How Do You Handle An Ex-Partner Who Is Suddenly Sweet?

by Annie Kaszina on August 24, 2010

The problem of the ex-partner who is suddenly sweet

How do you handle an ex-partner who is suddenly sweet, trying to show he’s changed, telling everyone how sorry he is and how hurt I am, and trying to negotiate a financial
settlement?” 
asks Natalie. 

It seems to me that so many survivors talk about their ex-partners being abusive after the split, but apart from the first few weeks, my abusive partner is now suddenly very
soft (lots of “darling”s and “sweetie”s) and promising to look after us and trying to prove he’s changed. 

My abusive husband, now we’ve been separated for 3 months, has changed from being physically aggressive to emotionally abusive to sickly sweet. He is trying to prove to me and all our friends that he has changed and is capable of talking nicely and not get angry.” 

Sometimes, other people’s problems sound easier to deal with than our own. Nathalie’s husband’s behavior is sick-making rather than threatening.   

Why? 

Because he’s having a “Mr Nice Guy moment”. 

Don’t get me wrong. An ex-partner who is suddenly sweet hasn’t turned into a truly nice guy. 

He’s just cunning enough to know that, in certain circumstances, Mr Nice Guy works better than Mr Nasty.

You see, he doesn’t want the marriage to end. 

Maybe he still wants Nathalie around.  It would be far fetched to say he [has suddenly realized that he] loves her. 

More likely, he doesn’t want to look bad to other people.  But…

there’s another much more important reason: he’s thinking about how much this marriage breakdown is going to cost him financially.

That’s one good reason why abusive men sometimes turn nice, and sometimes nasty, when their partner involves a lawyer.

They want to minimize the financial cost to them.

Sorry to sound so cynical, but…

It’s true.

The best outcome for them is if they can get you to trust them to provide for you.

Think about it for a moment –

Why on earth would you “trust” someone who has a track record of treating you badly? 

So, what should Nathalie do?

I’d certainly advise her to:

  • Ignore his appeals to her better nature – because to all intents
    and purposes he doesn’t have one
  • Avoid “negotiating” directly with him
  • Communicate, as much as possible, only through lawyers
  • Keep pushing for what is rightfully hers

If you’re struggling to make sense of your ex-partner who is suddenly sweet,  there’s just one question you need to ask yourself: 

“What’s in it for him?”

Then turn your focus back to you.  Now ask yourself:

“My ex-partner who is suddenly sweet isn’t remotely interested in my happiness, and never will make me happy, what am I going to do to get my life back?”

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Ann August 28, 2010 at 5:10 am

It is so hard to believe that he doesn’t have a better nature. After all, he does at times say sorry, my wife deserves better, I’ll try harder, I’m such a great mother, God isn’t finished with me yet, etc. And some would say he is more like a rough diamond or a bull in a china shop, but not malicious. I like to believe the best in others (something he used to deride in me) so why can’t I have that attitude when it comes to him, even if I recognize that his actions are abusive.

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Dr. Jeanne King, Ph.D. August 29, 2010 at 10:53 am

While it is true that most abusers don’t change, there are those who are genuinely committed to ending their abusive behavior. As a psychologist for over 25 years and domestic violence victim advocate, I help couples apply the principles of domestic abuse treatment in the context of relationship therapy, and we see abusive relationships change. For more information, visit http://www.domesticabusetreatment.com

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Brave Heart January 26, 2011 at 8:18 am

I would NOT give any woman “hope” that an abuser can change. Whether that is true or not, the fact remains that if a woman has any even inkling of hope that her abusing partner can change she will stay with him and therefore he will never change, as that is the dynamic that keeps them both locked into the abuse. I know this from personal experience. It wasn’t until I surrendedered my hope that he could change and accepted the fact that he will NEVER change is when I finally broke free from the abuse. It is a dangerous thing to go around saying that abusers can change. I have done MUCH research on this topic and have yet to hear about or meet an abuser that has changed. It’s the nature of the issue that causes the abuse that also blinds the indvidual to their capacity for change, so it’s like a catch 21 where they can’t even see that they NEED to change. I don’t have much hope or belief that even on the long shot that someone is forced into therapy or even comes to a realization on their own that they need therapy that they would sincerely work through their issues to become healthy. Espcially considering abuse is most often times coupled with other personality disorders such as narcissim and sociopathic behavior and thinking which I have also reseached much about and have found there is truly NO hope for those who unfortunatly suffer from these disorders. It is a sad statement, trust me I realize, to have to admit that someone is a lost cause, but it is sadly the truth. That was the toughest thing for me to accept to move on to my own recovery.

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Janet November 22, 2012 at 1:35 pm

Braveheart,

It’s a journey to say the least….when we think the best of others we believe they would want to change….but as you said they don’t see the “need” to change….those are words directly out of my separated husband’s mouth….they believe they are “nice guys” and to have to acknowledge otherwise would require them to be vulnerable….to enter the shame/blame/punishment zone….and the degree to which they experienced that as kids is what affects that decision….to take responsibility for themselves and change is not something they are willing to do…..they are locked into issues with their mothers albeit they are unaware of this…..that who they are pushing against and trying to passively control is their mother…..their mothers controlled and judged them and we take the fall for that kind of mothering….some kind of emotional/physical trauma would have to befall them in order for them to change…..my separated husband even extended an invitation to my daughter and myself….that if he found a larger apartment in Australia would we consider coming for a visit…..can you believe that? This tells me he is clueless about what “he” has done….he still sees himself as “Mr Nice Guy”…..to find the courage to look into his subconscious would require him to admit that he was “negligent” with me and with our daughter. Even when it came to our daughter he said he might not have been involved in all of her life but he provided the means….and yes he did but is that all he wanted….he in fact short-changed her and he allowed himself to stay removed from his emotions in that connection as a father. Connection for men like this is painful and until they are willing to decide that their lives aren’t working they will stay in this mold. So I’m slowly learning that the more I have harped on him to change the more he will resist and ignore and remain withdrawn and isolated…..men in this zone I agree have a submerged hatred of women in certain degrees because they see women as having expectations of them…that they have to fulfill duties and obligations and this is what their mothers did….but to push against their mothers is too hard as I believe there is that part of them that is waiting for their mothers to love them….so instead they inflict their pain on us.

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Annie Kaszina August 31, 2010 at 2:02 am

Hi Jeanne,
As you say, most abusers do not change. But they do promise to change at times of crisis, to keep their partner hooked in.
Having worked with many, many women who have fallen for that promise, and lost further years of their life in an abusive relationship, I urge women to be very wary.
For most women the hope that their partner and their relationship will change is a false hope that will cost them very dear.
If an abuser is committed to doing the work, he should get on and do it – and certainly not expect his partner to support him through it.
I have no doubt that the quality of the work you do with couples is superb. But I am afraid you may be the very rare exception. Often relationship therapists do not fully understand the dynamic of an abusive relationship, and only add to the torment of the victim.

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Sue September 5, 2010 at 5:38 am

If my ex read this he might think that it is a bit harsh on him because he really thinks that promising the world and proclaiming undying love IS a sign of change. After all, it is a change from being nasty. How would he know that he is not really changing? What does he have to do to change? Cognitive Behavioral Therapy? Work through shame and rejection? He has already gone through a batterers program.

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Nuri Leigh Burville September 29, 2010 at 7:48 am

To quote “I have no doubt that the quality of the work you do with couples is superb. But I am afraid you may be the very rare exception. Often relationship therapists do not fully understand the dynamic of an abusive relationship, and only add to the torment of the victim.” I cannot say enough about how well said this comment is! I too counsel abused women because I was profoundly abused by family, husband and then the system that believed they were “helping” me. The fact that I woke up is a testimony to the fact that nothing was medicating my pain other than getting away from family, husband and the “helpful” professionals. Bless Annie Kaszina for her comment on typepad on Aug 31, 2010

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Jessica February 6, 2011 at 5:31 pm

this is a lesson i have learned the hard way. My bf drinks a lot and says extremely hurtful things when he is wasted… then sober he is sorry and i’m supposed to forget it and move on. I moved out for 3 months and honestly they where the 3 best months of our 5 year relationship he even stopped drinking! ive been living with him since December and its back to drinking and treating me badly… im growing the courage within myself to leave for good!

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Cathy December 23, 2011 at 4:50 am

In my case, as probably in most, my partner was extremely charming. He could flip from this Mr Hyde to Dr Jekyl however, very quickly. My life when he wanted me back and was wooing me yet again was like a production of ‘My Wonderful Life’. All those little things I’d like were said and done, as long as it looked like I wasn’t sure about going back to him.

There is a time frame though, somewhere around 6 weeks back into seeing him Mr Hyde disappears and things are said like: ‘I never said that – are you taking that person’s characte?’ or ‘Don’t come here in a jealous rage’. (When I mildly asked who owned all the cars outside his house in front of his sons) Then I’d have to walk on eggshells and try get back Mr Charming. This is NOT living, not being your authentic self.

So you see it is part of emotional abuse to have this wonderful life and partner offered and then taken away leaving you in despair. Nothing you can do can change them to being loving when they are nasty. But when you are moving away from them and they are being charming, you can do anything at all and Mr Nice Guy won’t mind. Don’t forget he will make you pay if you go back. There is a high price to pay every time you go back, they get worse and worse. Anything you did for yourself during the separation, heaven forbid see another man, will be twisted and shown you weren’t good enough, maybe even slutty!!

At the start you think you can handle it, during your 3 to 6 months away, or even more, you build yourself back. But they have get you back again, maybe they see it isn’t as easy to replace you, most women wouldn’t stand for the abuse, but they come back and their No. 1 weapon is charm. If you look on this charm offensive as Total Proof that they know what they’re doing is wrong, it will make you sick. The My Wonderful Life will appear like a very ham production and if you keep asking him the whys then and questioning everything, you will see it won’t stand up to scrutiny.

If they didn’t know their abusive behaviour was wrong, they’d come back as a rough diamond, picking at you, and you’d never take them. So they know it’s wrong to abuse you, and they know how to be nice. They CHOOSE to abuse, make no mistake. Take a moment to think how do they behave in front of someone like a policeman, judge, boss, you can be sure it is Mr Nice Guy. They choose to be nice then and they choose to humiliate, ignore, mimic, jeer, verbally and emotionally attack you. Do NOT go back, you are like a prisoner voluntarily going back to the persecuting jailor, they get worse every time, you are wasting time you could be FREE and happy. Listen to Annie, it is helping me so much stop my stupid pattern of going back, for over 8 years of my precious life, from 36 years old.

Cathy

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Helen December 25, 2011 at 12:49 pm

Hi…It was very interesting to see that Jeanne King wrote to you, Annie! Dr. King’s website was the first I found a few years ago when trying to find out what was wrong with my relationship. I could have sworn she was then preaching that it was rarely, if ever, possible for an abuser to change! It seems as pressure mounted by abusees for a “better” answer, the abuser treatment plan evolved. Well, would I want to spend over $4,500 (26 weeks x $175) and six more months of hell and disappointment to find out? I think not!! There are some things that money just can’t buy.

I am four months permanently out of an 8-1/2 year relationship. After a 2-year separation from my abuser who was individually receiving what sounded like good therapy, based on topics and discussions I was told about, I began dating ex-partner again. However, as I insisted on a gradual reinstatement of the relationship, reasonably asserted my needs within the relationship, and held partner accountable for his actions, he found the process frustrating and eventually had a major blow-up. The blow-up included illegal activities and a cascade of about five wholly unacceptable statements or behaviors that woke me up to the fact that he was unable and/or unwilling to have a mutually beneficial relationship, and that that would never change, at least not with me. I had one heck a case of hopium that is still dying a slow, torturous death.

It also dawned on me that this man drew me into the relationship to begin with based on what he had learned and the insight he had gained into himself during his previous lengthy post-marital counseling regarding the failure of his marriage and the dysfunctions of his family of origin. (He was very detailed and I was very impressed, at the time.) Later, he also received inhospital therapy after checking himself in to save our relationship (or, in 20/20 hindsight, was it mainly to save himself from charges and jail!?) after the one and only time he physically assaulted me. (I filed a general police report, but did not press charges because I didn’t need to seek medical care for my injuries. Groan.) And I almost fell for the “counseling card” for a third time?? Wow. Damn hopium.

I followed Dr. King’s link to five examples of reformation of abusers. Two at least read like it was remotely possible, but I would have to talk to the women a year later to believe any of the changes were for real. (Sorry, Dr. King.)

All the counseling my guy got…so how slick is he now? Slicker-n-whale-sh!t, I’d say. Babes in Toyland beware.

And Merry Christmas! (At least that’s a cause for real hope.)

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