Things I’ve learned about dating from an abusive relationship

aka: The things I wish someone taught me when I was a pre-teen girl.

  1. Dating should be about figuring out what you want and what you don’t want. For some reason when I was young I had this mentality that every person I dated was going to be “forever.” I can remember even as young as 5th grade when I had my first ‘boyfriend’ (which at that time meant that we talked on the phone and wrote each other’s names in hearts on our school books) we used to joke that we were going to get married because our ‘relationship’ had outlasted all of our friends. I have no idea where this notion came from in my 11 year old brain… was it a result of the Disney romances I adored as a kid? Was it because my parent’s met and dated since they were 16? I have no idea… but I literally approached every relationship I ever had as if it was going to be “the one.” That put a lot of pressure on me to make every single relationship seem like it was perfect. This resulted in these serial long-term relationships throughout my middle school, high school and college years which ended when I was swept off my feet by the Narcissist. I didn’t grasp that when a guy was a jerk to me I should move on, I tried to make things work instead of finding something that worked better. Everything had some weird permanence to it. If I could go back to those years I would date VERY casually. I would focus my time on the things I was passionate about and my friends. I would use dating as a way to learn about myself and the things I eventually wanted out of a relationship.
  2. Pay attention to the warning signs, and listen to friends and family when they notice them. I can’t tell you how much advice from friends and family I ignored throughout my dating life. There was the high school boyfriend who had anger and jealousy issues that my parent’s warned me about. I brushed them off as ‘not understanding’ and as ‘not liking him.’ There was the next high school boyfriend who cheated on me with just about everyone who would let him… who also had a tendency to abuse drugs and alcohol. One of my best guy friends at the time pulled me aside at a party and was like “Why do you put up with this loser, you could do so much better than this.” I ignored that advice too. The most glaring advice I ignored was pretty much everyone who loved me warning me about The Narcissist. They were concerned that I pulled away from all of my friends, that I was depressed, that I was no longer acting like myself. I believed they just didn’t understand such an intense and passionate love. The reality is that they were ALL right. In every single instance I should have taken their advice and I would have saved myself a lot of heartache and a lot of wasted time. Better yet, I should have listened to my own intuition because I saw some of those warning signs myself. But I wanted to believe in every scenario that this guy was the exception to the rule, this love was special and different. If you have to constantly tell yourself that your significant other is the one exception in the universe to anything that worries you… pay attention!!
  3. Pay close attention to how your significant other treats their family, friends, ex’s and pets. This may seem like common sense but the reality is that if your significant other is a jerk, lies, abuses, calls them crazy, or cuts off all ties to any of these categories of people you should expect similar treatment. You are also not an exception to the rule. If the person you are dating treats other people that they “care” about like crap, they will likely do the same things to you at some point in time. If they cheated on all of their ex’s… they are likely going to cheat on you too. Those love chemicals wear off eventually and you will need to deal with whatever behavior is left over. The Narcissist had absolutely no relationship with his family when we met. He had cut them all out of his life for a variety of reasons that included: not supporting him, not loving him, not standing up for him, not respecting his previous relationship… etc. etc. When he told me about his past relationships, they all ended because the girl cheated on him and betrayed him and left him as a poor helpless victim… and he cut them out of his life completely as a result. These are warning signs people!!!
  4. Pay attention to how your significant other handles times of stress or difficulty. People reveal a lot about themselves and their coping mechanisms when something tough happens. Did they get angry at you? Did they withdraw and stop talking to you? Did they go out drinking with friends to blow off steam? I had a high school boyfriend who broke up with me when my period was 2 days late. After I had taken a pregnancy test and realized that I was not pregnant, I called him to tell him and he apologized to me for freaking out and we went back to our relationship like nothing ever happened. Why did I not see this as a huge glaring problem?!?! Also pay attention to how they treat you when you have something stressful and or bad happen in your life. Are they supportive? Do they help you through those times? Or do they make it all about themselves? The craziest example I have of this one is my uncle’s funeral which The Narcissist made all about him and I not only had to handle all of the emotions by myself, but I also had to nurse his ego the entire time.
  5. NEVER lose yourself in a relationship. I’ve done this on one level or another in almost all of my relationships, and my high school girlfriends used to give me such a hard time about it… yet I never listened. It is completely natural to acquire some new interests, new friends, new activities through a relationship… but these things should never completely replace your own identity and your own life. A healthy relationship should allow you to blend your life with someone else while still keeping the things that make you, you. As much as you want to plaster yourself to your significant other during that initial mushy in-love phase… you should still make time for the things that are important to you. If your significant other has a problem with this, that is another HUGE warning sign. The Narcissist took this to an absolute extreme because he literally wanted to erase my life before him. I disconnected with all my friends, I destroyed old photo albums and journals, I erased my music library, I donated all of my old clothes, I became a completely new person at his direction. It was one of the earliest signs that The Narcissist did not value or appreciate me as a person, and I completely ignored it.
  6. Don’t Settle!! Second chances are okay when someone makes human errors… like they forgot about something that was important to you, or they got snappy when they were over tired. Second, third, fourth, or 25th chances do not make sense when they are for big things… like lying, cheating, physically hurting you, berating you, calling you names, treating you like you don’t matter, leaving you somewhere, or erupting in an angry outburst. You do not even deserve these things to happen once, and if someone does them to you once… they will absolutely do them again. Do not justify them (“he was under so much stress from work”)… do not write them off (“Oh but he’s soooo sweet otherwise!”)… take them for what they are – the person giving you a HUGE warning sign which you should pay attention to. The age old adage that actions speak louder than words is absolutely true. It doesn’t matter what a person tells you… it matters what they do.
  7. Respecting Boundaries. If you set a boundary in a relationship… wether that is waiting to have sex or not wanting your significant other to read your journal… pay attention to how they respond. If your significant other respects you, they will respect the boundaries that you put in place. If they pressure you, make fun of you, or completely ignore your wishes… they do not respect you. Also pay attenion to the double-standards… do they expect you to adhere to certain boundaries or rules but are not willing to do the same for you? Warning sign!!!

Lastly, my single most important piece of advice that I would give my pre-teen self is:

  1. Figure out how to love yourself before you try to love other people. I literally wasted all of those precious pre-teen and teen and college years attempting to love other people and be the “perfect girlfriend” for each scenario I was in, when I could have been learning about who I was as a person and loving myself. I absolutely believe that if I had loved myself more… I would not have taken any of the crap from guys that I took over my lifetime. I would not have been swept off my feet by the Narcissist because his ‘charm’ and his ‘love’ would not have seemed like such an impressive thing to me. I would have been strong and confident and that in itself would have scared off a majority of the guys I ended up with… and for those that didn’t get scared away… I would have had the confidence to handle situations in ways that would have been best for me. I would have known that I did not need someone else to complete me…. and in reality I probably would have had a much more enjoyable time as a teenager and a college girl. My strength and confidence probably would have attracted someone into my life who respected those things in me and respected me… and I would have been in a much healthier mindset to enter into a relationship.

I have a really hard time today when I see an unhealthy relationship in real life or on television. Reality TV is torturous because I see people in these unhealthy scenarios and just want to scream out to them. I see and hear about friends and acquaintances who put up with unhealthy treatment from their significant others and I just want to grab them and intervene. I feel like I am the poster child for why you should never settle for this crap… and I am one of the lucky ones. I made it out. I got my life back. I didn’t put any children into this scenario. I survived domestic violence, emotional abuse, narcissistic abuse, financial abuse, psychological abuse…. and I escaped with just C-PTSD and a lot of trauma and healing to work on…. but I am so freaking lucky. There are examples every single day of women being murdered in these scenarios, of children being abused and killed, of people letting these cycles go on for their entire lives without ever taking action, without ever getting out.

I am lucky, and the reality is that most people aren’t. I don’t want to see anyone else get into these situations because once you are in it, it is so much harder to get out. So educate yourself, educate your children, educate your friends, educate your family. Help create strong and healthy people who curate healthy and loving relationships. Let’s tackle this problem before it ever even begins. Let’s save other people from this reality. ❤

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