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Grieving Your Relationship after the Trauma of Domestic Abuse
Allow grief to envelope you as you go through the healing process after the damage of domestic abuse, but don’t let it engulf you.
It all started with a kiss.
When you first met him, life seemed perfect. You’d found someone to share everything with—to give all you had in complete trust and vulnerability, loving with a fullness you hadn’t even realized you were capable of giving, yet there it was. He was the one.
It started with a kiss.
“Judas came, one of the Twelve, and with him a great crowd with swords and clubs. And he came up to Jesus at once and said, ‘Hail, Master!’ and kissed him” (Matt 26:47,49).
Then, slowly and covertly, or in one shocking, terrifying burst, it began. His mask slipped. The hands that had once caressed and cherished you turned into a weapon. His lips, once a source of love, safety, and pleasure, became a piercing sword.
“O that you would kiss me with the kisses of your mouth! For your love is sweeter than wine … Yet with his mouth the godless man destroys his neighbour” (Song of Solomon 1:2 and Proverbs 11:9).
Being mistreated by the one person who vowed everlasting love, fidelity, devotion, and friendship is an excruciating betrayal. When you’ve trusted someone beyond all measure, with dreams for a future of mutual self-giving and authentic love, the dissolution of that dream creates a hard fall. It’s devastating to realize that the entire time you thought you were in a true relationship—a marriage of beautiful vulnerability and giving—your partner was merely pretending. He was in a relationship for himself, focusing on his own desires rather than on reciprocal needs, goals, and mutuality. He was physically present—painfully so at times—but emotionally, morally, and psychologically he hadn’t been the person you’d thought he was.
Worst of all, that wonderful person you believed you knew would show up from time to time, fueling your hopes for permanent change and reconciliation. But before too long, Dr. Jekyll would disappear once again, to be replaced by a roaring Mr. Hyde …
How can a person recover from such damage, shock, and blatant misuse of what should have been a loving and trusting relationship? Once you come to the realization that yes, this is abuse and something has to change, how do you move forward?
The first step to healing is educating yourself on the intricacies and signs of intimate partner violence (IPV) so you can come to a full awareness of where you’re at in your relationship and your life. If you’re reading this blog, I trust you’ve already reached this point.
The next step is to allow yourself to grieve. When you allow grief to enter, through the pain of recovery, you open the doors for true healing to begin.
Before you can heal, you have to understand that you’ve experienced a death. Regardless of whether or not you’re still with your spouse, grief is an essential aspect to healing. You’re mourning a profound loss.
You’re mourning a loss—the death of what you thought your relationship had been, the death of your future dreams, the death of a love you thought existed.
It’s helpful to put a name to what you’ve lost. Write down what you thought you had in your relationship—examples can include comradery, trust, unconditional love, safety, honesty, acceptance, joy, fun, and so much more. Write down any and all of it—the good, the bad, and the in-between. Then, when you feel ready, look over your list and, one by one, release your expectations of what could have been in order to make room for what is now.
Does this mean you have to give up all hopes of future joy or safety, friendship or fun? Definitely not—in fact, by releasing the internal images of what you thought you’d had, you’ll open the way for true joy to enter: joy, peace, inner contentment and self-companionship. By acknowledging the illusion caused by intimate partner violence, you’ll release clinging hopes for what could have been in order to make room for a stronger and more fulfilled life.
“Grief is letting go of what you cannot keep. Grief converts a wound into a memory” (Dr. John Townsend, Beyond Boundaries).
In order to build stronger and healthier future goals, you must mourn the death of what you thought your life was going to be.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matt 5:4).
This can be difficult, because most likely a trauma bond has been created between you and your abuser. The intermittent reinforcement of the good times in the relationship, alternated by escalating abuse and tension, makes the good times seem far better than they truly were. Intermittent reinforcement causes the victim to feel immense relief and gratitude during the conflict-free times.
“This process is an attachment to the abuser, formed by the prior power differential in the relationship coupled with intermittent abuse … Negative memories recede, positive memories remain intact. The attachment increasingly colors both the past and the degree of optimism for the future. The relationship doesn’t seem so bad.”
(Dr. Donald G. Dutton, The Abusive Personality)
Releasing yourself from a trauma bond takes determination and commitment, and is difficult—but it can be done. If you’re interested in learning more about this topic, please contact me.
“ ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the LORD, ‘plans for welfare and not for woe, to give you a future and a hope’ ” (Jeremiah 29:11).
Trying to force or coerce a situation in order to make it what you want it to be will only result in more heartbreak. Allowing yourself the freedom of acceptance is crucial to the grieving—and consequently the healing—process. When you’re able to do this, you’ll find yourself becoming stronger and more determined to never again accept any level of abuse or toxicity in your life.
“Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God” (1 Cor 6:19).
Grief is good. Grief is healing. Grief allows you to move forward with insight, clarity, strength, and a renewed love of self.
Although mourning is difficult and exhausting work, don’t hide from the difficulty. Allow the sorrow to wash over you. Feel the grief. Let it envelope you, but don’t let it engulf you.
Let grief envelope you—feel it fully, live it fully, rejoice fully in what it can bring when you reach the other side—but don’t let it engulf you within the trickery of despair.
Grieving offers hope, not hopelessness.
The journey from grief to healing takes time. A lot of it. Surround yourself with authentic love as you traverse your path. Find a solid circle of supporting friends and family, an educated spiritual director, a healing support group, or a trusted spiritual community (one that understands abusive situations). Increase your contemplative life through prayer and quiet moments of pure peace. Surround yourself with warmth and self-care.
But, above all else, cry.
Yes, you heard me right. Allow yourself to cry. A lot and often, if need be. Releasing all that pent-up emotion is good not only for the mind, but for your physical body as well.
“Jesus wept” (John 11:35).
Going through the pain of mourning will allow you gather the strength to embrace life once again, rather than letting it overwhelm you in confusion and despair.
The blessed process of grieving clears out the cobwebs. It creates a new beginning. It helps you to see openings that were previously closed due to the damaging effects of IPV.
Through grief and mourning, we can all move forward. Gone is the pain; in its place, a new life can begin.
From pain comes resurrection. And a glorious, gorgeous new beginning.
“I will restore to you all the years which the swarming locust has eaten” (Joel 2:25).