Waiting for Change in Others

Every worker in the domestic violence field frequently faces a difficult question from survivors, either directly or implied: Under what circumstances can anyone 'trust' what seems to be change in others who have hurt, exploited, or annoyed us? It is common for people to profess change when asking for something, another chance, a date, a loan, a favor etc.. Past experience warrants skepticism, but also the 'offender' is behaving differently. It is hard not to drop some recently trialed boundaries, sometimes against gut feelings.

"Getting a second chance" only makes sense if it occurs after a person has dealt responsibly and completely with the consequences of the first failure. Otherwise, a request for a "second chance" is just an attempt to live irresponsibly.

While others may change, it is counter-productive to wait for them. Good boundaries and alternatives do not stop others from changing if they wish. Rather, boundaries and alternatives support sanity and integrity. Waiting for others to change may come from not wanting to make the responses and difficult decisions that are clearly called for.

In a relationship that has been abusive, the only change that matters is a change in the basic goal of behavior. Tactics change when circumstances change. For instance, verbal abuse may lessen when the recipient starts limiting contact, but the goal of weakening the recipient remains, so insincere apologies and compliments may become prominent until the survivor recommits.

Enrolling in perpetrator treatment is not evidence that the goal of control is changed. In fact, overwhelmingly, men newly enrolled in treatment attempt to 'control the programs'. Merely enrolling does not earn a second chance. Even sincere effort does not mean that the goal of control is changed. On the contrary, effort is very compatible with control. Remember also that urgency and pressure are reliable indicators of a very active desire for control.