Can an abusive man ever change?

My boyfriend of 4 years, has a kid and ex-wife. He used to really abuse them and he was always open to me about it. They have no contact.
He has since changed his life. He served two years in prison, learned a trade, and is doing well business wise. He has had his records expunged, and bought a house for us to live in. He participated in counseling and special programs for male batterers. We also go to couples' counseling.
He has never raised a hand to me and has always been very loving. He satpys he just wants to love me and me to love him, with no abuse whatsoever. We also have a 1 year old daughter.
Shouod I marry him? The stories of his past haunt me, though. He wants a relationship with his son and he does grieve over this. Please. Some advice.

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  • Sorry, this is long... but, it contains a lot of information that may allow you to answer the base question you are asking.

    Yes, people can change. It takes either a major event in their life that forces them to rethink things or often several decades.

    It sounds like he had that major event; and it sounds like he has changed substantially.

    The more you encourage and reward good behavior... the farther behind him it will be.

    In this case... I do think there is a real chance that he is OK to consider for marriage.

    A couple of suggestions first:

    1) Get 2 copies of the book: "The 5 Love Languages" by Gary Chapman (one for him, one for you). This will likely be an eye-opener for both of you and help cement your love long term; or find another more appropriate in the future. You will likely read it at different rates... that's OK as long as it gets read and implemented.

    2) You need to sit down and each of you make a list of dreams and goals. Individual ones, and joint ones.

    Be very sure that you both have joint dreams and goals that you support, and the individual freedom to pursue each other's individual goals that interest them (we all have different needs and interest - and no one individual can satisfy all your needs and interest).

    Concentrate on the top joint and individual goals... The rest can be done after you've accomplished the most important ones.

    3) You need to have a very open and honest discussion on sexuality - and sexual fantasies (including the weird and bad ones). Then you need to discuss how those will be managed during your marriage (the operative word is managed - not denied).

    Some personal marriage advice I provide to all: Be careful no your marriage commitments. Neither of you know what rocks will be tossed your way in life, nor how you will respond in the heat of the moment.

    My wife and I got married much later in life than normal. We've both had the same kind of bad dating experiences and have had a number of people crying on our shoulders about major issues in their marriage (there are 4 common big ones). So we know all about those...

    Our marriage commitments are:

    1) "Honesty in all things, except things like there is a surprise party for you next week." Now that does not mean we always tell all. We don't. We tell the basics or a summary. But, if asked we have to tell all.

    2) "No issue or situation cannot be resolved if identified to the other party in a timely manner, and dealt with compassion for the other person."

    Everything else was an Expectation... and expectations can be changed as needed or if necessary.

    Essentially, this results in a marriage vow to resolve problems. We never said it would be quick or painless. The truth can hurt - and can hurt deeply. But, lies hurt worse and its often very difficult to recover from lies as trust is the basis for the relationship.

    We actually had a major issue like this develop after our 1st year of marriage. 6 months of marriage counseling; and then 3 months thinking over what we had learned about ourselves and each other (things we did not know about ourselves prior to marriage) before it was decided that we could make it work out and stay together.

    We also discussed and agreed up front prior to marriage that there were 2 situations where we did not expect sexual fidelity - should they ever happen, and we understood that their might be something that comes up that we had not considered.

    A) If one of use found ourselves in a survival situation. Fact is that people survive better when they pair up (or group up). We both instantly believed that the 1st priority if in a survival situation is to survive. Come home safe and in as good as condition as you can someday. If there's another partner(s) or children... we can accept that.

    B) We both have a high sexual drive. Should something happen to one of us where we were sexaully unavailable to the other for a long time (this started with a discussion on what if one of us ended up in a long term comma)... We don't expect the other to all the sudden have no sex drive. So, we set a time limit that allows the other to have "friends" and fulfill their sex drive if the other is not sexually available for "Y" amount of time. There are STD testing requirements with that.

    C) If either of use felt that we desired another sexual partner - to ask, and that the answer is not an automatic no; and the question to be discussed is why?...

    Keep in mind. I've only met 1 person in my long life who got married just to have sex with someone. People get married for a lot of other reasons... and sex is just part of a package. Don't let sex blind you to the other and usually the major reasons you got married (that does not mean that you ignore sexual issues either; and there is a line of unreasonableness that will destroy our marriage should it occur).

    That's where we started our marriage. I hope that gives you something to think about.

    Note, as many of my post on this forum describes. We have since opened the marriage to more sexual freedom and have a strict set of rules on how that works. One of the rocks in our life was some sexuality issues that no one knew were there.

    Finally, to wrap it all up... If you can get thorough the book, finding joint and individual goals together, discussing very private sexual stuff, and seriously discussing how to prepare your marriage to handle the rocks and boulders in life that will appear... and he is still treating you well.... Then I think you have someone likely worth marrying.

    Marriage is a commitment to build a better life together and work out problems together. I hope that you find it.

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    • Thank you for this. I am not OP but I probably should have had that kind of discussion before moving with my partner.

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    • Not op but this is a lovely response and hearing about your marriage made me happy. Thank you for sharing!

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      • Thank you... Our 10 year anniversary is comming up in a few months. My wife reminded me that in a bit over a week will mark the 1st time we met in person. Prior to that it was all email and Skype.

        A reality is that neither of us knew if it would work when we decided to get married. But, strongly believed that the other was so apparently perfect of a match... that it was a risk worth taking. It did work out.. and we expect to be together until one death separates us.

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  • Was he open about his past or did you just kind of find out one day?

    If you love him I'd give him a chance but make certain you keep your options open dont become dependent on him. If your close to family maje certsin you stay close so you have to resource at your disposal

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    • Great question up front. Important to consider.

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    • Agreed. One thing I've noticed in a lot of abusive relationships is that the abuser typically tries to isolate their victim from their friends and family. I don't know how many instances I've heard of in which women felt they couldn't leave their abusive partners because they had no one to turn to and nowhere to go, with no money of their own.

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      • Exactly. I was I a somewhat abusive situation once. Je wasn't physically abusive but mentally and emotionally. No resources with a huge gap of land between friends and family.

        Not having the things you need to move makes getting away so much harder. Despite my regret of the time wasted I'm glad I learned some very valuable life lessons from dating that man.

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  • It's high risk. Maybe ask for some direction from your therapist

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  • If you really want to marry him then I’d say to go for it, but as a warning I will say that some people do change after marriage, so be weary about that.

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  • Why take the risk? Life is too short, you don't owe him redemtion. I suggest you find a better person who makes you happy and is not abusive. But then again do whatever you want that makes you happy. Best wishes sister.

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  • People can change but this is a major red flag. That part will always be there. When you start pushing his buttons it could come back. Since you have a daughter there is statistical evidence that having 2 parents in the house is better for their outcome.

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    • Agreed. There are bound to be times in a marriage in which there are disagreements, and what will happen if he's pushed too far?

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  • Of course, I was pretty mean myself for many years. From the time I was a child up into my thirties.

    People often mellow with time, as in my case. I still struggle with not harming people when they annoy me sure, but it’s not a rocking impulse these days. And if the person has the ability for self reflection they can change.

    The problem is a majority of those characters do not have that ability at all. It’s the most common crime sociopathic/psychopathic people are convicted of by far. They make up something crazy like 75% of the cases recorded.

    So yes, people like that can change, and do. Though the odds are not in favour that they will.

    I would say give it much more time, marriage can wait. They can’t go that long before you will see “what” they are. And if that day doesn’t come, well good, he’s changed, go get married.

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  • Well people do change or at least some people have changed their ways. You sound like you have your doubts. Former alcoholics and addicts have been known to fall off the wagon if the conditions are right to make a triggering event. Others never fall. There is no rush to get married. Wait until you no longer have the doubts anymore. A lot of couples stay together for a lifetime and never have gotten married. It's not the stigma it used to be.

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  • People can change but I'd be careful with this one.
    A big sign will be if he expresses remorse over his actions, and not just remorse because of his consequences.
    If he has any pattern of lying or immoral behavior is a red flag.
    Any signs of anger management issues, manipulative behavior, drugs/alcohol, crime, entitled attitude, rude behavior, I'd get out as that would show he has not repented for his past behaviors.

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  • There are a lot of good responses here. While yes, people can change if they truly want to, I also have to agree with some of the comments here that this is a red flag and nothing to take lightly. I also agree with Eeeeeeeeeeeeee that people sometimes change after marriage, especially if they marry during the "honeymoon phase" of their relationship. Some people also stay on their best behavior until they get what they want, so beware.

    Personally, I'm not sure I could ever pursue a relationship with, let alone marry someone who I knew had it in them to abuse their spouse and children. Was he on any substances at the time?

    Really, you have to follow your gut, but if something doesn't feel right, LISTEN TO THAT GUT FEELING. It's rarely wrong.

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  • Only if he really wants to but it’s a long shot.

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  • They can but most of them do not change. OP, how long have you been dating him?

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  • They can but some of them don't, some continue to abuse.

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  • yes of course

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