Home » Expert Q & A » Trauma Therapy » Trauma Therapy: Penny Bell

When is it safe to go back to a violent partner?

  • anonymous Asks ...

    If my ex was physically abusive in the past but he also had PTSD from being in the military and because he used to drink a lot to deal with it is it very likely that he would still be violent with me if he is getting help for his PTSD but he is still drinking? He says he is taking some medications and he is not feeling so terrible anymore but I do know that he is still drinking quite a lot every night. He is a great guy but he nearly put me in the hospital before I left him but since he got the PTSD from some really scary and terrible experiences  don't think that his violence is really his fault. What I want to now is if his PTSD is under control am I safe to give it another try with him?

  • Penny Bell Says ...
    Penny Bell

    Although research shows that male veterans with PTSD are 2 to 3 times more likely to engage in intimate partner violence than veterans without PTSD, PTSD and domestic violence are separate issues when it comes to treatment.  Treatment for PTSD does not address domestic violence issues, so unless your ex is actively involved in undergoing a domestic violence program, the fact that he is taking meds for his PTSD and that he is “feeling better” are no indication that he is able to behave differently toward you.

    A question you may wish to ask yourself is why you are considering returning to a relationship with a man who was so violent toward you?  It is a complex issue but on average women return 7 times to a violent relationship before they leave permanently (or are killed), and the reasons range from experiencing or being present during domestic violence as a child to a simple case of low self-esteem – not valuing herself enough to keep herself safe.  The woman remembers the good times (“he is a great guy”) and somehow dismisses the bad (“but he nearly put me in hospital”), then is shocked to realise she is back in the same old routine, repeating the cycle of violence.

    This is how the cycle of violence works: There is a period of build-up when tension increases, leading to the stand over phase (where you find yourself “walking on eggshells”) and then, the explosion, where the violence takes place.  The remorse phase follows, then the pursuit phase, a feature of which is promises to never be violent again, and the victim feels relief that the violence has ended.  Then comes the honeymoon phase with both people in the relationship in denial as to how bad the abuse and violence was, and the possibility that violence could occur again is ignored, because they don’t want the relationship to end.  Unfortunately this does not last, and the build-up phase begins again.  This cycle escalates and becomes more frequent over time.

    You don’t mention children – if there are children involved, they are learning that disagreements are managed by someone acting stronger and louder and exerting authority and control over another to get their own way.  

    Finally, about your statement that “I don’t think that the violence is really his fault” – if you blame your ex’s violence on his PTSD, you are saying that he can’t control himself and that he isn’t responsible or accountable for his behaviour.   This excuse would never stand in a court of law and you shouldn’t be buying it either.  To answer your question “is it safe to give it another try with him” – it will only ever be safe when he is a safe person, and you need to see the evidence for that with your own eyes.  He will need to have completed a domestic violence program, addressed his alcohol problem and be showing the results.  Unfortunately, the only testing ground will be in his relationship with you, as most perpetrators of domestic violence are not violent outside of the home or toward people other than their partners.  If you value yourself and your life you will stay away.

Featured Experts