Getting back on the proverbial horse and putting yourself back out there emotionally and romantically after suffering abuse in a previous relationship is hard. No one realizes just how difficult it can truly be, and as a victim of abuse, you probably have a hard time finding the kind of support you wish you could have for this chapter of your life.
Dating after an abusive relationship is part of your recovery, and it’s great if you’re considering doing so! Setting yourself up for success with some easy first steps and things to know about dating about abusive relationships can help you overcome your fears, and find someone you truly deserve.
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What Counts As An Abusive Relationship
Abusive relationships are when the power is unbalanced between a couple, and one holds sovereignty and control over the other. It can be defined as any sort of harmful, both physically and emotional, relationship that exists between a romantic couple where mental and physical damages may occur. It’s often considered dangerous for the victim of abuse, and in many cases, the abuser suffers from disorders and mental illnesses.
Anyone who experiences cruel, violent, hurtful, or dangerous behavior from their partner can be considered a victim of abuse. It’s not always an obvious thing, but instead a small issue that grows into something scary and seemingly inescapable.
MYTH: Abuse Is Only Physical
When people hear the term abuse in a relationship sense, their mind instantly jumps to physical violence. While this is a very dangerous and valid form of abuse, it’s not the only kind. The life-threatening danger of a volatile partner is terrifying, but almost the same amount of damage can be done beneath the surface, too.
Mental and emotional abuse are very real, very valid forms of abuse that can happen in relationships. These manifest in different ways, some with financial control or verbal abuse, and others in more slick, sneaky manipulation and intimidation techniques. No matter how the emotional abuse is constructed, it’s just as real and should be taken just as seriously as domestic violence abuse.
Some of the ways that emotional abuse can manifest include:
- Frequent insults and hurtful comments to lower self-esteem
- Forceful isolation from friends and family
- Threats, yelling, intimidation
- Public humiliation
- Use of punishment in the relationship
- Unhealthy monitoring of the victim’s actions and social interactions
Things to Know About Domestic & Emotional Abuse
Abusive relationships are a growing epidemic in America. You see the news about battered stars, most famously the incident with Rihanna and Drake, get dismissed easily by fans of the accused. Many women and men who are in abusive situations are afraid to seek help, and stay for longer than they should, which causes them more trauma, and takes longer to recover from.
Over 5 million acts of domestic violence are committed against women 18 and older in America a year. Just over 3 million acts of reported violence are made against men, but not all cases are reported, so these numbers are less than reality. Only 25% of all physical assaults in a relationship are reported, which proves that this is a staggeringly commonplace occurrence for many Americans.
To put more simply, nearly half of all American women will experience domestic violence from a partner in their lifetime, in varying degrees of severity. Though some cases may be considered mild when compared to fatal or extreme situations, they all have major mental side effects, and affect the ability to move forward and date in the future.
When Should You Start Dating After Abuse?
There is no required amount of time you should stay single after escaping a traumatic relationship. Everyone will process their experience and handle their recovery differently. Some may be ready to jump back into the dating scene earlier than others; whatever feels right for you is the best time to get started.
5 First Steps To Take When Starting To Date Again
It’s easy to get overwhelmed when you decide to start dating. Even those who haven’t been through abuse get a little intimidated by the idea of it! It’s hard to put yourself out there and be vulnerable, but it sure beats the lonely alternative. When you feel ready to dip in your toes, follow these 5 steps first before going too crazy.
1. Start slowly
Don’t dive in headfirst, especially if you’ve been out of the game for awhile. Rushing into a relationship, or getting too hung up on dating around to make up for “lost time” will hurt you more in the end. Pace yourself, and take your time as you get to know people and start dating.
2. Try online dating
If the idea of large groups of people or having to make conversation with strangers during parties, at bars, or in dating events makes you cringe… it’s time to sign up for a dating site. There is tons of free, safe online dating services available, and you can move at your own pace while being as selective as you wish!
3. Don’t tell them everything on the first date
Oversharing is a thing that everyone is guilty of at some point, but the first few meetings when dating someone new probably isn’t the best time to get into your heavy past. It’s nothing to be ashamed of! It’s also not the best topic for a lighthearted, flirtatious dinner and a movie.
4. Don’t expect them to “fix you”
One common trap that many victims of abusive fall into is believing their next partner will “fix” the damage left by the prior. Unfortunately, this can lead to a messy path of broken hearts and toxic, brief relationships. If you’re looking for magic, you’ll be disappointed. Make sure you aren’t expecting too much of a new partner, especially too soon.
5. Look for the red flags early on
If you had stopped and listened to your gut when your past relationship started getting toxic, would it have ever escalated so far into abuse? Probably not. Learn from your mistakes, and pay closer attention to the red flags you may notice in the early stages of a relationship. Take them into considering, don’t ignore it!
What To Expect When Dating After An Abusive Relationship
Every relationship will be different, but there are some common hurdles and obstacles that appear more in new relationships you begin after being in an abusive one. Negative environments have a tendency to throw you for a loop, even years down the road.
You’ll Have Trust Issues
Everyone has some level of inability to trust, and it’s not a bad thing. That sort of gut reaction and reluctance to trust is what keeps us safe and protected in a lot of situations! We are usually pretty spot on about that kind of thing, but if you’ve been through abuse with a partner before… you may be less likely to trust for far longer.
Trust issues for you could mean you have trouble opening up, trusting their fidelity, accepting their help, or allowing yourself to commit. It could also mean you trust too easily, and land in the same situation even though you never meant to. Therapy and personal reflection can help you realize if you’re being too distrusting, or if you’re in the right place.
It’s Hard To Move On
Part of the reason victims stay with their abusers for so long is their genuine care for them and desire to help, see improvement, and make things work. That sort of devotion is admirable, and rare, but harmful if you’re the only one putting the effort into the relationship. Finally getting away from your abuser is an amazing step to take, but it’s not so easy chopping off those heart strings that remain.
Some people may find themselves comparing new potential partners against their past love who hurt them. They may be seeking out someone similar, just minus those abusive qualities, feeling like they could recreate the life they once had before it turned sour. Often times, this is a dangerous game, and you could end up alone or in an equally bad situation.
Sometimes You’ll Want To Give Up
Starting over with a new life, a new relationship, and a new support system after leaving an abusive home is exhausting. Everything feels different and a little scary. As a coping mechanism, a lot of victims of abuse will learn to accept, and even embrace, their chaotic and scary lives. Switching your mindset is going to be a challenge.
And honestly, who really likes dating and starting a new relationship? The later on in your life it seems to get, the more troublesome the whole game of cat and mouse really is. Getting dressed up and dealing with small talk, or the occasional dud, and introducing the parents… it’s a lot. You can’t give up, though!
Not Everyone Can Handle Your Past
This one sounds really harsh, but it’s not. Some people have lived pretty sheltered, lowkey lives. Not everyone has tragic experiences, and though abuse is common, it won’t affect everyone you meet. Men, especially, are less exposed to abusive relationships, and may not be fully able to support you in the ways you need or want.
There is a lot of emotional baggage that comes with moving on from abuse, naturally, and you should not feel bad for that. However, you need to understand that some people just don’t have that sort of emotional availability to help you work through your issues as a team. Honestly? You’re better off finding someone else, anyway, if that is the case.
You’ll Look For Problems
Remember the whole “look for red flags” advice? Don’t go too far with this. You may so worried and paranoid about falling for the same trap your abusive set before that you make a mountain of a molehill. Everyone is going to have flaws and some negative personality traits… this doesn’t always equal the potential for abuse.
Be sensible when you’re evaluating your date, and try not to make the screening process too vigorous. Small flaws or little quirks aren’t something to get too worried over, and you may end up missing out on some amazing, genuine people that could truly make you happy because you’re scared of the way he jokes with his buddies, for example.
They May Have A History, Too
One thing that is a surprisingly common occurrence is that damaged hearts seem to find one another in the recovery of a storm. In this case, the storm is abuse, and you may click best with someone who has been there, too. They’ll understand, and likely share many of the same issues and it’s easier to relate and work together through them.
You are not alone! Dating someone who has a history with abuse just like you could be a way to connect, but it may also be what prevents something genuine from blossoming. Don’t bond only because of your past shared trauma and understanding. Make sure there is a real connection there, too. No sparks? Say thank you, but move on.
Moving forward after an abusive relationship is never easy, and no one expects it to be. If you’re ready to make that jump into the new chapter, and hopefully the new love of your life, just start slowly and take some necessary precautions. Having emotional support outside of your dating life is also the key to success here! Always make sure you have plenty of friends and family you trust to be there for you and keep you sane during the awkward first date moments, and it’s also recommended to seek out counseling and therapy after traumatic experiences.