Can a Marriage Survive Spousal Abuse?
Most people consider spousal abuse to be a deal breaker, so the question of whether or not a marriage can survive and thrive after abuse is rarely addressed. The truth is that it is possible for a marriage to survive abuse but it is also very difficult.
The fact that a marriage can recover after abusive behavior should not be used as an excuse to stay in a dangerous situation. Safety should always come first. Healing a marriage after abuse is often a decades-long process and it’s not something that a few couples counseling sessions can fix.
The Important Prerequisites
Before a couple can overcome abuse, the abusive husband or abusive wife must take full responsibility for his or her actions. Note that this is very different from a simple apology and a promise to stop the abusive behavior.
The abuser needs to admit fully what they have done and the abusive behaviors that they have engaged in without trying to shift blame. They need to admit that the abuse was their choice and start working on changing their behavior without demanding “brownie points” for their efforts. They also need to develop kind, respectful and supportive behavior in place of the abusive behavior. This is often a lifelong process.
Another important prerequisite is forgiveness. After the abuser has taken responsibility and acknowledged their behavior as abusive, the abused should consider forgiving them. This doesn’t mean forgetting, minimizing or justifying any of the physical, emotional, financial or other damage. It simply means letting go of the anger, hurt and resentment so that they are free to move on with life together or apart. Individual counseling can be very helpful with this process.
Do Not Wait Around for an Abusive Spouse to Change
The fact that a marriage can recover from abuse doesn’t mean you should wait around hoping that your abusive spouse will change. As mentioned above, this change is often a lifelong process. Your spouse is not “cured” just because he or she has managed to go a couple of months without being abusive.
For a marriage to have a chance of surviving spousal abuse, there needs to be a “therapeutic” separation. Being apart forces the abuser to face their abusive behavior and make changes if that’s what they really want. It also gives the abused a chance to heal and pursue forgiveness. It is impossible for these two processes to occur if both parties are living under the same roof. The marital problems alone would prevent that.
A marriage can survive spousal abuse but this requires very special conditions. It is not as easy as gong through a few months of couple’s counseling.