By Nicole H., a Hotline advocate
“There are things that can bond stronger than love, and that’s trauma… his exit was just one more way she was walked on.” – Lundy Bancroft
When talking about domestic violence, most people assume that the survivor will be the one who will take steps to leave the relationship. After all, most abusive partners do not want to give up the control they have over their partners and will attempt to keep them in the relationship as long as possible. But in some cases, it’s actually the abusive partner who ends the relationship and leaves.
If this has happened to you, you may be thinking, “What just happened?” When someone ends a relationship with you, it can feel like a rejection of who you are and your worth as a person. Adding an abusive partner to the mix can magnify this pain, if not cause real trauma. According to author Lundy Bancroft, survivors in this position “experience the abuser’s departure as one final slap in the face following a long line of previous ones” and are left “feeling even more humiliated and unlovable.” Maybe your abusive partner truly wanted to change, and they left out of concern for your safety. But, chances are they were using their leaving as a final tactic to hurt you on purpose.
This has nothing to do with what you deserve or how much you’re worth. The abuse you experienced during the relationship was never your fault. This final abusive act isn’t your fault, either. This is hard, but you are not alone.
Leaving Isn’t the Only Thing That Hurts
Maybe you put a lot of time and love into the relationship. Perhaps there are children involved, and you feel the loss of the family you wanted to keep. Maybe others in your community made you feel like the abuse was your fault (it wasn’t). Maybe you didn’t get the support or legal assistance that you needed and deserved. Maybe your partner isolated you to the point where you lost connections with friends, family and even yourself. All of these factors can compound the pain of being left by your partner. Your ex-partner’s rejection or abuse may have turned everything in your life upside down for now. But in this break, a new door can be opened to endless possibilities of the happiness, love and respect you always deserved. Healing can take a lot of time and effort, but it is possible. This can be the start of your journey towards a happier and safer life!
Why Am I the One Suffering?
You have already been through so much pain in your relationship. Now that it’s over, you’re still feeling pain. Why? Part of the reason is likely because you cared deeply about your partner and your relationship. Loving an abusive partner isn’t uncommon, strange or wrong. And it’s never easy to deal with the end of a relationship, whether it was abusive or not.
Also, many survivors talk about their struggles with recovering after their abusive partner leaves because they believe that their partner is not suffering at all. Maybe they’ve even moved on to someone new. This may feel terribly unfair or disheartening, but it’s important to remember that they are not “better off,” happier, or “fixed.” They are still exactly who they were when they left you. Their “love” was not loving or safe; they hurt you on purpose. You deserve to be with someone who treats you with respect and kindness. Whatever your ex-partner’s life may seem like now, it does not change how amazing and full your life can be now that they’re gone.
Tips for Healing and Recovery
As impossible as it might seem at the moment, your life will move forward and things will get better. To help you on this journey, we have some tips for healing and recovery that have worked well for many survivors:
- Trust yourself. Know that the pain you went through and are going through is real and not your fault.
- Be patient with yourself. We all heal at different times and in different ways. Healing often takes longer than anyone wishes it would. It is a process!
- Allow yourself to feel your emotions. You may be feeling a lot of emotions: sadness, anger, loss, resentment, frustration, confusion, fear, love, relief, loneliness, hope. These feelings are normal, and it’s important to allow yourself to work through them. Being present and getting through this rough patch means you are that much closer to a healthier, more peaceful life. If you ever feel like your emotions are too much to handle, you deserve to seek support. Trusted friends, family members, a counselor or therapist, hotlines, support animals, or support groups are all good options. Try to remember: you can and will get through this.
- Practice self-care. Anything you can do to show yourself the love you always deserved, calm yourself, or even distract yourself in healthy ways can really help. If self-care feels like too much to think about, or you feel like you don’t even know what you enjoy anymore, Scarleteen has a great list of ideas! If you enjoy journaling, check out these tips from Your Life Your Voice. Reading books, watching funny movies, moving your body in ways that feel good to you, meditating, learning a new skill, or just getting back into a regular meal routine are all great ways to take care of yourself, too.
- Block and shut down triggers. Try to identify the things that remind you of the relationship or trigger negative feelings. These can include old meeting spots, songs, or items in your home. Do your best to avoid them or rid yourself of them as you heal. If you’re following your ex-partner on social media, you might consider unfollowing them or blocking them from your feeds. You might be tempted to check their Facebook or other social media accounts for updates, and that feeling is normal. But, take a deep breath and remind yourself that it will likely not make you feel better. It’s difficult to move on from someone and put them in your past when they are still an active part of your present. Continuing to look at their pages and accounts will only keep them a part of your present. With time and practice, you can stop giving them your energy. Consider changing your number and locks, if necessary. Also, you have the right to avoid being around people who don’t make you feel comfortable and supported. This is you getting your control and power back. That is huge!
- Change it up. Whether it is your looks, routine, or even your environment, consider making changes that represent this new and endlessly loving start of your life.
- Above all, be gentle with yourself. If you end up back in contact or even back together with your ex-partner, that doesn’t mean you failed or are to blame at all. It’s also important to recognize that, even if your abusive partner left you first, it doesn’t mean you’re weak or that you could not have left them at some point. Abuse is difficult to recover from for anyone. There are many reasons why a person might stay with or return to an abusive partner. No matter what, know that you deserve to be safe and happy, always.
Remember, this is not your final destination. Take things one day at a time. You can be happy and safe again – if not happier than ever.
If you need support, resources or just someone to talk to about your relationship, Hotline advocates are here for you 24/7 at 1-800-799-7233 or via online chat from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. Central time.