For Women Questioning the Health of Their Relationships and Women Healing From Destructive Relationships


lowercoxbridgePlease join JAC Patrissi at the lovely Lower Coxbridge House in Somserset for a special 2-day retreat on November 7 through 9, 2016.

JAC Patrissi is a relationship expert and trauma therapist, advocate, and international author of “Should I Stay or Should I Go?: A Guide to Knowing if Your Relationship Can—and Should—be Saved.

For questions and registration, contact:

COST: £360 British pounds includes meals, accommodations and program.


Together, we will explore…

What is Going On?

Is or was it abuse? Chronic immaturity? Did your partner have unresolved mental health issues? (like trauma or abuse) How about addiction? Were or are many of these intertwined, like a perfect storm? Find clarity.

How Abuse Has Affected Our Lives

By learning and safely sharing about the impacts of relationship abuse, we will move away from isolation and self-blame, and take the first step toward recovery.

Regaining Faith in Ourselves

Together, we will practice exercises to reclaim ourselves, feeling our self-confidence and self-regard grow. Destructive dynamics can silence us, so we will work on rediscovering our true voice and reclaiming power while learning and practicing healthy ways to manage stress and anxiety.

Regaining Faith in Others

Forming (or repairing) close connections to friends and relatives accelerates healing. We will learn how to make good decisions about which people to confide in, and then work on overcoming blocks to trusting again in the face of past betrayals.

Building a New Life that Works

Each woman will create personalized strategies for moving forward, including considering what it takes to enter into a new intimate relationship without ending up with another abuser, learning how to build and keep healthy boundaries. For those still in relationships you are questioning, we will identify a next step forward.

Leaving the Past Behind

We will learn strategies to heal the pain of abuse so that we can stop feeling confined by the wrongs that have been done, moving instead into freedom. We will learn how to begin to build a lasting support system to help us through this healing process, as we find joy again.


• Large and Small Group discussions
• Small Group planning for individual healing
• Structured emotional support
• Safe Movement Activities
• Art Projects
• Singing
• Laughing
• Relaxation Exercises
• Free time
• Shared Meals
• Walks
• Meditation or yoga (optional)

I used to work primarily with women who were trying to decide if they should leave their relationship. They’d read my book, “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” come to my women’s weekend retreats, and somewhere in there, for a minute or two, each woman would really, really want me to tell her whether she should get a divorce or not. I would strive to be open and fair, but always respect that the final decision belonged to her. “You might not be finished and that’s okay. I’m not the Divorce Lady!” I’d say. And then a couple of ago, The Omega Institute asked me to help put on divorce conferences.

Now I’m the Divorce Lady.

The Relationship Just Didn’t Work Out or It Was Destructive

If you are seriously contemplating getting a divorce, you need to know what is coming. For your own sanity, safety and your future planning, you need to know who you are divorcing. The options for repairing a relationship and for divorcing from one are very different depending upon who your partner is.

There are two main categories of relationship demise: 1) Didn’t Work Out and 2) Destructive. Where does your relationship fall?

In the Didn’t Work Out category, you have relationships where skills and values become your primary concern. Were you skilled communicators? Were you self aware? Did you have compatible values? Do you wound one another repeatedly? Is the relationship painful most of the time or loving most of the time? When it doesn’t work out, you will experience pain and grief. You will also have significant options for the divorce process. You can explore a range of mediation options and custody options if you have kids. It’s not easy, but you will have less to navigate than your divorce comrades working through the aftermath Destructive Relationship.

In the Destructive Relationship,

ü  Your partner might be addicted to a substance or to a behavior, like gambling. This isn’t necessarily abusive behavior, but, unchecked, it can destroy a relationship no matter how hard the not- addicted partner tries.

ü  Your partner might be Chronically Immature. This also is not necessarily abusive, but being the “parent” to your partner who can never quite care for him or herself will erode the relationship.

ü  Your partner might be a bully who uses fear, intimidation, sexual coercion and other violence to get what he or she wants.

ü  Your partner might have unresolved mental health needs, such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, one of the Personality Disorders or Major Depression.

And, most challenging, your partner might have a toxic mix of the Destructive options outlined above. This makes for a Perfect Storm of a relationship and it means you have to proceed with caution while navigating a divorce!

Learn more about Destructive Relationships before you weigh out your divorce options. Your wisest options are planned knowing exactly who you are divorcing.

JAC Patrissi



I was in the woods, following a set of bunny tracks, when I saw two giant wing brush marks on either side of the last track, and two drops of blood. That bunny’s last thought: “I’m flying!”

Until of course, that hawk smashed and ate him up.
This is the Seeker’s plight, too, in the talons of the hawkish teacher who promises flights of heaven, love, insight, transcendence, justice.

Though I work primarily with people sorting out their romantic relationships and the aftermath of destruction or violence within them, from time to time, people ask me about struggles they have in their place of work, or within a spiritual group.

It’s usually the same dynamic at heart: a teacher of a path, a leader of some kind, a therapist, or a lover asks you to suspend what you know and trust his judgment over your own for a time.
For those who believe in the deceptions of the ego, or call it the shadow self, or evil, or pathology or the blindness of social, gender and race privilege, this is not an unreasonable request.

We want to grow; we want to see what we don’t see—so we ask someone we respect to show us the things we don’t see about the world or ourselves. In fact, one of the attributes of some of the most painful emotional disturbances is that we don’t see destructive things about ourselves. And so the seeker seeks another point of view.

Which can be the very answer, the doorway, the way forward. Hawk knows about our hopes.

He comes dressed in infallibility. If you question the insight of this kind of boss, teacher, therapist, leader, something predictable happens. He uses the fact that you are questioning his point of view as evidence of your pathology, your shadow self, your evil nature.
This is no easy thing to shrug off. The Seeker risks being cast out by defying the teacher, and often would rather deny her own insight than risk losing so much of the beauty in the path she has come to cherish.

As a parent, I remind myself of this every day when my kids question my authority. Let them struggle, I tell myself—offer paths, offer consequences. Let them choose. When I teach or facilitate, I begin every session saying that I am Praying for Doubt. If the learner challenges me, then I know we are gripped in learning together.
Let’s ask the good questions, seek new information and try on the answers. My ideas might not fit you, and I’m good with that. If yours don’t fit me, will you burn me alive?
True insight offers its own flight—stable and rewarding, demanding bravery and humility and kindness. There are no talons, no tests of loyalty.



When it comes to relationships, questions  like, “Should I  or should I go?” and “Should I really have left?” are not easy to answer, especially on our own.

Together, in Omega’s beautiful setting, we examine some of the root problems that partners bring into relationships. We will learn  to evaluate the expectations, abusive values, addictive behaviors, trauma and other mental health issues that may be present in our relationships.

The weekend helps us:

  • Tell the difference between a health–yet difficult–relationship and one that is destructive or abusive.
  • Design a clear plan of action for you and your partnership.
  • Navigate the waters of a relationship that is difficult, but improving
  • Prepare for life without your partner, even as you keep trying to make life work with your partner
  • Understand and heal from a destructive relationship that you have already left

June 12-June 14, 2015

Written on January 20th, 2015 , relationship, Should I Stay? Or Should I Go?, Uncategorized

“He always said I was crazy.” Debbie cradled her head in her hands, waiting for her mental health crisis clinician Robin to come back with the cup of water she had asked for. Debbie’s mouth was dry with fear. The truth was, she couldn’t see a way through this slow heavy darkness that seemed to press down on her. Tonight, dying seemed the only way to escape its intolerable press. She couldn’t breathe. Nothing seemed to make it better. There was nowhere to turn, so she came to Crisis. “That makes me crazy, doesn’t it?”


When Robin handed her the water in a white mug, Debbie thought of her husband Andy holding up the coffee mug that had been her mother’s.

“Is this the one? Oh—too-bad,” he said, as he let it smash to the floor. When the kids rushed in to see what the noise had been, he explained, “Oh, your mother’s so uncoordinated, she is just dropping things again. You know how she is. Be careful you don’t step on any chards.”

When they left, he explained to her, “You see, no one will ever believe you. They know how crazy you are. I make sure they know you are a liar.”


And they didn’t believe her. Many years later, when their father died of a heart attack, the kids, now adults, mourned Andy deeply. After awhile, she tried to tell them just a little bit about the abuse she had endured from him all of those years. She tried to tell them that they didn’t deserve it when he would hit them or scream at them, but they wouldn’t, couldn’t, hear one word of it. When a person is intermittently loving and scary, we are bound to them even more tightly than if they were simply loving. It was one of the terrible barbs of her husband’s abuse that the children were bound so much more tightly to him, even in death, than they were to her. And he was charming. He’d charmed the pastor, the sheriff, the couple’s counselor and the neighbors. There was nowhere to turn.


Decades ago, Andy had stopped being even the slightest bit kind to her when not in public. The one benefit of this was though she had felt trapped by him, she hadn’t felt attached to him in the end. Today was the anniversary of his death. She and the kids had gathered at his gravesite, the way they have done for the past seven years. Today the kids were cold to her in that old, familiar Andy way. They left the cemetery and went their separate ways. She thought they might be gathering without her. Debbie’s thoughts turned darker and more painful as the evening wore on, until she reached out to the Crisis team.


“What’s on your mind?” asked Robin. Debbie held the mug with the water. She looked at Robin carefully, and then decided to try. It took awhile. She told about her life with Andy and the kids. She told about his death. She said the thing that she had not been able to say to anyone:

“I’m not sorry he died. I am so relieved. I am so grateful. I am so—happy—he’s gone.”

Debbie cried through a smile that grew wider as she spoke those words. Then, after a very long pause, she told her truth. She told story after story of the humiliations small and large, of the threats and the assaults.  She didn’t rush. She deliberately opened every door and every window in the airless house with Andy where contempt had reigned. She talked and no one stopped her.


It was unlike any Crisis intake Robin had done, because sometimes–this time—the primary intervention is being the safe person in the safe place where the truth can be told and honored.

“And I don’t have to punish myself anymore,” laughed Debbie as she sipped her water. “I don’t have to die because I feel so glad he’s dead or because I’m telling you what happened. And you believe me?”

“I believe you.”

“I can tell.”




Bibi, one of a pair of Galapagos giant tortoises has left her mate, Poldi. After one hundred years, Bibi had had enough of the relationship, and took a chunk out of Poldi’s shell to signal her step into freedom. Keepers at the Reptile Zoo in Klagenfurt, Austria, say that now whenever they are brought together, Bibi remains firm in her conviction, hissing at Poldi, who violently lunges at her.
“They are both 115 and have been together since they were very young,” said zoo owner Helga Happ.
Bibi remains entirely uninterested in reuniting with Poldi, moving on to new daily routines.
“I just wanted to be absolutely sure that I’d tried everything possible to save the relationship,” said Bibi in an interview, “but I finally realized that though he claimed he was working on changing, it was all talk and the same lunging at my lettuce at dinner and apologies in the morning. I’m not as naive as I was in my fifties–if you can’t keep up with me, then I’m not waiting around for you to change.”

After a ski in the wood and cold, as I soak in the heat of the tub, this sometimes occurs to me:
How I soaked once on such a day long ago at the old hill farm in Vermont, when my former husband leaned against the doorway of the bathroom and asked me this:
“Do you really think you are that smart?”
The tenor of his voice was so even that I thought to be jovial, even chatty, in my responses–
Yes, I… do. That was never an undiscovered and uncelebrated aspect of my being—the much praised, much lauded Brilliant Young Girl/Woman Story. Writing awards, special projects, fellowships and prizes. Professorial stamps of support and approval. But I had already traced that story for him —how the city and suburbs were both energetic and protective, in their own ways, but never my place. And academia was an ill-fit as well, with even the very best telling me, “You don’t need our small, plastic chairs. You don’t need us.” That I had come to the hill farm in the Northeast Kingdom to learn the things I needed to know from the land and, as it had become clear, to also build the spiritual retreat center there.
“And do you think that you can really take on this project with Maggie for the Coop?”
“Yes,” I slowed, more curious than wary, “It’s going really well.” I didn’t see how my working with Maggie on the Food Coop’s Board restructuring could be so unsettling to him.
“Well, sure it is, now that you two are totally disagreeing with me. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t move into a place and just jump in to something this size without knowing anyone. I guess I’m not that smart.”
His eyes flared, his face turned red and he began to shake as his voice opened to bellow, “You are So Smart, then! You are Just So Smart, aren’t you?” He came close, looming over me as I clenched my wet knees, realizing with an immense disappointment that this is what the careful tone had masked. I didn’t yet know the ins and outs of this kind of cruelty. I didn’t know its pattern and cut, the way I do now. I couldn’t imagine any of it was more than a mistaken moment that could easily be overcome.
I began to shake in the water.
“Look at you! Shaking!” he shouted. Not yet fully tutored, I hoped, for a split second, that my quaking had awakened him to his fuller senses. “Look at you!” he shook his head and twisted his mouth into a smirk of contempt. “Look at what you do to yourself,” and then he retreated with a heavy foot.
One of the many things he said when I told him much later that I was leaving him was this, “Don’t leave. You know how you changed that feral cat you found? It was working with me, too. Don’t give up.”
Of course he could never hold on to the concept that he was in any way like that feral cat, or that I had anything to offer him; this would be ultimately as unacceptable to him as the notion that I was “smart.” But he did know that to offer this vision to me at that juncture could be effective and enticing, just as the mask of the gentle spiritual warrior had been so attractive for so many.
And still is. He still runs the retreat, and would recoil at being faced with the unadorned facts that he emotionally, physically and sexually assaulted the woman who challenged the reign of his private kingdom.
Together a few experienced advocates and I offer retreats for women healing from destructive relationships. I always begin by saying in welcome, “My goal is to help you become women who are hard to fool.” Women who come for help and support are often surprised that we can anticipate and bring to light what they thought was hidden, that we know the paces of outrageously violating storms that stir in the smallest of spaces. When we look together, we can see what is not so clear to the untutored eye—we leave with much to teach our daughters and friends about power’s sleights of hand—minimization and blame; context stripping and typecasting; fear, isolation and the hint of kindness and hope that forge the traumatic bond.
I came to the hill farm with a request of the earth to show me the gifts I did not possess. She told me these things:
You cannot pull out the roots to check on their growth; there is a place for light and rain, but give the roots the darkened mystery they crave. Let yourself unfold. You will root over time.
A hundred seasons exist inside one season—how could you be bereft of blossom?
And this,
The earth erodes all superficial cover. All will be revealed in time.
Peace for us all this new year.

Honoring the Loss of a Relationship That Wasn’t That Great
I was in my backyard this morning when I discovered that  the giant tree branches, downed in last summer’s tornado and in the Halloween snow and ice disaster, are now dry and light enough to drag with one hand. It made me consider that sometimes
the breakage from a great storm needs to be left as it is for a time, until it is light enough to carry. Sometimes relationship break ups create emotional damage that need time to heal–to become lighter, too.  You can’t just pick up the broken pieces, carry them off and be done with the whole business quickly. You need some time.

Leaving a relationship is always painful, and there is a unique pain that comes from leaving an unhealthy relationship.Unlike the many people who leave a relationship when they realize they have nothing in common, or that they are no longer attracted to each other, or that they have grown apart, or that they simply don’t like each other, when you leave an abusive, addicted or
emotionally unwell partner, you tend to face a more powerful set of emotions.

You may well have to, for example, come to terms with leaving someone to whom you are still attracted, with whom you had much in common, and to whom you felt very bonded or connected when he was not destroying himself or being mean to
you. This means having to say good-bye to much that you liked, were attracted to, or felt so connected to. I want to support you in grieving those losses. Grieving takes time. Sometimes the breakage from a great storm needs to be left as it is for a time, until it is light enough to carry.

Planning for Grief

Your emotional well-being is in your own good hands. This means you will need to embrace and structure time for grieving. Now that you have decided to let go, let’s make room for grief by naming some of the many things there are to grieve in leaving a destructive relationship.

We know that a relationship that has been so troublesome can lead your friends and family to offer a form of support that isn’t really helpful, however well meaning it may be. It often goes something like this: “Thank goodness you left the bastard; now you can move on!” Just weeks later, they may already be saying, “Are you still dwelling on the past? It’s over!”

But that’s no how grieving a destructive relationship works. We know that there are many losses to grieve and that there is much wisdom for you in this pain. We suggest that you plan for a year of grieving. It might take you shorter or longer, but we ask that you plan for support from a couple of trusted friends, or find wider support through a group for women recovering from abusive relationships, or Al-anon, or a therapist, or a spiritual leader to help you through each of the four seasons of the year following your leaving. Planning for this as you get ready to go can make the entire journey not only more manageable, but fruitful and loving.

First, name what helps you.

Read the statements below and figure out the statement that feels most right for you, that you would most like to hear from other people as you begin to grieve:

“We are sorry that he wouldn’t change.”

“We are sorry that he threw it all away.”

“We are sorry that he wouldn’t step up, that he refused to ‘man up’.”

“We are sorry that he decided he didn’t want to go through all that work and that he chose what he knew already rather than risk a new way of being.”

“We are sorry that he couldn’t go any faster, or do any better.”

“We are sorry that he can’t offer to continue to lovely moments that you shared, because he is unreliable or unsafe.”

You don’t have to—and shouldn’t—attempt to rush yourself through the process of getting over the grief of leaving a destructive relationship. The slower you go, the faster you will heal. Begin by naming what it is for you that you most need to hear. That will tell you where the grieving needs to start.



As I dutifully set my clock ahead this morning, I started thinking about the precious time it takes to work on a destructive relationship. When we change our clocks forward at daylight savings, we give up a little time knowing that we’ll get that hour back later. As we explore the pros and cons of giving a destructive partner time to change we need to remember that whatever time we give, we’re not getting it back later.

There can sometimes be advantages to giving your partner time to change.

*You might use the time to construct a plan of exiting as safely as possible, with as many sound emotional and financial resources as possible—this is especially important if your partner is violent or threatening, or has indicated that he will get financial revenge on you if you leave him.

*With a dangerous partner, you might use the time to hope that he is the one he loses interest in you so that he is the one to leave you, which can be safer.

Giving your partner your time…

… might give you the space to become very clear about what is happening; going through repeated patterns can give you the opportunity to identify them, prepare yourself emotionally for them, and see the range of his abilities.

…can allow you to manage major life transitions, such as caring for infants or very small children, or dealing with a relative’s sickness and death, with fewer disruptions than leaving might entail.

…can allow you to articulate for yourself what exactly your “deal breakers” are so that you are more prepared to insist upon change, and to reinstate for yourself your standards and your clarity.

…when safety is not an issue, can allow you to detach yourself from the intense care and responsibility for him, and reestablish yourself as a priority, even while in the relationship.

…can assuage the voices in you that say, “What if…” or “I have to…” These voices can’t be heard and these expectations met until you can meet them squarely and feel confident in your conclusions.

… if things are noticeably improving, can connect you to the love, hope, and expansive feelings you felt when you first met.

… if things are noticeably improving, can afford you some of the acknowledgment and healing that you desire and deserve.

…can help you feel certain of yourself as a person who has tried everything, who is committed to relationships, who believes in giving people a chance.

… can give your children a chance to be in an intact family. (Of course, the costs can quickly turn too high for you, and for your children also, so be alert to when the costs start to outweigh the benefits.)

…can spare you the pressures of having to go through finding a new partner and building a new life.

Let’s look at the costs of standing by a destructive partner.

*Your natural sense of hope and resilience may be wounded. Giving so much loving attention to your partner without much return is like a slow leak in your energy reserve tank; hope for a life filled with love can fade, to be replaced by a desperate longing for love and connection.

*You might lose sight of your own set of standards in the relationship, compromising even your basic emotional needs because you are so busy sorting through and managing your partner’s dramatic ups and downs, with only short periods of rest in between. With all that work at hand, you have been pulled away from addressing what you actually want in your relationship. The standard becomes “He’s not as bad as he was,” or perhaps even, “It doesn’t devastate me the way it used to.”

*You might lose your sense of joy and creativity, for all the reasons we have just been describing. Expressing your vision is the core of creativity. You must have an audience that is receptive in some way, even if it is an inner audience. When you have internalized the destructive audience, you become bound up by a sense of rejection. You feel stopped before you even start.

*You may miss opportunities for yourself, and lose out on necessary personal changes because you are no longer attuned to your inner signals regarding your own needs and desires, as you have become so outwardly focused.

*You might have a confused sense of what the real signals of change are, since you have been promised changes for such a long period and they never materialize. His promises might be honest and heartfelt, but he lacks any real grasp of what it takes to overcome the profound issues and wounds that he faces. It’s easy to misinterpret these honest pledges as being changes themselves. And your confusion can be compounded if he keeps making changes but they rapidly fade way each time, or he makes small changes, but they aren’t nearly enough.

*You might have an inaccurate sense of who you are, because your partner so often responds to you in ways that don’t at all fit with what you are actually giving, saying, or doing. Being in a relationship with someone whose perceptions are so distorted can start to throw your own vision out of whack. It’s like looking too long into a funhouse mirror. You can’t have an accurate reflection of yourself back.

*You might have a growing fear of being ‘alone’ from him telling you that you are unlovable, unworthy and inadequate. The prospect of bring without a partner takes on a new meaning when you are in a destructive relationship, because you are already longing for intimacy, and may already be isolated as well. From inside the relationship, it seems that life without him would be even more painful than the situation you are in. (In reality, once the traumatic bond dissolves significantly and your life is filled with other loving connections, including to yourself, being alone can be filled with joy and renewal. You could rediscover who you are as loving, worthy and invaluable. Your possibilities for partnership could open.)

*You might not be the friend you want to be to others, because you have so little time to devote to your friendships.

*You may have a sense of frustration and impatience in your dealings with people, because you feel not known and not seen, and feel that your generous sharing of your life and time is not being acknowledged for what it is worth. You might be irritable and short from having been attacked over such a long period of time that you no longer have a place of rest from which you navigate the sometimes frustrating world. You might become intolerant of people disagreeing with your opinions because you’ve had to live with so much devaluing of your thinking that your value as a person seems like it is at stake.

*If your partner is self-destructive, giving him your time might increase your sense of obligation to him. If his style is to be less self-destructive for certain periods by channeling his unhealthy energy toward harming you, you may feel that you have to sacrifice yourself. Sacrificing yourself may seem less painful in the short term when you can ward off, temporarily, the self-destruction of someone you love. The longer you are with the partner, the longer you have the sense that you are keeping him going. But the reality is that you are both actually sinking; he may be sinking more slowly than he would without you, but you are both sinking nonetheless.

*The longer you stay, the harder it may be to find support from people around you when the time comes that you do feel ready to talk to other people about how this relationship is dragging you down. You may have had many reasons not reveal what was happening: you were afraid of how he would react if he found out what you said; you wanted to figure out more yourself first because you don’t know what it all means and where it is going; you didn’t feel that you could open up about the hours of arguments or the scary threats. It’s tempting to just say you are ‘fine’ and move as best as you can throughout your day with incredible (and unnoticed) strength.

Written on March 11th, 2012 , relationship, Should I Stay? Or Should I Go?

Your New Year’s resolutions regarding health and fitness may have waned, but it is still the season to invest in promises and hope for your relationship. If you are involved with a partner who has  repeatedly harmed you, whether through addiction, disrespecting you, cheating or being  outright abusive, much of the relationship advice you will hear during this romantic holiday will actually make your relationship worse. Let’s take a look at the commonly accepted wisdom that you want to avoid if you want your relationship to have a chance at becoming one worth saving:

*”Both partners have equal responsibility for making the relationship work.”

Well, no. The person who has behaved destructively has a much greater responsibility, and the relationship can’t become a healthy one unless he’s prepared to take that on.

*”Each relationship partner has to focus on evaluating his or her own faults, and stay out of judging the other person’s.”

Not at all–the person who has lived with the destructive behavior needs a break from stewing about her own faults, which her partner has most likely already harped on for years. Moreover, she will probably have to be calling her partner on his issues, because he has already shown that he won’t face them unless he is repeatedly confronted.

*”Issues from the past need to be left in the past.”

Wrong again. Don’t forget the wise saying “Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat its mistakes.” Healing can’t happen unless we address the past.

*”Don’t shame your partner about what he has done–you’ll just make him feel bad about himself and so much of what he’s done comes from his shame.”

We don’t want to continue the centuries-long mistake of encouraging women to be silent. We want to see men who are tearing lives apart challenged clearly and directly about what they are doing. The kind of toxic shame they many destructive people already feel does need to be healed, yet it does not excuse them from their responsibility. Toxic shame is fundamentally different from the appropriate sense of conscience  a person ought to feel for creating such harm.

Once one partner becomes chronically cruel or demeaning to the other, once a power imbalance is established in a relationship, once profound lies start to be told, the regular rules for dealing with predictable, healthy relationship conflict have to be tossed out the window and a whole new plan put in place.

If your partner is destructive and has admitted that he has a serious problem and is agreeing to take steps to turn himself around, then remember these guidelines for going forward:

The Past Matters.

Don’t accept the following statements:

“We’re putting the past behind us,”

“None of what happened matters anymore,”

“We’re making a fresh start.”

We borrow the caution from AA, “Don’t forget where you came from.” While it is true that you don’t want to live in the past, you also want to avoid getting too distant from it. When destructive people forget what they have done, it increases the chances that they will harm you again. Therefore, you and your partner will have to do a kind of balancing act. On the one hand, you can’t be endlessly rehashing the past as if it were the present. On the other hand, during these early periods of change, you have to keep the past beside you, give it a kind of presence in the room at all times. It is important to name what his behaviors were like, and what the harmful impact of his actions were on you and your children. This is sobering and helpful for the truly recovering destructive partner, and may be deeply relieving for you. You will know when you don’t need to hear it and talk about it any longer. You will also know whether your partner truly is changing, by whether or not he accepts this phase of the work willingly.

Another part of the past that matters significantly is the facts. Often the opposite is argued–that in a relationship, it only matters what each person feels about what took place, and that you each have your “own reality”. I’m not sure how wise this thinking is for any relationship, but it is most definitely misguided when it is applied to a relationship where one partner has caused great harm. The blurring of the facts allows the hurtful partner to escape accountability for his actions, minimize the impact those actions have had, and avoid learning the necessary lessons.

If you and your partner cannot reach at least a reasonably close agreement as to what took place during critical events in the history of your relationship, you cannot safely trust him to not to repeat those kinds of behaviors in the future. Therefore, one of the rules for saving the savable relationship is that if your partner can’t get to a clearer memory of his actions, he needs to at least be prepared to wholeheartedly take your word for it regarding how he behaved, and stop saying (or implying) that you are making things up or exaggerating them.

If you are reading this and thinking, “No way! He’ll NEVER do that!” than you can avoid Valentine’s Day’s mistaken hopes. He’s not really changing at all unless these first few rules for going forward are something you can both live by.

Written on February 7th, 2012 , relationship, Should I Stay? Or Should I Go?

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JAC Patrissi is a Communications Specialist who uses writing, performance art, training and collaborative facilitation in order to support healing for women who are questioning the health of their relationships or who are healing from destructive relationships. This is her blog.