‘How’ matters more than ‘Why’ in domestic abuse

Do you want to know why your partner is abusive? Are you trying to figure out how to make it stop? Then here are the simple answers to the two biggest questions we grapple with when we live with the black hole of domestic abuse.

When we are on the receiving end of domestic abuse, we typically have two HUGE questions:

  1. Why is my partner abusive?
  2. How can I make it stop?

We may think big questions have to have really complicated answers. Having escaped two abusive relationships, I can tell you that they really don’t.

1) Why is my partner abusive?

There are countless reasons why you are being abused. Maybe your partner has Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Perhaps he (or she) is a psychopath. Maybe they had a terrible childhood, or they abuse substances such as drugs and alcohol.

If you’re anything like I was, you’re stuck on this question. It feels like once we have cracked the ‘why’, we’ll have discovered the solution to the problem of abuse – and we’ll uncover how to make it better.

We get so fixed on the problem that we struggle to see what lies at its heart. We invest our energy in diagnosing the symptoms rather than treating the cause. You see, when we are enmeshed in an abusive relationship, it really doesn’t matter if our partner has a full-blown disorder or a truckload of issues.

What matters is that we understand that all abusive individuals are driven by one thing only: the need to control us, to make themselves feel powerful by hurting us. They are a black hole designed to pull others into oblivion.

So, if you are battling to escape the soul-sapping horror of abuse, please save the whys for later. When you are free and safe, you will be in a better place to understand what happened to you, and perhaps find the answer for ‘why’. For now, let’s concentrate on how.

2) How can I make it stop?

In an abusive relationship, we learn a number of strategies for coping with and mitigating the risk of abuse. We also do things that we think will stop the abuse. These include:

Modifying our behaviour to try to avoid triggering the abuse

We may stop going out with our friends, make sure the dinner is always on the table by 6pm, or stay silent when she hurls insults at us. Unfortunately, whatever we do, the abuse doesn’t stop. It actually gets worse. We fix our attention on changing our behaviour and get ourselves into an ever-decreasing circle of negative reinforcement. We don’t get our actions quite right, we are punished, and so we do more of the same, get punished, repeat ad infinitum.

We become shells of our former selves, we lose confidence in our judgement, we doubt our self-worth, and we are exhausted because all our energy is expended in a cycle with no positive reward.

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Albert Einstein

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Albert Einstein

You’re not mad, but you probably feel that way right now.

Trying to fix it

We have probably identified a likely cause for the abuse. If he has a drink problem, we urge him (as much as we can without provoking confrontation) to engage with a rehab programme. If she has trust issues, we are constantly reassuring her of our fidelity – and going beyond reasonable measures to ‘prove’ it. If he had a traumatic childhood, we’ve sought out a therapist. Strangely though, our good-intentions are repeatedly thwarted. Consider this:

“For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” Newton’s Third Law

“For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” Newton’s Third Law

Our abusive partner may (in a moment of seeming repentance) make the right noises. But when we push, he moves further away. We pull away, he moves closer. We book an appointment for couples counselling, he responds with a cataclysmic blow-out which makes us regret ever even trying to do something proactive. Still, we keep plugging away. Again, we pour our energy and resources into a vacuum that never once gives anything back.

We do all the work. They do nothing, though they like that we are focussing our attention on fixing them – this makes them feel excused for their abusive behaviour, and seems to legitimise the abuse.

The simple (and only) answer

Here’s the simple, and ONLY way to end abuse:


Your efforts and your strategies are only tangling you deeper in the quagmire of abuse. Your abuser does not want to change. Why would they? They are getting everything that they want by behaving in this way. Their manipulation routinely produces the desired outcomes. It is time for you to take back your power.

Make a safe exit plan. Put it into action. When you are safe and you have your energy to invest in yourself once more, you’ll be in a much better place to understand why the abuse happened. You’ll know that removing yourself from the orbit of that black hole was the only possible solution.

Do you feel we can focus too much on why abuse is happening? How much does it matter at the point we are struggling to escape?

© Avalanche of the Soul, 2013-14

17 responses to “‘How’ matters more than ‘Why’ in domestic abuse

  1. Well said. There is so much on the Internet pressuring people to take a codependent route, suggesting of they are “reasonable” then the abuse will stop. It will not. Bravo!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great,great post!!! It is imperative that we realize we cannot ‘fix’ the abuser, rather, we need to focus those thoughts on getting away from the abuse and healing! Very well written SSS!


  3. I have given up trying to think of what to do to make my abuser stop and change. The abuse has only escalated. As I’ve learned that arguing or even trying to make my opinions know has no effect. I don’t see any other option other than getting away. What I can never reconcile is – why me? I learned from his daughter about two years into our abusive relationship that she is surprised that he had not even been arrested for domestic violence. I’ve heard many people say once an abuser always an abuser. However from some of the things he has said but also from witnessing his interaction with his ex girlfriend, I get the impression that he did not abuse her the way he does me. He speaks highly of her. She has given him temporary work (projects) with her company. She seems to have no bad feelings toward him at all. I find it so hard to believe that a person would go from not abusing one person, to abusing another one. Any ideas about this? I can’t understand why me and not someone else.


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