Q&A From Readers: Navigating a Separation
Can I help my abuser change?
I appreciate it when my readers contact me with questions, comments, and concerns. Since I now receive so many messages, I’ve decided to begin featuring Q&A as a regular feature of my articles. If you have any topics you’d like addressed, please let me know. And don’t worry—I won’t ever use your real name or identifying information.
A reader recently asked:
I have had to make the painful decision to separate from my spouse because of domestic violence, and am now in a safe place with family. I’m currently trying to work through this process, but I wanted to ask if you had any advice or suggestions for how to handle it.
My husband refuses to acknowledge that he's done anything wrong. He fluctuates between love bombing and accusing me of being the sole problems of our relationship. I've been completely taken by surprise by the fact that he’s been unable to acknowledge anything, and by the fact that he’s now accusing me of the things he’s doing. This isn’t the man I married.
When I originally wrote an email to you, I said I was committed to the sacramental nature of my marriage. I still am—but my outlook is more bleak. I can't see a path forward. I’ve done everything I can think of. I’ve tried to make things better, but nothing has worked.
Can you offer any advice, especially from a Catholic perspective? The domestic violence hotline states that nothing can or will change unless/until the abuser acknowledges that they have a problem. Is there anything I can do to help move my spouse towards that self-realization? Otherwise things look like they are moving towards divorce and annulment—to my great disappointment, shame, and sorrow.
Thank you for being willing to speak to me, I appreciate your time and I thank you in advance for any advice you can offer.
God Bless You,
-A Confused Catholic Reader
This, sadly, is a common concern. I responded:
First let me say that I'm so sorry to hear about your situation. I know how difficult this is (to put it mildly), and I want you to know that you’re in my prayers.
As far as how to navigate things at the moment, my best advice is to work on your own your own healing, through the guidance and restorative grace of Christ.
Christ-centered healing is the only true path. Domestic abuse is a form of betrayal trauma, which means it naturally creates wounds in the self. Pray, go to Adoration when you can, and ask the Holy Spirit for the guidance to know the places you need to heal, as well as the ability to fully feel Christ’s love in order to recover from this immense trauma. Work on your feelings of shame, of sadness, of disappointment. Give them to Christ and let Him transform them. It takes time and it’s not easy—healing is a heroic journey. However, complete healing through Christ is always worth it. Jesus knows betrayal and deep sorrow. He knows immense disappointment. He knows it all!
I also advise you to release your marriage. But wait! This isn’t what it sounds. I’m not advising you to rush out and immediately hire a divorce attorney. Only you, through the careful discernment of the Holy Spirit, can determine when or if that time comes. What I mean is this: release your marriage into the hands of our loving Father and our Blessed Mother. St. Joseph, patron saint of homes and family, is also a great saint to pray to for intercession.
“Into Your hands, Lord ...”
Put your marriage into His hands. No matter what happens in the end, trust His will. Give your marriage to our Lord. Give your marriage to our Lady and her earthly spouse, St. Joseph. Without attachment to the outcome, give to them. Then open the door for God's graces to flow through, in whatever way He has designed for you. Remember Isaiah 49:16. God is holding you—and your entire life—in the palm of His hand. Jeremiah 29:11 also comes to mind at this moment. “For I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
You can change yourself, but you can't change other people. We all have free will. I wish I had better news, but the honest truth is, there is nothing you can do to change your spouse. Change must always come from within. The best thing you can do is pray for him. Pray, heal yourself, and treat your spouse as a child of God—while at the same time treating yourself as a child of God.
This means maintaining integrity and being kind, while at the same time not allowing abuse of any sort. Our bodies are a temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19). Jesus said to “love your neighbor as yourself,” which presupposes we love ourselves (Mark 12:31). Both of these biblical verses make it clear that we need to have enough love and respect of ourselves not to allow abuse to continue. That's also a way of loving others—not enabling them to continue any possible toxic behavior.
I've written a book on domestic abuse and am in the final stages of revision before my publisher takes over. It will be awhile before it’s actually on the market, but as things get closer I may ask if I can use snippets of it as “teasers” on my blog. In the book, I devote an entire chapter to abuser change—and also one to what happens when change doesn’t happen.
If you want to be put on my mailing list for updates on when my book will be released, please let me know.
May God Bless You and Keep You--and Comfort You!
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