Aunt wonders if a violent abuser can change

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.

For anyone experiencing partner violence, there is confidential help and support available. Contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline ( Counselors are available 24/7 either online or by phone: (800) 799-7233.

Dear Amy: My husband and I have been married for 18 years. We have a good marriage. This is a second marriage for us both, and we have weathered the storms with our blended family successfully.

We are political opposites and have lively disagreements, but we can always agree to disagree without rancor.

Our friends and family can’t always seem to do likewise.

A high school friend recently texted me that my husband’s Facebook posts about politics were so annoying she was considering unfriending him.

I did not know how to respond. What could I have said?


Dear Stymied: In these politically divisive times, successful marriages between political opposites seem to be quite rare. Good for you!

One reason your marriage has been so successful might be because you and your husband are both mature enough to differentiate: He doesn’t represent or speak for you, and you don’t represent or speak for him.

I assume that as frustrating as your spousal political differences are, on some level you both realize that access to your spouse’s point of view broadens your own understanding. People who circulate only in their own bubbles seem to have developed a limiting binary: X = bad, Y = good. And the world doesn’t seem to work that way.

In terms of the person who texted you, you could have responded: "I’m not sure why you are contacting me about this, but, hey, do what you’ve gotta do."

Dear Amy: Your advice to "Sad Dad," trying to re-establish his relationship with his estranged son was SPOT ON.

I ended all contact, on my own, with my horribly selfish father when I was 12.

Fast-forward 13 years. He calls me at the hospital after I had just given birth to my first child, and IMMEDIATELY launched into, "When can I see you?"

He did this for months and then called me up SCREAMING because I was still hedging.

After that, I hedged no more. I closed that door permanently.

No Regrets

Dear No Regrets: I suggested that this parent should tread lightly and respectfully; I assume things might have been different if your father had done the same.