Life Advice



Ask Amy: Aunt wonders if a violent abuser can change

By Amy Dickinson, Tribune Content Agency on

Dear Amy: Several years ago, my niece's boyfriend pulled a gun on her and broke her cheekbone. I was horrified. I was even more horrified when my niece decided to have a baby with her abuser.

I made it known that I wasn't going to stick around the hospital room with this man when my niece had the baby. There was no way I could tolerate even seeing his face. My older sister feels the same way.

I have now been cut out of my great-niece's life. My mother is angry at my sister and me for not forgiving my niece's boyfriend, and for not giving him a second chance because -- according to her -- "he has changed.”

I'd like to know what your opinion is about whether abusers change, and whether I am in the wrong.

Worried Aunt

Dear Worried: Some people are capable of great change, but change can only happen when contributing factors are faced and dealt with. These factors would include a history of violence in their childhoods, mental illness, and drug and alcohol use.


Family members face a terrible dilemma when they have an abuser in their midst. Your choice to distance yourself is a rational one, but in your focus on the abuser, you seem to have forgotten the survivor and her child. You are angry not only at the abuser, but you are also angry at your niece, and your choice to keep your distance seems to be motivated by a desire to deliver a nonnegotiable consequence for her unhealthy choice.

Victims of violence often lose important members of their support system when they choose to stay with their abuser, but this support can sometimes be a lifeline for them.

If the abuser has not changed and the child is growing up in a tense and possibly violent household, access to you and your sister could be a true port in the storm.

I don’t think it is necessary to forgive this abuser, or to believe his transformation story, in order to remain tangentially in your niece’s life. You might warily move toward them, focusing more on your niece and her child than on the man who hurt her.


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