Globally, an estimated one in three women have experienced violence at the hands of a male partner (MenCare, 2015). So the odds are pretty high that your current partner is a domestic violence survivor. Here are some core strategies to help your relationship flourish:
- Be her partner, not her saviour
- Deal constructively with conflict
- Respect that you are both your own people.
Know that it’s not your job to ‘fix’ her
Congratulations. You’re in a relationship with an incredibly strong and resilient woman, who trusts you and cares for you enough to let you in to her world.
But you know she’s had a rocky road to get to you, and may still be experiencing the aftermath of her traumatic past relationship.
When someone we love dearly is going through trauma, our gut instinct is to throw ourselves into the ‘Saviour’ role. Naturally, we want to protect them from harm and ease the hurt.
I get it.
The problem with this well-intentioned approach is that it can be overwhelming for those on the receiving end – and those that are trying to do the saving.
With our ‘Fix It’ hat on, we can be convinced that we have the solutions, if only the other person would listen. In so doing, we forget to listen ourselves and forget that our solutions may not be the ones that will work best for the person we love.
In the most heartbreaking cases, we risk alienating the very person we are trying to help, and burn ourselves out in exhausted frustration as we bang our heads repeatedly on a brick wall of resistance.
Your partner is hardwired to be wary of other people trying to control her actions, however kindly their motivation. She is a survivor. She doesn’t need you to save her. She just needs you to support her as she heals.
Some of the world’s most successful females have overcame domestic violence / abuse – think Rihanna, Halle Berry, Madonna, Charlize Theron, Mariah Carey, Christina Aguilera, Nigella Lawson and Tina Turner, just for starters.
So, take a step back and ask your partner what she needs from you. She may struggle to articulate this at first – she is accustomed to a relationship in which her needs are not considered at all – but be patient.
Do not sacrifice yourself to her recovery.
All survivors benefit from support to heal, but crucially, they need to know that recovery is a process that requires their full commitment, hard work and determination. Others can help, but they cannot do the healing for them.
If your partner expects you to fix her, she is asking too much of you and too little of herself.
Research other sources of support available to her, such as a local domestic violence service, a national helpline, a support group, or online forum – and let her consider the options for herself whilst encouraging her to invest in her own recovery.
Deal constructively with conflict
A healthy romantic relationship is not one which never has bumps in the road. A healthy relationship is one in which parties share equal respect and power, and where disagreements do not have dangerous consequences.
Your partner is likely extremely conflict-adverse, and may (a survival strategy she learned in the abusive relationship) ignore or deflect any problems that she thinks may result in a row.
This is one reason you must both nurture open and supportive communication, so you can both air and deal with any issues that arise in a constructive manner, before they become toxic.
When fallouts happen – which they inevitably do, even in the most happy of partnerships – your other half may be reacting to triggers you don’t even know about. So criticise the situation/behaviour – not your partner
“I hate that you do X, it makes me feel Y” is a constructive way in which to get your point across. “You’re a thoughtless idiot to do X,” will feel like a personal attack.
Your body language, tone and volume of voice, whether you encroach on her space or leave the room, can all speak volumes about how you deal with conflict. Adopt a non-combative stance in an argument, and your odds of successfully resolving the problem will skyrocket.
Be your own person – and help her do the same
Keep your own interests and interests, and encourage her to do the same.
She may need some help to spread her wings. Individuals that have been through domestic abuse are typically isolated by the perpetrator, who cuts them off from any support networks in order to consolidate and maintain control.
She may have lost touch with friends, and be unused to having her own activities without her partner looking over her shoulder. Help her reconnect with the things that once fired her up and got her grinning, or establish new outlets that enable her to have fun and independence.
Having a life outside the relationship builds trust, confidence, and excitement. It brings you closer. A happy you, a happy partner, and a happy relationship.
What do you want from a relationship, post domestic violence? What do you wish everyone knew about how to love a survivor? SHARE in the Comments.