How do I know my abuser has repented?

You love him. Or, at least, you love the man you once thought he was. He was your husband, your friend. You had good times together. Sometimes.

But often, not.

He’s hurt you. Lied to you. Beaten you down with words or with fists. Been violent sexually. Stolen from you. Picked fights. Given you the silent treatment. Blamed you for things you’ve neither said nor done. And he’s done these things again and again and again.

Sometimes you catch a glimpse of the man you once believed him to be. A turn of the head, a smile, a shared joke, concern that seems genuine; it’s enough to cause you to hope.

But you probably shouldn’t hope. Abusers can change, but most don’t.

He comes to you begging forgiveness. “This time, it will be different. I promise. I’ll do anything. Just please take me back.” He melts your heart. He seems sincere. He’s tried before and failed. There’s just so much on him. You want to believe him so you take him back. And you try harder than ever to understand and to help him. And he fails again. And he hurts you again. And chances are very great that he’ll once again tell you how sorry he is, beg you to take him back, and you will and then he’ll start the whole process over.

Is it possible to know for sure that your abuser has truly repented and isn’t just saying “I’m sorry” in order to get you to feel sorry for him and take him back? There are some ways. If he’s sorry, he’ll change and not just promise that he’ll change. You’ll be able to see it. True repentance is followed up by action. If he’s truly sorry, he won’t push you to accept him back. He’ll give you space. He’ll understand that you are angry and that you have a right to be angry. He’ll realize that he has to win back your trust. He will also realize that winning back your trust might take him a very long time…and that it should. He will take an honest look at himself. He’ll realize that he has hurt you and betrayed you. He’ll start wanting what is best for you rather than what works for him. And if he hasn’t truly repented, he won’t do anything of these things. It will be the same old same old.

What if you’re not sure if he’s sincere? What if want to believe him but wonder if he’s lying again? What are some signs that you look for that will let you know that your zebra isn’t changing his stripes?

He hasn’t repented if…

  • He continues to abuse you.
  • He minimizes the extent or the severity of his abuse.
  • He continues blaming you, or blaming others, for his abusive behavior.
  • He continues to lie to you (even so-called little lies).
  • He tries to manipulate you.
  • He claims that you were abusing him.
  • He says he cannot change if you leave.
  • He says he cannot change without your support and encouragement.
  • You have to continuously push him to get in, or stay in, a treatment program.
  • He promises to start counseling, but then doesn’t.
  • He tells you that you owe it to him to give him another chance.
  • He tries to guilt you into anything.
  • He pushes you to promise to stay, or to come back, if he promises to get into counseling.
  • He plays on your sympathy.
  • He plays on the sympathy of others.
  • He makes excuses.
  • He makes and breaks promises.
  • He tells you that you could make the decision to trust him…if only you wanted to.
  • He steals from you, even once.
  • He pushes you to go to couple’s counseling.
  • He tries to make the children feel bad for him: “Tell Mommy I’m sorry. Tell Mommy I want to come home.”

If your abuser is showing any of these signs, you can be assured that he hasn’t changed. Read the signs carefully. And don’t be fooled. 

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