It’s easy to believe that the hardest part of leaving an abusive relationship is actually leaving. The unfortunate reality is that leaving is only the first step.
What Happens After Leaving An Abusive Relationship
Leaving an abusive relationship is no small task. It should be the end of the pain and heartache. It should be the start of a new beginning and a reason to celebrate. As much as I want to tell you that everything gets better the second you leave the relationship, that’s not the case.
The Journey to Freedom
Leaving is the first, and most important, step in overcoming an abusive relationship. Don’t underestimate the strength it took to make that decision. You should truly be proud of yourself.
Unfortunately, the journey to freedom doesn’t end here. I’m not trying to scare you, I just want to warn you. These emotions completely blindsided me.
I felt like a failure
Even though I knew why my marriage had ended, as news of my divorce spread, I couldn’t help feeling like a failure. There were a lot of days I blamed myself and felt like I should have been able to fix things.
People came out of the woodwork to offer me unsolicited and unwanted advice on how I could have ‘saved’ my marriage. On more than one occasion, I actually stood there listening to someone tell me how I should have tried harder to work things out with my abusive ex.
Of course, this person didn’t know my ex was abusive. I imagine if they had, they might have kept their mouth shut, but that didn’t stop me from feeling like a complete failure while I stood their smiling politely.
I was lonely a lot
Let’s face it. You get used to having another person around. It’s really hard to go back to living by yourself. Even though I didn’t miss my ex, per say, I missed his existence.
I missed having someone else to talk to or watch TV with. I missed having someone to eat dinner with or talk to when I couldn’t sleep. My house felt too big and too empty. I really just missed having another person in my life.
The other tricky part about loneliness is it gives you plenty of time to think. And when you have too much time to think, you tend to dwell on negative thoughts. I know I did. In those lonely moments, my emotions would run wild. It made the loneliness feel even worse.
I was scared
This may come as a surprise because I’m a cop, but I spent a lot of time in fear.
Living alone with an angry, abusive ex was worrisome to say the least. I laid awake at night listening for the sound of the front door opening. Even though I had changed the locks, the irrational part of me believed my ex might some how have a key. I worried that he might show up in the middle of the night and set my house on fire. I was afraid he might show up in a drunken rage and drive his truck through my front door.
These things may all sound crazy, but they’re actual thoughts I dwelled on. And dwelling on my fears made me feel even weaker, which leads me to my next point…
I felt weak
I felt like I was not as strong as I had once been. It felt like I had lost some part of myself that I didn’t know how to get back. The tiniest things made me feel entirely useless.
For instance, when my garage door opener randomly stopped working, I melted down because I didn’t know how to fix it. It didn’t matter that I would have never known how to fix it, the fact that I didn’t know seemed directly related to my weak and worthless state.
It’s hard to break the habits you used to survive your relationship
There are some habits that I formed while in my relationship that I still haven’t broken, even years later.
In my relationship, everything was always my fault. This meant I spent an astronomical amount of time apologizing for things.
I’ve been in an amazing, healthy relationship for two years now, and my partner is constantly telling me “I’m not asking you to apologize.” He probably says this two or three times a day.
He understands why I’m apologizing and wants me to understand that I don’t need to. Unfortunately, I just haven’t been able to reprogram my brain to understand that not everything is my fault.
Some of the habits that you’ve been using to survive will stick with you. At some point, when you’re ready, you might need to have an open and honest conversation with a future partner about why you do or say certain things. The good news is, a truly supportive partner will understand.
There’s no guidebook on what to do after leaving an abusive relationship. In fact, since we rarely talk about abusive relationships, there’s very little guidance at all. That’s why I started this blog. I wanted to create a safe space to talk about the things no one wants to talk about.
If you or someone you know is looking for support, join my email newsletter. If you’re looking for more information on my personal story, check it out here.