Starting a new relationship after an abusive one can be extremely difficult. Living with an abusive partner in constant fear and anxiety may have made you skeptical about love. Now you may have no idea how to have a healthy relationship after emotional abuse.
You might keep wondering if you can find happiness again and if it’s possible to love after being abused like that. Starting dating after an abusive relationship may seem like a daunting idea to you.
But it is not impossible to love after being emotionally abused, and you can still have a normal relationship and a regular life.
Having the right support system, taking things slow, making self-care a priority, and being open to love will lead you to the healthy relationship you’ve always wanted. The chaos in your mind will dissipate, and you’ll regain your sanity.
Before we begin discussing the ways to have healthy relationships after emotional abuse, let’s look at the effects of abuse.
Emotional abuse is a pattern of behavior intended to make someone feel bad about themselves. It gives the abuser a chance to criticize and embarrass the victim to the point that they lose their sense of self. It allows the abuser to control and manipulate the victim.
Abusers may not show any of these behaviors at the beginning of the relationship. As the relationship gets serious, the abuses start subtly. Effects of severe emotional abuse are no less damaging than physical abuse.
Emotional abuse can cause changes and long-term damage to the victim’s brain and body.
Emotional and psychological trauma can lead to posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Since the abusers strip the victim of their support system and doubt themselves, it becomes difficult for them to leave the relationship. Abuse victims develop depression, anxiety, and many other mental disorders. It attacks the victim’s self-esteem and confidence.
They start to believe what the abuser says about them, lose their self-worth, and end up staying in the relationship out of fear. Emotional abuse also increases the risk of developing chronic physical illnesses like fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome.
Can you love again after being emotionally abused?
The short answer is: Yes, you most certainly can. It’s normal for you to feel scared about putting your trust in someone again since you’ve developed trust issues and might be suffering from PTSD.
To love again, you first need to acknowledge the abuse and be willing to work through your trauma. Remember that you’re worthy of being loved, and there’s nothing wrong with you. You are not to be blamed for your abuser’s actions.
You might struggle to form meaningful relationships initially and keep wondering how to have a healthy relationship after emotional abuse. But don’t give up on love. Learn to identify your needs and, this time, stand up for yourself if your partner turns out to be abusive.
However, don’t expect your new partner to fix you. While they can surely help you speed up the recovery process, you have to do the inner work yourself. Victims often fall for somebody with similar personality traits and behaviors because they’re used to it.
Stay away from people like your ex, and the moment you start seeing red flags, run for the hills instead of rationalizing them. Make sure you get into the next relationship with your eyes wide open.
A professional therapist can help you get in touch with your emotions, communicate more effectively and set healthy boundaries to have a happy and healthy relationship.
15 Ways to have a healthy relationship after emotional abuse
So, how to have a healthy relationship after emotional abuse?
Here’s a list of 15 ways to get you there.
1. Take time to heal
No matter how tempting it may seem, don’t jump into a new relationship too soon. You’re wrong if you’re hoping that it’d help you heal from the abusive one. The euphoria of a new relationship might keep your mind off the trauma in the beginning.
But, the unresolved wounds and trauma will keep resurfacing until you recover and learn to cope with it. Take time for yourself and figure out ways to reclaim your life. Survivors benefit from acknowledging what happened to them and getting help from a therapist.
Of course, you want a healthy one this time. But what does a healthy relationship look like to you? Before answering this question, take some time to reflect on your past relationships. What are the red flags that you tried to ignore?
Were you manipulated, rejected, and gaslighted? What are the things you absolutely won’t tolerate in your next relationship? Was there anything positive in that abusive relationship? What boundaries do you want to set? Add everything you want to your list.
Create a boyfriend vision board if need be. Make sure this time your relationship doesn’t lack honesty, trust, respect, and open communication.
3. Forgive yourself
If you’re asking yourself, ‘how to have a healthy relationship after emotional abuse,’ the first and most important step is forgiving yourself. You might feel anger, shame, and guilt for staying with your abuser for longer than you should have.
But, blaming or criticizing yourself will not make things better, and being compassionate with yourself and identifying what attracted you to your abusive partner will. Counseling can help you understand the pattern you need to break free from.
Figure out what attracted you to your abusive partner and try to understand what kept you stuck in that relationship for as long as it did. You don’t want to fall for the same kind of person again.
4. Educate yourself and seek professional help
There are so many resources available to help you deal with PTSD and anxiety after an abusive relationship. Use them to learn how to break the cycle and love after abuse. Read articles and books on how to have a healthy relationship after emotional abuse.
Find a trauma and PTSD therapist who can help you kickstart the healing process. With professional help, you can acknowledge and accept what happened to you, develop strategies to better respond to your triggers, and healthily manage your emotions.
5. Build a support network
Controlling and abusive partners tend to isolate their partners from their friends and family. If that was the case, it’s time to rebuild and reconnect with your support system. Talk to your friends and family or join a support group.
Having a strong support system will help you get through the struggle after an emotionally abusive relationship. Go out with your girlfriends, watch a movie, spend an entire day with them to remind yourself how your life was before the emotional abuse took place.
You also need your support system to be there when you finally gather the strength to love again. Being in love might cloud your judgment. Your friends might see the red flags in your new relationship before you do and save you from another heartache.
6. Take things slow
Your friends and family undoubtedly have your best interests at heart. They might try to set you up with someone or keep telling you to start dating again. But, finding the strength to start dating after an emotionally abusive relationship takes time.
Don’t let anyone make you rush into things. You don’t need to feel pressured to be in a relationship if you aren’t ready to take the leap of faith. Ask for their support while you work on rebuilding your self-confidence and restore your faith in love.
7. Learn to trust again
Trust is the fundamental building block of any relationship. Learning to trust after abuse is an uphill battle for abuse survivors. Understandably, it’s not easy for you to let your guard down. You have lost trust in others as well as in yourself.
But, if you want to get the happy and healthy relationship you so deserve, you have to be open to being vulnerable again. You are not being expected to trust someone blindly. Give your new partner incremental trust and start slowly.
8. Start afresh
Don’t punish your new partner for the mistakes your ex-abuser made. There are times when you might feel like your partner is trying to manipulate you, like your ex. Take a step back and see if they’re doing it or you’re overanalyzing things out of fear.
Your partner also needs to understand where you’re coming from and be patient with you. Go to trauma therapy or couples therapy together so that both of you can learn how to have a healthy relationship after abuse.
9. Talk about your past relationship
When you feel ready to start dating after emotional abuse, have an honest conversation with your potential partner about your abusive relationship. Knowing upfront about each other’s relationship history is a great way to build trust in the relationship.
Talk about how badly you were treated and what you’re looking for in a relationship now. Explain how your abusive relationship has affected your self-esteem and why you’ve developed trust issues.
Only move forward with the relationship if your new partner is willing to allow you to heal at your own pace and respect your boundaries. Don’t settle for less, and don’t ignore any red flags.
To understand what emotional abuse can do to your brain, watch this video.
10. Speak up if something reminds you of the abuse
If your new partner’s behavior triggers you or reminds you of the abuse, talk to them about it. They might not have the faintest idea that they’re making you feel uncomfortable. The right partner will try to understand your triggers without getting defensive.
Open communication and finding a middle ground will help you feel comfortable and secure in the relationship.
11. Identify and manage your triggers
Abuse survivors often experience flashbacks, memories, nightmares, or panic attacks when they’re triggered. Raised voices, shouting, arguing, any sound, smell, place, or taste that reminds them of the abuser can make them revisit the traumatic event and act defensively.
You might not be able to identify all of your triggers immediately. Take some time and be kind to yourself. Realizing the triggers when they happen and talking to your partner about them will help you manage them.
12. Listen to your intuition
Once you start dating after emotional abuse, you might not feel too comfortable trusting your instincts. You’ve been manipulated and were called ‘crazy’ or ‘paranoid’ every time you talked about something not feeling right.
If something doesn’t add up or you feel uncomfortable for some reason, don’t ignore it anymore. Trust your gut and talk to your partner about it. Whether you were right or wrong, a healthy partner wouldn’t mind listening to your concerns and putting your mind at ease.
13. Make self care a priority
When you’re recovering from an emotionally abusive relationship, it’s crucial to meet your physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. Be compassionate toward yourself and figure out what brings you happiness and peace.
Start journaling, meditation, and working out to boost your physical and emotional well-being, mental health, and quality of life. To be in a healthy relationship after abuse, you first need to love yourself and rebuild your self-esteem before anything else.
14. Open up to love again
If you’ve been hurt, it’s normal for you to be scared to open up again. But you need to believe that you deserve a happy and healthy relationship. Closing your heart off might keep it safe, but it won’t get you anywhere.
Love your partner with all your heart. It might scare you to be vulnerable and allow someone to see you for who you are- the good and bad sides. But, putting yourself out there will let you give and receive love without any limits.
15. Leave your emotional baggage behind
Unprocessed and repressed emotions from your past relationship affect how you think, act and communicate in your new relationship. If you don’t deal head-on with them, it gets heavier by the day, and you keep falling back into the bad habits your abusive relationship taught you.
So, you must free yourself of your emotional baggage and leave unhealthy patterns of behavior behind. Those coping mechanisms that you had to learn aren’t necessary for a healthy relationship.
Starting a new relationship after an abusive one is undoubtedly a challenging route. The journey toward healing might not be an easy one, but it surely will be worth the time. Every time you wonder how to have a healthy relationship after emotional abuse, remind yourself that it’s possible to love again.
You can be in a healthy relationship as long as you take your time to heal, forgive and trust yourself again.
If you feel disconnected or frustrated about the state of your marriage but want to avoid separation and/or divorce, the marriage.com course meant for married couples is an excellent resource to help you overcome the most challenging aspects of being married.
Rachael Pace is a noted relationship writer associated with Marriage.com. She provides inspiration, support, and empowerment in the form of motivational articles and essays. Rachael enjoys studying the evolution of loving partnerships and is passionate about writing on them. She believes that everyone should make room for love in their lives and encourages couples to work on overcoming their challenges together.