After the Escape: Dating Someone Who Has Been in An Abusive Relationship
I want to say thank you to everyone for the outpouring of love and support after writing my last blog post, After the Escape: The Long Lasting Effects of an Abusive Relationship . It took me quite a bit of time to sit and force myself to replay those events in my mind, some of them still twist my stomach. But it was inevitable that it needed to be said based on the number of you amazing, strong women who have experienced similar relationships in your past and may even still be recovering from. It saddens me deeply that so many females have had experiences with such toxic relationships, but the fact that we are out and able to help guide others in those relationships to their freedom is so empowering. Don’t worry guys – I know you experience toxic relationships too, I’m not discounting your experiences at all. I just haven’t heard from any of you.
In addition to the copious calls, texts, messages and emails about the blog from women, I was even more surprised and excited when I received a message from a male, who is now in a relationship with a female who had an abusive relationship in the past and is now working to heal from it. He wanted to know how he, as the new boyfriend, can help her through this healing process, and boy did I want to cry when I read that. If I hadn’t met my own beau, who proved to me that “not all guys are the same,” this message would have been my wake up call to that new reality – that there are people out there who won’t abuse you – something that is VERY difficult for someone who has experienced it to believe.
This post is for all of you who are with someone who has had an abusive relationship in the past … those of you who may even have to “deal” with the ramifications of someone else’s wrongdoings … but it’s also for those who were in the abusive relationship, because it’s important that you work as a team on this. So I decided to bring in my numero uno teammate on this – my boyfriend – to give you some advice on navigating the calm relationship after the stormy one.
We came up with a list of what we think is important – and my BF gave his input on the things he thinks are crucial to know and implement as the one who’s in a relationship with someone whose had past trauma.
1. Awareness of the Gravity of the Situation
Being with someone who has been in an abusive relationship is not the same as being with someone who was cheated on in their past and has trust issues. Yes being cheated on sucks. And it hurts. And it can certainly make you weary of putting your all into a new relationship. But that is no where near the severity of what happens when you are psychologically toyed with for an extended period of time. If you are not aware of how severely traumatizing an abusive relationship can be, please read my blog on it as it can give you some insight. And good on you for taking the time to read about it to understand what your current love went through and likely still is going through.
Those who experienced the abuse (I refuse to call us victims because that somehow has a negative or weak connotation and we are strong MFers … maybe I’ll call us “escapees”) PLEASE make your significant other aware. Not in the “BE AWARE, JERK” way, but explain to them – show them an article, tell your story, my blog, whatever you need to do so that they can be aware. If they are still closed-minded – do yourself a favor and ditch ‘em.
2. Willingness to help her/him
All it takes is a bit of desire to want to understand what is happening in his/her mind and to want to help him/her when times get rough (i.e. flashbacks, insecurities, etc). If you are NOT willing – then walk away now. End of story. Why? You may not think so, or realize it, but you can still cause further psychological damage if you exacerbate his/her PTSD symptoms with no consideration. So … walk.
Escapees- RECOGNIZE that your significant other is willing to help. This isn’t easy to come by – so use a little awareness here, even though it’s a vulnerable situation, and be aware of that wonderful support.
3. “Be open and empathetic to the person, which is advice entering into any relationship, but you have to be especially mindful when entering into a relationship with someone who’s been in an abusive one. Try to look at each situation through the other persons eyes and experiences and try, not to necessarily understand, but at least appreciate where they’re coming from and what they’ve been through. “
What about when people are in the heat of the moment? It’s not easy to stop and just let go of your own anger when you’re in the midst of being pissed to be considerate of your partner who may feel a trigger from your anger.
“I’ve become more aware of me when I’m angry and stomping and making all kinds of noise. The other day, I was pissed off at work and banging on my desk like an asshole and then I realized what I was doing, so I yelled down, ‘I’m sorry,’ realizing that it could have been upsetting you (loud bangs can be a trigger for me per my last blog). For me, it was learned awareness. Learned awareness took time. But it’s not that much effort. But for people who struggle more with anger, that’s like a whole new topic of dealing with anger management and learning a new set of skills. If you’re someone who has this type of anger – you should see someone to develop that level of skills and your awareness and it may just not be a good fit for the couple in general.”
Escapees – if your new significant other has anger problems, as much as you love them, it may not be wise to remain in a relationship with them and be in a potentially new abusive relationship.
Is this [relationship] a lot of work?
“I don’t think so. Probably because I love you. That’s a stupid answer, but it’s true. If you love someone you’re willing to put in a little extra work. It doesn’t feel like a lot of work though.”
What about before you loved me?
“It came up pretty early on, honestly [the discussion about abuse]. I remember you telling me early on a little bit about it when we were on the topic of exes and stuff. That early communication helped because it allowed for me to begin to be more conscious of my behaviors and also be more understanding of where you were coming from previously, as well.”
It didn’t scare you off at all (haha)?
“No I don’t think so. (He made a weird face at this point and I asked him if he was full of sh*t and he said it was his “trying to remember, thinking face”). I knew that you weren’t “crazy” because of it [past experience].”
So I had to stop him here and have a talk about “being crazy.” I have an issue with this term to describe a female because it makes us feel like we can’t have emotions or we’re the “same” as someone who is considered a psychopath. A lot of people will exude a number of different characteristics when they start off in a new relationship , after being in an abusive relationship, that aren’t necessarily timid, shy and fearful, but more aggressive, angr, jealous or more forceful. There’s nothing “wrong with you” if you suddenly start acting like this. But its important to pay attention to these behaviors and know that they are coming from an unhealthy place. You want to take the time, before entering into a new relationship, to do some serious, internal work on yourself. This healing will significantly impact your next relationship and help determine how it will go.
I got a very specific question from a guy asking how to handle, not when he’s angry, but when he’s stressed or overwhelmed and doesn’t want to set off her triggers.
“I would say remove yourself from the situation. Which isn’t always easy like if you get a bad call when you’re on the phone in the same room with her and it makes you angry. But it’s just about communication. Quickly communicate to her that you’re upset, to walk away and get out of the situation to go cool down. I joked with you [Brittany] about a safe word that basically means ‘I’m upset and frustrated. I have to go right now but I’ll be back’ and also joked about having a safe word for you when you’re feeling a trigger like ‘snizzle poop,’ and when you yell that at me it lets me know something I’m doing is triggering you. I personally don’t deal with frustrations as much. But sometimes just saying like ‘sorry,’ it acknowledges that I’m aware that my anger or frustration is something that can be a trigger, but I’m also letting you know that it’s not being taken out on you or that I’m mad at you, it’s something I’m just dealing with at work or whatever. Communication, communication, communication. I’m like a broken record.”
“When your angry or upset, first ask if everything is okay. And if so, be prepared for that person to unload if they’re going to unload, and if they’re going to stay buttoned up, recognize that its not about you. Sometimes people just need their space to deal with it and trust that they’ll communicate when they’re ready. And sometimes when they unload and are angry, it’s not about you either. There’s a trigger of some sort happening.
Read the person – you’ll get to know their behaviors. Then bring it up later on if they were tight lipped and ask if there’s anything that they want to talk about.
That works on the opposite end too, be open in your own communication and let your partner know if you’re angry or upset, it’s not about them, it’s about a situation, and that’s not always easy in the moment. But letting them know that you’re upset about work or whatever could be really helpful for them to know and ease their anxiety about it.”
ESCAPEES: it’s okay for your partner to experience anger or frustration (healthy amounts). We can’t have someone who’s butterflies and rainbows all of the time, we have to allow them to be human, too. If we want them to communicate with us, we have to be open to receive that communication. If we want them to honor our feelings, we have to remember that they have feelings, too. Give and receive, loves. Give and receive.
“I feel like I’m cognizant but I know I’ll say stupid things sometimes, which is where your forgiveness and understanding comes in. You’ve given me multiple reminders before, like the other day when I made a joke about sitting on your ivory tower, you reminded me that that’s something (ex) used to do but in a way to make you feel awful that you were some sort of undeserving princess. And clearly I wasn’t saying it in that way, but you gently reminded me and now I’m more aware of it. It’s a learning process. Like anything else in life.”
Any other words of wisdom?
“F*ck your criticisms of your significant other for awhile. It’s a lot of listening to start. A lot more than you even want to before you can begin talking depending on where the person is at that you’re dating. Create situations where that person feels comfortable talking about it. Maybe you have given criticisms that were constructive and smart, positive things that were reasonable, but that doesn’t matter if that person isn’t in a place where they’re willing to take that kind of criticism. I think it’s much easier to be with you because you’re pretty f*ckin solid and have done a lot of work on yourself. I’ve dated people who hadn’t done any work on themselves, and that made it way more difficult. But it’s easier to date someone who actually does the work on themselves and has self-awareness.
Be mindful. Be empathetic. Look inward. Listen to the Clash. Be communicative.”
I think it’s super important to hear it from the perspective of someone who is on the other side of the table. I can tell you all day long how important it is to communicate and all of the internal healing you need to do; but I feel like hearing it from someone who “has to date me” is all the more validating.
Communication doesn’t just help you to heal; it doesn’t just help you to finally let out all of the pent up thoughts and emotions you’ve had throughout the entire relationship, but it helps your new relationship on a whole new level.
Think about it.
You’re in the kitchen. Your significant other comes home in a bad mood and has no idea what you’ve been through or what your triggers are. They start unloading. The panic sets in. Will they go to strike me? Will they berate me all night long? Your stomach starts to twist into a million knots. Maybe you have an anxiety attack; maybe you start to cry. Or maybe you storm out of the house with no explanation.
Think of how much could be different had they known what scares you, what sets you off, what you went through before them! It could mean a WORLD of difference and remove a lot of the tension or toxicity that could come because your S.O. is left in the dark.
Or this scenario:
Your S.O. does something that reminds you of your ex. Perhaps you’re filled with dread that they are exactly the same.
Does your S.O. know what you went through? Do they know your triggers? Are they actively working with you to help you transition into a new relationship? If they don’t know anything and you’re not communicating with them, often times we may mistake normal behaviors for “negative” ones just because we associate ALL of our exes behaviors with bad ones. This isn’t to say that we could never end up with someone who is abusive again, but if we are communicative and if we are doing the work we need to to heal, it is more than likely you’ll know your worth well enough to not engage with someone like that again. Which brings me to the next point.
P said in our little interview that it’s “easy to date me because I did the work.” Doing the work is Dealing with abuse is not something you can just roll off your shoulders and expect to come out smelling like roses. There’s a lot of shit that’s stewing. Abusive relationships put us through a self-esteem and self-worth beat down and it takes a little more than just leaving to correct that, so don’t forget the importance that is YOUR self-worth, YOUR self-love and YOU in general. You deserve to see yourself in your truth and not what your abusive ex conditioned you to feel … or how they conditioned you to behave.
Self-awareness and communication will save your new relationships.
We hope that this blog/interview has been helpful to you. We suggest reading it together, so that perhaps you can talk about it together; set up a game plan, a safe word, an open dialogue about expectations and triggers. It’s all important to discuss with one another. Remember you’re a TEAM. That’s the point of a relationship isn’t it? Support and partnership? Working as a team to live a happy, healthy life together? This is apart of that.
As always, if you have any questions, I’m here for you.
I love you and I thank you. And a special thanks to my boyfriend for participating in this blog.