Chris felt frustrated. He’d worked for the past seven months—attending our groups, going to counseling, and reading self-help books, and he was confident he’d improved. However, his partner did not recognize change in his behavior.

Brianna could relate to Chris. She, too, had invested in discovering her buttons and worked to reduce or eliminate them. Some things that used to bother her no longer made her upset, while other triggers now evoked much smaller reactions. Still, her partner said she wasn’t any different from before.

“Have I changed?” is a natural question for those working to stop abusive or violent behavior that hurts your partner and relationship. Even if the answer is “yes, you’ve come a long way, baby!”, it’s common others will not give us credit for our transformation. In particular, our partner or ex-partner may not be willing—or able—to see the fruits of our labor.

When others doubt your progress

Your partner’s doubt may come in different forms. Perhaps they’re unwilling to grant you another chance, or even a second glance. It’s frustrating because you’re sure they would want to be with the new you.

Maybe your partner is still in the picture, watching from a safe distance, but they do not recognize change in your actions. Or they say you haven’t changed enough. Reconciliation depends on them seeing and believing your progress is real and permanent. However, that reunion keeps getting pushed out further and further into the future.

Sometimes, it might feel like your partner moves the goalposts. First, they wanted the violent acts to stop, and they have. Next, they pressed you to change behavior like yelling or name calling, and you addressed that conduct, too. Now, you’re being called out for “having a tone in your voice” or a particular look on your face.

All this leads to frustration and self-doubt as they do not recognize change. Are you allowed to feel and express emotions, or do you have to become a passionless robot? Can you ever make a mistake or slip back into bad deeds from the past in a weaker moment, or is only perfection allowed? Will they ever deem your progress satisfactory?

At times, it feels like you are being held to a higher standard than anyone else. Your partner sounds like a hypocrite, because they sure don’t meet the benchmarks you’re expected to fulfill. Why do they not recognize change you’ve worked so hard to achieve?

Eight reasons your partner may not recognize change

If your partner does not seem to see your transformation, here are 8 possible explanations and their solutions. I suggest you consider these in order.

You’re over-estimating your progress.

Let’s start with the one you may not want to hear: your perception of yourself may not be accurate. To be fair, it’s difficult to be objective about ourselves.

What you can do: Seek honest opinions from others regarding their observations. Let them know their candid evaluation is valued and appreciated. Take what they say seriously and don’t dismiss their criticisms too quickly.

Your partner is still healing.

It takes time for a person to heal from abuse. Your current less-than-perfect behavior, even if it doesn’t turn into abusive acts, reminds them of past trauma, triggering their big reactions.

What you can do: Keep working on catching yourself sooner. Interpret the knot in your stomach or your pounding heart as a warning sign. Take a time-out before you react so you don’t trigger your partner. Show understanding and give them time to adjust to these anxiety-inducing triggers.

They are trying to rebuild trust.

Once damaged, trust takes a long time to restore—perhaps longer than it took you to change. Until then, your partner is likely to remain in self-protection mode, vigilantly testing to see if your change is permanent. Until then, then may not recognize change.

What you can do: Be an open book. Allow your partner to ask you questions and answer them honestly. Then, be patient with them and as consistent as you can with your reactions. Major slip-ups will set back the trust you are building.

What they expect is unrealistic.

Your partner’s hyper-focus on your less-than-perfect responses to challenging situations may be an act of self-protection. Similar to healing from trauma and rebuilding trust, they may subconsciously attempt to build a shield so they don’t get hurt again.

What you can do: First, check with a neutral third-party like a counselor, pastor, or trusted advisor that their expectation is truly unrealistic. If not, you have more work to do. Even if they are being unreasonable, accept that your partner gets to determine what’s tolerable for them and what’s not. In the meantime, know that perfection is unattainable, but you strive to improve every day. You are either going to meet their standards or you won’t.

Your partner has not forgiven you.

Forgiveness is a tricky thing. You can apologize for the harm you’ve done, but your partner decides if they forgive you. Pressuring them to forgive will feel like you’re attempting to exert control over them.

What you can do: Apologizing is essential. Review some guidelines for apologizing well here. Remember, an apology without change will not restore the relationship. If you’ve done both, your partner may still not forgive you right away, so remain patient. If forgiveness does not come in a reasonable timeframe (you determine what’s reasonable), accept it and move on.

Others are influencing them to dump you.

Friends, family, counselors, or advocates sometimes pressure victims of domestic violence to end their relationship. These outsiders likely believe they are protecting your partner, even if they can not recognize change in you or have incorrect information about people’s ability to change. Your partner may feel this peer pressure and question themselves for reconciling.

What you can do: You might offer to meet with those individuals. Share what you’ve done, what you’ve learned about yourself, and how that makes a difference. Be aware, however—it’s an uphill battle. People tend to hold on to their preconceived notions and generally mistrust anyone accused of abuse. Alternatively, you can focus on being the best version of yourself and let your partner decide who they are going to believe.

Mentally or emotionally, they have checked out.

Perhaps your partner sees and acknowledges how you’ve changed. However, they are still unwilling to move back into a relationship with you. It’s not you, it’s them.

What you can do: Unrequited love hurts. We can’t force someone to like us and pressuring them to do so is a terrible strategy. It’s tough, but let go.

Blaming you protects them from taking responsibility for their own behavior.

Consciously or subconsciously, it could be your partner knows their behavior is pretty awful, too. However, as long as you’re the problem, they won’t need to address their actions. They keep hoping if you change enough, they won’t be “forced” to act so badly—which is classic blame.

What to do about it: Talk to your partner about their behavior and how it affects you. Set a boundary, letting them know what you’ll do if their offensive actions continue. Generally, your response should be in the realm of distancing yourself from them, either with time or space. If your partner responds well and addresses what they’re doing, great! If not, you’ll have to decide if you can tolerate it and end the relationship if you can’t.

Even if your partner does not recognize change in your behavior, it doesn’t mean you’re not doing good work or making great strides. It simply means that they don’t see it or won’t admit it. Let your actions speak for themselves. You get to be the ultimate judge of you. Don’t hand the power to define you to anyone else.