"Can An Abusive Relationship Become Healthy?"Support the show
Today, we’re talking about whether or not an abusive relationship can become healthy, and if romantic partners can change. This is Jessica Skultety, Community Outreach Associate at Safe+Sound Somerset, Somerset County New Jersey's lead domestic violence organization providing services at no charge for survivors of dating and domestic abuse for over 40 years.
Today's question from local teens is: Can an abusive relationship become healthy?
Other questions we also get that are similar are, “How can I change my partner?” and “Can people change?”
The shorter answer is this: It’s possible for relationships to become more healthy, but we can’t change people – they have to make that choice and the effort themselves. Change is hard work and unfortunately, someone who tries to change their behavior doesn’t always succeed.
The longer answer is this: First off, abuse is always a choice that someone makes. People have a choice about the way they act towards their partner. This includes changing their behavior.
Sometimes when we start dating someone, we appreciate the qualities they have, but we are also hoping to change some of those qualities. Often, abusive relationships start out extremely passionate. Some teens will say, this was the first time I dated someone, or this was the most exciting relationship of my life so far. At the beginning, someone is showered with compliments and excitement, but then more questionable and controlling characteristics start to show up later.
When we give presentations in middle and high school classrooms about teen dating abuse, we ask, “Would you date someone who hit you on the first date?” Students usually look surprised and say, “heck no.” or “of course not!” Someone usually doesn’t start behaving this way right away (and physical abuse is just one example of abusive behavior).
Often, when someone is the target in an abusive relationship, whether they are experiencing physical, emotional, verbal, sexual, or financial abuse, all they want is for the behavior to stop or to go back to the way things were in the beginning. This is why we get the question, “how can I change my partner?”
We can’t change people. We can say we want this, and we can ask them to change, but ultimately it’s up to that person to make the decision and take action. It’s also hard work – they have to address their core beliefs and individual pasts that lead them to think these behaviors are acceptable in the first place. It’s not just enough to recognize them as wrong – a person has to be completely accountable and address the root causes. Someone who abuses might get professional help during this process too, but they have to put in the hard work to change their behavior. It is never the target’s responsibility to change their abusive partner’s behavior.
Also, even in abusive relationships, there are good times – a partner might apologize, and say they will make better choices and show improvement for a while, and then the behavior might happen again. Sometimes people use the apologies as a tactic to further trick and manipulate their partner (and in the end, further control them). Research shows that abuse tends to get worse – it might happen more often and/or more severely.
Remember, if a relationship doesn’t meet your needs, you have every right to leave. If your partner isn’t treating you in a healthy way, you don’t have to stay. You deserve a happy, safe, and healthy relationship.
Text or call the Safe+Sound Somerset hotline for supportive listening, safety planning, and information at 866-685-1122. Want to “Ask Ava” a question? Visit www.safe-sound.org/ask-ava. Thank you for listening today. Join us next time here on Ask Ava.