Dating after an abusive relationship.  

One of the scariest things after leaving an abusive relationship was dating again.  I knew my track record in love was bad.  After all, my ex had almost killed me!  I’d ignored all the warning signs when I met him.  I only saw what I wanted to see and denied the rest.  Look how that turned out!  So, I didn’t have huge faith in my instincts or my judgement.

But I was successful in love after that.  I remarried.  I am still with him now.  He brings out the best in me and I in him.  And I am certain we are going to grow old together.  So how did I not fall into the same trap?  How did I not go head first into the next abusive relationship? Like many people who’ve suffered abuse do.

Two things.   First, as I’ve talked in more depth about earlier, I knew I had to look deep into why my self-esteem was so low.  To understand why not all my emotional needs were met as a child.   And to learn how to fill that void of vulnerability.  To nurture my inner child.  Only once I built my self-esteem would I attract a man who would treat me as worthy.

The second thing was a revelation to me.   I want to share this as I know there are many others for whom this might help.

I’m engaging with many victims and survivors of domestic abuse online. Many are like I once was, terrified of dating again.  Or in the early stages of a new relationship.  Unsure if they can trust their judgement and scared of another abusive relationship.   I know the feeling.

One posted some text messages from a guy she has recently met online.  In them he calls her his ‘baby girl’ and his ‘princess’.   She feared, as she hardly knew him, that this might be a red flag.   Yes. Without question. This is a warning flag with bells on.   Why?  Because she hasn’t even met the guy yet.

Love-bombing is a typical narcissistic trait.  They smother you with attention at first.   Tell you that you’re the only one for them.  They promise you a wonderful life of marriage, babies and growing old together.  All within weeks of meeting.  When we are lacking self-esteem and vulnerable, this is music to our ears.  This fills that hole we feel inside.  Narcissists instinctively spot our weakness and are experts at filling it with words they know we want to hear.  My vulnerability was feeling not good enough. Unlovable.  So he told me I was the love of his life.  Better than anyone who had come before.  The one he needed.  It sucked me straight in.

Once we’re drawn in deep enough, another side appears.  Now they need to bring us down a peg or two.  They tell us we’re ugly, stupid. That no-one else would want us.  That we’re spoilt brats, sluts or bitches.  Or we’re having affairs they’ve imagined in their heads.

My ex revealed his true self early on with his actions.   He showed me warning signs.  Whilst he told me he loved me one minute, he’d erupt in anger and disappear for days the next.  He’d suggest I wear different clothes, or that he didn’t like my friends.  Get jealous if I even looked at another guy.  But I made excuses for his behaviour.   That’s because I was projecting onto him who I hoped and wanted him to be. Rather than seeing him for who he was.  The man he was revealing to me, but whom I was choosing to be blind to.

I was seeing only the things that confirmed my dream of a wonderful life with him.  Denying those that were screaming at me that this relationship was no good for me.

I have a lot of mantras that I swear and live by.  (I’ve created a whole new category for them on here).  Here’s another one:  watch not what they say, but what they do.   As I have said before, love is a verb not a noun.   You show someone you love them by treating them as loveable. By treating them with respect.  And another mantra: if it sounds to good to be true, it usually is.

Going back to those text messages.  If we do watch what this person is saying here.  Listen to his language.  My ‘baby girl’ can be beautiful in a loving relationship.  My husband often says the same to me.   But in someone you’ve never met?  Clang.  Warning bell.  It sounds more possessive to me.

‘My Princess’ – again, in the right context, those words can be lovely.  But before having even met?  Or even in the first few weeks of being with someone?  It reminds me of how narcissists put you up on a Madonna-like pedestal.   You are the one who is different to all the others (read: whores) who came before.  You are special.   In the early days I was.  I believed it too.  But then I had to live up to that. When he later cut me down and accused me of not being that perfect Madonna, I did all I could to prove I was worthy of his love.  To be that person again. If I could show him I was still that special one, then perhaps that was all he needed to change and I could fix things.

Don’t do as I do. Don’t project onto someone else who you hope they’ll be in the future.  Or the dream you are imagining in your head.  See them for who they are now.   Watch what they are doing and telling you.

The same is true for when you meet someone who is good for you, like I did with the man I am married to now.  At first I was so scared of my track record.  I started seeing signs that weren’t there.  I was projecting onto him my fears that he was another abusive man.  Not just sitting back and observing the man he was showing himself to be.   I pushed him away.  I caused drama.  I was trying to end it before he left me, which I was convinced was going to happen.   I am lucky he stuck around!

Once I started to let go.  Once I stopped projecting onto him and watched not what he said but what he did.  Then I saw he was a good man.  He showed me he cared for me.  He didn’t smother me with possessiveness.  He treated me kindly.  He didn’t swing from adoration to abuse.  His actions complemented his words.  Both showed me respect and treated me as worthy, not worthless.

It is possible to break the cycle and find a healthy long-term relationship after an abusive one.  Just don’t project onto them.  Stay still and read the signs. Watch what they do.  Listen to the language they use.  And if it is all too good, too full on, too fast.  If their actions don’t match their words.  Then for me, that’s a huge red flag.   I’d steer well away from that one.  Trust me, it’s better to walk away sooner, rather than later.  The further down the road you go with a narcissist, the harder it is to get away from them.

Are you back on the dating scene again?  Seeing red flags?  Let me know in the comments below.

Follow me and why not try my FREE QUIZ to find out if your relationship is good enough; if you need to focus more on you, not them; and are ready to take your FIRST STEPS TO FREEDOM?

Written by Vivian McGrath

Vivian McGrath is a TV Executive Producer who makes documentaries for major US, UK and Australian broadcasters.  She is also a survivor of domestic violence.  Her book ‘Unbeatable (How I Left a Violent Man)’ – her story of surviving abuse to finding success in love and life – will be published soon.  She hopes this blog will help others to become strong, fearless and successful too.  Find out more about Vivian Here.

6 thoughts on “Dating after an abusive relationship? Watch not what they say, but what they do

  1. I am back on the dating scene but with the same guy who I kicked out of my life 3 years ago for unacceptable behavior. I felt that I even needed an order of protection to feel safe. He has since gotten sober and cleaned up his life and started a company and made amends with his children. It’s amazing how fruitful his life is. We’ve been seeing each other now for 6 months. There are still signs that indicate he has some addictive traits (over spending, over planning, over working) but they all seem just part of his personality. He sees a shrink for medication and goes to AA. So why can’t Iet my guard down? I feel like will go on to live a successful life but I also feel that we are an addictive combination. I change my mind about him every other day!

    1. Quite often people who are abusive also have addictions to alcohol and/or drugs. It is not the cause of the abuse, but they can go hand in hand. I can imagine you will be on guard, as even sober the addiction remains and it can often transfer to something else, as you say. Let go of trying to control them and focus on you. Remember to put your needs and wellbeing first (this is not selfish, because if we can be the best we can be then we are the best for another person and the relationship). Your self-esteem is paramount. Just trust your gut and heed any warning signs and don’t deny them. And then try to relax in the knowledge that if it’s meant to be it will be and enjoy it if it is working for you and bringing out the best in you. If you self-esteem is high then you’ll be okay. Because if you find it’s not good enough for you and your wellbeing, then you’ll have the strength to say this isn’t good enough for me.

  2. I am so con-fn-fused. I was beat all winter with every abuse but physical, as even tho we were split, we cudnt move apart. So he just continued the abuse, altho escalated. I left emotionally in July, moved into the kids rm in Oct.
    After getting my head back together, in Feb, I met someone. Took it very slow, took a break for awhile of a few wks even, back in March. This guys sweet, spent money on me, did not push me in any way physically, didnt attempt seducing me, wasnt saying ILY like a stupid crazy person, etc. We talked ALOT mostly. Went on dates but mostly talked n talked.
    When I had a free nite, I would ask him to meet up with me N He Would.
    We got somewhat sexual, mostly just heavy kissing.
    The past few weeks tho, hes backed way off. Never available (he wks third shift, cares for his crazy dad n crippled mom, has bad insomnia). When we do meet up, hes all ily, ily. I want a relationship with you, yes. Affectionate.
    He used to txt me that he missed me. No more.
    No more gm txts.
    No more im thinking of you txts.
    Doesnt keep his word. Japped out on me Wed nite, which is the only nite i have a sitter n he well knows. P.r.o.m.i.s.e.d. to see me Thurs, japped out again. Flipped out when i tried to rationally talk with him. I think hes ignoring me??
    Um yes, you ARE. I dont think it.
    Today he was actually gonna come see me before wk tonite. Its too late to go do anything before he has to go cuz he once again, didnt go to bed n has to sleep some before wk. It would just be a make out session, sick of that. I told him Im busy today n wont be back till too late.
    We’re supposed to go to a park tmrw with my kids.
    I know he wont show. He ll jap out again. I truly know this.
    Is even this guy a narc? Somehow I missed it again??
    In case ur wondering, we havent been intimate yet becuz of a couple reasons, hes not punishing me for no sex.
    I wonder if hes married. No shyt. Even tho I know damn well hes not. He ACTS like it now tho.
    I hate men.

  3. I’m so sorry to hear what you have been through Jamilla. I think the most important thing is to watch what they do… If there is a big disconnect between what they say and do it is a big red flag for me. So, if they say ILY yet constantly avoid you etc. then that to me is a warning sign. Your confusion is because what he is saying is not aligned with what he is doing.

    Please put yourself first. You and your wellbeing are what matters most. Ask yourself: is this behaviour good enough for me? Is he treating me with kindness and respect? Is this relationship bringing out the best in me? Set healthy boundaries. And if he breaks them, then question whether it is a healthy relationship. One that will give you long-term happiness.

  4. When I was 18, I married an abuser (he was 30). We were only together a year and a half, but we have a child, so his controlling and threatening behaviors followed me until she turned 18 a few months ago. I remarried at 24 for the wrong reasons (my child was diagnosed with a serious illness and I wanted to be able to stay home with her. Husband #2 was abuser light, as I like to call it. His abuse was far more insidious because everyone liked him, so it felt like I was the crazy one. Anyway, after 10 years of marriage I walked away. I also spent time in domestic violence counseling, reading books, educating myself, etc. I dated a few men that just didn’t really work out, no big drama, just not a good match. Then I met my current boyfriend. I had no idea such closeness and healthy communication existed. It’s been a true revelation. However, there are things he does that remind me of my first husband and I can’t get away from it. We’ve been together 2 years, we’ve spoken openly about it, and it has decreased in frequency a lot. Most other men don’t remind me of him at all, but because of the way they’re both very sensitive (the ex used it to play the victim and manipulate me, my new boyfriend shares his feelings and we work through it), I am really struggling. We’re taking a break right now because I can’t get it under control. We’ve done a few counseling sessions and definitely need more, but sometimes I truly wonder if I shouldn’t cut my losses and find someone who doesn’t trigger this reaction in me. Thoughts?

    1. Hi Kate, I am so sorry you are struggling and that you’ve experienced abuse in your relationships. But you should be proud of yourself for the courage and strength you found to say it wasn’t good enough. That is a really big first step. Yes, healthy communication and closeness do exist, I felt the same as you when I found it the first time. It’s incredible. I think the reason you are struggling is that you are focussing on him and his behaviour and how it makes you feel. And on the relationship itself and not where you need to be. Which is on you. I have a series of online video courses that I call START WITH ME for this reason. For us to understand it we are in a healthy relationship or not. Why we attract those who hurt us, or dysfunctional relationships in the first place. How not to have our happiness depend on others, we have to really look at ourselves. Why we have low self-esteem (because when we do we attract those who treat us as worthless or go into dysfunctional relationships), where it comes from in our childhoods and how it manifests in our relationships. It’s a complex process and it took me years of working on me, which then allowed me to have a healthy relationship. I suggest that you need to start with you, irrespective of any relationship. I’m not trying to do a sell job on you, but I do think my courses will help you as I walk you through step by step how I changed my mindset from victim to survivor and then went on from survivor to staying strong. The first one (Victim to Survivor) really helps you understand if the relationship you are in is a healthy one or not. The second one (Survivor to Staying strong – which I am launching soon) digs deep into why we go into these types of relationships and why it’s so painful to leave them. How to break the cycle and not repeat the negative patterns, that impact on us having healthy relationships. And why we still struggle and find it hard in new relationships that are healthier. If you want to find out more, this is the Victim to Survivor course – If you’d like to join the waiting list then you will automatically here more about the second course, when it comes out. If not, keep reading through more of my posts and watch my videos as I go into this in various ones of these as well. I hope that helps. (Sorry, it’s quite a complex answer, so I’m not sure if I’ve been able to make it make sense when simplifying it).

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