The Redemption Of The 52%

This afternoon’s post comes with a trigger warning: it is a non-graphic essay about a couple’s journey to recovery after an incident of domestic violence. We debated whether not or publish this, but ultimately we feel that it fits within the APW mission to think and talk about writing that pushes us to empathize in new ways. That said, this post isn’t something that everyone can interact with safely, and we’ve put the post break early to allow readers to disengage from it. This post should not be read in any way as advice. It is simply one person telling the story of their own experience. APW is not endorsing this plan of action, or the book mentioned in the post. If you, or anyone you love is dealing with issues of domestic violence, we urge you to reach out for help immediately. In the United States you can reach the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−SAFE.

We understand that a post like this is going to elicit strong emotions in the comments, but as always we ask that any commentary refrain from judging the author and their choices, or from offering advice (both the author and partner are getting therapy). We will be more careful than usual in moderating the discussion today, so if your comment gets moderated, please understand that it comes not from a place of judgment, but from a desire to keep the comments a safe space for both the author and the community at large.


by Anonymous

I’ve been the person who wonders, “What is she thinking?” when someone reunites with a violent partner. This winter I will marry him. I did not judge Rihanna harshly.

First: I feel it’s important to emphasize that domestic violence happens without regard to race, education, or income. That was a surprise to me. Somehow, I thought I was too smart to be affected, as an Ivy Leaguer with a doctorate. I was wrong. Second: what helped me more than anything was the book Why Does He Do That by Lundy Bancroft, a man who counsels abusers. While the title is heteronormative, the author addresses resources for same-sex abuse. Ultimately, an abuser’s underlying issues of selfishness, disrespect, and control are the same regardless of sexual orientation, race, education, or income.

I am not affiliated with Bancroft or his work, but the book is incredible. It is on your side. It goes through every excuse the abuser, your friends, and even your therapist might make for the abuse. I heard several of those excuses time and again, and the book gave me invaluable tools to reject anything less than the dignity I deserve as a human being. There is also a helpful chapter on the process of change, for moving past the incident with the abuser.

Both Bancroft and my (tough, smart, loving, social worker) sister emphasize that it’s rare for abusers to truly move beyond the self-centered mindset that allows them to use force against their partners in the first place. This fact is my stumbling block; not my partner’s, mine. We’re on a good path. He has done all the “right” things, I have no serious doubts…but I have moments of wonder. Am I really “that” woman? In weaker moments, I’ve Googled for writing by people in successful relationships with formerly abusive partners. I haven’t found much yet.

To be clear, though Bancroft wouldn’t make the distinction, D. didn’t hit me. We had issues, certainly, but after his mother’s death last year, D. became increasingly surly, distant, and at times downright mean. I was told by friends with experience that this is common after the death of a parent, so I just tried to be present for him. As his depression became more apparent, friends and I suggested (and sometimes pleaded for) therapy, but he refused to go. Desperately, I clung to “being present” without seeing much change. A few months later, driving through Minnesota on a stressful visit to his family, D. and I had our first ever yelling argument. He stopped the argument by seizing me bodily and dragging me out of the car onto the freeway.

It shattered me emotionally—no partner had ever put hands on me before—and the sheriff who happened to be nearby wasn’t too happy either. (The sheriff took my report and warned me about domestic violence, but discouraged me from pressing charges. “That would be bad for him.” Numb, I agreed.) I believe if D., who is easily twice my size, had hit me, I wouldn’t be writing this because there would be no “us” and no wedding. As it was, I immediately moved out of our apartment and refused to see him. I had the support of good friends. His friends harshly rebuked him but also offered him support, which made me glad. It’s crucial for rehabilitation: an abuser’s actions cannot have support from peers. I thought it would be worse for him alone.

I also heard responses that were surprisingly empathetic toward him, from two female friends. “Everyone has their trigger.” “You were upset.” Immediate correction helped me keep my cool and some sanity. Triggers don’t necessarily involve putting hands on a loved one. Put another way, D. and I had surprisingly similar childhoods of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse—and I have never used force against a partner, nor would D. ever have hauled his abusive mother out of a car. I reminded him of this each time he offered the abuse excuse. As Bancroft predicted, D. also blamed me. (“You’ve never yelled at me before. You played a part.”) I wouldn’t accept anything less than total acceptance of responsibility for resorting to force; otherwise, according to experts, escalation of violence is assured. Full admission, which he gave three days later, was the only way healing could begin. D. now refers to it as hitting bottom.

We were both devastated. D. started going to therapy multiple times per week. He discovered truckloads about the toxicity of his upbringing, which helped quite a bit. He had misplaced anger for decades. But Bancroft actually warns against individual therapy for an abuser, and recommends that the partner at least have regular contact with the abuser’s therapist. And Bancroft proved correct again: without meeting me, despite my asking her, the therapist began to verbally attack me for exposing what D. had done to our close friends. That was shocking to me and upsetting to him. (She also prescribed me reading: Women Who Love Too Much, again while refusing to meet me or speak with my therapist. I can laugh about that…now. I thanked her and read it, to give her a fair shot. It was interesting but not quite pertinent.) It made me realize how deeply ingrained violence against women is in society; she empathized with D. so much that I became the target. Now he goes to group sessions, which is Bancroft’s primary recommendation. D. has formed close friendships in this group, with men who have attended for decades, and plans to go for the rest of his life.

Eventually, D. and I visited a therapist with whom I have a good relationship; I’d seen her previously to help with my own abuse. I openly asked her to vet him and she gave me the validation I sought: D. is on a path to health and understands the factors behind what happened. I also started working on myself in a group, specifically for my Fear of Intimacy (that’s my mugshot in the dictionary next to the term). There’s a reason I chose a partner who was capable of violence. I’m not victim-blaming; I know this was not my fault. Still, I had accepted D.’s self-centered behavior long before his mother’s death, because it allowed me to stay at arm’s length myself. It’s simple but true: abused people don’t like to get close. But I got tired of feeling perpetually relationship-challenged. Facebook is our ideal face, sure, but all the wedding and baby posts are rather striking juxtaposed against being dragged onto the interstate (which I, uh, didn’t post on Facebook).

The relationship was torn down to its foundation. Carefully, we’re rebuilding on our patched selves. D. eventually convinced me to give us another go, tearfully: “You once asked if I had any girlfriends who got away. You are the one who got away*, and I’ll regret it for the rest of my life. You are the most beautiful person I know. And you are the only woman who ever accepted me for who I am.” He cries freely at emotional events now, happy and sad, which astonishes me. After dating a few months** we had sex again, and the new intimacy there…almost sent me running, I won’t lie. (I nearly cried. Freaked me out, man.) Over time I’m finding, delightedly, that I truly love this man. There are significant, respectful changes in how we interact; his defensiveness is gone. So are his criticisms; he now accepts that I am a human being with faults. He actually listens to what I’m saying. The pressure is off, and I don’t have to be the one taking the temperature of our interactions all the time.

It’s rare, but occasionally I feel wary. Not afraid, not intimidated, but wary. It’s nothing he’s said or done; it’s me. The statistics for repeat incidents of violence are like flashing neon signs in my head (48%). I drew solid boundaries: I will not visit Minnesota in the foreseeable future, and a second use of force is the immediate end of us. He readily agreed and promised not to let me or himself down again. But sometimes I can’t help but think of how common it is for anyone to fall off their wagon. If I do so, I distance myself; if he does, my well-being is in danger. And if that happens, well of course dummy, you knew what you were getting into, he fooled you twice! But on the other, balanced hand: it was “just one” episode, we’re getting healthy, and things are genuinely different this year. Our close friends are miraculous to me, I don’t understand how they’ve managed to be supportive of both of us, but they do it. My therapist says to trust my smart-lady gut. I guess that’s all I can do; there are no guarantees for any relationship.

But this intimacy thing…it feels really good. It also feels like a safeguard against future violence. So here’s to the redemption of the 52%.

*Um. It was actually very sweet and not as creepy as it reads. Less Hannibal Lecter, more Jerry Maguire.
**By far the longest I’ve ever waited after a first date. I don’t think chastity is a virtue. But it was very useful to me during a difficult time. Learning to be intimate involved a brief abstinence from sex, my previous vehicle for faux-intimacy.

Photo: Kelly Benvenuto Photography

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  • NTB

    The courage of the author is inspiring. Thank you for sharing your story. As always, APW brings an important issue to the table. Thank you.

  • Jessica B

    It’s nice (refreshing? New?) to read about a story where someone who has been in the abuser position seems to be turning life around and going through the steps of recovery. It associates back to the ingrained acceptance of violence against women–that whole ‘boys will be boys’ and giving abusers a pass because they just have so much emotion/testosterone/control issues. I’m glad things are working out for you and D. It would be interesting to read an update in a month/year to see what feelings are still there and which have subsided, or which new feelings are popping up.

    You are very brave for writing this. Thank you.

  • Amber

    Thank you for sharing your story.

  • Ella

    Thank you. This piece is so brave and also such uncharted territory. Thank you, APW, for deciding to share this important piece with us.

  • Gina

    This post surprised me, in a good way. It was not what I expected, and I will leave it at that.

    Thank you, APW, for bringing up this issue, especially given the (mostly unseen) level of partner violence in the United States. I truly believe you cannot talk about relationships and marriage and love for any great length of time without acknowledging the great hurt that some individuals suffer. I applaud you for not avoiding “the hard stuff.”

  • Jessica

    What a brave piece…this is one reason why I will always keep coming back to APW, always something new to think about, a different side to ponder.

    I wish the author and D all of the best on their paths to recovery!

  • Daisy

    Agree with all the comments above me. It is so difficult and brave to open up the way that you did. I love APW for being a safe place for people to share tough topics and for its community open to reading and listening without judgment.

  • Amy March

    This post reminded me so much of The Gift of Fear. It’s difficult to discuss the choices that surround violence without blame or excuses, or on the other hand denying the individuals involved the agency of choice. Thanks for sharing this perspective.

  • Ann

    Thank you for sharing your story.

    When I was back in high school, I was raped by the boy I was dating. He later entered an intensive, residential therapy program. At one point, several years after the rape, we talked for a long time. I do believe he’s changed and that it is possible for people to change in that way.

    What I’ve found hard is that mutual friends of ours judged me harshly for “making a big deal out of nothing” at the time. Now, nearly a decade later, I can handle being around him just fine when we run into each other. Some of my friends who are survivors judge me for this–they can’t believe that I could ever forgive him. My husband struggles with the idea that there is a man out there who raped me, and I do not wish that man any harm. The forgiveness was mine to give.

    Moving on from any type of abuse is a brave act, no matter what form “moving on” takes. Good luck in your journey.

    • Itsy Bitsy

      “Moving on from any type of abuse is a brave act, no matter what form “moving on” takes.”

      Yes. (“exactly” wasn’t enough.)

      • Sam A

        Ditto. Again, ‘exactly’ doesn’t quite do it. As someone who has lived through the fall out of rape, as a close family member of the victim… It’s the moving on, and finding room to forgive (in my case, myself, for not being there), that’s the hardest, but ultimately most healing thing.

    • Alison O

      “The forgiveness was mine to give.” You said it beautifully.

      I also believe, as a therapist once shared with me and I’ve heard elsewhere, forgiveness is largely something one does for oneself, not for the person(s) being forgiven.

      It is about letting go of the hurt and allowing yourself to move on, retaining the wisdom gained from the situation. It is not condoning the forgiven behavior.

      • Ann

        “It is about letting go of the hurt and allowing yourself to move on, retaining the wisdom gained from the situation.”

        This rings very true for me. I’m pretty open about being a survivor and identifying the positive impacts that it has had on my life. More than a few people have asked me, in light of my description of the impact of the rape has had on my life, “If you could go back in time and prevent it all from happening, would you?” My answer is always no. My experience has become a part of me–I don’t know who I’d be without it. I also know that the process of healing, which included attending and eventually running a support group for survivors of rape and abuse, has made me a better person. I am more empathetic, a better listener, far more patient, and far less judgmental. I am wiser. I developed wonderful friendships with women who I met in group, that I still treasure. Having someone from group by my side as I married my husband, with her knowing all the struggles it took to get there, was so powerful. A tremendous amount of good grew out of something terrible, and I chose to embrace that good.

        Healing, forgiving, and embracing the person who I am as a result of what happened to me have been one in the same process. And that process has been FOR ME.

        I was only capable of talking to my rapist after I had forgiven him for what had happened, but I only became okay being around him when I was convinced he had changed. It helped me to see that his forgiving himself was a far, far harder process than me forgiving him (that was also complicated by the fact that I was not his only victim).

        • OP

          “his forgiving himself was a far, far harder process than me forgiving him” –yes. After I left and he “hit bottom”, watching him go through the fire of coming to terms with what he had done was actually painful. Not painful enough for me to console him or come running back–that was not an option–but he put himself through more than I would or could have.

          Thank you for posting this.

          • Ann

            My rapist didn’t actually have a choice in starting his journey towards accountability–his parents actually caught him abusing another girl. Since he was a minor, they had the power to force him into a residential treatment program. Once there, he did buy into their program, which, I gathered from what he and mutual friends told me, was a very painful journey. It was also very public, which added a layer of difficulty and accountability. (I dodged that, as I was a year older and away at college getting therapy when shit hit the fan).

            I can’t imagine what his parents went through.

            So much pain–mine, the other girl’s, his, his parents’, my friends’–was a consequence of his actions. His journey of atonement and healing is his own, just as my journey is mine.

            You are so very strong for being able to watch your fiance go through his own process without enmeshing yourself within it. It sounds like the hardest exercise in maintaining healthy boundaries that I can imagine.

      • Hannah

        I love that phrase as well – “the forgiveness was mine to give.” I struggled stubbornly last year with the temptation to hold on to anger on behalf of an abused friend who had already made the decision to forgive – to the point of hurting my abused friend more than helping her. I learned a lot through that mistake.

        • Ann

          So, so many people make that mistake. Unless you’ve been coached or trained in how to help an abused friend, it’s very, very hard to see the appropriate boundaries.

          Also, secondary trauma is a real thing–that’s when a person close to the abused person is also traumatized. When that happens, the best thing to do is to support the abused person to get outside help and to go get your own outside help. Most often, each person needs a space to process their pain and anger separately to process in a healthy way.

          (This is why I started individual therapy when I became a peer leader of the support group I was a part of, despite having been happy with just the group before then. As a leader, I couldn’t dump my feelings that were in response to the feelings of other group members *within* group. While that work was tremendously rewarding, it was also tremendously draining. Rule #1 of taking care of other people: Take care of yourself.)

  • Kristen

    I’m so glad that the OP had not only some great supporters, but also the smarts and bravery to know when her fiance’s therapist was wrong. Its hard when you trust your own therapist to find that not all are good or intelligent and some should not be doing the job they have. Kudos for knowing at your core what you deserve.

    I’m also so grateful that her fiance had people in his life who supported him even when they couldn’t support the behavior he exhibited. Of course we should deal with these sorts of situations carefully but are we to shun forever everyone who ever made a mistake like the OP’s fiance did? I say no and I’m so very glad the people in your lives said no as well.

    • Copper

      it is SO hard when you feel like a therapist doesn’t get it, or is taking shortcuts/making assumptions. Because you show up to them to be your objective third party, when you feel like they don’t see the real issue it can induce an extra level of crazy.

  • Emily

    I remember being in a complicated relationship in college and discussing it with my therapist. I wanted validation or condemnation. I wanted someone else to weigh the facts of us and make a decision, one way or the other.

    Instead, my therapist told me that the only people who really know a relationship are the two people who are in it, and that I had to make the choice to stay or go.

    Obviously abusive relationships get tricky, because there’s the element of warped perception to deal with. It reminds me of trying to grieve without crossing the line over into depression, something I ultimately failed to do. Can you know you’ve crossed the line without crossing it? I suspect some people can. I’m not sure I’m one of those people, though.

    • OP

      Yeah… I almost cut that part out of the essay (asking my therapist to vet D), because it’s a bit weird and dependent, but it happened.

      I felt like I needed someone who knew my history to talk to D and tell me I wasn’t “crazy” for considering dating him again. I was happy to hear her professional opinion on his progress–which, to be clear, we all knew she was giving me–but if I could do it all again I’d probably skip that part. Because it’s a bit weird and dependent.

      • KC

        Sane, outside, unbiased opinions are *really* handy in this sort of case. I don’t think it’s weird/dependent at all to ask for that feedback from someone who is a professional, especially.

      • Kristen

        Having my therapist meet my husband and “vet” him was once of the ways I was able to let go of a lot of anxiety about our future relationship. I didn’t think of it as dependent – I thought of it as, this woman knew me more intimately than anyone ever has, she had helped coach me on learning to ask for assistance instead of doing everything on my own, so me asking her to meet with him felt like doing what she’d taught me to do.

        However, I also already knew nothing she could say would make me not marry him. But hearing her assurance that of course he loved me and wanted me to be happy, helped immensely.

      • Emily

        For me, it was less about having him vetted and more about trying to outsource the decision. Of course, I had a great therapist, so she was having none of it. ha

        • Kristen

          Oh therapists!

  • Astro A

    Not only is writing and sharing this post so very brave and strong of the OP, but also the ability to hold fast to not accepting “anything less than total acceptance of responsibility for resorting to force” and continuously taking a stand for yourself and your relationship in the face of people with authority, people with the ability and the duty to help victims of abuse, namely that sheriff and that therapist. This happens so much more than I can believe, and it just hurts my heart (and angers my brain) to hear of this victim-blaming and aggressor-sympathizing. Others in your situation have — understandably — taken these voices at their word and just become victims again. We should be able to trust these people to have our best interests at heart, and yet…

  • Linda

    Thank you for sharing this. This entry is a huge trigger for me in a few different ways, but I appreciate the courage it took to write and submit this piece.

    I do have a question that I hope can be answered. Is there a source available for that statistic (48% incidences of repeat violence)?

    • OP

      Hi: I knew this question would come up, I don’t trust uncited figures either and I’m glad you asked!

      The rates vary greatly depending on who you ask. The 48% I cited was based on a study of second visits by police to a home where domestic violence occurred, which admittedly may not be very reliable considering problems with say, rape reporting. I can’t find that reference today for some reason (I found it late one night entering random search terms into Google), but here’s another one:
      which says “Typically, the rate of re-offense by perpetrators of domestic violence is 30 to 40%” (it then goes on to cite another study at 60%… so it’s all over the map).

  • C

    The author’s recommendation of Why Does He Do That is spot-on. That book helped both me and my mother start healing following 23 years (for me) and 30 years (for her) of horrific emotional and physical abuse by my father, her husband. Both of us believe that every woman should read it– not only those affected by abuse. It’s eye-opening and blatantly states what is. simply. not. normal. or. healthy. in ANY relationship. Reading that book helped decrease the frequency of nightmares and meltdowns on my end, and three years after we moved out, things are only getting better for the two of us. Some scars never heal, but the insight on thought patterns and tactics of abusers helps, and if nothing else, the book certainly tells you that (a) you’re not alone, and (b) abuse takes many shapes, colors, and sizes across any economic background. If Why Does He Do That could help anyone else, then this is my loud PSA for everyone on APW to pick it up and read it and tell the other women in their lives to read it!

  • KC

    People who can support/love a *person* while not giving a free pass to totally-not-okay *behavior* are rare and golden. Hooray for all friends/therapists who can pull this off!

    (Much more common in my experience: ignoring/minimizing/condoning/excusing the behavior *or* totally demonizing the person. Not quite so helpful. Easier to do, though…)

    • Right?! This is an extremely serious case, but that idea– supporting people, not behavior– is necessary in all manner of situations. From the person who cuts you off in traffic to your family members who engage in constant unacceptable behavior. There are so many fine lines to think about in terms of being supportive while also protecting yourself. Deep nuance to all of that.

  • KINA

    Just throwing another great resource out there – RAINN’s Online Hotline, where survivors can talk to people in an IM chat format (may be easier for some):

    • Stalking Sarah

      I’d love to see APW put together some resources for having a healthy marriage – encompassing everything from RAINN and the national abuse hotline to marriage counseling to financial planning etc. Sort of like a “how to be married” guidebook.

  • Anonymous

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. I have a sibling whose last long-term relationship ended after my sibling was physically abusive toward his partner. Coming to terms with this has been difficult, even as an outside party, because we’re taught that this is a zero tolerance issue. My husband refuses to have a relationship with my sibling based upon these actions, which I understand but also struggle with. Things aren’t always black and white, and I have to believe that change is possible. My thoughts are with you on this incredibly difficult journey.

  • SarahT

    Hugs, hugs, hugs!! “Somehow, I thought I was too smart to be affected, as an Ivy Leaguer with a doctorate. I was wrong.” THIS!! Wishing you and your fiance a path of continued healing and genuine intimacy.

    • Mel

      Exactly. It sounds awful but this is the first thing I’ve EVER read that has convinced me that something like this could happen to me. Knowing the statistics doesn’t stop it.

  • anon

    Thank you so much. This post is one of the reasons I come to this site – to remind myself that life is not a cookie cutter, and happiness is in part achieved my guts and faith. Good luck, and may yours and D’s love continue to enrich your lives more than your (entirely human) faults can erode them.

  • Abby J.

    I must say, Bravo, APW for being willing to run such a difficult article.

  • K

    Thank you for sharing this.

    A few years ago my older brother hit me (because I wouldn’t get high with him). I talk to him and see him at family events, but I don’t think I’ll ever stay at his home again (we stay at a hotel if we’re in town), and I won’t ever let him be alone with my son. We had no resolution from the event. He is in ongoing therapy, so I hope he talked about it with his therapist. His wife saw the whole thing and didn’t say a word.

    Six months ago, in the depths of a 2-year depression, my husband told me he wanted me to leave. We saw a couples therapist, and she told me that there was a betrayal of trust — I couldn’t count on him in a lot of ways. I always thought there would a hard line where I would immediately leave a relationship (i.e., cheating, violence). But, I realized that a betrayal of trust comes in many forms, not only physical manifestations, and I now think that the hard line is refusal to seek treatment.

  • ANON

    Once, early in our relationship, we were drunk and making out. One of us just wanted to make out, the other wanted to go further. We’d had sex, so it wasn’t about crossing into a new level of intimacy, but rather just in the moment, about respecting boundaries.

    I said stop, and eventually stepped away and we went to bed. I was shaken; I’d felt the world stop and felt myself go numb. I did not want to go down that path. I had never been there before, but I knew I wanted a relationship where I felt unequivocally safe.

    I brought it up the next morning, and we talked about it. We both cried, hard. It was an incredibly difficult discussion. To tell someone you love that they made you feel that way… it’s nearly impossible. But I had to bring it up, because I wanted a healthy relationship, and there was no way for us to have one if I didn’t bring it up.

    It never happened again, and I never think about it except in this kind of discussion. But I’m proud that I didn’t let the relative smallness of the issue stop me from bringing it up. And I think it was because of stories like this, of education and discussions like this, that I knew to do that.

    • I wish you had not posted this.

      I wish I had realized this would be a trigger for me.

      • Sorry, that should have been posted as a regular comment, and this won’t let me edit my comment.

  • RJ

    Thank you for sharing.

    What strikes me is how strong you were from the start with your boundaries – no “it only happened once” but leaving him immediately.

    Although we want people who act abusively to recover and become whole, functioning humans again, it is they who have to do the work – we can’t recover for them.
    *You* couldn’t fix him, you could only create the opportunity for him to do that work by your own strength.

  • Anon for this one

    I’m sort of speechless right now.

    I’m sad. I want to curl up in a ball and cry at the thought of being dragged out of a car. I am holding back the tears of remembering my own 4 year verbally abusive relationship that I got out of, but still feel the sting of ashame at times about.

    I am confused.

    I want to hug the author and thank her for her courage to write this.

    I want to throw up a big sign that says “if you are in an abusive relationship, it might not work out like this one! you might have to leave!”

    I am humbled by the complexity of emotions that I feel. If I know anything, it’s that it’s not black and white, if it was I wouldn’t be confused and challanged by this. I appreciate APW so dearly for helping me to grow as a compassionate person.

    • OP

      Hugs right back. I had some doubt about submitting this, because I didn’t want to promote some relationship urban legend (Man Abuses Woman, It Works Out). But I did it because all I could find were essays about horrible, escalating abuse. I have to believe people are capable of growth and change. I think D is amazing–his emotional growth has been staggering and humbling–but he can’t be the only person capable of this.

      I want to emphasize that our relationship is only working because I stuck to my boundaries, and he worked so hard. We are working on ourselves.

      And I cried for days and days, and my anger took a while to fade… But I’m ok, I promise.

    • Hannah

      Beautiful response.

  • OP

    I’d respond to everyone if I could. I really want to say thanks. Thanks to APW for posting, and thanks for all the thoughtful responses. I know it’s a trigger topic, but I didn’t expect this.

    I’ll definitely try to submit an update sometime next year. I found some research (data–what would I do without it?!) that says that if violence is going to reoccur, it nearly always happens within 6-8 months. We’re past that point now, and things look really good. (i.e., D regularly offends my sense of emotional intelligence by asking me if I feel ok when I’m clearly having a bitchy time and haven’t realized it myself yet.)

    Thanks again. I’m speechless.

  • amy

    Thank you for sharing, I needed to read this today.

  • Ceka

    Oh wow. Honestly, being dragged onto the interstate sounds much scarier to me than hitting. I’m glad you’re okay.

  • A Girl

    I wish you all the best.

    This is so hard to read. I could have written this post. The therapy. The tears (from me, and from him. He cried very beautifully.) The self-help books. The hours and hours of dissection and examination and soul-baring on both sides. The beautiful words. The re-uniting. The incredible new, more intimate sex. The day he got down on one knee, with more tears, in front of the house where his grandmother was born to offer me her exquisite 1930’s diamond ring, saying she would have been furious with him if she could have seen how he treated me, but so proud that he’d won me back. How she would have loved me. How he almost lost the most amazing thing that had ever happened to him. How he would have hated himself forever if he had. How I was the most beautiful person he knew.

    I swear to god, word for word.

    My friends and family were so afraid for me, but tried to be happy. I felt like a hero. I had faced the demons, stood up for myself, renegotiated the terms of my relationship, plumbed the depths of my soul and found reserves of courage, forgiveness, love, and strength that I never knew I possessed. I believed deeply that damaged people could change, that love and hard work and boundaries could conquer all.

    I loved him with every fibre of my being.

    I won’t go into detail about how it ended, but you can guess. There is a lot of research about how abuse worsens after marriage. And when a women gets pregnant.

    I’m safe now.

    I am glad you reacted quickly and decisively. I am glad you’ve involved other people in this process, and that there is accountability in place. Abuse grows in the dark, and it is easy for boundaries to shift imperceptibly within the daily, weekly, monthly jostle of a private relationship. It is easy for standards to slip. It is easy to feel shame. It is easy to start making tiny excuses and telling little white lies. I thought I was too strong and smart and educated for it to happen to me. It was hard enough getting away the first time. After I had so bravely, boldly, strongly, lovingly taken him back, the shame and humiliation of having been so wrong was almost overwhelming. It meant leaving the second time wasn’t easier, like I thought it would be. (“It will be so OBVIOUSLY the right thing then!”) It was harder.

    I hope this doesn’t read as judgement, or advice. I’m just lying here staring at my laptop at 2:30 am with ice in my veins. I’m really sorry you’ve gone through this. I really hope you can both heal. Take care of yourself.

    • OP

      Oh my gosh. Thanks for having the strength to write this.

      You are right, it’s easy for old patterns to slip in. I have been vigilant and hyper-sensitive, like, if he interrupts me when I am speaking, he’s not listening, and that is a slippery slope to selfishness… wow does it feel bitchy, but I call him on it. I just can’t go back to that place again.

      I involved our loved ones to keep us accountable. They check in on us, still.

      Thank you, again. I’ll be sure to update in a year’s time, on this thread.

    • AshleyMeredith

      This is undoubtedly my own issue, and I have absolutely no idea where it comes from, but I don’t trust guys who are that eloquent. (I didn’t know what to make of my husband when I first met him because he said how beautiful I was three times in the first week. Was this flattery? Was this an attempt to get me off my guard?) Something that bears further thinking about.

      Thank you, A Girl (and you, OP) for your post. Bravery extends tendrils of learning in so many unexpected directions.

  • Rachel

    You have an amazingly clear-eyed, thoughtful, and well informed view of this whole issue. Kudos to you for moving purposely forward with eyes open.

  • LoLauren

    HUGE props to APW for not shying away from this issue, and of course to the author who bravely shared her story.

  • LBD

    Thank you for posting this APW.

    While violence is not involved in our relationship, both my husband and I were abused as children, and I understand how difficult that pain and anger carried from childhood can be to navigate in a relationship. Thank goodness for amazing therapists.

  • CXC

    I have no personal experience with physical violence, although I now know that my father physically harmed my mother on a few occasions over the course of my growing up. Growing up under those circumstances has shaped me in good and bad ways. Reading this as an outsider, I don’t know if I would chose a life of living “wary” or vigilant or alert or reading the tea leaves and analyzing interactions, especially because I know how being raised by someone in that state has subtly impacted me. I’ve also been in relationships that required mood reading for other reasons. Emotional intelligence and intuition is good; vigilance is draining. I think our culture champions the “overcoming-obstacles-above-all-odds” story, especially when it comes to romance, and I have found in my own life that cultural narrative can have a dangerous influence on my romantic decision-making. I’d like to think in my own life that there’s someone out there for me that I can just “be” with and no mountain moving will be required to bring us together.

    • OP

      I’m hesitant to respond, yet feel compelled. I’m not offended by your input, I just want to make something clear: my existence is not wariness/vigilance.

      As I say in the piece, the wary sense occurs rarely; the entire reason I wrote the essay a few months back was because I was feeling wary and wanted to process that. The post would be quite different if I wrote it today.

      The “vigilance” I mentioned above happened once since the abuse (he interrupted me while talking one day, which triggered me… I don’t claim to be a picture of health). When there are signs of lack of empathy, which is the path to abuse, my hackles go up and I speak out immediately… But it’s happened once in the past year.

      I can’t live in a state of vigilance, either. There’s no laughter there.

      • CXC

        OP–I totally respect your ability to get past those emotions. I think for me, I still struggle to find that place of feeling relaxed and free, and your words stir up those feelings for me. It’s incredible and heartening that you’ve found your safe space.

        • OP

          To be honest, I’m surprised too. In 2011, if you told me I would be laughing with and sleeping next to a man who put his hands on me, I would’ve laughed directly into your face and mouth. I was not known for forgiveness or compassion.

          I suppose this taught me that people are more than their mistakes, particularly if they are willing to face those mistakes (I have yet to forgive my abusive parents and I don’t see that day coming anytime soon).

          I think we all surprise ourselves… but I hope you don’t have to surprise yourself in this way. It’s kinda painful. Speaking of, I’m sure the impact on you was more than “subtle”–I’m so sorry.

  • Wow. I think it’s great to hear a story of someone who is giving a second chance and hear that it’s going well. Not everyone who makes a mistake is doomed to keep repeating that mistake… but you never know, and that’s scary. This situation takes a lot of courage from both of you. Courage on your part to give it another try and put your trust in him, and courage on his part to self-evaluate to get to the bottom of it. All I can say is that I wish you both the best of luck.

  • A Single Sarah for certain values of single

    In weaker moments, I’ve Googled for writing by people in successful relationships with formerly abusive partners. I haven’t found much yet.

    This. I haven’t done the Google search, but I haven’t come across anything in my browsing either. I understand the reluctance to write the post, submit it, run it. I’m grateful that you (OP and APW) are giving voice to condemning the action while caring for the people.

    In my mental drafts folder, I have a post in a similar vein. Considered how to include a trigger warning with a submission. But I’m the relationship that came after the incident. I haven’t figured out how to tell my story without telling the story that isn’t mine. And I’m clear this is not the place for that.

    The best affirmation I got was from a friend who knew next to nothing about my partner. (They still haven’t met.) My paraphrase: People can change with effort. And people who have worked to change are powerful. They do what needs to be done.

    Here’s to us all being powerful people.

  • Diane

    Thank you all for this amazing post.

    I have worked on behalf of people who have survived abuse or the family of those who haven’t for over 30 years – basically since I was a young, idealistic woman. The entire time I worked in the field I was have been struck be the zealously unforgiving nature of the work. I had staff who were in abusive relationships themselves, telling women to leave abusive partners unequivocally because that was “the party line” – then be unable to sleep at night and suffer from very complicated stress. I’ve had staff arrested for battering who were working with victims within the week – and doing a good job – really. And I’ve had staff leave a copy of their will under my office door at night because they were afraid their partner would kill them. What I have learned is that love and violence are intensely complicated and linked in cultures and social norms. It’s messy out here.

    Lundy Bancroft’s book didn’t save my life – but it sure saved my sanity and my career. It’s gold.

    The points that rang so true to me in this story are

    1) his friends held him accountable and didn’t allow him to shirk what happened – but, continue to love him and support him. Non of us can heal and then change without both those things. But we all have the capacity, no matter how rarely it happens, to both heal and change when we have this gift of accountability and love. Young man, you are blessed. Never, never devalue what you have.

    2) our culture always blames the victim first – we blame ourselves, people who hurt us blame us, therapists blame us. So ugly. We have to work on that as a society. Every day.

    I left my job of 20 years at a dv agency last year (I’m working on a PhD), and I am still trying hard to work to tell newer story about partner violence. One that allows us to live in reality and carry on to reduce the violence, and at the same time to do it in the spirit of healing everyone equally victims and abusers and everyone in between. This story helps.

    I wish you all the best, and when you don’t get it, I wish you honesty and love. And, thanks again for sharing this.

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  • Lacey

    So I shared this with a domestic violence organization I volunteer for, and then someone there forwarded this to me: a former domestic violence shelter worker’s response. I find it really nuanced and helpful.

  • Bette Noire

    Reading this piece and all of the comments, I realise I had my own comment composed before I even got past the trigger warning, even calculating how vehement I could be without it getting modded. That’s quite the embarrassing realisation. I’m confused by my reaction to this piece, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

    It’s part ‘holy moly I didn’t think all that overgrown stuff was still there. Looks like you have some work to do, little lady’ and a dash of ‘Oh, look. Another area in a grey hue. Dang it, adulthood – why you love that colour so much?’

    Kudos to APW, the OP, and additionally to the commenters who have completely added to this discussion I didn’t even realise needed to be had. Thank you all.

  • Jennie

    Wow. Thank you so much for posting this….the similarities between the author’s story and my life are almost scary. However, I’ve been in the denial stage up until now. I’m ordering the book the author mentioned so I can decide whether or not my SO needs counseling and/or I need counseling… Sometimes it takes hearing other people’s stories to realize that your own story has some *real* problems that can’t be ignored.

    • Jennie

      Me again — in case anyone cares — but I started reading the book mentioned in this post, and oh my goodness. It’s a great book so far. I’ve already learned so much in 2 hours of reading it, it’s crazy. Please don’t hesitate to post stories like these! This post has been really eye-opening for me and I’m so, so grateful that Anonymous shared her story!

  • SFH

    I’m obviously going through all my old apw posts backlogged in my feed reader…hah!
    1 used to work as an abuser education counselor at a center in Massachusetts that was co-founded by Lundy Bancroft. It was incredibly engaging, rewarding, and surprising work.

    Also, my partner was violent to me once, about six years ago. He grabbed me and pushed me up against a wall. We talked about it and he has never repeated this behavior.