April’s boyfriend told her that he’d hit his ex-wife during the ugly lead-up to their nasty divorce. He was embarrassed, ashamed and regretful. He said he wasn’t a bully or abuser, and he’d never to that again. He had much better control of himself now.
Should she leave him immediately?
Many people would rapidly advise one of the extremes – leave now because once a batterer, always a batterer or be kindhearted and stay, give him a chance the show he’s changed.
I say that you have to make a choice not knowing the future (as always) and “it depends.” Is this a first date? Did his ex provoke him and how? Did he smack her or did he really beat her? What does April know about him?
In this case, April and he had lived together for six months and April thought he was a real keeper. He was independent and responsible. He did not harass, criticize, demean or try to control her. The few times they’d argued, she could tell when he got mad but she could see that he controlled himself and kept the arguments rational and verbal. He did not put her down or attack her verbally. There was no bullying.
Also, April could see the effort he make to expose himself by telling her even though he hadn’t needed to. She decided to take that as a plea for help coming from his real desire to open up and be honest with her. He was willing to make himself vulnerable in order to get her help to change himself.
April decided he was worth giving a chance to.
She could see how he’d been raised in a family that had been brutal to him. She could see his choice to face his parents’ verbal and physical abuse by maintaining rigid control over his emotions. Later, he’d used that ability and his brains to become very successful in business.
If fact, she thought that his control extended too far into his personal life. If anything, he was much too controlled and distant – even repressed.
April drew two circles on the floor for him. In one, he would continue being the controlled, repressed person he’d been for years. He could hope that he’d have enough control to resist hitting her when they got into arguments or when she was so angry she frightened him like his mother had done before abusing him. Good for him that he didn’t want to repeat his parents’ patterns. But she wouldn’t stay with that controlled, repressed person.
In the other circle, he’d dedicate himself to becoming the person he’d wanted to be. He’d open up, overcome his old strategy of repressing his emotions and learn to be a person who simply never got so frustrated and angry that he had to lash out physically. He’d dedicate himself to becoming a whole person, not a half person struggling to control a “dark side” of violence. He’d have to be courageous to be willing to open up the pain of his childhood and to learn new ways of being when faced with an angry person he loved, but whose anger he feared.
He’d have to go to counseling to get the help he needed.
- The tests April set for him were that:
When he was the slightest bit frustrated or upset, he’d start talking about it reasonably. He wouldn’t repress it until he exploded.
- When she was angry, he wouldn’t hold back saying what he wanted and he wouldn’t mentally run away from conflict until he got so frustrated that he’d explode.
If he dedicated himself to stepping into that second circle and to being that second person, 24/7, she’d stay with him. If he raised his hand to her, he'd be gone immediately.
Was she worth it to him? He said that she was and that was why he told her about hitting his ex-wife. He hadn’t told her because he was afraid she’d find out.
Also, he asked her to make the same commitment with similar circles for herself. She had a problem of going from irritation to explosive rage without any intervening communication. She’d have to pledge to talk when she was frustrated and not repress her frustration until she exploded. She was pretty scary then. The April in her second circle was the April he wanted to live with.
Of course, they’d both begun an arduous journey. They both had to be strong and courageous, and open themselves up to each other’s opinions and responses.
The best way to become the person you want to be is to hire Dr. Ben for personalized coaching so you can:
- Develop the strength, courage, will and determination to do your best resolutely, diligently and effectively, and to set boundaries effectively.
- Develop a plan and master the skills necessary to create a bully-free personal life.
Since all tactics depend on the situation, call me at 1-877-8Bullies for expert coaching by phone or Skype.