Years ago, after I’d assaulted my wife, I decided to focus on stopping that bad behavior. Several months passed and it felt like I was doing better. I’d still get upset sometimes, but by taking a time-out I could avoid the really damaging acts. Honestly, I was starting to feel pretty good about myself and my progress, when suddenly, I began backsliding.

Our conflicts started to become more frequent and more heated—until there was a particularly ugly incident where I nearly hit her again. It scared her, and it also scared me. Why was I backsliding? More importantly, what could I do about it? If you’ve ever caught yourself going back to old ways you’ve been trying to avoid, I hope the answers below will help.

The problem with backsliding

The obvious problem with backsliding is that any conduct that hurts our partners, and us, is never okay. I’m assuming that anyone reading this already knows it and is motivated to change. If not, consider how abuse harms your partner, your relationship, and you—and why change is worth it.

The added trouble that backsliding brings is that it erodes our partner’s sense of safety and trust. It’s likely those are both on shaky ground after incidents of domestic violence or abuse. The path to restoring them and reconciling with a partner is long and difficult—so regression can be devastating.

Backsliding is often accompanied by self-doubt as we begin to wonder if we are ever going to be able to make the changes we want. “All my progress has been for nothing. I’ll never get there. I may as well give up, right?” Wrong. In fact, shifting our expectations is often all that’s needed to stay on track.

Imperfection is not failure

Any change process is never a straight line. Expecting otherwise is unrealistic and sets us (and our partner) up for disappointment. Everyone handles conflict, stress, and difficult situations with varying degrees of imperfection.

The truth is, the brain functions that control our actions are unbelievably complex. Rewiring those patterns (called neuroplasticity) takes time and is not an exact science. The results won’t be immediate, and perfection simply isn’t possible.

Using the “we’re all human and we all mess up” alibi to justify inexcusable behavior, however, isn’t going to cut it. Both we and our partners should expect that our blatantly abusive acts stop. We should expect to get better. In fact, our loved ones are counting on it. The Ananias Foundation would not have adopted the tagline “Change is possible” if we didn’t believe it.

So here’s what we can expect from our change process, realistically speaking. Although behavior change is a lifelong journey, we can expect to see noticeable results within months. There will be times when we do a little better one time (wins), then a little worse the next (learning opportunities). Our conduct won’t be perfect. Still, we should be able to see an improving trend.

To stop backsliding

In my experience, we’re most likely to backslide when:

  • We’re overconfident in ourselves, our progress, or our abilities.
  • We’ve become distracted, allowed the intensity of our efforts to fade, and lost focus on what we need to do to change.
  • Our efforts have centered on sheer willpower and changing our actions, rather than digging deeper into discovering and healing the root causes that drive those actions.
  • We’re anxious to “arrive” and claim (perhaps to our partner) that we’ve changed, rather than seeing our work as a life journey.

The remedy, then, is to humble ourselves, regain our focus, and explore the deeper origins of our deeds. Shift your motivation from getting your partner back to becoming the best possible version of yourself. That mindset change is both helpful and freeing.

Faith note

When we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we’re given eternal life with God. We also become a “new person”. Our old life is gone, and a new one begins.

This does not mean, however, that we become perfect. I wish it did. It simply means that we are now free to be different.

Accepting God’s love and trusting he will protect and provide for us drastically changes how we see ourselves and the world around us. We no longer feel compelled to prove or defend ourselves. That’s a game-changer for our behavior.

God knows, however, that our old nature is hard to let go of. He realizes that we are never going to be perfect. He is full of grace and mercy for all of our shortcomings. My hope and prayer is that you get to know God’s true character and allow a relationship with him to profoundly change you.

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