I have been asked this question a fair few times now. A lot of ‘how do you move on after abuse?’ or ‘how do you trust yourself again?’ and similar. Today My husband and I are celebrating our sixth wedding anniversary, eight years together in total. I have struggled in some aspects and the abuse I went through has had a direct impact on our marriage. But I’m hoping that by sharing what I’ve struggled with it may help those of you out there that don’t quite know where to start or are hesitant about starting.
After splitting with my ex I was single for around 18 months before I met my husband, Steve. During the time I spent single I dealt with a lot of harassment and stalking from my ex and the whole police investigation, criminal proceedings and family court. In all honesty, I wasn’t ready to be with anybody else during that time. I had all that going on along side getting my son settled in nursery so I could go back to work after maternity leave. There was also the added element of the house we bought being condemned by an electrician so I was essentially staying at my parents’ home. I felt like my life was an utter shit show.
Whenever I made time for myself I would be out with my very good friend, Leanne. We would spend nights out together and go to music concerts. For the first time in such a long time, I was having fun. I was doing something that was just for me to enjoy. The nights out got me mixing with people again. I had been isolated for a long time so it felt quite alien at first, but I soon built up confidence and felt more comfortable being in the company of other people again. It was on one of these nights out that I met Steve.
I loved the fact that there were no mutual friends. He is from a neighbouring town to where I lived and he is a few years older than me so there are very few people that we actually know in common. My ex and I were from the same town and had a lot of acquaintances in common so when we broke up I felt like I was constantly being watched and people were always reporting back to him where they had seen me and when. It did trigger anxiety and slight paranoia.
Steve and I took our time getting to know each other. I was hesitant to give him my phone number on the night we met but I did purely on a whim. I figured I could use my past experience to watch out for the red flags. I wasn’t quite sure if I could trust myself to keep myself safe yet – I had failed at it miserably in the past. So I put in place a few pointers to make sure I knew how to get out if I needed to;
- I have every right to say no/walk away and communicate clearly if I feel uncomfortable at any point.
- My no means no. If Steve was to give any excuses for shitty behaviour, that doesn’t mean I have to change my no or that it is invalidated.
- My time is a gift, I won’t waste it. My priorities had changed now that I have a son. If I was investing time into somebody else, it had to be worth it.
So with these three points in mind, Steve and I dated for about a year before we decided to move in together. The dating period was full of very honest and open discussions about what I had been through and how it had affected me. Steve was very open, too. Any questions I had about him or anything I wanted to know he would tell me openly. We built a very good communication flow between us. There were some things I found it difficult to communicate about. For instance, if I wasn’t happy with something or there was something bothering me it took me a long time to open up about it. He didn’t put pressure on me or give me ultimatums at the time but Steve found this frustrating, he has since admitted that he did reach a point of wondering whether we could be together as he found the aspect of me holding things back very difficult. It was so obvious to me that this was a direct result of having whatever I said used against me by my ex. Everything I said or told my ex was turned on me and used as a weapon.
During that dating period he had also met my son, Isaac, and built a bond with him. A huge indicator that Steve was a good man is how he went about building that bond with Isaac. He took his time and he let Isaac initiate any interactions between them. I wasn’t about to take the huge step of moving in with somebody who wasn’t going to make the effort with Isaac or eventually treat him as they would their own – it would have been a definite deal breaker.
Although we started dating very soon after we met Steve and I didn’t get involved sexually for a few months. To me this was the scariest aspect of moving on. I was so terrified of being put in the position of my consent being null and void again that I did hold back, probably for longer than I actually wanted to but in hindsight I’m glad we waited. Steve has been nothing but respectful and patient, even to this day. There has never been any pressure, we have communicated openly and very, sometimes brutally, honestly. I think this is one very, very key elements to being able to move on, finding somebody who understands and is willing to work with you.
There really is no time frame for moving forward. It will be individual for everyone. We all carry our scars in different ways. I would recommend the following steps to moving on;
- Take time out for yourself. Abuse is a huge thing to endure. There will be ways in which you need to heal that you won’t discover until later on down the line. Take time to equip yourself with the ability to heal no matter what point in life you’re at. And remember, in the mean time it is perfectly okay to spend time alone.
- Figure out what is important to you. Do you find physical intimacy overwhelming? Do you need flowers and romance? Can you go days without speaking to somebody you’re in a relationship with? Figure out your love language. The more you understand yourself, the better chance you have of finding the person that is a good fit for you.
- If you find certain things difficult (for me it is saying no), develop step-by-step instructions to do so, and affirmations that help you cement that you have the right to do so. As above, I had three steps to getting out of a situation that I didn’t want to be in. I mixed in affirmations that would counteract anything that was used to invalidate how I felt – I did this because my ex was good at making me feel invalidated.
- The next person you meet may not be the one you’re supposed to be with. Just because you may have been single for a while and you feel more confident in your ability to see red flags and run, it doesn’t mean the next nice person you meet is the right person for you.
- When you finally settle into the next relationship, make sure you are getting out as much as you’re putting in. For example, if you made a checklist of everything you can and do provide, would your partner be able to tick the same boxes. Or can they check boxes you can’t? Making sure you know your worth and having your worth valued is so important.
- Communicate. For me, this was so difficult to do in the beginning; but the more I communicated and that communication was met with reassurance and action it got easier. Communication isn’t just you talking and your partner listening. It is both of you sitting together, talk about what works for each of you and what doesn’t, what needs to change and what you love about your relationship. My red flag here would be my attempts at communication being met with hostility, defensiveness and lack of accountability – on both sides!
- As a side note – It is purely each individuals discretion as to whether they want to open up about abuse they have endured – but I would recommend doing so. It will help your new partner to understand where you are coming from and why you may need a little more time and patience. I used the word ‘abuse’ when explaining to Steve quite early on where Isaac was at with his dad. I was so scared to do it but Steve’s reaction was perfect. I didn’t need to go into detail straight off the bat and it gave Steve the opportunity to decide whether he wanted to be involved with me going forward.
Now, I am giving a brief explanation as to how I moved on after an abusive relationship. That 18 months that I spent by myself is where most of the self-work took place – and is probably enough to fill a book let alone a blog post. But I hope that by giving some of this detail it answers some of the questions that I get asked quite frequently it helps to see how it is all interlinked with making sure you take time out to heal yourself.
Abuse is a monumental thing to go through, and it will change you as a person, but I hope that by sharing my story people can see that abuse doesn’t have to beat you. Moving on is possible, just don’t deny yourself the chance of a happy life.