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Bring Change in an Abusive Marriage

How to Bring Change in an Abusive Marriage

Dr. David B. Hawkins, Licensed Clinical Psychologist and Director of The Marriage Recovery Center, shares how to best bring about change in an abusive marriage. In the emotionally destructive marriage there must be significant change and this best comes from an intervention. Dr. Hawkins shares how to bring about “the breakdown that leads to the breakthrough”–the marital intervention.

How to Bring Change in an Abusive Marriage

In the complex world of relationships, many individuals find themselves trapped in abusive marriages, desperately trying to change their partner’s behavior. They engage in arguments, complaints, scolding, yelling, and even screaming, hoping that their partner will change. However, these efforts often prove fruitless, exhausting, and emotionally draining. Dr. David Hawkins, the director of the Marriage Recovery Center, introduces the concept of “marital intervention” as a way to break the cycle of abuse and bring about much-needed change. In this article, we will explore the process of marital intervention and how it can help individuals in abusive marriages take control of their lives and relationships.

The Futility of Trying to Change a Partner

Before delving into the concept of marital intervention, it is essential to understand why traditional methods of trying to change a partner’s abusive behavior often fail. Abusive partners frequently engage in tactics like blame-shifting, minimizing, and rationalizing their actions, leaving their significant others feeling exhausted and powerless. Dr. Hawkins shares a poignant story of a woman who realized that her attempts to change her partner were turning her into someone she no longer recognized. Each insult, provocation, or blame-shifting incident chipped away at her self-esteem and sanity.

Defining Marital Intervention

So, what is a marital intervention, and how can it help individuals trapped in abusive relationships? A marital intervention is a deliberate and strategic approach to confront abusive behavior in a relationship. It involves breaking down the abusive patterns to pave the way for a breakthrough – a positive change in the relationship dynamic.

Steps for a Successful Marital Intervention

To execute a successful marital intervention, there are several essential steps to follow:

  1. Define What You Can No Longer Tolerate

The first step is to identify and define the abusive behavior that you can no longer tolerate. It’s crucial to clearly articulate what actions, words, or patterns are harming you and the relationship. This step provides clarity and a starting point for the intervention.

  1. Evaluate Your Own Role

It’s essential to reflect on how your actions or responses may be enabling the abusive behavior to continue. Are there ways in which you unintentionally contribute to the toxic dynamics of the relationship? Identifying these enabling factors is a critical part of the intervention process.

  1. Determine the Level of Intervention Needed

The next step is to decide what level of intervention is required to bring about change in the abusive marriage. This decision will vary from one situation to another, as not all situations require the same level of intervention. The chosen level of intervention must be tailored to the specific circumstances.

Levels of Intervention

a. Stern Confrontation: For some individuals, a stern confrontation is enough to address the abusive behavior. This confrontation should be honest, direct, and assertive, clearly conveying that the abusive behavior is no longer acceptable.

b. Ultimatum: In more severe cases, an ultimatum may be necessary. An ultimatum sets a clear boundary and consequence. It communicates that if the abusive behavior continues, a specific and troubling outcome will follow. While some may be skeptical of ultimatums, they can be effective when applied appropriately.

c. Temporary Separation: In extreme cases, temporary separation may be the level of intervention needed. Leaving the marriage temporarily can serve as a wake-up call to the abusive partner, demonstrating the seriousness of the situation and the need for change.

The Importance of Follow-Through

It’s worth noting that for interventions to be effective, it’s essential to follow through with the chosen level of intervention. Whether it’s a stern confrontation, an ultimatum, or temporary separation, following through sends a clear message that you are serious about creating change.

Overcoming Fears and Finding Support

Undertaking a marital intervention is not without challenges and fears. It can be a frightening and emotionally taxing process, but it’s often the only way to break free from the cycle of abuse. It’s vital to surround yourself with a support network that includes friends, family, a pastor, therapist, or counselor. These individuals can provide guidance, encouragement, and emotional support as you take control of your life and work towards a healthier relationship.


In an abusive marriage, the traditional methods of trying to change a partner’s behavior often lead to frustration and exhaustion. Marital intervention, as introduced by Dr. David Hawkins, offers a structured approach to breaking the cycle of abuse. By defining intolerable behavior, evaluating one’s role, and determining the appropriate level of intervention, individuals can take the necessary steps to bring about positive change in their relationships.

While the process of marital intervention may be intimidating and challenging, it is often the most effective way to address abuse and create healthier, more fulfilling relationships. By gathering a support network and being courageous enough to take action, individuals can reclaim their lives and build the foundation for a more loving and respectful partnership. Remember, the breakdown can lead to the breakthrough, and sometimes, a marital intervention is the key to that transformation.

To learn how we can help, reach out to us at (206) 219-0145 or info@marriagerecoverycenter.com to speak with a Client Care Specialist

Also read: How Early Childhood Influences on Who We Are

About Dr. Hawkins:

The internet is inundated with hyperbole and misinformation about narcissism, leaving many people confused and hopeless. Get the facts on narcissism and emotional abuse from someone who has been researching, writing about and treating narcissism and emotional abuse for over a decade.

Dr. Hawkins is a best-selling author and clinical psychologist with over three decades of experience helping people break unhealthy patterns and build healthier relationships.

He is the founder and director of the Marriage Recovery Center and the Emotional Abuse Institute which offers education, training and counseling for people who want to break free of, and heal from, emotional abuse. Whether the perpetrator of the abuse is your spouse, partner, parent, boss, friend or family member, we offer practical advice for anyone trapped in a toxic, destructive relationship.

In addition to narcissism & emotional abuse, you’ll learn about the lesser known forms of abuse, including covert abuse, reactive abuse, spiritual abuse, secondary abuse, relationship trauma and much more.


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