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Just some thoughts and questions about starting new relationships after abuse

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#1 Caitlin


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Posted 21 June 2012 - 01:49 AM

I know I have been really a ghost around here lately. I first want to say thank you to many of you who were really there for me at such a horrific, emotionally tumultuous time in my life. I truly appreciate all of your support and input. Thank you all so very much.

I am in a much better place now, but I thought I would pop in and ask some questions/share some thoughts about how to go about starting new relationships, and if I might share some of my own experiences I am mulling over I would appreciate it.

I know that I want to be in a relationship eventually. I know that this time, I need to take it slow. Like, snails-pace SLOOOOW. My problem is that I do not know how to be in a relationship that is not "all or nothing". I am not saying I am incapable-- I KNOW I can be in a healthier, more stable relationship! :) It's just a little freaky because I've never done it before :)

Since my son has been born, I have been propositioned by at least 4 men, which is what is sparking these thoughts. It's almost humorous, actually. I have had several men stand before me and give me a sales pitch about why they would be good partners and good fathers, and why I should take a chance and be with them.

Fortunately, I knew I was not even remotely interested in these guys. Nice people, just not "it" for me. :)

The confusing part is that now, I have met someone that I do have a genuine interest in. I do not have "feelings", but then again we don't know each other very well yet. I think he might be someone I could have genuine feelings for, in time. For now, we are friends. Well....sort of. I wish it were that simple.

I had a feeling that he was interested, and so was I, but there were a lot of other signals going on that were strictly "friend-zoning" our interactions. Completely fine by me.

We spent a long night hanging out and having a really good heart-to-heart. Just talking as friends do. Talking about everything, laughing, asking questions about each other. When it was time to say goodnight, I went up to give him a quick hug, but it turned into this very long embrace. It took me off gaurd. Not in a bad way, per se, but it was unexpected. It was one of those embraces where you really lean into each other, hold each other, even smell each other. I know that sounds weird but I think everyone here can acknowledge that's completely normal.

Something weird happened inside of me. Where I would normally be nervous/excited, I found myself getting a little panicky and feeling like I wanted to run away and pretend like this whole thing wasn't happening. He pulled back and sort of tried to kiss me, but he never really sealed the deal so our faces were just very close, kind of lingering in this moment we were having. I was terrified. I was hoping he wouldn't kiss me, shaking, and breaking out in a sweat.

There's a little more to the story, but I won't get in to it unless it becomes relevant in the discussion.

I left that interaction with my head reeling. I felt so disoriented--not physically but emotionally. I was so confused and I was even confronting some anger. I really, really genuinely like this guy--not just as a romantic interest but truly as a friend. In another life, I would have fawned over this and looked forward to seeing him again. Now, although I hope he does continue to talk to me, I almost dread seeing him.

Have any of you confronted these kinds of feelings when the prospect of physical or emotional intimacy has come about after an abusive relationship? What was the manner in which your after-abuse relationships began, and how did you overcome any residual feelings regarding your ex or the abuse?

As a disclaimer: I know I have a young child. I know it's only been a year. I know I do not "need" a relationship right now. I am a grown adult woman and fully aware that the last thing I need at this moment is a serious relationship. I have a lot of work to do on myself and so much attention to pay to my son. But I was not ruling out a slow, organic cultivation of genuine emotion happening with this guy over a long period of time. So in your replies, keep in mind that I really am aware that it's "soon".

#2 oneness


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Posted 21 June 2012 - 04:58 AM

Oh Caitlin, I understand. I wish I could say that I have experience with this. I have shied away from intimacy since O. Not that I haven't dated, but I kept it light - no emotional attachment. I like to have fun, and isolating myself only makes me miss O more and brood. It is very hard for me to see myself with another man, and as unhealthy as my relationship with O was, I think I would react as you did if I met someone I could emotionally attach to. I would feel scared of repeating my past mistakes, and be hyper-vigilant looking for red flags. I think your feelings are valid with this new friend. I think you are being cautious and that is good.

As Kris would say, sit with these feelings, explore them. Journal about them and come here to our wonderfully supportive community. I don't know if you have a therapist, but if you have any time for one that might be a good idea.

I think you are doing fine, you have the right attitude and your concerns are valid. I hope others like SteffieB post a reply to you, as she is dating again. Take care, you will work this out.

#3 Kris


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Posted 21 June 2012 - 08:22 AM

Yes, I was thinking SteffieB would be a great resource for this question! So I hope she's still reading, too!!

But I've been thinking about a related issue for me, and I think there are some parallels, even though this doesn't have to do with dating. I will definitely feel more "on edge" if I am in a situation where I think the other person has certain expectations of me. And especially if I want to "do the right thing" or "make a good impression". I think it all goes together with the impression that I've had that I can get lost in relationships: I seem to want to gain approval so much that I become much more focused on what the other person wants than what I want. And even in the case where theoretically what we each "want" is the same thing (for example, to be successful on a certain project or to organize something), I can see how my state of mind is not really the best for "finding solutions" or "doing good work". Luckily in my field a lot of my work is done on my own... so I know I'll find a calm,peaceful state-of-mind once I'm off in my own office in order to work on the job. But what has been on my mind lately is... wouldn't it be so much better if I could always be in this good "working state of mind", even when I'm in the middle of interacting with others?!!! And what exactly does it mean that I am not in that place when I am with others?

So this phenomenon is related to relationships and dating because I know I would have the very same experience of "getting lost in the relationship". And that, I know, would certainly make me feel very panicky if I were to suddenly find myself in a situation where I felt attracted to someone and realized they were attracted back, especially given my experience and the fears I would now have about getting involved with someone else.

So at first I had been thinking: "I need to figure out how to be more comfortable when working directly with other people. I need to learn how to 'de-stress' in these situations". But lately I’ve been thinking that maybe I’m actually focusing on the wrong piece of the puzzle. Maybe I’ve been focusing on the symptoms instead of the source of the problem. Maybe I would be better served to try to figure out why I am feeling so stressed or why I am willing to abandon or suspend my own thinking to be more concerned with what the other is thinking.

I don’t have an answer (I'll give some ideas below) … but I’m working on it!! But I just have a feeling that if I could understand that, then I might be able to get to the source of the problem and defuse it.

So your post just made me think about that with respect to you… why do you feel so panicky? My guess for both you and for me is that we do not yet fully appreciate or trust the extent of our own power, that ultimately as adults we get to decide what is right or what is wrong for us. That also we are not responsible for how someone else reacts to us… yes, we want to behave in ways that we feel are honorable, respectful, compassionate, and kind. But how they react to our behavior is not a reflection of whether we are “good” or “bad”, but rather a reflection of their own past history, their own self of security or insecurity, and their own ability (or inability) to show us the 5A’s (acceptance, allowing, attention, affection, appreciation).

So I think I might tend to “panic” or feel ill-at-ease sometimes because I have this erroneous idea that I can “make the interaction go well or not well”… when the reality is I don’t have that kind of power at all!

Secondly, maybe I have a sub-conscious fear of abandonment and I am afraid that if I don’t react in the right way, the interaction might go badly and I will “lose the connection” somehow. That’s a kind of odd thought to me because I really don’t mind being alone so I never really thought of me as having “abandonment issues”… but I wonder now whether the fear of the actual process of becoming abandoned is so scary to me that I’d rather just “take my lumps” and go away and just accept being abandoned than risk that the abandonment might happen and feel so responsible to act in some way that will prevent it!

I know this is kind of jumbled and doesn’t probably make any sense. But it’s what I’m struggling with now, so it’s where I’m at.

But for you… I just wondered whether if you could get to understanding exactly why you are feeling panicked and think about whether it might actually reflect something deeper, in the vein of what I’m suggesting…. Maybe if you could come to grips with that, then you would find yourself becoming much more comfortable when things like the experience you just described occurred. Because you would know that you have the power to do things or not as you feel is right, you have the power to explain yourself or not, and you are not responsible for how your partner is going to take things. Whether he is “ok” with it or not ok and decides to withdraw is not something that you have any control over.

And maybe once we stop taking responsibility for things we cannot control, the “panicky feeling” might go away? At least that’s my thinking right now. That that might actually address the source of the problem instead of feeling like I'm constantly trying to figure out how to soothe each and every different "symptom" that pops up because of it…!!!!

#4 lionheart



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Posted 21 June 2012 - 08:46 AM

I do not know how to be in a relationship that is not "all or nothing".

... if I met someone I could emotionally attach to.

The bits I bolded above are to me extremely loaded statements and suggest a potential problem deserving further attention.

It's a good idea to wait until you are emotionally in a place yourself that you don't and won't ever stake your happiness on another person or the relationship with the other person. You go in knowing deep in the core of your being that you are solely responsible for your own happiness and not responsible for the happiness of the other person or the success of the relationship. You are willing to let it go if that's what's best. And then if the relationship works out you will be happy and if it doesn't work out you will still be happy.
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#5 oneness


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Posted 21 June 2012 - 09:42 AM

I understand what you are saying, LH. I am in recovery for codependency, and had 2 years of therapy to learn this. If I found someone I could form a healthy emotional bond too, I would have to remind myself that my happiness is not contingent on my making them happy. I started to do this with O, I changed the dynamic of the relationship. Unfortunately, he had a problem adjusting to my new found sense of self, and the abuse escalated because I set boundaries and did not kow tow to him anymore - it made him insecure and afraid of losing me, as he has BPD traits and abandonment fears.

I know I am to blame for being codependent, I am aware of what I have done. If I feel drawn to someone again, I will be sensitive to keeping out of my old patterns of behavior. I have come too far to let that happen again.

#6 Caitlin


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Posted 21 June 2012 - 12:11 PM

Oh, I am VERY well aware that all-or-ntohing relationships are not healthy. It's what I need to change. But the honest truth lies in the fact that because I have never had one, I don't know how they work! I have to learn! :)

#7 lionheart



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Posted 21 June 2012 - 06:27 PM

I know I am to blame for being codependent

I don't think you're to blame. If you're to blame for anything it would be for using the term "blame". But that would be contradictory. :p

The point is it isn't about "blame" at all. It's about honest self-examination and self knowledge. It's about taking responsibility for your own behavior -- your own 'stuff' -- and letting the other person take responsibility for theirs. Accepting what you can control and what you cannot. And then being ok with all of that and internalizing it so it becomes part of who and how you are. Easier said than done I know. For me it's still a one day, sometimes one minute, at a time kind of thing. But with practice and frequent reinforcement I think I (we) can do it. :wub:
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#8 DawnC



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Posted 21 June 2012 - 08:27 PM

I'm thinking he does not want to remain just friends. And if you're not sure about taking things to the next level, he might get the wrong idea from having so much access to you.

How was your sexual relationship with your ex? With my husband, a hug was NEVER just a hug. It always came with a grope, rubbing his crotch on me, a pinch, a gross remark...I have a lot of pain from my experiences with him. So if a man I wasn't really receptive to and attracted to moved in for an almost-too-long hug followed by an attempt to make out, I'd be freaking out a bit.I really miss physical contact, but i don't miss "all that".

And i LIKE men...i liked sex, when it wasnt just awful. If i wanted a lover or a boyfriend, i believe this could happen, but at this point, even as divorced as I feel, I'm not ready for intimacy, even with no strings attached. So I'm careful about sending those signals or getting too close. I'm still trying to "become the quality of person I want to attract". It is much harder than i thought.

Until I have a clearer understanding of why he pursued me and why I allowed all the things I allowed...and until I have a very good idea of what I want my future to look like-who I want to be-who I want around me, I won't be ready to date again. Even if I met someone great, it would be too easy to continue with long established beliefs and behaviors because I've been married to this abusive man longer than I was alive before we met. I've never been on my own. I don't know who I am.

Life with a toddler. It starts out hard and gets harder for quite a while. Lol I wish you all the best and if this relationship turns into a hot romance, I hope you have the time of your life.

#9 Kokoca



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Posted 21 June 2012 - 09:41 PM

There's been some great discussion here and lots of good ideas. I'm going to throw out one crazy thought, one bit of old wisdom, and one bit of reassurance:

Crazy thought: One of the toughest things about relationships is that you can't really learn how to do them without a lot of practice. I think that's one of the biggest failings of our society's tendency toward "pairing" in teens. I've noticed my teen girls, and their peers, no longer date. You have to be boyfriend/girlfriend with someone before you even start dating. It reduces competition I suppose but, IMHO, reduces chances to learn and increases the likelihood of "ownership" issues which is bad enough for adults but really dysfunctional in kids.

It is all very well and good to say, "I need to learn how to..(fill in the blank)...before I get in a relationship" but how the heck do you learn (fill in the blank) without being in a relationship?

So the crazy thought is... go slow. Date! Have fun! Learn about people and learn about yourself. Get in their head, get in yours. Be honest with the guy/girl you are dating that you are taking it easy and slow. Some may stick around. Others may not. They get to make their own choices and you get to learn about yourself too. Have fun! (Did I say that already?)

And that leads me to:

Old Wisdom: The guy/girl that is willing to go slow and stick around is worth it. Beware the impatient one who pushes you to move faster than you want to. Shun the one who professes true love on the first date.

Reassurance: Caitlin, your last bit speaks of a lot of assumptions and apologies over how you should behave. There's a lot of opinions out there about what you should and shouldn't do when you have a kid or are freshly out of a relationship. They may be good advice but they are not hard and fast rules for success. For the most part, they're just subjective observations that have become common staple for advice givers. It doesn't mean they're right and certainly not in all circumstances. Ditto to Oneness; like LH said: no blame...

Always remember that rules are there so that you stop and think before you break them.

I wish every one of you much happiness wherever you can find it. :)


PS. This song is from an age far, far removed from where we are today. "Any young man would be really a fool if he tried the first time to go a bit far". Find a guy who subscribes to the notion and you're golden. ;)

#10 Caitlin


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Posted 22 June 2012 - 12:58 AM

Hey guys
Thanks for your feedback and input. I welcome any more thoughts as they come along. I think some of us are kind of in the same boat in navigating how to start relationships, and some of us here are in happy and healthy relationships post-abuse. I value everyone's thoughts.

I don't know if this guy has genuine interest and feelings or if he was trying to initiate something casual.

I knew this person from high school so he is not exactly a stranger but it has been some years since we have known each other, so we are getting to know each other but the good thing is that we have about a dozen mutual friends who have known both of us for many years.

The truth is, he made it clear that he wanted more. He didn't cop a feel or touch me anywhere he shouldn't have, but his body language and tone made it pretty clear that he wanted more and for things to go further than a kiss. I had to shut him down pretty blatantly.

I am certainly taking this to heart, and perhaps I will eventually identify this as a "red flag", but let's be honest for a second: in college, this is how dating goes and a year ago I would have completely jumped at the proposition and figured out my feelings later. My analysis thus far is that the guy is a bit young and a bit foolish, and the college tactics don't work on me anymore. We are not in college anymore. I have a kid, and I am looking for something REAL. I'm not saying every man I encounter needs to measure up to marriage material, but just something REAL and authentic. I don't want to frak around.

I have also never dated a man my own age. Both of my ex boyfriends are now 31, and I am turning 25 in a couple weeks. I think he is still learning how to go about initiating relationships in a more "proper" way and at this juncture I can't inherently fault him for that. And I certainly do not judge anyone who is out to casually date or hook up. Lord knows, we all gotta get laid. (Sorry if I am being vulgur in anyone's eyes, but let's be real here. Come on, you all know it's true.)

I am not in the place right now where physical intimacy with no emotional attachment is something comfortable for me. And if someone is emotionally connected to me, I still want to see that they are willing to respect my boundaries and keep the reigns on their physical urges. I need to see patience and maturity.

Anyways, at this juncture it's a wait-and-see situation, and I am willing to walk away if I see something else that rubs me the wrong way. Right now I am willing to chalk it up to being a bit inexperienced and a bit too eager, but no harm or disrespect was intended. Like I said, this is standard procedure in college dating.

I would like to address it, but I am going to let him stew over what happened. I shut him down, I told him my last experience was traumatic and I just want to spend some time and get to know each other and I left it at that.

PS- my sexual relationship with my ex was never really degrading. He didn't try to give me a hug and cop a feel. I could be intimate without having to feel obligated to have sex. However, he was just not an emotionally safe person so non-sexual intimacy still felt like dangerous territory. Also, my ex made it clear that after arguments it was not acceptable for me to turn down sex and I was punished for doing that, so there were at least 2 other occasions where I completely submitted to him after emotionally traumatic arguments, even though I did not want to have sex. In those times, I mentally checked out of what was happening to me and even now they remain a blur in my memory.

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