Sara Klimek

Abuse is a difficult topic to talk about.  But, it's even more difficult to go through an abusive relationship and find yourself in the endless abyss of ‘what happens next?’  The prospect of moving on following an abusive relationship, regardless of being from a romantic partner, friend, parent, or stranger, is daunting.  When one is so used to a particular perspective or way of being, it is difficult to convince them of living any different way.

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I was in a difficult relationship in high school.  At such an impressionable age, I didn’t realize how toxic my partner’s actions were towards me and that his behavior was nowhere close to acceptable.  I lived in a bubble; no one could say anything from the outside that could impact the way I felt about my partner.  When many people define ‘abuse,’ they usually focus the explanation on the abuser’s actions and motives instead on the mindset of the victim.  Often, abusers cast the mold for how we see ourselves, but it’s when our minds put two-and-two together and start believing in their truth that problems arise.

One of the most difficult challenges of coming out of an abusive relationship was finding people that were accepting and nurturing of what I had gone through.  Like many victims of domestic abuse, I was scared.  I lost trust in my friends, my counselors, and anyone who tried to reach out, but perhaps most devastating, I lost trust in myself.  I didn’t think that I could find a person who could treat me any better than he did.  I didn’t think that I would come out of the fog and discover my potential.  The self-doubt began to override the way I thought about life and future romantic encounters.

After telling many of my partners about my history, they usually just shrugged it off.  It’s not like my feelings weren’t validated (they said the typical ‘I’m sorry’ and went back to the topic at hand), but more so that my partner couldn’t match my empathy.  In short, I felt alone.  I had to find ways to help myself; this proved problematic as my trust in people and myself was lacking.  I bottled up a lot of my feelings and my fears and put them aside for my friends and my partners.

What I’ve noticed, especially amongst myself and friends who have been in similar situations, is that victims typically try to overcompensate and control as much as they can in their relationships.  This is the fear of things going haywire that sets in; we try to control as much as we can so that we can fix problems before they arise.  As someone who has a very Type-A personality to begin with, I would feel myself micromanaging my relationships constantly.  I kept a wary eye out for signs of detachment from my partners, set up elaborate date ideas, and almost always said ‘yes’ to what they needed.  After all, I was afraid that if they thought I wasn’t past what had happened, they would leave.

Your partner may be unsure of how to build a fulfilling relationship, so it's important to be patient as they relearn.

Any therapist will tell you that bottling your feelings isn’t an effective coping mechanism.  But sometimes, around other people, it seems like internalizing your fears and frustrations is the only plausible solution.  But how do you express yourself to new partners and learn to be yourself, knowing that your abusive relationship ended so terribly?  Here’s how I did it.

Ask yourself, ‘Am I ready for this?’

The period after leaving an abusive relationship is both mentally and physically difficult.  You may feel tired, angry, emotional, and haunted by the memories and experiences of your abuser.  It took nearly five months for me to muster the confidence to meet other people and begin to heal, and even longer to find someone to fill the hole in my heart.  There is no rush to get back into a new relationship.  Do you feel well enough to go on dates?  Have you considered seeking professional counseling to talk about your feelings?  All of these are important questions to answer before you dive into a new encounter.

Be clear with your intentions.

Communication is key in any relationships, but especially when you’ve had a difficult time having your needs met in the past.  If you feel like you’d want something more/less committed, be clear with that early on in the relationship.  That way, you and your partner understand what you are comfortable with.

Don’t close yourself off.

If you’ve found someone who is caring, careful, and understanding, it’s hard not to want to spend every minute with them.  However, remember that healthy relationships include seeing friends, taking care of your body, and remaining mentally well.  Do things with other people and for yourself often to avoid getting overwhelmed.

Consider seeing a couple’s therapist.

Couples counseling- it’s not just for failing marriages!  Having a mediator with you when you talk about difficult issues can add a level of reassurance and a new perspective that you didn’t have before.  While your new partner might be a little confused about how to best help you; counselors are trained professionals who want to help both of you!

Continue to try new things.

Depending on the severity of your past situation, you may struggle with recurring flashbacks.  Some of these flashbacks are triggered by noises, places, and events.  Try to change things up and visit new places to avoid triggering these memories and to make new ones with your partner.

If you are the partner of a survivor, remember this: Love is patient. Love is kind.

Healing is never an instantaneous process.  While it may hurt to see someone you care about struggle with their self-worth, it is important to realize that you may not see a lot of their demons.  You don’t know how the feel or what they aren’t telling you.  In your eyes, small ‘problems’ may not seem as daunting to you as they do to your partner.  Validate these feelings as being a matter of perspective and understanding, without assuming that everything is an overreaction.  Find small ways to appreciate them and their accomplishments, no matter how big or small they are.  Your partner may be unsure of how to build a fulfilling relationship, so it is important to be patient as they relearn.  Give them their space, but always be someone that they can count on if they need support.  You’ll find that this experience will also be a learning curve for you.

As someone who has seen both the duration and the consequences of domestic abuse, I know that there is hope for people who are finding themselves again.  While at first it can feel like you are navigating a never-ending maze complete with a blindfold and tricky bends, in time, you will see that you can be loved again—no matter your past.

 

Sara is a managing editor at bSmart and Environmental Law student at the University of Vermont. Outside of her studies, she enjoys spending time with her horses, doing yoga, and cooking.

  

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