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Why can't I leave this man?

Davinia wrote :

I was in an exclusive relationship of three years with my soulmate. My daughter and I moved in with him last year. We had a lot of good times paired with equally bad. I thought they were growing pains, and kept trying harder.

He proposed to me over Christmas 2006. But my new fiancé turned on me in an argument and said horrible things (that I provoked and deserved the sexual abuse that occurred when I was a child.) This led to a terrible mutual physical fight.

I left him for a few weeks, and after he asked for one more chance, I did the classic textbook "stupid girl" thing and moved back in. I found evidence of online relationships with other women over the last four months, he engaged in a-mailing, called a few on the phone, and even met one at a local restaurant while I was gone.

It felt like he cheated on me. He definitely lied to me. He alleged that the online dating websites he subscribed to were purely of entertainment value. I rationalized his behavior. He is older, I had left him, he was insecure, and thought he would see if he could really date again. I tried hard to understand, to be the bigger person and forgive him. During this process, we had another argument, and I started to leave again. After I slapped him and called him a liar, he hit me hard, breaking my ear drum and bruising my face.

I moved out ... completely.

My question is this. I've read numerous examples of men who behave strangely, and then say they are sorry and it never gets better. I have left, I maintained my self respect, and I am concentrating on me now. He is devastated, takes responsibility for his actions, will go to counseling, is giving me the space and time I need, and also wants to marry me still.

Can men change? What happens to the guys after an incident of domestic violence? Is it possible for them to have healthy relationships? Is there a chance to save a relationship after an incident like this or is it doomed to escalate into more violent situations and arguments? Why does it seem so impossible for me to leave this man?

Dear Davinia

Men can change, as can women; but once a pattern is set, then change is unlikely. I have no doubt that you have done the right thing by moving out, before things escalated further ... but you did not move out after the first fight.

By all means stay friends with him, if you want to - but do not just slip back into the way things were - or he'll slip back into violence. If he goes to counselling for a while, you may feel you can move the relationship up a notch ... but my advice would be to take it very slowly, make no promises for the future, and adopt a 'zero tolerance' policy.

If he doesn't like it, that remains his problem, not yours.

But you also need to consider your daughter; you do not dsay how old she is, but if she nneds your protection, then that includes protection from your friends.

All this is very soon; counselling takes time; months, not days or weeks - you'd be crazy to even think about moving back in for a very long time.

And your last question? Well, I don't know - but at some level, you do. I suspect it's part pride - you do not want to accept your relationship has failed. And that's linked with you still thinking it's "your problem".

It's not your problem, it's his. And only he can fix it.

I wish you all the luck in the world - but if you take him back too soon, you are risking more than a relationship breakdown - you are risking your daughter's future. And you have no right to do that.

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