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I recently received a message from someone who started the journey to healing from their emotionally abusive behaviors. They said they are currently getting professional help but wanted to get my perspective on the success rate of emotionally abusive people changing and maintaining their relationships.

I love hearing from people who want to stop hurting those they love. It makes the world a better place.

I myself used to be emotionally abusive. That was who I was in my previous relationships. I used to be hurtful, controlling, and manipulative to people I claimed to care about. My behaviors were subtle and covert. I made them feel guilty. I withheld love and affection. I was awful.

When my marriage was ending, I finally realized I was the common denominator of all my relationship issues. I learned how my behaviors were wrong, hurtful, and just how selfish I was. Not only that, I realized how much of a burden I was carrying around wanting to control other people. I was so focused on others to be perfect for me that I couldn’t stop obsessing about them.

And, of course, I was a huge burden to them as well. You could say I was a vortex of misery for my romantic partners over the years.

The “burden” was when I was consistently on the edge of being emotionally triggered by someone I wanted to change or control. If you’ve been emotionally abusive in your relationships, you probably know what it’s like to carry that around: You obsessively focus on what the other person does or says all the time.

Letting go of emotionally abusive behavior and healing the triggers that caused them in the first place changes you. Healing from being emotionally abusive makes you so different that you won’t even recognize your old self. You literally become a new person. It’s night and day.

Since my healing many years ago, I felt like I got another chance to live an entirely different life. And I never want to be the person I was ever again, not only because of all the pain and suffering that I put others through but also because it wore me out. It was tiring and depressing. I kept losing relationships with people I cared about simply because I was selfish and didn’t take responsibility for hurting them.

Old Coping Mechanisms Create Emotional Abuse

How we cope with challenges determines how we treat ourselves and others. Learning new coping strategies and stepping into humility caused the most change. Relying on childhood survival mechanisms in an adult world usually makes things worse. But I had to be humble enough to admit I had a problem.

After that admittance, I started healing. And I promised myself I would not get into another relationship until I could accept my partner fully. I’d never done that before.

The next relationship I got into after I started my healing process is the one I’m in now. Hopefully, it’s the last one I’ll ever be in. Asha is now my fiancée. And we’ve been together for almost nine years as of this writing. I can proudly say it’s been the most trigger-free relationship of my life. And that’s not because of who she is. It’s because of who I became.

I and many of those I’ve worked with are a testament to the fact that a relationship can not only heal from emotional abuse, it can survive and thrive.

One member of my Healed Being program said, “I am a different person from when I started… I haven’t had an event now for three months… My wife is healing, and our love for each other is stronger, having survived this together.”

Yes! Those are the kind of comments I love to read. I save every positive comment I receive on that program right here. I read them whenever I need a reminder of just how much people can and do change.

My personal experience of going through the healing process was, after I healed and stopped doing emotionally abusive behavior, I realized how much easier life was for me and those I love when I’m not being hurtful. I couldn’t believe I was my own obstacle on the path to happiness.

What Are The Chances the Emotionally Abusive Relationship Will Survive?

This depends on some important criteria. One of the most important criteria is that the emotionally abusive person has to want to change. If the emotional abuser is told to change, meaning they don’t admit and seek change themselves, the success rate for relationship survival decreases.

For example, let’s say the victim of emotional abuse says, “You need to change. You need to stop hurting me, or else.” If the person doing the hurtful behavior replies with, “Okay, don’t leave. I’ll do what I can,” then the chances of success will be lower.

Why is that? Because if the emotional abuser doesn’t come to that realization internally, they may stop the behaviors, but only because the other person told them to stop, not because they want to stop.

That sounds like it might work. But there’s a problem with that plan:

Change doesn’t last when the person who needs to change doesn’t really want to.

Change is most likely to happen when that person has come to the decision to change themselves because they know and admit they have a problem.

I tell the members of the Healed Being program, “You need to do this for yourself. You need to want to heal for yourself. Your relationship may last, or it may not. You may even get into another relationship. But guess who is coming along for the ride? You. And if the old you is the one your next partner ends up with, that relationship will experience the same challenges this one did. If that old you is still in there, I’m sorry, but you’re going to mess up the next one, too.”

If you’re the victim of emotional abuse and you’re witnessing positive changes in the person who’s hurt you, you’re obviously going to want to see more before committing to anything. You might even open your heart a little bit to test the waters and find out if they really are changing.

If you’re willing to open your heart as they go through their healing and change, the relationship might start to heal. Everyone opens their heart at different rates. Some will never open it to that person ever again. Others may do so, but slowly, testing the waters as they go. They need to see repeat healthy behavior until they start to feel safe with the other person.

So, what are the chances of healing a relationship damaged by emotional abuse?

To be honest, some relationships cannot be restored because of something I already mentioned: the person who’s been hurt may have sealed their heart from you forever. When that happens, there’s usually no going back. The victim of emotional abuse can only take so much. And eventually, they reach the point of no return.  

If the emotionally abusive person doesn’t want to change for themselves, and they believe they need to stay hurtful and controlling (because they believe they are right), and they believe that the person they say they care about just wants to make life harder for them, the relationship will very likely end. That’s really what it comes down to.

If you’re the emotionally abusive one and you are sincerely trying your best to heal and change from this behavior, the success rate for your change occurring and even lasting is phenomenally high. It’s astronomically high, in fact.

As the emotional abuser starts healing, they feel lighter, happier, freer, and liberated from the burden of needing to control or manipulate others. They feel more in control of their lives, less worried, and less concerned about things they used to be worried about.

The healing abuser realizes they don’t have to wait for the other person to change to be happy. They’ve learned to find happiness in other ways inside themselves.

The success rate of an emotionally abusive person healing is very high for those who actually put work into healing. A healed former abuser should be able to look back at their life and say to themselves, “I can’t believe I was ever that person. I don’t ever want to be that way again.” That’s when you know true healing has taken place.

When the former abuser heals, they’re very likely able to spot other people doing the behaviors they used to do themselves. When they see that, they’ll think, “That used to be me. I used to do that!” 

People will notice a former abusive person healing because they just show up differently. When the recipient of their abusive behavior, one who hasn’t sealed their heart closed quite yet, sees this new person, they’ll think, “I want more of this. This is who I’ve always wanted. Where have you been?” 

My answer to healing emotional abusers who ask, “Is there a chance our relationship will survive this?” is, “If there’s still love left in their heart, there’s a chance.”

When the love is there somewhere, there is a chance. But if they’ve sealed their heart shut, there’s actually very little chance that the relationship can reconcile, rebuild, or become something new. A closed heart means they’ve locked the door and thrown away the key. It’s a completely sealed heart to protect themselves from the person who’s hurt them. After all, everyone has their limit.

I call that limit a person’s “threshold.” That’s where someone gets to the point of, “No more, I’m not going to take anymore. I don’t care what you do now. I don’t care if you turn into Ghandi or Jesus because I’ve had enough of this relationship.”

That’s serious! However, I will say that there is the possibility that someone can reach their threshold and still hold hope that the other person will change so that perhaps the relationship will have another chance.

I’ve seen many relationships survive and thrive after emotional abuse. The members in my program tell me what they’ve done, where they’ve messed up, and where they’ve improved and still need to improve.

They tell me about their first good day, their first good week, their first good month without a fight, etc. They tell me that their relationship is on a new path and how hopeful they are. I’ve seen this happen to many people.

But not all relationships can be saved. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. If you are a victim of someone’s hurtful behavior and you’ve had enough, but you still have love in your heart, and they have love in theirs, I believe you should try.  

Over and over, I see that when the emotional abuser starts the healing process genuinely and really takes the steps, and they are committed to healing, whether the relationship lasts or not, they follow this journey to the very end. They stay on the path until they’re fully healed.

That is a lifelong journey. And they know the journey is more difficult when the person they’ve hurt leaves the relationship. But once they’ve gotten a taste of what it’s like to be accepting and supportive instead of selfish and controlling, they want more of that. They love the feeling of not being so damned obsessive over everything that someone else does or says.

When the emotional abuser is on the healing path, whether the relationship lasts or not, that is when I see the most success.

The most common failure I see, on the other hand, is when the perpetrator stops the work because the victim of their hurtful behavior decided to leave. That is a terrible reason to stop because the perpetrator needs to heal these behaviors or get the same results over and over again.

My Partner Says They Are Done With Me. Is This Really The End?

The end of the relationship doesn’t always mean the end. Sometimes, there’s a separation, divorce, or breakup, and you think it’s over. But that’s not truly the end. You might think it is, but there are times that reconciliation can still occur, even after both people go their separate ways.

That’s why it’s important to remember if you quit working on healing and growth at that point, then you’re giving yourself no chance for reconnection of any sort.

In other words, if you’re the emotional abuser and you decide that you’re not going to heal and change because there’s nothing to heal and change for, then you are almost guaranteed to lose.

You’ll not only lose this relationship, but you’ll also lose the chance to make the next relationship you have, whether it’s reconciling with this person or meeting someone new, great, or even better. You may be ruining your chance at creating the best relationship you’ve ever had!

That’s what happened to me. After my marriage ended in 2013, I made the decision to heal or stay single. I was that committed to my healing journey. I knew for a fact that if I didn’t work on myself, I would never have a happy, long-lasting relationship.

If you’re on the healing journey from being emotionally abusive, I promise I’m not trying to put you down or make you feel bad. I’m trying to give you some very helpful, very important advice. Don’t stop the healing process no matter what, even if your relationship doesn’t last. Otherwise, you’ll affect your entire future and the people in that future. You’ll also affect those around you today.

Always keep working on yourself. Make your journey about yourself. Focus on yourself. Reflect on your behaviors, and work through the challenges that come up. The goal is to show up as the best person you can possibly be in any relationship.

I’ve seen people break up and get back together because the other person still had love in their heart. They said something like, “I would like to try again. You seem like a different person.” 

That’s why it’s crucial that when you’re on a healing journey, you don’t stop doing the work. 

And your work has to be about you. If, as the emotional abuser, you make it about somebody else and predicate your actions and changes on their behaviors, you may not get much out of it. They can be your motivation but don’t make them the primary reason for changing and healing.  

Emotional abuse happens when you try to find satisfaction in your life by changing or controlling another person. It happens when you base your happiness on the way the other person shows up in your life.

Abusive behaviors are also about altering or controlling another person and basing your happiness on how they act or speak. If your happiness relies solely on what another person does or doesn’t do, or what they say or don’t say, you will end up wanting to change who they are.

This can work both ways, too. The victim of emotional abuse may look at the other person and say, “I’m not happy until you stop hurting me.” 

I understand that can be a reality for some people. But it still comes back to what you should do for yourself, what you need to reflect on in yourself

Ask yourself, “What do I want in my life? Is this person going to be what I want in my life? Is this the person I want to be with? Can I be happy with this person, the way they’re showing up now?”

Whether it’s a romantic, platonic, or family relationship, if you can’t be happy with the person, don’t wait for them to change. Tell yourself, “I won’t be happy with the way this person is today.” Today is all you know anyway. If they aren’t who you care about today, they will be the same tomorrow.

If, however, they show progress, even tiny, incremental steps, then tomorrow may actually be better than today.

The victim of emotionally abusive behavior might need to ask the person hurting them:

Will you please stop doing that behavior? Because it hurts me. And it makes me feel bad.

If they stop doing what you tell them to stop doing, that could be a significant step in the right direction.

If you’re the emotionally abusive person, and you say, “Will you please stop doing the behavior because I don’t like it,” or, “It hurts me,” the other person can also say yes or no to that. But the big difference is that when you’re emotionally abusive, your intent is to change or control the other person so you’ll be happy.

When you’re the victim of emotional abuse, your intent is to stop being hurt. That’s a significant difference from the abuser’s intent. One comes from a place of self-protection, wanting to love the person hurting you.

Often, the victim wants to love the person who’s hurting them, while the hurtful person wants to control who they love.

Clearly, that’s not a healthy, balanced relationship. That’s why these relationships often fail. The person causing the hurt must stop doing the behaviors. And they have to want to heal and change. That’s when there’s success. That’s when there’s a chance the relationship will survive.

In my experience, the success rate when both people are committed to healing and changing is a good 95%+. And I know that’s huge!

If you’re on a journey of healing and changing your emotionally abusive behavior, and you genuinely want to do it, you will. And it will be worth every minute of your time and energy.  

Those on the path to healing will succeed if they choose to do it because they know they need to – not for someone else – but for themselves. They must reflect on what they’ve done, why they do it, and how they will show up differently in the future. Of course, there’s a lot more to it, but the end result should be bringing the best version of themselves into any relationship.

Maintaining or rebuilding a relationship requires both parties to have love in their hearts and want the relationship to succeed. If one person reaches their limit and doesn’t want to be mistreated anymore, and the other doesn’t stop mistreating them, it will push that person over the edge, and they will very likely seal their heart shut forever.

Again, there’s so much more to this, but I wanted to lay that out there. If you’re looking for a solution to stop that behavior, resources like and the Love and Abuse podcast can help. 

The M.E.A.N. Workbook, an assessment and healing guide for difficult relationships, is another tool that can help you. It is geared toward the victim of emotional abuse, but it can be used by both the abuser and victim to learn all the specific behaviors that are emotionally abusive.

I once told one of the members of Healed Being how to use The M.E.A.N. workbook for themselves. I said, “You know how the victim of emotional abuse checks all the boxes indicating emotionally abusive behavior? Just do the opposite of those behaviors. That’s a good start!”

I make it sound simple, but it can actually be very hard for someone who’s been controlling and manipulative for most of their life to start doing different behavior, believe it or not.

It’s obviously possible, but it takes courage and humility to admit that everything you believed about yourself and relationships is now in question.

One example from the workbook is, “I often make my partner feel guilty.” If the emotionally abusive person wants to heal and change, just don’t do that behavior anymore. Instead, make the other person feel worthy, loved, smart, and attractive.

That’s what I mean by ‘do the opposite.’ Again, it can feel impossible for someone who may never have tried that. That’s no excuse. They need to stop the bad behavior. But it’s helpful to know the hurdle they will face when attempting to change who they’ve been most of their life.

I personally used to try to control my partner’s behavior by making them feel guilty. It was so toxic. It was very unhealthy and abusive. But when I learned about my behaviors and how much damage I was doing to the person I supposedly loved, I started doing the opposite of what I used to do. That started my trajectory and got me to where I am today.

The big hurdle for most emotionally abusive people is that they actually believe they’re right and need to do these behaviors. They believe if they don’t, they will be miserable. That’s often the reason they continue. Yes, it’s self-serving and certainly doesn’t consider the other person’s thoughts or feelings. It’s also self-sabotaging, though many won’t see that they are causing their own problems.

I used to think, “Why doesn’t she just listen to me? If she just did what I told her to do, we’d both be happy.”

That’s definitely toxic thinking. And I didn’t keep that thinking to myself. I chose to express it in hurtful ways, eroding people and relationships to the point where I ended up alone time after time.

Today, I’m trying to help others get out of these toxic and corrosive situations. I help the victims understand what’s happening to them, and I help the abusers understand why they do what they do (and what they need to heal so they’ll stop).

Behavior changes are just the start. A person who hurts another person still has internal psychological changes and healing to do. And until the behaviors stop and the triggers that create those behaviors go away, there’s always work to do.

Share this with someone who might benefit.

Paul Colaianni

Host of Love and Abuse and The Overwhelmed Brain

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Thank you because this is refreshing and supportive for couples who want to change the cycle but don’t know how to. Thank you so much.

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