It can seem inconceivable when you’re going through it, but after every breakup—even those from abusive partners—there will come a day when you feel that spark of attraction for someone again. Everyone’s timeline is different and you should, in no way, rush yourself, but on the flip side you also shouldn’t discount the possibility that you deserve, and will find, happiness with someone.
But before you ever head out for that first coffee date, it’s important to make sure you have adequately dealt with the trauma you went through. The National Domestic Violence Hotline advises, “Seek counseling to help you work through your emotional pain and connect with your local domestic violence program to get support. Sever ties with your ex if possible (this is a bit more complicated when you have children with them) and if not possible, develop a system for safe interaction.”
Embrace the Possibility of Love
When you are sure you’re ready, the next hurdle may be overcoming the negative thoughts that are running through your mind about who exists for you out there in the dating pool. In Emily Avagliano’s book Dating After Trauma, she says survivors of trauma need to silence that voice that says it just isn’t possible to find a trustworthy partner who is kind, safe and can make you happy. “If you believe, you will make better choices in whom you choose to date.” She says that by embracing the possibility of love, you’ll welcome it into your life.
It is always important—not just for trauma survivors, either—to date safe. What does that mean? In some ways, it means letting your guard down slowly, instead of all at once. For starters, if you don’t know the person very well whom you are meeting for a date, make sure your first few dates are at public places. Meet him or her there instead of having your date pick you up at your house. Let a friend know that you’re going on a date, with whom, and where just as a safeguard.
Listen to Your Intuition
Avagliano says in her book that victims of trauma may be more tolerant of bad behaviors in a partner once they start dating again, perhaps because it is what they have been used to. “This is why it is important to be in touch with your feelings when you date, so that you can identify bad [partners] and weed them out quickly.” She says that before every incidence of violence, there is a moment when the abuser tests his opportunity with the victim. Avagliano calls that a “shark bump.”
“Just as a shark knocks its prey before eating it … predators test boundaries. The most important thing is to respond immediately.” In other words, set your limits up front. Say something if you do not feel comfortable. Make sure you are considering your feelings and values more so than your partner’s.
Don’t feel bad about excusing yourself from the date if things start to feel uncomfortable or go too fast—ever. A polite way to do this, unless you want to fake a bout of food poisoning, would be so say something like, “I don’t think I’m ready for this yet so I’m going to have to bow out. But, it was nice meeting you and best of luck.”
You’re not being selfish, says Avagliano. “A good [partner] will respect ‘no.’”
Avagliano goes on to point out some traits that unhealthy partners may exhibit. Keep these in mind when evaluating a potential new partner. These red flags do not necessarily point to abuse down the road, but they are worth paying attention to.
Flighty, inconsistent behavior. He or she doesn’t call when they say they will, asks you out at the last minute or waits several weeks before calling you again.
Untrustworthy. He or she breaks promises or tries to get you to do things you have stated you are not comfortable with, such as move too fast sexually. He or she brags about treating someone badly or his or her actions are contrary to what they say they believe or value.
Emotionally immature. He or she has difficulty communicating their emotions, erupts in anger at minor frustrations or shuts down when you share something emotional.
Relationship issues. Has few or no friends, is mean to strangers or staff, like servers. Has strained relationships with people in his or her family. Has had trouble keeping a job. Doesn’t get along with your friends.
For more warning signs to look out for, specifically related to abuse, read, “ Abusive Red Flags Everyone Should Know.” Also, add this to your reading list: a highly recommended book for learning how to trust our intuition when it comes to recognizing dangerous behaviors in people is the bestseller The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker.