We all know dating involves a lot of uncertainty. Most people experience some insecurity when getting to know a potential partner. Figuring out how to read another person’s signs and signals is part of the dating experience. It is sometimes exhilarating, sometimes baffling.
What about when the person you’re dating has been in an abusive relationship? Unfortunately, partner abuse is all too common in our society. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence estimates that each minute 20 people experience physical abuse from an intimate partner in the United States. The after effects of relationship abuse are long-lasting, and can make the ups and downs of love even rockier.
Here are 7 ways a person who has experienced relationship trauma may love differently.
1. We Can Have Low Self-Confidence.
No matter the type of abuse, the abused person suffers damage to their self-esteem. Our abusers were critical of us, and undermined our self-confidence. Sometimes we tell ourselves what our abusers told us, like “you’re no good”, or “how could anyone love you”, or “I hit you because you deserve it.” We need time to get over the damage to our self-esteem. You can help by understanding that sometimes when we are depressed it can be because we are hearing these thoughts. If you help us talk them through it helps, because we know you don’t see us like that.
2. We Are Sometimes Mistrustful of Kind Gestures.
Sometimes abusers shower their partners with gifts and compliments, as a way of pulling them in quickly. Then, when the partner is hooked, the abuse begins. If you give us a gift or a compliment early on, sometimes we wonder if you are like our abuser. We can’t help it, we’re just afraid. However, behind our fear, we are really grateful for your gift. It’s okay to ask us what is wrong. Sometimes we just have a hard time knowing why we react like we do, and sorting out our feelings.
3. We Sometimes Startle Easily, or Flinch, or Jump at Loud Sounds.
Partner abuse involves physical, emotional, or verbal abuse. We remember the abuse, so loud sounds, certain physical movements, and other things can remind us of the abuse. We can seem to freak out and get jittery or withdraw. We can’t help it, our bodies and minds are remembering the abuse.
4. We Can Find it Difficult at First in the Bedroom.
Getting close to someone physically means being extra-vulnerable. The last time we were vulnerable, we got hurt. We want to love and trust again, but we’re afraid. Please be patient; we’re trying and want you to understand it’s not you, it’s our past.
5. We Might Try to Sabotage the Relationship.
At times, the fear of getting close enough to be hurt again can make us try to push you away. We might lash out in anger, withdraw, or be critical. Sometimes we aren’t even aware before we do it. It’s just our fear that we will get hurt again. Sometimes when you are getting really close to us we feel most scared and confused. Please understand it’s not you. We’re actually trying to open up and connect but sometimes the fear overtakes us.
6. We Might Get Attached Too Fast.
Sometimes people who’ve experienced partner abuse jump into new relationships, hungry for the love and affirmation they didn’t find with the abusive partner. We might push to spend all of our time together, maybe move in together, take vacations together, meet family, all on a schedule that might feel too fast for you. We want a relationship with a good person, and we aren’t quite sure of the rules. Sometimes we don’t want to be alone with the sadness we feel, and being with a caring person feels so comforting. You can help by telling us we are going too fast, and need to slow down. We want to do things the right way. Remember, we are still learning.
7. We Might Not Feel Worthy of a Loving Relationship.
Our abuser left us feeling like we aren’t good enough for a healthy and loving relationship. We are working hard to overcome that damage, harder than you might see just looking at us from the outside. Like everyone else, we want connection, intimacy, and a mutually respectful relationship. It takes courage to move on from an abusive relationship, and to open our hearts again. Understand that we still are working on feeling like we are deserving and lovable. Your compassion goes a long way in helping us heal.
We still carry some of the scars of abuse leftover from the bad relationship. However, we have a lot to offer. We have courage, compassion, and strength gained from moving on and coping with the experience of abuse. We’re working hard on our recovery. A partner with patience and compassion will see us for the treasures we really are.
Featured photo credit: Elenakirey | Dreamstime.com – Sad Woman Photo via dreamstime.com