 PM on February 19, 2014 [3 favorites]

I was a victim. You have good advice here. His changes will have to be his changes and if you say anything you have to say that your children and you will not be safe until he changes. If he wishes to do that, then he will need to do the work. I opted to say that I would live in the streets with my children before we went back to that but it was after many times of leaving. I am sorry to this day that I did not do it sooner. He still is abusive but not to me.
posted by OhSusannah at 1:57 AM on February 20, 2014

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