Safe, healthy relationships are possible after abuse.
By Christine Murray, See the Triumph Co-Founder
After experiencing abuse in an intimate relationship, it’s normal to have fears and worries about not being able to find a safe, healthy relationship.
After all, someone who has been abused knows firsthand the risks and the potential ugly side of relationships. Most relationships that are abusive don’t start out that way–they often start out with the same hopes and dreams that people hold for any intimate relationship. And, many abusers use affection, attention, and romantic gestures to win the loyalty and devotion of their partners, so survivors may find it very difficult to interpret these same behaviors in a potentially healthy relationship.
One of the first messages we want to convey during this series on safe, healthy relationships following abuse is the importance of holding out hope that these relationships are possible, even after someone has experienced an abusive relationship.
We know that this hope can be very difficult for some people, especially if they’ve observed and experienced lifelong patterns of abuse in their families and communities. We also know that some survivors will make the choice to fully abstain from intimate relationships themselves in light of the abuse they experienced, and we believe that this is a perfectly valid and understandable choice. However, even if people decide they don’t want to participate in intimate relationships themselves, we still encourage them to hold on to a positive, hopeful view of relationships, especially so that they can help to support and understand the experiences of their friends and family members who are in relationships.
So, how can someone who has experienced the darkest possible side of relationships in their own lives hold out hope for positive relationships? One way is to see examples of others who have faced abuse and went on to find safe, healthy relationships after those abusive relationships ended. We’re thankful that many survivors who have participated in our research have shared examples of this. Take some time to read through the following list of quotes from participants in our research studies, who shared their own experiences of finding positive relationships after they’d faced abuse:
- “[I] found someone that treats me kindly, loves me for who I am, gives me freedom to make my own decisions, and who will talk to me as an equal.”
- “My partner now is the complete opposite of my ex husband, and I couldn’t be more grateful for him coming into our lives.”
- “I ended up meeting an amazing man who taught me that real men don’t hurt you, they are kind, don’t play games with you, etc…”
- “My marriage is almost like a fairy tale. My husband is also a survivor of domestic violence, this played a major role in the beginning of our relationship because we had to learn to TRUST each other. It took time for both of us to heal but we are happy and blessed to have been together for three years now. We would love to one day write a book about our experiences to give victims and survivors hope that they too might find a good partner.”
- “I am now in college getting my…degree, I am recently married to an amazing, good, and kind man (I didn’t even know men could be like him), and I am proud of how far I’ve come!”
- “I am now in a very healthy relationship and I feel like he is now making me feel more comfortable. I do not jump as much when he reaches for me or feel afraid. It’s always a continuous journey but I’m slowly but surely feeling like a better me.”
- “I am married to another survivor of domestic violence and we both value our marriage greatly because we understand what abuse is and [do] not have any room for it in our relationship.”
- “My first key point was when I began a relationship with a man who treated me with complete respect. I had never had that kind of treatment and really didn’t know what to do with it. We dated…and grew as friends before becoming intimate. We were married and after our marriage I began to have some significant nightmares and angry outbursts. He encouraged me to gain counseling and we worked through it together.”
- “Learning to trust my current husband has been a major milestone…His consistence, understanding and gentleness have been a major contributor to my passage toward healing. This was not an easy task, rather one that required both of us to be diligent and transparent in ways I often found frightening. We continue to work through the nuances of survival and trauma-this is an everyday exercise.”
As these quotes demonstrate, survivors are often pleasantly surprised to find the potential for safe and healthy relationships after their experiences with abuse. Furthermore, these survivors’ quotes demonstrate the importance of finding partners who are caring and thoughtful in providing support and patience for their partners, especially when lingering effects of the abuse surface.
Beyond learning from the survivors quoted above, another way to find hope for positive relationships is to search for them among the people you know, including friends, family members, co-workers, and people involved in the groups and organizations you’re a part of. Remember not to look for perfection, as every relationship will surely have some positive and negative dynamics. However, to the extent possible, try to identify positive, supportive, safe, and nurturing relationships among the people you know, and talk with those people about what they’ve learned through their relationships that might be helpful to you in your own relationships.
In conclusion, another survivor in our research shared the following powerful words: “Do not give up on love. There are good people out in the world. Try not to be tainted by the abuse you have experienced. I am sure that on the whole, most people are kind and genuine. Tell yourself, every day, that you are worthy of love and respect.” To be certain, holding out hope for the possibility of safe, healthy relationships after one or more abusive relationship is no easy task. However, this hope is so important for being able to nurture an important area of many people’s lives–the goal of fostering connection and intimacy through a stable, safe, loving relationship with another person.