By Christine Murray, See the Triumph Co-Founder
At See the Triumph, we believe that it’s critical that survivors of past abuse are empowered to make decisions for themselves so that they can determine the course of their own lives. This applies to decisions about future relationships, especially because so often during an abusive relationship, a person’s choices and needs are not validated or respected.
Our series this month focuses on the challenges that survivors may face in creating and maintaining safe, healthy relationships following their experiences of past abuse. However, alongside this focus, we want to provide validation and support for survivors who choose--either temporarily or permanently--to abstain from seeking or participating in intimate relationships.
We heard from a number of survivors who participated in our research that this was the best choice for them. For some, this decision appeared to be a permanent one. For example, one participant said, “I gave up the idea of ever dating again. I stay busy and try to focus on work and my children/grandson.”
For other survivors, the decision to abstain from relationships was reflected in their choice to avoid dating or pursuing new relationships. As one survivor said, “After my last abusive relationship, about a year later, I briefly dated someone for a few months. We never had sex, just dated. It didn't work out. Other than that I haven't dated or even had sex since then. That was 6 years ago.” Another said, “I know it still affects me because I haven't dated at all since I left him.” And another person said, “I avoided any relationship like the plague.”
Sometimes, the decision to abstain from relationships was viewed as temporary, or at least there was some possibility that the person would be open to dating again. One participant indicated that she believed moving into a new relationship would follow therapy to promote her healing, and she said, “I cannot even think about dating or marrying again. I feel too damaged. I can only handle taking care of myself right now. I think once I get through the divorce and feel more secure and in control of my own life that I might go back to therapy regarding future relationships, because it would take intensive therapy.”
Through the healing process, some survivors came to a realization that they are complete without a relationship, although they remained open to the possibility of a relationship in the future. For example, one participant said, “I did not start to heal until I spent a couple of years single. I dated around a little bit, but I was not ready for a serious relationship because I was not ready to trust someone again. And, quite frankly, I did not trust my own judgment in picking a partner. This time allowed me to decide on some non-negotiables: Things I required in a relationship, as well as things I would simply never put up with again. It was during this time that I...realized that I did not need a man to feel complete.” Another shared, “It soured me on relationships. After meeting a number of women through singles online places and deciding not to follow through, I stopped looking and adopted the Taoist Wu-Wei or waiting and taking no action...e.g., stopped reaching out....but decide I am still receptive if I happen to encounter a relatively healthy person.”
Just as moving into new relationships can bring new challenges, deciding to abstain from intimate relationships can bring challenges to survivors’ lives as well. For example, this decision may bring questions or pressure from friends and family members who believe the person should be dating or in a relationship. Also, the person may experience some times of loneliness due to not having a partner, especially at certain times of the year, such as around the holidays. Some people may feel an intense level of pressure to be partnered, even if they’ve ultimately decided that abstaining from relationships is the best decision for them.
Despite these challenges, deciding not to pursue intimate relationships--whether for a short period of time or permanently--is a valid, understandable choice for people who have experienced abuse in a past relationship. For some, the risk of even exposing oneself to the possibility of further abuse or harm within a relationship may be a risk not worth taking. Deciding that one’s life is complete and fulfilled without a partner is a bold, empowering move, and this decision deserves support and validation.