How to Enjoy Healthy Relationships After Domestic Abuse


How to Enjoy Healthy Relationships After Domestic Abuse

1 in 5 adults in the UK experience domestic abuse during their lifetime, and it can leave long-lasting psychological and emotional scars that complicate daily life, especially when it comes to re-entering the world of dating and meeting a new partner. 

Between toxic behavioural patterns, lingering insecurities and trust issues, abusive relationships can heavily impact our ability to nurture new relationships – even happy, healthy ones. Whilst it may feel like you’ll never experience a meaningful, romantic connection again, the abuse you’ve faced doesn’t have to define you or your future. 

By taking the time to heal and rebuild your relationship with yourself, you can move forward and, hopefully, enjoy a committed, loving relationship with someone who respects your boundaries and makes you feel cherished. 

So, how can we lead vibrant, fulfilling lives and enjoy healthy relationships after experiencing intimate partner abuse?

  1. Acknowledge and own your feelings 

Abuse can significantly impact your emotional wellbeing, and exploring the possibility of a romantic relationship can trigger hypervigilance as you search for signs you may have missed. A recent survey found that domestic abuse is driving mental illness in women and girls. Similarly, studies on male abuse victims have also identified long-lasting consequences, such as binge drinking and PTSD.

The key is to acknowledge and own your feelings in the moment. What’s coming up for you? Is there any guilt, anger or shame? Any fear or anxiety? Any excitement or hope? Bring judgment-free awareness to your emotional state and reflect on what you’ve learned from your experiences, as well as the lessons you’d like to take forwards. 

By creating awareness of what feels true to you, you can ground yourself in the present, move through any discomfort, and alleviate difficult emotions to break down barriers and better meet your needs.

  1. Educate yourself about abusive relationships and red flags

Knowledge is power. Learning the signs of abusive relationships can help you break the cycle and understand what you went through in more depth. Researching red flags, like lovebombing and gaslighting, can also help you spot problematic behaviours early on. 

Survivors may feel an overwhelming mix of fear, guilt, self-loathing and grief as they start to rebuild their lives, and may also feel depressed and isolated as a result. Educating yourself about abusive behaviours can empower you to address these complex emotions head-on and shed any misplaced shame that may be holding you back. 

Healing takes time, but there are a wealth of resources out there to help you navigate the process, including books, such as From Fantasy Trust to Real Trust by Dr. Krishnananda Trobe and Amana Trobe, and helplines, such as Men’s Advice Line and Refuge

  1. Learn to nurture and trust your intuition 

Prolonged abuse can disconnect us from our decision-making abilities and make us mistrust our instincts, making it feel as if we’re always on the back foot and our internal compasses will never steer us in the right direction. 

Learning to nurture your intuition and listen when your gut tells you something doesn’t feel right is an important part of the recovery process, as it can help restore your faith in future relationships, reinforce your self-confidence, and protect you from people who may cause you harm.

If something feels off-kilter, you need to trust that you’re able to voice your concerns and healthily discuss them with your partner. They’ll likely listen to what you have to say and help put your mind at ease. If their behaviour continues to unsettle you, it might be a sign that your inner health and safety inspector has found a fault that feels all too familiar. Listen to what it has to say.

  1. Lean on your support network

You don’t have to process your experiences alone. Abusers deliberately try to isolate you from your loved ones as part of their manipulation, but those relationships can be repaired and restored. 

Reconnect with friends and family as you seek to rebuild your life and learn to trust others again. Enjoy spending quality time together and work on strengthening connections that may have fallen by the wayside. It may feel awkward or uncomfortable at first, but they’ll be there to offer relational healing and support you as you dip your toe back into the dating pool. 

You could also contact local services and organisations who offer guidance and can signpost relevant resources, support groups, and helplines as you navigate this next stage of your life. There’s strength and solace to be found in community so don’t be afraid to reach out. 

  1. Define what you want from a relationship

You aren’t faulty goods, and you don’t have to accept a lesser kind of love because of what you’ve been through. It can be easy to figure out what you don’t want, but what about what you do want? 

Make a list of the things you want from your next relationship, such as emotional intimacy, open communication, or mutual respect and understanding. You could note the qualities you’d like to find in your future partner too, like ambition, a calming nature, or a great sense of humour. 

As tempting as it may be to scoff and say your ideal partner doesn’t exist, you need to remember that this exercise isn’t about searching for a suitor who ticks every box. It’s about getting clear on how you deserve to be treated, who you envision yourself being with, and what kind of relationship would enrich your life further. 

  1. Ease the pressure and establish clear boundaries

The first throes of a new relationship can be exciting, but you don’t have to go 100mph if you’re not quite ready. There’s no rush, and there’s no timeline for recovering from abuse, so take some of the pressure off and try not to judge yourself too harshly. 

Set a comfortable pace as you get to know one another. Talk about what you feel ready for and return to that conversation as your desires and needs shift. Establishing clear boundaries early on can help you both understand where you’re at. These boundaries might look like confirming enthusiastic consent during intimate moments or respecting one another’s need for time apart.

You can also ease the pressure by acknowledging that dating post-abuse can be challenging and you’re doing your best. You don’t have to have all the answers or ‘fix’ what happened in your past to start afresh. Accept that you were doing what you could at the time, and it doesn’t have to overshadow your current relationship. You’re now free to make your own choices and be your authentic self. 

  1. Communicate openly with your new partner 

Abusive relationships often revolve around half-truths and hypervigilance, and you may have found yourself monitoring your partner’s behavioural changes and worrying about how to share information with them. In your mind, communication is conflated with conflict, and you may struggle to open up and be vulnerable as a result. Honest and open communication can be especially healing for survivors. 

Hold regular, informal check-ins with your partner where you’re free to share your thoughts, talk about your feelings, and bring up things you’ve noticed. These chats aren’t about confrontation or offloading everything that’s been on your mind. They’re about making time for your relationship, perhaps on a weekend walk or over a leisurely lunch, and affirming the power of healthy communication where you’re both heard and understood. 

When it comes to talking about your past, you can disclose as much as you’d like to. Whilst you don’t necessarily want to share every intricate detail, as this can feed into the drama triangle model where your partner takes on the role of rescuer, it can be helpful to share that you had a difficult experience you’re now working hard to process and move beyond. Let them know how they can best support you. 

Related – 10 Ways to Resolve Conflict in Your Relationship

  1. Identify and manage your triggers

Abuse survivors may experience nightmares, panic attacks, and vivid flashbacks when triggered. Triggers can range from certain places to specific tastes, smells and sounds, and they may cause you to revisit traumatic events or act angrily or impulsively. 

It can take time to identify triggers, unearth their roots, and learn how to manage them effectively, but it’s a powerful part of processing trauma that aids interaction. Interrogate the trigger when it pops up. Why is it there? What would your current self say to the part of you that’s hurting? What do you need in this moment to move beyond the trigger? Take a breath and take the action. 

If your partner’s behaviour has been the trigger, however accidental, talk to them openly so you can both deepen your connection and come up with a resolution together, e.g., ‘I’ve noticed when you do/say this, it brings this up for me’. This awareness also prevents you from internalising the discomfort, projecting it onto others, or venturing into an unhealthy parent-child dynamic.   

  1. Work with a relationship therapist

You don’t have to process everything alone. Working with a professional therapist can help you recognise toxic behavioural patterns so you can make conscious choices and avoid falling for familiarity when you’re feeling vulnerable.  

Through individual or couple’s therapy, or a combination of both, we can look at the stories you’ve been telling yourself, or been told by others, that are no longer serving you, so you can soothe your nervous system, reclaim your autonomy, and stop the cycle. 

If confidence issues have become a crux, we’ll reflect on who you were before the abuse and explore ways you can return to your most authentic self. What was that person like? What would they say to you now? If you’ve never felt especially confident, we’ll think about the strong people in your life and what makes them stand out because the qualities we see in others are often those that we possess.

  1. Treat yourself with kindness and take time for you

The healing process requires you to prioritise your physical, emotional and spiritual needs in ways you might not have been able to when you were with your ex-partner. Domestic abuse can make us forget that our individual needs are just as important as our partner’s, and that we aren’t looking for someone to ‘complete’ us. 

Independent downtime is crucial for your wellbeing, whether you’re seeing someone or not. If you’re struggling to meet your needs, consider what you would say to a friend in your position. What would you remind them of? What acts of self-care would you suggest? Set aside guilt-free alone time to fill up your cup.

Make a list of things that bring you joy, and commit to at least one activity each week that makes you feel good. It could take five minutes or five hours. Read a good book. Enjoy some morning yoga. Join a friend for a sunshine stroll. Eat a delicious meal. It may seem inconsequential, but showing yourself the kindness you deserve has the power to transform your self-worth both in and out of your relationship.


Navigating the dating scene post-abuse can be challenging but your experiences don’t have to define you and your relationships going forward. Act on some of the advice given above and you may be surprised where life, and love, lead you. 

I’m Carla Devereux, an experienced relationship psychotherapist helping couples and individuals explore challenging emotions, behaviours and deep-rooted issues with an integrated therapeutic approach. 

If you’d like help navigating a new relationship after abuse, you can book your individual or couple’s therapy sessions, or a combination of both, by emailing or calling 0121 745 9044.

Bookmark my blog, or follow me on LinkedIn, or Instagram, for even more resources and support.

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