By Allison Crowe, See the Triumph Co-Founder
Some of our recent research at See the Triumph has looked at how survivors of intimate partner violence (IPV) overcome abuse and establish meaningful, new, healthy relationships. Unfortunately, all too often, society labels survivors as incapable of leaving abusive relationships and paints a negative and stigmatizing picture of survivors as remaining in the cycle of abuse.
In our research, we learned that survivors are quite the opposite of this stereotype! We were very excited to hear from those who had overcome abusive relationships about how exactly they were able to end the unhealthy relationships and go on to establish a life free of abuse. One particular theme that came out of the stories we heard was that a large part of overcoming abuse involved determining whether and how to enter into new intimate relationships once the abusive one had ended.
When we asked participants to describe their process of overcoming IPV, many described how they were keenly aware of not wanting to repeat patterns from their past abuse. We heard some excellent ways that participants did this – exactly how they embraced love and intimacy in new relationships. The phrase that describes this best is the notion of red flags. Today, we want to share some of the quotes from our survivors about red flags. We hope that reading these will offer strategies for you, or someone you know, to use now or in the future.
Participants in our study explained that they had to rely on intuition – or the ability to detect unhealthy behavior by “trusting the gut” when something seemed off, or concerning, or in any way reminiscent of the past, unhealthy relationship. Here is a quote from one participant who described this phenomenon:
“I can pick up on a man who wants to control me. Someone who has no respect for me. It may take a couple of dates but there are plenty of signs. I drop them. I would never allow any man or woman to put me back in a situation like that again.”
This is something we’d encourage others to do as you think about your own process of overcoming abuse and how to make sure those next relationships are healthy ones.
Another participant explained that he/she uses this red flag to end the relationship immediately. So, in other words, when the red flag pops up, this is the sign that the relationship needs to end. This person said, “I will never stay in an abusive relationship again. If I see a "red flag" I end it immediately.”
Similarly, someone else mentioned avoiding a potential partner with any sort of red flag as another way to stay healthy: “I avoid any man who exhibits any kind of ‘red flag’.”
Yet another participant reported that she did a background check when entering into a new relationship, just to make sure that the information learned about the other person was accurate. Doing this seemed to give this person some peace of mind, and trust that this new relationship seemed to hold promise for health. “I double checked who I was seeing to make sure the information was correct. Background checks.”
These are just a few ideas that we heard from survivors about how to look for and respond to red flags while beginning new relationships post-abuse. Trust your instincts, survivors. Look for those signs. Do a background check if need-be for peace of mind. Red flags are worth paying attention to. Thanks for reading and sharing this information with those you know, and as always, special thanks to our research participants for sharing their wisdom with us!
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.
By Christine Murray, See the Triumph Co-Founder
After experiencing abuse in an intimate relationship, it’s normal to have fears and worries about not being able to find a safe, healthy relationship. After all, someone who has been abused knows firsthand the risks and the potential ugly side of relationships. Most relationships that are abusive don’t start out that way--they often start out with the same hopes and dreams that people hold for any intimate relationship. And, many abusers use affection, attention, and romantic gestures to win the loyalty and devotion of their partners, so survivors may find it very difficult to interpret these same behaviors in a potentially healthy relationship.
One of the first messages we want to convey during this series on safe, healthy relationships following abuse is the importance of holding out hope that these relationships are possible, even after someone has experienced an abusive relationship.
We know that this hope can be very difficult for some people, especially if they’ve observed and experienced lifelong patterns of abuse in their families and communities. We also know that some survivors will make the choice to fully abstain from intimate relationships themselves in light of the abuse they experienced, and we believe that this is a perfectly valid and understandable choice. However, even if people decide they don’t want to participate in intimate relationships themselves, we still encourage them to hold on to a positive, hopeful view of relationships, especially so that they can help to support and understand the experiences of their friends and family members who are in relationships.
So, how can someone who has experienced the darkest possible side of relationships in their own lives hold out hope for positive relationships? One way is to see examples of others who have faced abuse and went on to find safe, healthy relationships after those abusive relationships ended. We’re thankful that many survivors who have participated in our research have shared examples of this. Take some time to read through the following list of quotes from participants in our research studies, who shared their own experiences of finding positive relationships after they’d faced abuse:
As these quotes demonstrate, survivors are often pleasantly surprised to find the potential for safe and healthy relationships after their experiences with abuse. Furthermore, these survivors’ quotes demonstrate the importance of finding partners who are caring and thoughtful in providing support and patience for their partners, especially when lingering effects of the abuse surface.
Beyond learning from the survivors quoted above, another way to find hope for positive relationships is to search for them among the people you know, including friends, family members, co-workers, and people involved in the groups and organizations you’re a part of. Remember not to look for perfection, as every relationship will surely have some positive and negative dynamics. However, to the extent possible, try to identify positive, supportive, safe, and nurturing relationships among the people you know, and talk with those people about what they’ve learned through their relationships that might be helpful to you in your own relationships.
In conclusion, another survivor in our research shared the following powerful words: “Do not give up on love. There are good people out in the world. Try not to be tainted by the abuse you have experienced. I am sure that on the whole, most people are kind and genuine. Tell yourself, every day, that you are worthy of love and respect.” To be certain, holding out hope for the possibility of safe, healthy relationships after one or more abusive relationship is no easy task. However, this hope is so important for being able to nurture an important area of many people’s lives--the goal of fostering connection and intimacy through a stable, safe, loving relationship with another person.
By Christine Murray, See the Triumph Co-Founder
Everyone has a right to safe, healthy relationships.
This statement reflects the vision guiding virtually all of my work, and especially the work we do here with See the Triumph. I believe that safe, healthy relationships should be considered a basic human right. I believe this need for safety and health extends to any type of relationship, including friendships, parent-child relationships, work and neighborhood relationships, relationships within faith communities and other community groups, and even in the small-scale mini-relationships we have in our everyday lives, even down to the people whose paths we cross on the street.
This month, however, we are turning our focus specifically to intimate relationships, and in particular, we are delving into the issue of safe and healthy intimate relationships for survivors of past intimate partner violence. We know this is a challenging area for many survivors, and it’s also an important one.
It’s an unfortunate stereotype that survivors of abuse are somehow destined to repeat their past and bounce from one abusive relationship to another. Of course, some people do experience multiple abusive relationships. However, this stereotype reflects the victim-blaming attitudes that are pervasive in society, and it can lead some survivors to believe that they are doomed to a lifetime of unhappy, unsafe relationships.
As with all of our work, we honor survivors’ right and ability to make the best possible decisions for their own lives. Therefore, one of the choices we’ll highlight this month is the decision that some survivors make to decide to abstain from intimate relationships, either for a season of their lives of for their lifetime. This is certainly an understandable and valid choice, and survivors who make this choice should be honored and supported in this decision.
For those survivors who are interested in establishing and maintaining safe, healthy intimate relationships, our research offers hope that this is possible. Across all of our studies, our research has involved hundreds of survivors of past abusive relationships. In order to be eligible to participate, they were required to have been out of any abusive relationships for at least two years, and many of our participants were out of abusive relationships for much longer than that. This fact alone demonstrates that it is possible to achieve lasting safety following an abusive relationship. Beyond this, we also heard stories from our research participants that provide numerous examples that healthy, fulfilling, and safe relationships are possible for survivors of abuse. We will highlight some of these in a post later this month.
In addition, this month we’ll explore some unique challenges that survivors may experience as they seek and maintain future intimate relationships. Because the past abuse occurred in what was supposed to have been a loving, intimate partnership, it’s very natural that people who have experienced abuse may face some challenges in navigating the many challenges that are inherent to intimate relationships. We’ll share some examples of how survivors who participated in our research navigated these challenges, as well as offer some suggestions for promoting safety and satisfaction in future romantic relationships.
We look forward to delving into this complex, important topic with you this month! As always, we invite you to share your own ideas, suggestions, and experiences with us and others in the See the Triumph community throughout the series.