You never thought it would happen to you—but it did. A disagreement with your spouse or partner got out of hand, you were arrested and charged with domestic violence. Perhaps this has happened before; maybe it’s the first time. For now, though, you’re feeling the pain of separation and alienation from someone you love. Perhaps she’s even got a restraining order against you. Regardless of what happens in court, you’re already looking beyond this moment. Once the criminal charges have been sorted out, is there any hope for repairing the relationship?
Or should you even try?
The answers here aren’t simple. Relationships are complicated enough even before they become fractured by violence. That being said, let’s talk about where to go from here. What, if anything, can be done to rebuild a relationship torn by domestic violence—and in the process, what can you do to prevent it from recurring? Let’s tackle the big questions in order—starting with the question of whether the relationship should even be repaired.
Should You Attempt to Reconcile?
Before considering whether it’s possible to rebuild the relationship, you need to ask a tough question first: Should you rebuild the relationship at all? There are conflicting answers from various sources on this question. Many victim’s advocate organizations strongly advise the victim against reconciling, claiming that once the barrier of physical abuse has been breached, it is forever weakened and the relationship is no longer safe. Another factor to consider is that sometimes, for whatever reason, relationships between two people are simply volatile and toxic, no matter how they feel about each other. If conflict is consistent in your relationship, especially if violence is common, you need to consider honestly whether the relationship is too toxic to salvage, and whether you need to part ways for each other’s safety.
These are legitimate concerns, but despite some people taking the view that domestic violence should always signal the end of the relationship, others believe that view is too simplistic—that it’s not easy, but with some work, it is at least possible to have a healthy relationship after domestic violence.
So how should you answer this question for yourself? It begins with honesty and soul-searching, both on your part and that of your partner. For the purpose of our discussion, it’s safe to put three benchmarks in place before deciding to try reconciling:
- Both of you must be separately willing to attempt it. (In other words, your partner needs to want this as much as you do—without being “talked into it.”)
- Both of you must agree that the relationship between you is not too toxic to salvage.
- You must be committed to getting whatever help is necessary to prevent a recurrence.
How Do You Go About Rebuilding?
Once you’ve decided to attempt a reconciliation, you must agree on a process for rebuilding. Let’s start by exposing a myth: Simply “trying harder” almost never works. (This is why some people advocate against reconciliation altogether.) The point is that are real underlying forces behind what went wrong in your relationship, and you must take them seriously if you hope to put this chapter behind you. The exact process will be different for everyone (and we certainly wouldn’t attempt to pack it into one blog post), but let’s look at a few key principles:
- Take gradual steps. Simply “coming home” might not be the best option at first. Start with limited visits, possibly supervised. Have important conversations about what happened and how you can fix it.
- Set boundaries and ground rules. Move forward according to your partner’s level of comfort, not your own.
- Consider therapy. This doesn’t just mean couple’s therapy, although that could help. It also means personal therapy, anger management, etc. to expose and deal with underlying reasons why you might have become violent.
- Be accountable. Have a trusted third party in place who can monitor your progress and speak hard truths when necessary.
- Agree to separate before things become unsafe. Be honest if what you’re doing is not working. It’s better to create space than to allow violence to resurface. Move apart and re-think your strategy.
Can You “DV-Proof” Your Future Relationship?
Generally speaking, the best way to prevent future incidents of domestic violence is by living in the truth that if it happened once, it can happen again—so put some safeguards in place for your relationship. These may include:
- Setting new ground rules and boundaries. Put some mechanisms in place for de-escalating tensions when they arise.
- Learning new ways to disagree. Conflict is inevitable, but there are productive ways to resolve conflict without turning against each other.
- Doing regular “check-ins” to talk about how things are going. This may include checking in with your therapist as well as a partner. (Think of it as “preventative maintenance.”)
Whatever your process looks like, the important thing is never to get overconfident in the idea that you have domestic violence “beat.” You can live DV-free, but it will take being proactive and not letting your guard down.
For the immediate moment, if you’re facing domestic violence charges and need to deal with the legal piece, we can help. For compassionate legal representation, call our office today for a free case evaluation.