How to Have a Healthy Relationship After Emotional Abuse

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Summary

Abuse changes us. We’re not the same bushy-tailed, bright-eyed optimists we once were. We are now more aware of the world. We’ve seen the darkness that can morph love into destruction.

But good news! It is possible to find, create and foster healthy relationships after emotional abuse. Here’s how.

Quick Links

Summary

Quick Links

Abuse changes us. We’re not the same bushy-tailed, bright-eyed optimists we once were. We are now more aware of the world. We’ve seen the darkness that can morph love into destruction.

But good news! It is possible to find, create and foster healthy relationships after emotional abuse. Here’s how.

Step 1- Figure Out the Signs

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Before moving in any direction towards finding a potential partner, figure out what attracted you to the abusive person in the first place.

I dated an emotionally abusive partner. At the beginning, I was extremely attracted to him. Afterwards, I analyzed the situation and discovered that I was attracted to his confidence, ambition and perceived morals.

Those are positive things. However, they do not and should not overshadow the negatives (belittling, condescending, stone-walling.)

So I added all of those things to my list. My dream guy must have confidence, ambition and morals. My dream guy can not belittle, condescend or stone-wall me for any reason.

Make a list of things you discovered you need and things you discovered you absolutely do not need.

Step 2- Realize You Don’t Owe Anyone Anything.

This one took awhile for me to learn. My mom spent many, many, years reiterating the idea that I don’t owe my dating partners anything. I don’t owe them a date. I don’t owe them “a chance”. I don’t even owe them a conversation.

If you see something that makes you uncomfortable- anything at all- you can and should end it. You don’t need to give them a “chance” or see if they can “change.” In fact, you need to do the exact opposite. You need to run away as fast as you possibly can.   

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Step 3- Learn as Much as You Can

Reading this article is an excellent place to start!

If you’re like me, you will enter your dream relationship without a single idea of how to make a relationship healthy. That is totally ok- as long as you realize the ignorance and realize that means you have a long emotional road ahead of you.

Take any chance you can get to read an article or book on healthy relationships. Ask healthy couples  what strategies they have for tough situations. Take a marriage class, even if you aren’t married. It’s the same principles, no matter what level your romantic relationship is at.

It will be hard to break the cycle, but you can do it. You are strong (you got out of the abusive situation), smart (you realized you needed to get out of the abusive situation)  and kind.

I can personally tell you, the emotional journey to a healthy relationship is 100% worth it if you have an awesome partner on the journey with you.

Step 4- Acknowledge that You’ve Learned Some Very Unhealthy Habits

When I first married my husband, I thought guilt trips were a perfectly acceptable way to settle disagreements. Turns out, they’re not. Not only are guilt trips unproductive, they actually hurt my husband. Since then, I have cut out everything and anything that resembles a guilt trip. 

Step 5- Forgive Yourself.

Forgive yourself for staying in a bad relationship in the past. Forgive yourself for a toxic behavior that accidentally slips in this new relationship.  Forgive yourself for being human and being changed by the abusive relationship. We’ve all struggled with crazy emotional rollercoasters after getting out of the abusive situation. It’s totally normal.

The added perk of forgiving yourself? You will be able to forgive your new partner with more ease.

Step 6- Find Ways to Increase the Compassion in your Relationship.

Steven Stosny, Ph. D, founder of Compassion Power states that we can, “eliminate abuse by increasing compassion.”

Isn’t that incredible? We can actually eliminate abuse by one simple change of thought.

Example in my life.

 My husband’s idea of doing the laundry is running it through the machine and then dumping it all in baskets. And that’s it. When I initially saw this, I got angry. I asked him to do one simple thing to help me out around the house and he couldn’t even do that. I started to go to a dark place in my mind where I used toxic words such as, “never helps” “always leaves everything for me to do.” ‘Always’ and ‘never’ are cement words that assign behaviors to people without allowing any room for them to change. Not a good place to put your life partner in.

 

I was at a cross road. I could let the anger fester and morph into another toxic behavior. Or I could take the time and develop some compassion. 

I chose the latter and I took a few moments to pause. Why had he not folded the laundry? Well, he had to get to work. His work hours had been crazy and all his free time was used playing with our kids or talking to me. I felt a little better, but then some resentment sank in. I’m busy too, but I still have time to fold the laundry. 

I decided to go a step further to really change my heart. I decided that for me, folding the laundry is not something I absolutely need from my husband.  (Talking kindly and taking care of me and my children are absolute needs.) 

So, I made a mental list of all the things he did for me. With that simple 2 minute mental exercise, I was able to replace the anger in my heart with incredible compassion, love and respect. My husband does a lot for me. 

I was actually happy to fold the laundry.

 

Step 7- Speak Up if Your Partner Does Something that Makes You Feel Uncomfortable

Step 4 goes both ways. Your partner needs to put equal amounts of compassion in. My husband makes the majority of the phone calls for our family because I am terrified of talking on the phone. Sometimes, this irritates him. But instead of letting that annoyance fester, he reminds himself of the fear it causes me. He puts himself in my position and develops a compassionate heart that way. 

That’s how it should be. Compassion should go both ways. 

If your partner does a toxic behavior or something that makes you feel sad, talk to them about it. Your feelings are valid and you have a right to feel comfortable in your relationship. Work with your partner until you find a solution that leaves both of you happy. It’s hard but I can testify from personal experience that it is possible to find a happy middle ground.

Step 8- Don’t Blame A New Partner for Something a Past Abuser Used to Do.

This one was hard for me. When I first got married, I would get upset when my husband would ask to go to the grocery store with me or when he would go to the grocery store without me.

Let me explain.

When I was a child, I  would watch as my mother’s life was completely controlled and manipulated. I saw that control lead to more dangerous abusive behaviors. One thing I witnessed my mom’s partner do, is micromanage what she could buy at the grocery store. Her partner would only let her go to the grocery store if he was present.

The trip consisted of him denying her everything she wanted to buy and getting exactly what he deemed appropriate for our family’s needs. They would come home with bags of flour and canned jars of expired food,  which he would then expect her to make meals from. 

So fast forward to the beginning of my own marriage.

When my husband asked to go to the grocery store, I thought, “Oh no you don’t. You will not control my life and leave me to pay the consequences!”

But my husband isn’t anything like my mom’s old abusive partner.

He patiently sat down with me and explained that he only wanted to help out. 

We chatted for a long time.  Then we did practice rounds at the grocery store where we would over communicate what we each wanted.

6 years later, we have a beautiful system in place- one where we both have total control over all things finance and food.  

Step 9- Take Care of You

Now that you have discovered healthy habits, the last step, and arguably the most important step, is to take care of you. Remember your worth. Do things that relax you, things that make you feel beautiful and things that make you feel confident. Keep your self-love tank full. You are important. Your feelings matter. You deserve to be healthy, happy and thriving.

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