6 tips for dating after abuse

As a therapist, I often support clients as they learn to navigate the world following abusive romantic relationships. After leaving an abusive partner it can feel as though everything has been torn apart, and at the core of recovery is reconnecting with your independence, power and sense of self. However, at some point along this journey, most people will wish to dip their toe into the world of dating again.  


This can often feel like the scariest part of an already difficult process and can bring up many questions. Can I really trust myself not to be attracted to another person who will hurt me? Will I ever feel a connection as intense as the early stages of my last relationship? Can I really trust anyone again? Am I really deserving of a healthy relationship?

These are all questions that I also asked myself after I escaped six years of emotional abuse. I had not given up hope on finding a new relationship and knew that ultimately, I did want a partner. I was pretty terrified though. While I had been working hard on building my self-worth up and processing my trauma, getting back into the world of relationships felt like a huge new step; and it involved facing all of my triggers and learning to trust.

I'm not going to lie, I did encounter a few people along the way who showed some pretty big red flags, but the important thing was that I recognised them and stepped away before they could cause me any further harm. While I do recommend working with the support of a therapist to unpack some of these questions. Here are some tips from my work and lived experience, that can help you feel a little safer in the world of dating after abuse.

Tips for dating after an abusive relationship

1. Boundaries

Boundaries are your best friend when it comes to dating. Not only will they help ensure that you are treated in a way that you feel comfortable with, but they also act as a sort of filter. Those who want to abuse or take advantage will try to test your boundaries early on to see how much they can push them or break through them. Getting your boundaries in place and holding them firmly will help filter out these people. Think about what feels comfortable for you in terms of touch, time, language, communication and finances amongst others.

2. Pace

One way in which these boundaries get tested early on is pace, and in particular love bombing. You may be aware of how a love bomber will come on hard and fast. They will often over compliment, give excessive gifts, profess love very quickly and demand a lot of your time. They can also push for levels of commitment before you are ready, causing you to move at a pace that you are not comfortable with.

While it can feel intoxicating to have so much attention, it is a huge red flag. Knowing what pace feels right for you and being honest with your dates about it will help identify what kind of person they are. A suitable partner will respect your boundaries and want you to feel safe and happy.

3. Know your red (and green) flags

While living through abuse is always a horrible experience, I often tell my clients that it can give us a sort of superpower. We have been given a crash course in relationship red flags and a heightened ability to spot them. The knowledge gained from experience can be so valuable when you decide to date again.

It is always good to have a list of your red flags so that you know what to watch out for. These don't just have to be about abuse either, they can be anything that suggests that a person or relationship is not quite right for you. On the flip side, it is just as important to think about what you do want from a partner, and what would make a relationship the type that you deserve. Noting someone's green flags will not only help us see the person as a whole but also remind us of the good in people.

4. Know your value

One of the worst parts of abuse is how it can impact our self-image and self-worth. An abuser will want to break you down and leave you feeling that you do not deserve anything better. Recovery is about unlearning all of this and starting to see and feel your value again. Knowing what you are worth and expecting to get your needs met, means that you will be less tolerant of poor behaviour and instead find someone respectful. Expect to be treated like the precious gem that you are!

5. Be curious

Ever noticed that people will tell us a lot about themselves quite early on? This can happen in various subtle (and not so subtle) ways, but what is important is how we think about this information. Finding out more about a person can help us build a better picture, and if we hear something that seems like a flag then note it.

How do they speak about family? Do they have many friends? Do they seem generally happy with their life and have interests? Do they get angry often or speak in a judgemental way? Do they talk mainly about themselves, or do they have an interest in you? And then there's the classic, how they talk about their exes. If every ex was crazy, you might want to question that one!

6. Listen to your gut

While this can feel tricky after abuse, it is one of the best defences that we have. It's fine to acknowledge that we may be triggered sometimes and that our past experiences may have an impact on how we feel. However, if your gut is telling you that something is off and somebody doesn't seem safe, then listen to it. It might just be that you have picked up on something that could protect you.

Dating isn't always straightforward, and we often learn more about ourselves as we go. There are often hurdles and there may be times when we really have to question a situation. I always recommend having someone to talk things through with honestly, and please know that therapists do not think that it is shallow to talk about dating in sessions.

You may feel cautious when meeting people now, but you know what, caution isn't necessarily a bad thing and it's to be expected. Just always remember, it took a lot of strength and work to get yourself out of abuse and give yourself another shot at relationships. Do what you need and get yourself the type that brings you joy, 

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Liverpool L31 & London NW1
Written by Katie Evans, BA(hons), Dip.Psych.
Liverpool L31 & London NW1

Katie Evans is a private practice therapist and public speaker, specialising in gender, sexuality, relationships and abuse. She is also a survivor of narcissistic abuse in a romantic relationship. Her experiences inform her work and her desire to speak out about developing a greater understanding of the trauma caused,

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