What to do when you realize you’ve been an abusive partner

Tracy asks: I’ve come to realize that I’m an abusive partner in my relationship; it’s been going on for a while now and I really need help. What can I do?

Hi Tracy –




Well here’s the good news: you’ve already done 90% of the work.  With an issue like this, by far the biggest part of the job is realizing and admitting the problem.  What comes now isn’t easy, but it’s easier than what you’ve done.


I would argue that there are two things you’ll need to do.  One is to take your self-awareness up to the next level, and the only way I know to do that is to hire a therapist.  Someone who can work with you on the deep reasons why you have behaved in ways that don’t match your beliefs or your feelings.  (I say this because, if you thought that what you’d been doing was right, you would never have written me this question).  I don’t know where you live, but if it’s hard to find a traditional therapist there, other people with the right training can help also, such as a religious group leader, a school counselor, a psychiatrist… any of these are fine.  Just as long as it’s someone you can open up with, about all your experiences, who’s not going to treat you with shame or break your confidentiality by telling other people about the things you told them.


But there is a second part.  And that is to start atoning for what you’ve done.  Has it been only with one partner? And was it just emotional abuse?  If so, you don’t have to do much.


But if you’ve had this pattern for a while, in multiple relationships, and if your abuse went into the emotional, verbal, and even physical realms, you’re going to want to have some very difficult conversations.  To apologize, and let them know how you see what you did, and how you feel about it.  And then to let them respond to you – to listen to and hear all they have to say, and absorb it all – even if you don’t believe every word of it is true.


They’ll need to have this experience, of being heard, to be able to move on.  And you’ll need to absorb all they’re saying.


And if you can do these two things, Tracy – working on your own issues, and giving the others the right to voice themselves to you – you’re going to be able to move on.


And what I love about this is that if you do get this work right, you’re going to find that your whole life improves.  Not just this one relationship, but other friendships, family, work connections, all sorts of things will get better.


When I was a puppy, I bit everyone all the time.  I slowly learned to treat people the way they wanted to be treated instead.  And now I have hundreds of friends (not counting the thousands I have online!).


This can be you.


Congratulations on your bravery.  If there’s anything I can do to help (such as aid you in finding a therapist), just let me know.


The future is so much brighter!


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