Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence

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Domestic Violence: Finding Safety and Support

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What About Help for Your Abusive Partner?

Abusers often do not take responsibility for their abusive behaviors. They blame their partners, stress, alcohol or drugs, anger, loss of control, an unhappy childhood, or someone or something else. Domestic abuse is about one person’s decision to manipulate and control their partner. Abuse is not a loss of control. In fact, abusers control their partners in many ways.

Can Your Abusive Partner Change?

Unless abusers take full responsibility for their behaviors, they are unlikely to change.

Everyone is able to change their beliefs and their behaviors if they choose to. But, unless someone takes full responsibility for their abusive behavior, they are unlikely to change. Regardless of what your partner does, it is important to continue to plan for your own and your children’s safety based on who your partner is right now, not on who you want them to be.

What if Your Partner Attends a Batterer Program?

While it may seem like a positive step for your partner to attend a batterer program, it doesn’t mean that they will choose to stop their violent behavior or that you will be safe. Many abusers who attend a program continue to be violent and controlling. Your partner’s participation in a program should not influence your decisions about the relationship. Some abusers participate in programs in order to get back into the relationship. This could put you or your children at risk.

Most abusers go to batterer programs because a court ordered them to go. Ordering abusers to attend a batterer program is sometimes used by the courts or probation as a tool for holding them accountable. No batterer program can guarantee that a person’s behavior will change. Since not all batterer programs operate in ways that put your safety first, ask your local domestic violence program for information about the programs in your area.

What if Your Partner Stops Drinking or Using Drugs?

Alcohol and drug use do not cause domestic violence.

Even when abusers stop drinking or using drugs, their abuse often continues and may increase. Alcohol and other drug use do not cause domestic violence, although abusers often use it as an excuse. Abusers who drink or use drugs have two separate issues – intimate partner abuse and alcohol/drug use – that need to be dealt with separately.

Many drug and alcohol treatment programs offer groups for family members, or family counseling sessions, but these are not always safe for people being abused by their intimate partners. You may be abused for what you say in a session, or the counselor may say or do things that put you in danger. Also, your partner may blame you – and you may blame yourself – for both the drinking and the abuse toward you.

If you decide to tell the substance abuse counselor that you are being abused, don’t do it in front of your partner. No counselor should ever insist that you participate in counseling if your partner is abusing you. You are the only one who can decide whether it’s safe to participate or whether it’s safer to refuse.

What About Couples Counseling?

Regardless of what your partner does, it is important to continue to plan for your own safety.

Couples counseling is rarely helpful when there is domestic violence. In fact, it may make things worse. It assumes an equal relationship where both partners can openly share their thoughts and feelings without risking their safety. That cannot be true if one person is abusing the other. Going to counseling together also suggests that you share some responsibility for your partner’s behavior. An abuser’s behavior is the abuser’s responsibility, no one else’s, and they are not likely to change unless they take full responsibility for their actions.

Victims can be threatened or assaulted for things they said – or didn’t say – during a counseling session. If you are already participating in couple counseling and your partner tries to get back at you for being truthful or sharing information, contact your counselor and ask them to find a way to cancel future sessions without letting your partner know it was your request.

If you are mandated to attend couples counseling by CPS or the court, and your participation puts you in danger, contact your CPS worker or supervisor, the court, your attorney, or your local domestic violence program and explain your concerns and request sessions to end.

What About Mediation and Parent Education?

Sometimes courts require victims to participate in services with their partners. Such services may include mediation or parent education. Mediation (also commonly called “conflict resolution”) is when a third party helps people discuss their differences and create an agreement that works for both parties. Many judges order mediation in divorce and custody cases. However, mediation can be dangerous for the same reason couples counseling can be dangerous and can actually make things worse. It can be dangerous for people who are abused to express their feelings in front of their partners. Like couples counseling, mediation only works if both parties have equal power in the relationship.

If you do use mediation, it is important to discuss your goals and expectations ahead of time with your attorney or advocate. Be clear about what you are willing to agree to. Again, consult your local domestic violence program about the mediation program and the individual mediator. Many mediation centers use a domestic violence screening tool and may not accept you as a client because of the abuse.

If the court orders you to attend parent education, you may not have to participate. Tell the clerk who handles the paperwork that you have been abused and ask for a waiver. You can also tell the person you speak to at the parent education program about the abuse and request a waiver. Requesting or getting a waiver should not affect the outcome of your case. If you do decide to participate, you should definitely attend a separate class from your partner.