teenage girl sitting on sofa with head in her hands

It can be very difficult for someone to accept that their behaviour is causing another person harm, but one can’t change what one doesn’t acknowledge. 

You might be reading this because you’re worried about the way in which you treat your partner, or perhaps someone in your life has suggested that your behaviour towards your partner is abusive. Regardless of why you’re thinking about changing, be proud that you’re choosing a healthier way to live. It takes real strength, courage and commitment to change, and with the right kind of help and professional support, men and women who once used abuse in their relationships go on to live better lives.

Why do people abuse partners?

At the heart of abusive behaviour is the desire for control over someone else. You might be feeling that things are out of control and hope that by controlling your partner, you’ll feel better. But of course, one can’t feel better about themselves when using abuse to cope. You might also have witnessed abuse as a child and this can teach us that abusing someone else is a good way to handle difficulties with our partner.

Regardless of the why, it’s important to recognise that abuse is never acceptable, and that stopping must be your choice.

Refuge suggests that men and women who want to stop abusing their partner must first:

  • Accept responsibility for the abuse. Blaming your actions on your partner, or using drink, drugs, stress, or work pressures as excuses isn’t helpful.
  • Accept that the abuse comes from a desire to control your partner, and it’s critical to explore the reasons for this with a professional.
  • Realise that you have a choice. You can choose to be abusive, and you can choose not to be.
  • Accept that your partner has a right to live his or her own life without being dominated and controlled by you, or anyone else.

What help is available?

Your GP can be helpful in referring you to suitable professional support. There is no shame in acknowledging that you use abuse in your relationship – the point is that you want to change, and learn healthier coping skills.

Domestic abuse is not caused by anger, so anger management classes are not going to tackle the root cause for the abuse. Instead, you will be referred to something known as a perpetrator programme, also sometimes referred to as a domestic violence intervention programme.

What is a perpetrator programme?

These programmes are designed for men and women who want to explore the reasons why they abuse and learn new behavioural strategies. They typically involve small, same-sex groups which meet weekly for a period of anywhere between 20 and 48 weeks. They are not anger management classes but help people to:

  • Stop being violent and abusive.
  • Relate to their partners in a respectful and equal way.
  • Learn non-abusive ways of dealing with difficulties in relationships and cope with distress.
  • Keep their partner and children safer.

What happens at a domestic violence perpetrator programme meeting?

Some groups are discussion based, but most use a variety of interactive exercises to make the learning realistic, stimulating and relevant to real-life situations. There are many different programmes across the UK, and the content will vary, but on the whole, they cover the following areas:

  • What is violence and abuse?
  • Why am I abusive?
  • I am in control of my own behaviour and can choose a different, healthier way to be.
  • Taking responsibility for my behaviour, without blaming others or minimising it.
  • Understanding the impact of violence and abuse on my partner and children.
  • Learning how to notice when I am becoming abusive and how to stop.
  • Learning different, non-abusive ways of dealing with difficulties in my relationship.
  • Dealing non-abusively with my partner’s anger.
  • Negotiation and listening – how to build a respectful relationship.

Every perpetrator programme has a service for abused partners offering information and support.

How can I access a perpetrator programme?

Your GP will be able to refer you to a programme in your area, but if you prefer, you can speak to the Respect Phoneline in the first instance. You will be able to talk in confidence to a trained advisor about the options available, and you won’t be judged. The service is also available to people living in domestically abusive relationships who want guidance and information on how to access support for themselves.

You can contact the Respect Phoneline on 0808 802 4040 (your call will not appear on itemised bills), or email [email protected]. There is also a webchat facility available – visit their website for hours of availability.