A large majority of the people who read what I write are women who are divorcing or divorced after infidelity, abuse, and/or abandonment. Either during the divorce process or after it’s complete, they ask me about dating after divorce. As I’ve stated before (read this article to learn more) waiting to date and healing your heart is a very important part of the “moving on” process after divorce. The next step, after spending time becoming emotionally healthy, is to meet someone who has a totally different personality than the person they were previously with.
Trust me, I know this is not always easy as we feel like narcissist magnets at times. We tend to gravitate to what we know, what is familiar; life with an abuser became our “normal.” But when we do find an authentically, kind-hearted man, how do you explain to him all that you’ve been through and how we may still carry the scars from the previous marriage (or relationships)?? Obviously, we don’t want to ruin any new relationships by carrying in our emotional baggage. We just want to be understood as these things could come up in the early stages.
That’s why I felt this article was so important to write. Potential partners need to understand the complexity of dating and even survival after abuse, adultery, and divorce. Feel free to share this with whomever wants to know.
Dear Potential Dating Partner,
If you’re thinking about dating someone who’s been abused then understanding what’s she has been through and what she might currently be going through will help you navigate these early stages. To help you, here are several things formally abused women do even years after their emotional healing. It’s not an exhaustive list nor does every woman deal with all of these issues but I hope it at least gets the conversation going between you and her. And you’re able to not only decide your next steps but navigate this time with much more ease.
Also, remember to have grace and mercy, something everyone who’s lived a life and has a past needs. We don’t always make the best choices in life but we can find ourselves again after divorce and seek God to rebuild and redeem our story walking down His well-guided path. He’s surely making something beautiful after (abuse and) divorce!
Abused Women are looking for green flags but also those nasty red flags as well.
Sadly, we interpret the world through our now distorted lenses. We’re no longer naive to evil because we lived with it, many times for decades. We analyze almost everything and everyone that comes into our lives, looking and waiting for the real truth to come out of the shadows of darkness. Your extra attention may feel like “love bombing” at times. And trust is something that is earned not given to someone who’s been abused. We trusted once, but then our trust was taken advantage of.
We may know in our minds that not all men are the same, that there are “good ones” out there, but when we see an action or behavior that we’ve seen in our abuser, our hearts tell us… BEWARE! We’ve seen this before. We often feel like when is the next ball going to drop? Is this person telling the truth or not? Is this real or is this fake, even if we tell ourselves to think something else. And you know, just as much as we do, most times we’re right! There are many men out there who are predatory rather than kind-hearted and genuine.
Abuse victims hope there is a bright light after their divorce. We want to find love, give love, and receive it back. We pray that someone will come along and just care about them, scars, PTSD, and all. But we are often filled with doubt and resort to thinking that we’ll be alone for the rest of our lives (happy, peaceful, and content) while feeling somewhat unloved and unloveable.
We Don’t Believe We Deserve Love
We may tell ourselves, Yeah, I deserve to be loved and cared about but we find it hard to accept or understand when someone actually DOES love or care for us! Why would they? We know God loves us and Jesus showed us how much He cared by being the ultimate sacrifice. But for many women who’ve been cheated on, we’ve internalized that there is something wrong with us. We are both too much and not good enough at the very same. Not pretty enough, not skinny enough. Or we didn’t DO enough to keep a man. We know we’re not to blame for his choices, but it’s still hard not to TAKE the blame, internalize it, and then carry it into our next relationship.
The mental and emotional abuse takes so much longer to heal than the physical. Nasty things that were said to our faces often run through our heads. The rage we can still hear. We know it’s not true but it’s like a tattoo on our hearts. And it takes a lot of positive affirmations to write over those awful words. We just need a little more validation and support to get to a point that we truly believe what you’re saying over what was told to us for years. We just need to know this is not the “love bombing” phase again and that you really mean what you say rather than using your words to get what you want.
PLEASE NOTE: If this is too much for you, giving love, care, and validation while she works through these things, be sure to end the relationship early instead of continuing just so you don’t hurt her. The more time that goes on the more her heart will be opened to a relationship with you, which could cause her even more pain than just ending things now. If she’s done the heavy healing up-front this period of time will be short but if she has not, it’s okay to suggest that she receive some therapy or coaching to help her get to that point. But understand, it’s NOT your job to fix her or do that healing for her!
We’re very much used to one-sided relationships.
We are used to always being the giver while our partner was the taker. We believed the Christian marriage “expert” who said that if we loved more, did more, prayed more and served more that he’d eventually learn to love us back and treat us right. We chased him and tried to convince him that we’d do better. The experts told us that we had the power to change his ENTIRE character with just a few more tries. And when he didn’t love or care, or he continued to cheat, we felt like we did something wrong. “I must not be doing enough!” we often thought. We took the blame every time because that was easier than trying to bring up how we were feeling in the relationship. Doing so only led to more conflict.
That is why we may hold ourselves back when starting a new relationship; we don’t chase anyone or give as much as someone who doesn’t have these scars. As bad as it sounds, we’re testing that we are going to be treated exactly how we would treat the other person in return (how we’ve treated our exes in the past). As a giver, we know the red flags of someone who’s always a taker (always needing something from us), so we have to see if that’s what we’re getting into, yet again. Or if this time is different. We don’t want to BE a total taker either, because we’re really interested in a healthy, two-sided relationship! But it’s often difficult to navigate these early stages of dating, without giving too much, too soon, while trying to create a healthy two-way relationship.
We also don’t want to be a placeholder or on someone’s back burner while you wait until something better comes along. We’ve been in that position before and we realize now that we weren’t really loved or cared about there waiting for someone to DECIDE to be with us. If you want to shop around, do so, but if you’re committed to this woman, then make sure you let her know. Knowing she’s the only “burner on the entire stove” will reassure her that you’re different from any other!
We need a non-judgmental, compassionate listening ear.
Most people have to experience abuse and betrayal trauma to know what it feels like. Someone who’s never been through such a situation, or knows anyone close to them who has, may not understand why she just can’t get over the pain that she went through. She is often even unsure that she experienced all that she has experienced. Or that it WAS actually abuse. Women rationalize it and minimize it. We downplay it or say it wasn’t THAT bad.
You can’t fix this for her, so don’t try! But you can be there with empathy, compassion, and understanding that this was a traumatic part of her life that she’s hoping to one day put fully behind her. This is one way you can show her that you can be trusted with her heart and the rest of her. Hug her when she’s emotional and remind her that you’re here for her always.
We find it easy to have “castastophic thinking.”
This means we often think the opposite sex is going to treat us in the same way we’ve been treated. These thoughts come immediately to mind when something minor happens. When you get upset but instead of going into a rage, which is what she’s used to, you pull back to think. She may see this as you leaving her or feel it might be “the quiet before the storm” if you don’t make your intentions and reasons clear. Communicate with her that you just need to step away to compose yourself or process things so the both of you can talk about the situation in a calm and healthy manner. Without that communication, she may think you’re done, ghosting her, or not coming back.
The abuse victim needs validation and communication about what you’re thinking and feeling, even when you’re upset (which is a normal part of all relationships). She just needs to be reminded that you are going to do things differently than what she’s used to. You don’t want to scare her or even yell at her, you just want to process things and then find a way to get through the conflict. In time, she’ll get used to your ways and know that this is the new normal. Eventually, she’ll be able to remind herself that she knows you, she can trust you, and that you are moving away for a time, not to harm her, but to protect her from anything hurtful that you might say in that moment.
Abuse and adultery victims often experience trauma triggers (or C-PTSD). As I stated above, disagreements and augments are often triggering for someone who’s been abused. We experience trauma triggers that need to be worked out––sometimes done alone and sometimes with a therapist, coach, or trusted friend. When this happens we may overreact to something or act irrationally. Don’t take it personally! Just keep reminding her that you are different, you are safe, and that you’ll get through this together. Time, space, and reassurance should be all you need to do to help.
Set boundaries, assert boundaries, and respect boundaries.
Boundaries are important in every single relationship. They give each person autonomy. Unhealthy relationships (especially with a narcissist) have smeared or no clear boundaries. This means that each of you should have your own lives outside of being together. Yes, the getting to know each other phase is fun and exciting but you still need to do all the things that you would normally do when not in a relationship. Hang out with your friends, go to the gym, and take time for personal care. Having these types of boundaries and asserting them when you need time outside of the relationship will ensure that you two have a long-lasting healthy relationship.
If boundaries are disrespected by either of you, that is a red flag that things are not healthy nor may they ever be. Trust is built by allowing each person to have their freedoms. If one person is controlling the other even out of fear of infidelity or abandonment, then one or both need to seek therapy for why this is happening. Codependency (defined as excessive emotional or psychological reliance on a partner, typically one who requires support on account of an illness or addiction) is not a healthy way to handle relationships. Being independent yet supportive of one another is a healthier way to relate, especially in new relationships.
We have a need to prove ourselves to people, especially when first meeting.
We’ve been blamed for everything for a very long time. Called names and accused of cheating, when we could never do that. Called a liar and crazy. We were gaslight to question even our own intuition, so we feel that others don’t believe us even though we’re honest and authentic at all times. We know our character speaks for itself but we also try to explain it with our words as well.
Personally, I know my closest friends often say to me, “Jen, I believe you!” Yet, I still try to back up all of my words with proof. Why? Because it’s ingrained in me that I’m not telling the truth. Or that I’m irrational or crazy. My friends’ words to me tell me that they know I’m a person of honesty and integrity which reminds me that I don’t always need to come out of the gate fighting to prove myself to everyone. I want to be believed and I am believed. And I’ve talked to many abused, divorced women who feel the exact same way.
As hard as it is, discuss the difficult topics.
Many abuse victims have been hit, kicked, pushed, spit at, and raped. Even inside of marriage, being coerced to have sex or being used while sleeping, is rape. She couldn’t say no. She wasn’t given an option. Knowing this should help you have compassion when this topic comes up in conversation. Truthfully it might make her feel uncomfortable to even talk about it as she may recall her past experiences. She certainly doesn’t want to go through that again. So, talk about it when she’s ready while giving her time and space to process all the new things she’s experiencing in this new relationship.
I’m not sure about you but I’m hopeful that this new phase in her life, the redemption, and restoration God promises for divorced women, is going to be the best years of her life. And your patience and understanding will be rewarded when you realize what a great, strong woman, you’ve been given. She’s a gift from God, treat her as such!
Ladies, any other advice that you think should have been added to this list? Anything that I missed and you want the “good ones” to know? Share your story and/or your advice in the comments below. Remember, your real name is not required.
May God bless your healing and restoration journey,