Take it from an experienced divorce attorney – dating after an abusive relationship can be complicated. My divorce clients often face difficulties in emotionally connecting with new potential partners and find themselves having a hard time trusting themselves and others. It’s completely normal to question whether you know how a healthy relationship is supposed to look or feel.
How you feel after separating from an abusive partner really depends on the kind of abuse you’ve experienced. There is no right way and no exact time frame for moving forward, and it is absolutely vital for you to be kind to yourself throughout the healing process.
That being said, I’ve noticed a few universal states of emotion as my clients navigate the healing process. In this post, I want to address some of those common feelings and experiences for life after domestic violence.
Irrationality and Hypersensitivity
It’s pretty simple: the more often you feel fear, the more sensitive you are to possible signs of danger. Science says so.
So, it makes sense for you to become hypervigilant while in a relationship that requires that kind of self-programming for safety reasons. Unfortunately, when it’s over, it can be difficult to turn off what’s become second nature to you, and it will take time to figure out how.
One of the most common forms hypervigilance can take is constant monitoring of a new partner’s actions, reactions, and emotional state, and reading into things much further than necessary.
This one really goes hand-in-hand with hypervigilance. Any small sign on the part of a new partner that life isn’t perfect in your new relationship and your defenses go up.
Again, it makes sense. Having to listen to endless comments about how stupid you are for choosing that worthless degree or staying in your dead-end career after expressing an opinion on the state of the economy, it’s no wonder you’d start to put up walls at any sign of danger.
Your defensiveness is a clinical response – an emotional protector. But now that you don’t have to be this way anymore, how do you work on letting go?
Lack of Trust
In yourself. In others. In life itself.
Your heart hurts. You may feel guilty or blame yourself for “letting this happen.” You may be angry with, well, everyone, and that’s okay, too.
When you’ve been told by a partner for any length of time that “you’re the crazy one,” it can leave you feeling pretty broken, worthless, and afraid to trust again. All of these feelings are completely natural when you’re coming out of an abusive situation.
Moving Too Quickly
This is the flip side of all those issues mentioned above. Fresh out of divorce, too many times men and women are already picturing forever on a first date. You may feel you’re past young love, you don’t have time to “get to know someone,” or that you already know what you want.
But this is asking someone you don’t even know to fill a hole they didn’t create. And more likely than not, they won’t be a perfect peg. This is unfair to them and to yourself.
Also, you’ve been through something. And believe it or not, you are a different person here on the other side of it. You need time to find out who that is…let alone figuring someone totally new out, too.
Divorce has less to do with which status box you check on legal forms, and more to do with how you feel in your heart. You need to figure out how to say goodbye to a stage in your life. This is always easier said than done, and especially so when you’ve been torn down in more ways than one.
Because of all this, it’s imperative for you to take some time to evaluate what stage you are in, and the potential consequences that could come with dating immediately. Decide how you want to live your life going forward and seek out the people and things that can help you create that life.
And if you haven’t closed the door on that abusive relationship completely, that’s okay – take your time. Seek professional advice if you have to. Otherwise you risk false hope, and accidentally hurting someone who doesn’t deserve it in the process.