Written by Writer’s Corps member Rachel Quattrocchi
One of the most difficult tasks in a relationship can be helping your partner or significant other heal from a previous abusive relationship. What does it look like to comfort them, to walk through the healing process with them, to love them through it? No pressure, either, but as a S/O, you have quite possibly the most significant role in reshaping your partner’s view of love, acceptance and relationships. (Again, no pressure).
It’s important to note that healing is not linear. There is no perfect method to helping your partner heal from relationship abuse. Every individual’s experience is different and each relationship is special. There’s no “right way” to heal, and it will look different for everyone.
However, there are some tangible “do’s and don’ts” that are pretty infallible when it comes to helping your S/O through the aftermath trauma of relationship abuse.
A few are outlined below to help you, but keep in mind: it’s about the relationship, not about “fixing.” Our aim is to help you love your partner well, not to “fix them” (and quite frankly, that should be your aim, too).
1. Validate your partner’s feelings
In some cases, it’s likely that your S/O already feels crazy about what he or she is saying, so the last thing they need is their partner to reinforce that feeling. Remember to validate how they feel and not merely just respond with logic. Their feelings may not be rational, but they’re real and they need to be reminded that how they feel is valid.
2. Don’t allow your partner to dismiss their experiences
Rather, give weight to what they’ve gone through. Before they met you, they may have been shushed about their experiences or not have dealt with their feelings at all. Internally, they may believe the lie that it wasn’t “that bad” or they’re overreacting. But as their partner, it’s vital that you don’t allow them to dismiss their experiences as insignificant. Give weight to what they’ve been through, let it settle on their shoulders and allow them to mourn it; this is an important part of the healing process.
3. Listen, listen, listen
Whether it’s 2 am before work in the morning, or over dinner – try to be a listening ear. This will allow them to know that you’re a safe place and they’re not “too much” for you. More often than not, your partner may just need you to hear them out. Great damage can come from internalizing everything and not sharing what’s on our heart. You may have to hear the same thing a thousand times over, but all those times are contributing to the healing of your partner.
4. Be patient
The after-effects of trauma can come in swells and some seasons will be harder than others. Sometimes, it might seem like 3 steps forward, 2 steps back. But from the beginning, make the decision to be patient with your partner. Patience is a tangible depiction of our long-term commitment and is one of the most loving things you can do for your S/O. With this, keep in mind that there is no end goal; you just want healing for them and the timeline of healing looks different for everyone. Be patient and gracious.
5. Rejoice in the baby steps
It’s easy to get discouraged during the healing process because it can feel slow. But keep an eye out for the baby steps and when they come, make a big deal of them. Did your partner seem more comfortable with you today? Rejoice. Did they have a personal revelation? Rejoice. Did they let you approach them physically without tensing up? Rejoice. In the moment, these may not seem significant, but they are crucial to the healing process. Notice them and refer to them often as a means of encouraging your partner and keeping them from getting discouraged.
Hopefully these steps have given you insight on how to care for a S/O who’s experienced relationship abuse. Remember that each relationship is different, so use discretion when it comes to applying these steps to your own relationship. Sometimes what your partner needs most is just a listening ear. Most importantly, have faith in yourself; it’s not an easy task. There may be some burdens that come with this, so it’s important to know your own limits as well. It’s okay to direct your S/O to a counselor or mentor if the care starts to be too much. But you’re doing important work, friend, so please don’t give up.