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, 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.
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.
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.
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