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Week 7, Session 1: Healthy Relationships

Hello and welcome to Week 7, Session 1 of Bloom’s course on ‘Coping with Domestic Abuse’.

If this is the first time you’re reading this, welcome! We’re so happy to have you here. However if you’re just starting out please do head back to the first session. We build on material throughout the weeks, and we don’t want you to miss anything!

You might need your thought diary for your homework this week, so take a moment to find it if you don’t have it with you already. 

This week is all about relationships. Today, we will be discussing healthy relationships. As important as it is to breakdown and disclose the aspects of abuse, we must also be mindful of balance. It is equally important to think of what we can build as it is to examine the past.
As we get so close to the end of our course and time together in Bloom, we hope you carry on with these practices: to explore the future as a place of potential.
This session should serve as a reminder of what you are worth and the relationships you deserve. As well as a guiding point towards healthy dynamics. 

The goals for this session are:

  • To examine what makes a healthy relationship vs. an unhealthy relationship and whether these relationships are romantic or platonic. 

But before we dig in, let’s do a grounding exercise!

Look at the palms of your hands. Explore them. How many lines can you count? Try tracing the lines of your hands with your fingers. Now give yourself a little massage. When you are done, put your hands together and rub them against each other, similar to the exercise that we covered in a previous week. Focus on the warm feelings you create with your body. Really settle in with that heat, that friction.

We also have our fun question!
If you could change the colour of the sky to any other colour besides blue, what would you choose and why?

This week we’ll be talking about relationships. Now, when we discuss relationships, we’re not just talking about romantic connections. Relationships also refer to our bonds with family, friends, our community, and - as ever - with ourselves.

Exploring these relationships after and especially during abuse can feel daunting. After all, after being gaslit, disappointed, and exploited, as we’ve been, it’s easy to anticipate similar interactions with strangers, or to expect the same emotional abandonment by other loved ones.
When we’ve been coerced into a lessened position of self-worth, and profoundly lacked control, it’s so normal not to trust our surroundings, our family, our own instincts, or our memories - making our relationships and the world we live in a painful place to be. 

What makes a healthy relationship

Forming and maintaining relationships based on mutual trust, love and respect is not an easy task, but a healthy relationship should always feature the following.
We’d even encourage you to write this list down in your thought diary. 
Now, a healthy relationship, whether it is with a partner or otherwise, has: 

  • Strong Communication
  • Support
  • Trust
  • Equality
  • Honesty
  • Mutual Appreciation
  • Love
  • Acceptance. Not as we compromise our values or allow others to hurt us without change, but an Acceptance that we are human and we make mistakes, have limitations. But we will still choose to treat others with kindness, rather than punish or demean them.  

In contrast, an unhealthy relationship not only lacks these things above, but may have some additional warning signs like those we discussed in our sessions on red flags, coercive control, and naming abuse. These traits include:

  • Possessiveness / Jealousy
  • Being over-controlling, especially about how you spend your time. Texting and phoning you all the time may feel flattering initially, but is controlling when they insist you give them all your time, all the time.
  • Not Listening
  • Dislike your friends or family - Not wanting you to see them, as we covered in Biderman’s Cycle of Control. 
  • Lying / Secretiveness
  • Love is conditional on needs being met / things being done!
  • Invasion of your privacy

Now, if you’re not currently in a relationship, or are isolated from social communities, we want you to think about what you might need in place to make you feel safe to date again or to meet friends. Whether that means double dating with a friend you trust, going somewhere you feel safe and can leave at any point, or meeting people only in the day -- or keeping things totally online -- consider what will feel okay for you.
Ask yourself the following question: What do you want for yourself, and what are ways you can make yourself feel safer and more confident to achieve them?

There are some things that may help reduce anxiety around dating, specifically.
It is normal for you to want to take a step back from putting yourself out there romantically, and normal not to desire these relationships at all! But, for those of us who do want to meet someone, we wanted to give you another helpful list to guide you. 

  1. Take control of planning your time and how much time you want to spend with someone, before you meet up with them.
  2. Make decisions that help you feel secure, such as setting limits around what activities you would like to do; whether or not you want any physical intimacy; or whether you will drink alcohol. These are all things you can decide before or during a date. If it helps, close your eyes and imagine what a comfortable, secure date would include. 
  3. If someone suggests an activity that you’re not comfortable with, offer alternatives as a way to show interest. If they ask, “Shall we grab a beer tonight?”, you can suggest getting a coffee or say: “No, I don’t want to go to your apartment for dinner, but how about we go to a restaurant?” Feel free to rehearse with a supportive friend! Whatever you need to feel secure and empowered.
    There is NO shame in creating the practices and spaces you need before or during new experiences. You have been through a lot, and you don’t need to make any excuses for your needs or your past.  
  4. That being said: explain ONLY if you want to. Whether you want to disclose your abuse is your choice. If you feel like it’s necessary to explain to your new or potential partner, you can always say that “something upsetting happened and you’re not ready to talk about it”. You do not need to make excuses. No one is entitled to personal and private information about your life.

Dating can be an incredibly scary experience, even before you throw trauma into the mix, so it’s completely normal to be hesitant after you’ve experienced abuse. There is absolutely no need to force yourself into going out on dates before you are ready. Healing doesn’t have a timeline or expiration so there is no need to push yourself.

In fact, it may be most helpful to you to engage in social activities with close friends for a while first. There is nothing wrong with being single. And it’s possible to find fulfilment in relationships that are non-romantic. Using your support system to work through trauma is a strong and healthy step in learning to trust relationships and most importantly, trust yourself.

There are always ways to heal and to move forward. Again, it is by looking to ourselves as the top priority: attending to our needs and feelings without apology. 

Ultimately, building relationships with others is first about finding ways to trust ourselves, so that we can interact with others with confidence. 

The homework for this week is…

  • Answer the following questions:
    What activities do you enjoy doing with a partner or friend?

  • What would be a priority for you in a new relationship? This can be romantic or non-romantic. 

    Remember, this is an investment in your own journey to recovery. Give yourself the best chance to build resilience. You can do this. 

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