Love and relationships after abuse

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.

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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.

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8 thoughts on “Love and relationships after abuse

    • Absolutely!
      You notice the red flags straight away though. We’ll never go through that again..
      I attend an anxiety group meetup and I felt anxious around two of the men in the group as soon as I saw them,. Sure enough it was those two that contacted me privately!
      That initial feeling of anxiety was a warning to tread carefully. Then when they contacted me my intuition went haywire trying to protect me.
      I got the big picture very quickly, and sure enough one would have been very bad for me (I was attracted to him though) and the other although a good man was too needy.
      Trust yourself and trust your instincts.
      I’m still too vulnerable to be in a relationship but I go to the groups and talk to the men and women, the majority are gentle guys. They are not right for me because they aren’t strong enough and I’m not willing to settle out of neediness or desperation! But it is good to talk to non threatening/ safe men and the group has been a healing experience even though there’s been some pain and growth involved.
      I like to remember that there are probably half a billion adult males to choose from..
      :o)
      I like this quote
      “Choose your life’s mate carefully. From this one decision will come 90% of all your happiness or misery”.

      • Great quote! Yes, we need to listen to our intuition and gut. Every time I am initially attracted to a man I ask myself why? The answer comes quickly, he looks sad, like he needs cheering up, he looks cold and emotionally unavailable, like he needs loving, understanding. And then I answer myself, not my circus, not my monkeys, I deserve to be loved by someone who has done their work. I agree with you, it is interesting to be in a safe group and observe men actually talk about their feelings and shortcomings in an effort to heal their dysfunction as opposed to blaming everyone around them for their misery. I’m not ready either, but I am enjoying the journey in finding what is truly important to me. I almost want to go on a date. Almost. That is very interesting that both of them contacted you! Kudos to you for being aware of how they made you feel. It’s not that we have bad traits, they are bad in the wrong hands. I think I am a pain and growth junkie now. ;-) xo

      • So get you.. my ex needed love. He had never been loved, could see it in his eyes the minute I met him.
        I was only 15 and had no idea what I needed.. or that I had never been loved either.
        Well I spent 28 years loving him and my love didn’t heal him… he still doesn’t trust a single living soul even me.. It was like living with a vampire and I was his willing victim.. even now I feel I’m still trying to break a psychic bond I have with him… but I will. On some weird intuitive level I feel breaking that will be his demise and I guess it’s been too hard to let him go/die .. does that make sense – it’s kind of deep especially considering he has remarried and has a child?.
        But just the fact he can’t look a me and ‘hates me’ tells me he isn’t emotionally over anything.
        I did love him. How could I love such a beast, because deep inside he was a beast. That damaged boy who loved me that sold his soul somewhere along the line.
        But I also understand it’s my love that can release us all from this darkness (kids included), he needs to be released and I have to move forward and love again.
        Ours was a love that wasn’t rational and wasn’t healthy.
        (Hope that wasn’t too deep for you but the only way I can make sense of things.. viewing it from the deeper spiritual aspect is always a bit surreal..)
        So the harsh lesson.. I need to be rational because it protects me. Just like when you ask yourself those questions you mentioned. Guess it taught me not just run with my heart or to give it to just anyone I’m attracted to but to use my head and ask, “is this good for me?”

        I also feel like going on a date (well sort of, maybe after I sell the house and reduce my stress levels).
        I think sexuality and I have some big issues… sex scares me. Really scares me! I’m not sure I even get sex but let’s face it good sex while you’re stressed and not feeling safe don’t go hand in hand :o) I do get love and passion and sensuality (so I guess it’ll all be okay :o)
        I always had an insensitive partner and I was so young I never realized or knew how sexually unhealthy it was. Makes me worry for the kids today and the tragic view of love and sexuality they are constantly exposed to..
        Guess I just need a whole lot of emotional intimacy and trust first.. like you said narcissists and patience don’t go hand in hand.
        Life and love is starting to make sense..

  1. Yes, I get what you are saying. The psychic bond that keeps interfering with life. Someone told me an odd thing that worked for me. Strange, face a hand mirror out, away from you next time intrusive thoughts happen with him and say aloud, “go away, I am through with you, I don’t need your drama in my life, I am healthy.” It works like a charm. I’ve had 55 years of N abuse. I have no desire for anything other than a long friendship right now above and beyond anything else. My last one, was like trying to fill the Grand Canyon with a squirt gun, an emotional vampire that just sucked. Go at your own pace and trust your gut and intuition, no bully’s allowed. xo

    • I’ll have to try it.. willing to try anything :o)
      I’m similar I’ve had 48 years, we need a medal that we’re still alive and positive :o)
      I’m determined to get stronger,
      I’m not willing to be drained of my life even when I’m no longer with him so I realize I need all the love and support I can get. I wondered why I was so blocked in my life, I only just realized he’s still got me and it’s up to me to release this for good. I’m getting there, what a process though, feels never ending..

      • So true, I am committed to little else other than healing my mind, body & soul. After that who knows? How long have you been in recovery? I am a little over 3 glorious years.

  2. Gosh.. only 3 years, you are wise and in a really positive space compared to most. My ex and I have been completely apart for 5 years. We’re divorced but he lives 5 mins. away :o( During our marriage there was ill health on my part, I burnt out around the age of 30 from stress. This lead into M.E and autoimmune disorders so I’ve really been recovering my physical health for 18 years. It’s not possible to fully recover while you’re still married to a narcissist. In retrospect I have no idea how I lasted 28 years with the guy – no wonder I was so unwell :o( During those years I spent 5 years with a therapist weekly (emotional healing) and spent many years healing my spirit often experiencing much confusion from unbalanced ‘healers’ along the way. But I learnt a great deal and I eventually got some of the answers to my childhood history through regression. Physically now I am much better. It’s like night and day.
    I have a natural gift relating to healing the past and your spirit but as yet I have no real idea how I will use it or have an outlet for it. And I don’t think I’ll know those answers until I reduce my stress levels and feel more peace and clarity. If I can focus and sell my home and belongings it will be wonderful. But it’s painfully slow, and I’ve noticed that sometimes I self sabotage my efforts so there’s some underlying fears involved in moving forward, I’m still trying to understand them. I do know that some of my fears are relating to my ex, and some are from the past and are not really relevant today, they are still holding me on some level though.
    I do feel I’ll understand and push through these fears and get there though.
    One day at a time..

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