Abuse survivors’ most frequently asked questions include this: How can I make sure my next relationship isn’t abusive? The question comes from the awareness that you are prone to being hurt and you want to avoid being hurt again. The question reflects the developing awareness that things you found “acceptable” in an abusive relationship aren’t acceptable at all. It also reflects your desire for something better.
Still, this way of thinking reflects a victim mentality rather than an empowered way of thinking.
Imagine getting back into the dating game and just waiting for something to hurt – so you will know the relationship is a no go. When a date says or does something potentially hurtful, you reject them. Are you deciding whether or not a potential partner is acceptable based on whether or not they hurt you? Just because someone doesn’t hurt you, does that mean they have what you actually want and need in relationship?
From my experience, abuse survivors are poor relationship negotiators. They accept what is unacceptable, they tend to avoid looking at their own needs and they “get along” much more often and much longer than they need to.
Healthy relationships require assertiveness skills. Healthy relationships involve the constant negotiation of win-win situations based on both partners getting their needs met.
Think about how this applies to your work relationships or to your friendships. Do you just “go along” with what other people say? Do you decide if something works for you based on whether or not it is harmful? Or, do you decide what you need and go into situations with friends and at work ready to talk about how you can get your needs met?
I often recommend that after an abusive relationship you should wait at least two years before engaging in an exclusive romantic relationship. Why? Because it takes that long to discover your subtle patterns that could lead you into another unhappy situation.
The good news is that there are plenty of opportunities for you to work on your relationship assertiveness skills even if you aren’t dating or in a relationship! You have friends, family members and co-workers you interact with daily. Assertiveness training can assist you in developing an awareness of what it is you need to strengthen about yourself. It can give you the power to understand where you hold back when you would be better off asking for what you need.
Most abuse survivors are passive communicators. Passive communicators have developed a pattern of avoiding expressing their opinions or feelings, protecting their rights, and identifying and meeting their needs. A passive communicator is exactly what an abusive partner looks for because passive communicators are so easy to control.
If you have recently left an abusive relationship, I invite you to take this challenge. Commit to yourself not to engage in any serious romantic dating for the next two years. During that time, focus on improving your ability to identify and communicate your needs in every interaction you have with another person.
Come back to this blog often for tips and support as you build your assertiveness skills.
Sign up to get your Free Assertiveness Self Assessment. The PDF download is a 30 question research-based assessment that will help you understand your assertiveness level. Respond to the e-mail by sharing your score with me and I’ll respond by personally interpreting your results for you. Simply click the link and scroll down to the bottom of the post.
© Tamara Bess, LMFT 2016 All Rights Reserved. Any use of this article without Tamara’s express written permission is prohibited.