By Sybil Cummin, MA, LPC
(If you are in an unsafe relationship, please take caution in where you keep this article or any of the activities completed based on this article. Please reach out to your local advocacy center if you need help with safety).
You just started dating someone that seems too good to be true. You are waiting for the shoe to drop, but it hasn’t. Could this be the one? It is common for everyone to start picturing their future with someone they are dating when it is going well. The little house with the white picket fence, 2.5 kids, and a dog. The perfect life. It seems perfect, until it is not.
Your perfect relationship and perfect partner has love bombed you. You are no longer treated like a queen and the center of your partner’s world. In fact you are treated worse than you can imagine. Whether you are physically abused, emotionally abused, sexually abused, financially abused or any of the other forms of abuse, the shock remains the same. How could this happen? You can still picture and maybe even feel the amazing start to your relationship. “No,” you tell yourself, “my partner can change,” or “we are just going through a rough patch.” You hold the image of your perfect life firmly in your mind. We can still achieve this if only…
If at this point, you have not been completely isolated from your family and friends, they may have a hard time believing or understanding what has happened. You talked of the amazing perfect partner in the beginning and now you what are you going to tell them? It is so hard to know what to tell them if you yourself do not understand. If you do tell them how awfully you are being treated, then they will expect you to leave. What if you aren’t ready to leave? So instead of sharing your story you isolate more and hope for change.
The hope for your partner to change is a very strong reason that victims of domestic violence remain in their relationship. It is difficult for people to understand. What if things could be like they were before? The dream of the perfect life can be one of the only things that keeps you going, however it may also be one of the biggest factors in keeping you trapped. Your partner knows this and uses it to his or her advantage. They will give you glimmers of hope that things will get better (typically during the honeymoon period of the cycle of violence) only to become abusive again and potentially at a higher intensity level. One beautiful evening where you spend time with your partner and they apologize for treating you poorly and promising they will make some changes can keep you in the relationship for months searching for some little sign that they are changing their ways. More isolation and shame that you have been duped again.
Your healing can begin when you start to grieve the dream of the future you had imagined or were told was possible by your partner. You may go through all 5 stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance) or you may not. If you are not physically safe, you may not be able to show several of these stages. You may already be going through the stages of grief and do not know it. The two most notable stages for those in or leaving an abusive relationship are denial and bargaining, which often times go hand in hand. It is so confusing to be love bombed that you automatically minimize and deny that they abuse is happening and that it will be ongoing. You then will try to find any possible way to make the relationship work, even if it is detrimental to you and abusive. This is validated by your partner who also minimizes and denies any and all abuse. And all of this is to hold onto the picture of and possibility of your dream.
If you are truly mindful of what you hope for, you may find out that your dream has changed. Is your partner a part of your dream any longer? Many times, the other pieces of your dream are still the same, however your partner only plays a logistical role. What from your previous dream would you like to remain the same? What would be different? What will it take for you to be at peace with letting this dream go and creating a new one?