We celebrate when someone we love is able to escape an abusive relationship. We are relieved that such a painful part of their journey has ended, and we are optimistic about what the road ahead will look like for them. While it may feel that they have reached the climax and resolution in their story, there are still important days ahead. In fact, the first few months after leaving an abusive relationship are critical for that person’s future relational success and satisfaction. Remembering a couple of key facts will allow us to support and care for those we love after they have escaped a toxic relationship.
Reminder #1: We can do life with them, but never for them.
Most people who have been abused have been stripped of their sense of self-worth and significance. Establishing a relationship with them in which you constantly give and they are constantly receiving (time, advice, financial support, etc…) only worsens the problem. Persons who have faced abuse in the past have tons to offer the world, but it may take them time to rediscover what that might look like. They will need for you to give at times, but will also need you to step back and allow them to give as well. Ask them for their advice about something going on in your life, allow them to buy lunch for you if they offer, it’s amazing how such small gestures can help rebuild someone’s confidence.
Reminder #2: They may initially be in greater pain or discomfort than they were while in their abusive relationship.
This one is easy to miss. It would seem that escaping the nightmares of abuse would immediately increase someone’s quality of life. Leaving the relationship is an incredibly healthy step, but it won’t always feel good right away. It’s not uncommon for people to experience increased anxiety and deeper depression for the first several weeks or even months after leaving a toxic relationship. A common and especially hideous lie that abusers tell their spouses is that they could never live life on their own. They are told that they are not strong or smart enough to handle life alone. These lies often sink down deep inside of an abused person, creating levels of self-doubt and fear that can feel suffocating. Over time as the lies are replaced by the truth of their worth, they will begin to experience greater relief and satisfaction.
Reminder #3: Their perception of relationships might be skewed for a while.
For those who are being worn down by loneliness and fear a new relationship to replace the old one will be incredibly tempting. This is a fragile and dangerous time for them to enter into a new relationship, however. It’s not impossible to enter a relationship that is healthy at this point, but it can be difficult and a bit tricky. The stronger they become the more ready they will be to choose relationship partners well, and to be healthy in a relationship. Strength takes time. Be patient with them, but remind them often of the temptations of jumping into something too quickly. Some may feel a great distaste or even dread concerning a future relationship. They have been hurt before and they have determined to never allow it to happen again. This opposite reaction can be very unhealthy as well over time. They are throwing the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. Again this person needs time to heal, so tread lightly. Remind them that relationships can be beautiful. Our heart for those who have been abused is that they will have the ability to choose or not choose a relationship in the future, freely and without compulsion. Your love and support will remind them that they can be cared for, and that it is safe to care for someone else.
Above all remember that caring for someone who is hurting isn’t always easy. You are making an incredible difference even when your impact isn’t visible. Investing in others is always a good choice!