Dating After Sexual Abuse: Is This Love?

Nov 10th, 2010 | By | Category: All Posts, Steps Toward Healing

by Bethany

When my last boyfriend and I began dating, we would see each other once a week. The in between times were filled with hour-long telephone calls before bed, a lot of getting to know you time and even more of the sickening, “No, I miss you more” fluff.  One night the conversation led to just the right place, where I could tell him about my childhood sexual abuse. I remember prefacing it with a warning that I had something very serious to say; then I told him. He didn’t seem to have much of a reaction, so I assumed that he didn’t feel comfortable asking questions. Okay, change of subject. I guess he didn’t want to talk about it, so I went about the rest of the phone call as normal. The topic of sexual abuse didn’t come up again until much later in the relationship.

A year down the road, when I decided that I wanted to report my father for sexually abusing me, I sat my boyfriend down and told him my intentions. Our relationship had turned significantly more serious by that time, so I wanted his support. Instead of support, I was met with an attack. “If I would have known you were sexually abused I never would have dated you.” he said. I was shocked! I never fathomed that he would react like that, especially since I specifically remember telling him about the sexual abuse a year prior. The relationship soon ended, but not without further hurt.

Looking back I walked into that relationship with blinders on. I so desperately wanted to be loved, that I was willing to deny the warning signs along the way in exchange for some cheap replacement for love.

Looking back I walked into that relationship with blinders on. I so desperately wanted to be loved, that I was willing to deny the warning signs along the way in exchange for some cheap replacement for love. I thought I took the right precautions. I told my boyfriend about my abuse at an appropriate time, but my failure to recognize key warning signs in a relationship led me right back into abuse.

Someone I date has the potential to be a partner for life – one of the core members of my support system. It is imperative to my healing that this be someone who is qualified to date me. I’m not saying he has to have a Ph.D. But there are certain warning sings that should never be overlooked. The following are qualities I now look for in those I date.

Comfortable with Emotion
Crying is healthy. It’s an expression of emotions. Something yucky on the inside is trying to come out, so let it! My boyfriend did not see it this way. Instead of letting me cry he would yell at me, telling me to stop. We were living together at the time, so when I needed a good cry I never had a safe place to do it. I couldn’t express my emotions because he was always there. Finding a partner who is comfortable expressing their own emotion and hearing mine is a prerequisite for a healthy foundation.

Supportive of My Healing
Healing from sexual abuse is not a quick fix. It’s a long road with bumps, low visibility and a whole bunch of people trying to cut you off. Embarking on that journey without a healthy support system is impossible. With my last boyfriend, I wasn’t looking for someone to hold my hand through the healing process. I just wanted someone to say every once in a while, “You can do it!  Great job. Keep going!” Instead of being my cheerleader, I got torn down for my efforts. He only saw how my past abuse affected him, instead of how beneficial healing was to both of us.

Isn’t Abusive
I know this sounds so obvious, doesn’t it? But it’s so often overlooked. I thought I knew how to recognize abusive behavior. All I had to look for was someone who didn’t molest children or didn’t give me that creepy feeling, right? WRONG! Perpetrators generally have patterns of abuse that span over several areas. In my case, my boyfriend used his words against me, manipulating and playing on my weaknesses. Every time the relationship turned south he would tell me that a few days prior he had been shopping for engagement rings, in hopes that I would see what a grand gesture of love he was trying to make. In one fight I remember being referred to as “damaged goods” because of the abuse I had no control over.

In the end, I didn’t get what I wanted out of this relationship. Instead of love, I got rejection. I firmly believe that love is an action, not some gushy feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when that special someone comes near. He told me all the things I wanted to hear, but his actions showed me that he was more concerned with himself than with loving me.

I wish I would have seen clearly going into that relationship, but I’m now better equipped to do so in the future.

Related Posts:
Sexual Abuse Invaded My Marriage
Is This Love That I’m Feeling?
Power Play: How to Recognize an Abuser
Prince Charming Was a Murder Suspect
Dangerous Men, Red Flags, Victim Mentality
Emotional Abuse and Identity Hunger


Bethany, along with her mother, Christina Enevoldsen, is the cofounder of Overcoming Sexual Abuse, an online resource for male and female abuse survivors looking for practical answers and tools for healing. Besides helping abuse survivors see the beauty within themselves, she enhances the beauty of others as a professional make-up artist and has worked in television, film and print. She lives in Los Angeles.

[read Bethany’s story here]

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  1. Bethany,
    Wow… I can relate to so much of this. When I look back on so many of my relationships I realize that at the root of all of it I put everything through the grid of the FALSE definition of love. I learned to love abusers the way that I had been taught to love BY abusers. I never noticed that abusers never loved me back using their own definition of love. They got to kick me around, and I was supposed to prove my love by accepting it or overlooking it. Ignoring the warning signs was part of my definition of love. As though I was saying ~ I love you enough not to notice your manipulation, disrespect and mistreatment of me and my feelings. But if I disrespected them in any way similar to the way they treated me, look out! (and I knew it!) Changing my definition of love was like walking into the sunshine for the first time ever.
    This is a great post. Thank you for your honesty and courage. It isn’t easy to share that stuff!
    hugs, Darlene

  2. Thanks, Darlene. So true. It is like walking into the sunshine for the first time. At the time I was so unwilling to recognize how abusive the relationship was, but looking back I just think, “YUCK!” He never loved me; he loved what he got out of the relationship: power, control, etc…

  3. Bethany, thank you so much for sharing this so openly and taking the risk to put youself out there vulnerably for us to glean and relate and learn from. Appreciate this post…. insight for me into future ramifications.

  4. Bethany,
    I don’t know whether to comment as your mom or as a fellow survivor who struggled with the same issues. It saddens me and makes me angry to think about how we settle for things out of the belief that we don’t deserve better. There’s the belief that we are inferior for having been abused and are just so grateful that someone ‘loves’ us and we never look to see who that someone is. In your case, that someone was an alcoholic with a dead-end job. But I chose even worse. I overlooked the fact that your father admitted he was a child molester even before I married him. I get a sick feeling just thinking about that. I was just so excited to be loved and to get to escape my parents. I never knew my value, so I thought that was all I was qualified to have. I never considered how that might affect our future children (you) or that I would be further devalued since I was going into the relationship that way.

    The paths that we’ve taken haven’t been easy, but I’m so glad we’re heading in healthy directions now. I’m so proud of you and the choices you’re making now. I love you so much! Mom

  5. Lisa, I’m so gald this was a help to you. 🙂

    Mom/Christina, chasing after love can be very dangerous, as we have both learned. “Lookin for love in all the wrong places.”

  6. I guess the thing that gets me most from this… is the love and support that your mum is giving you… I, too, have had similar boyfriends, who have abused me because I haven’t felt worthy of anything better… My mum set me up with a guy who was 21 when I was 14, and allowed him to move into our house, and I was living in a de facto relationship with him… being forced to do whatever he wanted… and this was after years of abuse from first my grandfather, then my brother… My mum set me up with this guy, she orchestrated it all (I think she may have even been sleeping with him).. and reading your blog, and your mum’s comment.. in a way… makes my heart break because I have never had that.. and I won’t ever have that support or understanding. I’m sorry that this has happened to you.. you are so strong and so wise. The way these men abuse women, makes it so hard to ever trust anyone… it’s all so hard to deal with.

  7. Kirsten,
    I completely understand feeling the way you do about not having a mom to support you and love you. Though I’m here for Bethany, my mom was never there for me. That’s a huge reason I so desperately wanted to escape, even if it was into the arms of another abuser. I know how painful it is to see other people with mothers who treat them so well. I grieved for a long time when I realized I’d never have that. I hope you know that you deserve better and though your mom didn’t show you how valuable you really are, you are a treasure. Don’t let anyone treat you otherwise. Hugs, Christina

  8. Kristen, I’m sorry that you didn’t have that support from your mom. Even though I have a supportive mother, the rest of my family is not the same. I understand how hard it is not to get that love and to pushed further into abusive situations. Not having a healthy family makes it that much more important to build a strong support system outside of the family.

  9. Bethany,
    It is SO good that you can put this into words!
    I had a boyfriend in high school who told me that he was sexually abused as a child. We did not marry. I recently read books on the subject, and one is When the Man You Love Was Abused, it helped me realize what I suffered as a result of his abuse. It is diferent in some ways from your situation because the abused was a boy. Five years ago, I moved back to that town where we had grown up and lived there the last five years, so I relived a lot of that past. THe book was well worth the read for me. Thank you for putting all of this in words. I cannot believe how many of my friends were abused as children, which I found out when I returned to my hometown five years ago. Keep looking for what is good for you, healthy people, etc.

  10. Thanks, Sheryl. I’m glad it hit home for you.

  11. Bethany,

    I can so relate to this. Most of my adult life was looking for love, instead of allowing love to find me.

    I’m so proud of your strength and willpower to know that you deserve to be loved by someone who loves every ounce of you and is willing to love you in spite of what happened and feels honored to be trusted enough to hear your story. Someone who will support you thru those times when you need a hug, a cheer or you need to be alone.

    You are an inspiration to me and I know to others. Thanks so much for sharing your most intimate times.

    (((( hug)))) Always

  12. Men can suffer the same lack of support.

    I could tell a similar story, only my memories were repressed and didn’t come up until a little over 10 years after we were married. I got, “why didn’t you tell me before we were married?” The context, my insecurities, and her tone said to me that “tell” her really meant “warn” her. We stayed married.

    I went through a round of depression, moved out, and mentally was leaving the marriage. I was angry at her and the world and really just wanted to die, literally. She was supportive in what she understood of what was going on… but there were/are limits to what she can understand or support.

    So, now at over 30 years of marriage, we have a ‘balance’ that we live with; my ‘quirks’, her ‘quirks’, and life outside.

  13. Jim, thank you for sharing from a male perspective. I’m sorry that you got that reaction when you remembered your abuse, but happy that things have improved for you.

  14. Jim,
    Wow, your statement, “and her tone said to me that “tell” her really meant “warn” her.” That is so true!

    It’s so sad, but men suffer the same lack of support that women do and in some ways, it’s often worse. Women frequently feel threatened to imagine their partner, often seen as their protector, as a victim. And the healing process requires a kind of ‘falling apart’ that can be scary to see your husband go through.

    I’m glad you’re getting some support from your wife now. Something that helped my husband to be supportive of my process is that he read several healing books that mapped out the journey. Part of what made him so uncomfortable was not knowing what to expect and since I was in the middle of hell at the time, I couldn’t help him. Hearing things from an outside source helped him make sense of things.

    Thank you so much for sharing. It’s really good to have a man’s perspective about these things.


  15. I date a guy who DID have a Ph.D., but it sure as hell wasn’t for understanding THAT problem. He could create new molecular structures that would one day provide medicine for patients suffering from heart disease, but he had no idea how to act around a rape victim-especially when the victim in question seemed to never be able to get comfortable w/ certain things.
    I’d have wanted to tell that guy you dated, “And if I’d known you were going to be such a jerk, I never would have dated you.”

  16. Yes, Vicki, no matter how much schooling someone has had it doesn’t mean they are sensative to the hurts of others.

  17. Vicki,
    LOL!!! I love that: “And if I’d known you were going to be such a jerk, I never would have dated you.” Perfect!!!

  18. I know the feeling of not have a mom for support. Twice.
    Everyone told me that having a biological mom and one who adopted me meant I was lucky b/c I have two moms and I thought Lucky HOW? To try out for a part on Jersey Shore?
    I don’t see what good it does to have 15 moms if none have the capacity to deal w/ emotional issues. And, in one case, didn’t even have the ability to take care of the basic needs…which is why I ended up w/ a second mom in the first place.

    My biological mother raised the idea of “ignoring your child” to an art form. She could literally ignore someone who was standing in front of her w/ blood running down her face.
    And when I say literally, I mean, if you were an outsider observing the scene, it would look like my mom had no idea there was even a person standing there.
    Another reason I became an EMT was that I was afraid the characteristic would be genetic, and I wanted to have a job where I’d be FORCED to act. Just in case it WAS genetic.

  19. Hello Bethany,
    I am sorry to hear about your experiences. I hope that your life is much more positive now, filled with happiness and healing. I wanted to ask for advice from you, and anyone else who can contribute. I am a single man trying to date and get into a relationship with a woman that I suspect has suffered from a past relationship with someone that sounds like the guy you had dated after you trauma. She seems to be interested, by very hesitant, and I would like some advice on how to romantically approach her? Because she seems hesitant, I don’t want to come on too strong but I also want her to know that I am romantically interested in her, yet I can give her time and space if she needs it. Any advice? Thank you for your time.

  20. how shall i begin?! thru out my life i have been sexually abused thru age 22. have had 6 kids, several failed relationships, and have gone thru hell and back ever since. the more i try to put it behind me the worse it seems to get, i’ve been thru therapy etc. yet @ age 40 my past continues to colide with my present life and the result has been catostrophic, i’ve been having seizures darn nearly daily over the stress tied to it., i freak at the idea of future relationships, so much pressure now to date and marry up but even if i give a future mate benefit of doubt i’m constantly thinking is this person a closet molester?! and will i find out after i’m married?! happien before. history often repeats in relationships and i don’t have a great track record for these. since all this happiened i’ve entered into a few marriages that i cared nothing for out of fear mostly. even the words ‘i love you’ raise an eyebrow with me. i learned long ago that they were empty words., my father hit that point home once too often. trust is a major quirk with me i’ve not been able to trust anyone, and i’m so tired of my past being held over me like a noose !

  21. Wow,

    This is very insightful! I feel for every woman that has had to go through any of that. I was currently very interested in a wonderful woman that later shared about her sexual abuse and then in a long controlling relationship. I met her soon afterwards and fell for her. I just didn’t understand the nature of her wounds and how cautious she was about trust. I grew impatient after about 7-8 months because she just wouldn’t let me in. I felt like I had to prove myself more than anything and being compared to an ex is hard to swallow. I just didn’t know what to do so I finally became frustrated and gave up. She told me she that there were things about me that scared her, that made me feel like crap! All I ever did was be kind and to the best of my ability, be understanding. I just didn’t have the kind of patience she requires. When we finally fooled around a bit, she freaked out and put the wall back up. I feel like I failed her as someone that cares and failed myself. Its almost like she was waiting for me to screw up out of frustration so she wouldn’t have to take the risk, can I blame her? No, so what does a guy do? I finally wrote an email describing my frustrations but realize I was kind of blaming her for her insecurities, and things she had no control over. Cant seem to win or understand it. wish I could. Hope I didn’t offend any ladies out there, just a guy trying to understand but must admit defeat I guess.I really cared for her and saw a diamond in her soul. Can you really trust again after something like that happens? Are all men viewed as lying abusive assholes? it sucks but more for you guys, im so sorry about that…..=/

  22. Hello, I’m Dave. I met a lady through a friend and she has suffered from a long term abusive relationship. She is no longer with the guy. She and I are interested in getting to know more about each other and maybe date in the future. I have some questions.

    There are some things that her ex and I have in common. For instance, we like to play and watch the exact same sports. Anytime I mention baseball, she does not want to talk/hear about it because of her ex. So then I have to not talk about the sport that I love. How do I help her heal?

    Then, I am also thinking hypothetically. What if we do date later down the road, then marry, how is that going to affect intimacy/sex? What are some signs that I can see in her that she will open up to me and have healthy intimacy with me without thinking of the abuser?

    Any help would be appreciated, thanks

  23. Hi,

    I was wondering if anyone knew where or if there is a dating site for those that have been abused? I am male and was sexually abused. I was a relationship a couple of years ago but she did not support me at all. It was not her fault because we were both young. She did not know how to deal with it and I was so confused . I had what I think are sexual feelings for her but it was so difficult for me to understand those feelings for myself or to express them. I am a bit older now but have been scared of even approaching woman because I am not confident and I don’t have ‘normal’ sexual feelings. To be honest it scares me and I just think if I ever get into a relationship there is no way I could be intimate with them. I want to maybe have a healthy sexual relationship but I don’t know how to get there. In my head if I ever do anything sexual with a woman then it would be dirty or wrong, it feels like even if we both consent it would still feel wrong. Like either I am doing something bad, I should feel shame and I am hurting the other person.

    I had PTSD but that turned into depression and anxiety, now with my therapy coming to an end I would like to enter a relationship with a woman. I just don’t know how. I am on medication which I am slowly reducing but I don’t really have a sex drive or I ignore it because I think its wrong [not sure which]. Still I would like to try a relationship and I think it would be easier if I met someone who went through abuse which was something like that I went through because then we would have some sort of understanding about the whole issue of support and knows how it feels to be in the position. It would also mean that or it feels that we could say to each other “I am not ready for that yet” and we would be both comfortable with that. I was abuse by a man between I think 4 or 5 until I was 9 and the again by a woman when I would 16. So it is so confusing because I know now at 26 I am an adult and can decide what happens to me but at the same time there is a bit saying this is just to scary and it’s just wrong so I should not do it. I have not consented to sex or anything sexual. I would even like to just be in a relationship where there is no sexual stuff happens but just being close to someone.

    Any advice would be welcomed. Thanks,


  24. Hi Lewis,

    I met a guy that’s 24 that’s talking to me just like you. I’m a girl that’s never had anything like that happen to her. But I told him, “Because in my life I haven’t had that, I have more space to wrap my mind around you”. I don’t have that much sexual experience for other reasons, and I feel I’m pretty perceptive and patient… and I think when someone loves you, everything will be alright as long as both of you take one day at a time. I also think no one should try to find the answer to a peaceful loving relationship that has everything you want all by yourself. I think to have something that perfect, whether after abuse or not, it can only help if you ask a Higher Power for some kind of peace. No girl or no guy can ever actually fix something like that… we can only support and be there for you but it’s super hard no matter if you’re fighting your own demons or listening to someone you love try to do it on their own.
    My heart goes out to you. I know if you search for an answer and keep an open mind though, you’ll be alright, there’s ALWAYS an answer and it does involve love.


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