Supporting Your New Partner if They Are A Survivor
If 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:
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.