Help for the New Partner of a Survivor

new-partnerIf your current partner is a survivor of domestic violence, you may be wondering how you can offer support while building a healthy relationship with them. It is possible to have a healthy relationship after a domestic violence situation, but it is a process and there are some things to keep in mind.

Due to previous abuse (whether it was physical, emotional, verbal, sexual, and/or financial), it’s very likely that your partner will experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to some degree. PTSD is a mental health condition that’s triggered by a traumatic event or series of events that a person experiences or witnesses. Symptoms may include flashbacks and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about their experience. For abuse survivors, it may be very difficult to feel “normal” even after an abusive relationship has ended, as their bodies and minds may continue to relive their past experiences despite new circumstances. Being mindful of this can help you be sensitive to their past trauma while understanding that the trauma is not about or because of you.

Here are a few suggestions for what you can do to help your partner:

Communicate. Your partner may not want to discuss the details of their past relationship with you, and that’s okay. At this time, it’s helpful for you to be willing to learn your partner’s triggers and what makes your partner feel safe or unsafe. Your partner may not be able to articulate these things right away, but encourage them to communicate openly with you, and remind them that you are there for them. Being clear about boundaries in the relationship can help your partner feel more secure as your relationship progresses and they continue healing.

Encourage personal wellness. Self-care and personal wellness are important for everyone, but particularly for someone who is healing from an abusive relationship. Encourage your partner to create a personal wellness plan and practice self-care regularly. Make time to do these things yourself, too; taking care of yourself is not only good for you, it will help you to stay strong and emotionally present for your partner. Wellness plans can include each of you working with your own counselor, activities that you enjoy doing together and separately, and/or reading books that offer healing advice. We strongly recommend finding counseling or support groups specifically for survivors of domestic violence and PTSD; not only can your partner find support through these avenues, but they may help you to better understand what your partner is going through. If you need assistance finding local resources, advocates at The Hotline can help!

Build support systems. A support system is a network of people – family members, friends, counselors, coworkers, coaches, etc. – that you trust and can turn to when you need emotional support. It can be very helpful for both you and your partner to build your own support systems so that you don’t have to rely solely on each other for support, which can be exhausting and detrimental to the relationship.

We do want to emphasize that even though your partner needs your support, PTSD is not an excuse for your partner to be abusive toward YOU. You deserve to feel safe and be treated with respect, as does your partner, and if at any point the relationship is not meeting your needs or is making you uncomfortable, it’s okay to take a step back and give yourself some space. Remember that while you might love your partner and want to help them, it’s not your responsibility to “fix” them. By the same token, it’s important to be willing to honor your partner’s request for space as well. Respecting your partner’s rights to have control over their part in the new relationship may be one of the most healing things that you can provide, even if it means that the relationship does not move forward at that point.

Our advocates are here 24/7 if you have questions or need more guidance. We can also provide referrals to local resources like counselors or support groups. Give us a call anytime at 1-800-799-7233 or chat online from 7am-2am CT everyday.

Additional Resources:

  • This article further discusses PTSD and reconnecting after domestic violence
  • Helping Her Get Free by Susan Brewster is a great book for family and friends of someone in an abusive relationship, but it’s also a useful read for someone who is in a new relationship with a partner who has experienced abuse

I #SeeDV as an Intergenerational Epidemic: Jo Crawford

crawfordI have worked with more than 1,700 survivors (not victims!) of domestic violence in the past ten years, helping them to become financially independent and create new lives for themselves and their families. Only then can they save their more than 4,000 children from becoming abusers or abused. I often hear from these incredibly brave women that they have seen their mothers, grandmothers, sisters and cousins in abusive relationships. How can they know what a healthy relationship is if abuse is the model in which they grew up? Women fall in love with men who they believe are wonderful, only to find that they are violent and dangerous later. This is why it takes an average of seven times for a woman to leave for good, often after the children have been abused as well. This is also true for the men and boys who abuse. They have only seen men in their families abuse women, not treat them with the loving respect they all deserve.

How do we change this? Mothers, fathers, schools, and athletic teams need to stop the continuation of abuse by teaching very young children that little girls deserve to be treated with respect and little boys must treat women of all ages with respect. There needs to be zero tolerance for abuse at home, at work and in public. Not until violence against women is socially unacceptable will the staggering numbers of abuse change.

When I started working with survivors, I thought I would be working with low self-esteem issues, but there is a lack of self worth that is even more insidious. We so often are taught that other people are more important than we are and that it is our job to take care of others first. Women need to be reminded, and little girls need to be taught, that they deserve the very best of everything and that they have the power to create the life of their dreams. I believe this education is the responsibility of all of us, and it needs to start by the age of five. Anything less is not acceptable. If we all do not commit to ending domestic violence, we are as guilty as the abuser. We need to say, “No More.”

crawford-125Johanna Crawford was 13, living in an alcoholic, abusive household, when she watched her father try to kill her mother. The memory never left her, even years later as an adult who had built a string of successful businesses and sold high-end real estate.

In 2003, while volunteering at a crisis shelter, Crawford broke a rule and gave $40 out of her own wallet to a victim who arrived with two young children – petrified and penniless, and without the documents needed to apply for aid. There she saw a gap in what the government and domestic violence agencies were providing, and what the victims really needed in the moment: emergency cash grants as the first step to rebuilding their lives. The woman ended up using the $40 to pay a government fee to access her own records.

A year later, Crawford, who is now 67, launched her encore as the founder and executive director of Web of Benefit. Her Transition to Self Sufficiency and Good Works Programs assist survivors in developing skills for economic and personal independence and ensures each grantee adheres to her “Pay-It-Forward” philosophy.

According to the Mary Kay Foundation’s 2012 “Truth About Abuse” survey report, 74% of female domestic violence victims stay in an abusive relationship longer for financial reasons. To combat this, Web of Benefit has directly given grants to more than 1,400 survivors totaling over $750,000, touched the lives of more than 5,000 survivors, and partners with more than 80 organizations in Boston and 25 in Chicago. In 2012, she was honored as a CNN Hero for her encore work.

Says Crawford, “I believe women working together can change the world.”


Tax Relief for Survivors

tax-optionsTax season is no one’s favorite time of the year – and an abusive relationship (whether you’re in one, planning on leaving, or have recently left) complicates it even further.

Fortunately, there are a few economic resources that can be powerful tools in changing your circumstances for the better. Filing tax returns and seeking income tax credit refunds can help you pull together funds that may be needed to leave an abusive relationship or begin financial independence after leaving.

This may seem like a difficult process, but it’s doable! If you’re not familiar with filing taxes, check out the Get Help section at the bottom of this post for resources.

When and why should you file a tax return?

  • When you have a certain amount of income – either your own or, if married, the income of a spouse
  • To receive tax benefits (i.e. refund or tax credits)
  • To establish a separate tax “existence” from a spouse or ex
  • To help save up money (ex. if you’re planning on leaving)

Concerns about tax refunds

What are your rights?

  • To see and understand the entire return before signing a joint return
  • To refuse to sign a joint return (married people don’t have to file together)
  • To request an automatic 4-month extension of time to file
  • To get copies of prior year returns from the IRS

Three Federal Tax Credits You May be Eligible For:

1) Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)

  • This is a wage supplement for low- and moderate-income workers.
  • You must have some earned income.
  • You must be a citizen, legal resident, or be married to one.
  • You must have a valid SSN.
  • Can claim this if you file as “Married Filing Jointly,” “Single,” “Head of Household,” but NOT “Married Filing Separately”
  • To claim children with this, the child must be related, adopted or a foster child. The child must live with you for over half the year. The child must be under 19 (24 if a student, and no age limit if disabled)
  • EITC is not counted as income in most public benefit programs including: TANF, SSI, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (Food Stamps), Medicaid, CHIP, and federally assisted housing. Receipt of the credit will not affect your eligibility for such benefits. Read more about keeping your benefits.

2) Child Tax Credit

  • This is intended to help offset some costs of raising children.
  • You can claim up to $1,000 per child. The child must be claimed as a dependent, and the age limit is 17.
  • Married survivors can file jointly or separately.
  • If you don’t owe enough taxes to use all of the Child Tax Credit, you may be eligible for a refund.

3) Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit

  • This can help you meet your child and dependent care expenses.
  • The care has to be employment-related (If money was spent on childcare while a parent was working or looking for work)
  • The percentage of eligible expenses you can claim is based on adjusted gross income.

Three Types of Relief You May Be Eligible For:

1) Innocent Spouse Relief
If you’re faced with tax debt or burden because of something your spouse did wrong on a jointly filed tax return, you could be eligible for this. There are different categories and different procedures for filing.

2) Relief By Separation
This involves separating the understatement of tax (plus interest and penalties) on your joint return between you and your (former or current) spouse

3) Equitable Relief
You may still be relieved of responsibility for tax/interest/penalties through this type of relief if you are not eligible for the other types.

Get Help

Further Resources

Everyone’s circumstances are different, so we encourage you to consult the resources in this post and take advantage of the programs designed to help with your situation. While our advocates at the hotline are not able to give legal or tax advice, we can talk to you about what’s going on, discuss possible courses of action, and refer you to the best resources for legal help. Feel free to give us a call anytime, 24/7, at 1-800-799-7233.