Everyone has quirks and eccentricities. Little things that drive you crazy when you are in a relationship with them. But if you are dating someone who has a history of being abused, these quirks can be much more serious and drastic. These are six important things that you should be aware of if you are dating someone who has been abused.
1. Patience is key.
This one is the first one for a reason. Someone who has been told time and time again that they are not worthy or good enough, will have trouble believing you when you try to prove otherwise. Patience is important for both of you. They will take time to open up to you as well as trust you not to hurt them. They will close themselves off at times and try to hide away. Your patience is the best thing to improve the situations.
It’s difficult for me to open up to people about my past. I find it both embarrassing and difficult to talk about. So I don’t. Feeling comfortable around someone takes a while, and then I might start opening up a little at a time. If you come at me with questions and get frustrated that I can’t communicate my past to you all at once, I am more likely to shut down completely. Give me time.
2. Communication needs to be clear.
After an emotional or mental abuse situation, communication with someone new can be tricky. It is very important to be as clear as you can about what you want and need. Emotional abuse can mean lots of ultimatums, and petty comments, as well as criticisms. It is best to be as honest and open as you can. If you don’t like something, talk about it calmly and explain what bothers you. Try to refrain from name calling and issuing ultimatums to get what you want.
3. Be honest about your frustrations.
People will frustrate you. It’s inevitable. We are only human and no one is compatible in every aspect all of the time. But when dealing with someone who has experienced abuse, communicating your frustrations is an important part of showing respect.
If you are angry about something, it’s best to explain why you are angry and what could have been done differently to make the situation less stressful. If my guy gets angry, even about something small, I get scared. It’s a reaction that I have grown to expect and deal with. Even if I know the anger is not directed towards me, I mentally prepare myself to have the majority of the anger thrown my way.
Being angry at someone who expects abuse as a reaction, is dangerous. Take time to calm down a bit before addressing an issue. Walk away to avoid an outburst.
4. They will need reassurance.
One aspect of emotional and mental abuse is lying and blaming. I will constantly ask if something that I am doing is okay. Am I bothering you? Should I stop? Are you sure you don’t mind? Sometimes I will ask if I can touch my guy before I do it. And then I will ask if I am annoying him by hugging him.
Little things that don’t seem to mean much, are big to me. I was taught that most things that I did, were wrong, or bothersome. That my need for comfort was a burden. My request for a hug was met with a curse and an eye roll.
So I will ask before I even try now. I know not every person will find everything that I do, to be annoying. But I still like to ask first.
5. Small gestures and acts of kindness go a long way.
I have always been a giving person, and one way that I show love is by taking care of people. Offering to help them in small ways and doing things for them out of kindness. However, this was never reciprocated in any way, and instead became expected and criticized. My acts of kindness became chores that were never done correctly or quickly enough.
And because these small acts meant so much to me, withholding them became a form of abuse. I grew to expect nothing from my previous partner and instead felt that he was taking advantage of my giving nature. He took from me, and then criticized what he got.
People that have experienced abuse are generally expecting the bare minimum in terms of affection as well as appreciation. So doing small things to show that you care, can go a long way. When I offer to do the dishes or take out the trash, and my guy really seems to appreciate the offer, it makes me feel good. And on the other hand, when he offers to put a band-aid on my finger after I cut it, I am positively giddy.
There are all kinds of ways to show that you care about the person that you are with. And for someone who has been starved of affection, even the smallest things can mean more than you could imagine.
6. They will most likely expect violence.
This one is the hardest for me to explain. It goes along with being clear about why you are angry, and trying to stay calm. When someone gets angry, especially someone I am in a relationship with, I expect violence. I have unfortunately experienced more physical violence than I admit to, and that violence has left lasting effects on both my body and my mind.
If my guy gets angry, I EXPECT that he will take it out on me. When he gets road rage, my body immediately tenses. If I spill a drink in the kitchen, my breath quickens because I am waiting for the punishment. And if I do something that he doesn’t understand or appreciate, I immediately apologize and tense up.
I learned to expect pain as a reaction to things. So if you are yelling at someone for cutting you off, and you see me flinch or move away from you, take a breath and hold my hand. Smile and reassure me that I am safe with you. This won’t be necessary forever. But it helps.