The Most Important Dealbreaker Of All

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NEVER dismiss red flags, regardless of how trivial they seem.

I remember that first red flag all those years ago. At the time, it “felt” disguised as my abuser doing the “puffed out chest” thing in a chat with his male co-worker and me to ensure there was no threat to our relationship. Did I think it was cute? No. The degree of brutality toward his co-worker actually made me feel uncomfy, but only years later, in collective retrospection of our relationship. I attributed it to being a “guy thing”, reflecting my lack of experience being around groups of men outside of my family. I hasten to add that the men in my family were scarcely nice to each other so I guess I saw it as “normal”.

Red flags make us uncomfortable for reasons we can’t put a finger on. We know “something” isn’t right but often choose to ignore our instincts, certain we’re just “imagining things”…until the next time, and then the next, etc. Red flags are big, glaring warning signs but abusers are often extremely adept at distracting us with their charm, gifts, promises, romantic gestures. Abusers prey on vulnerable people. Their “listening skills” seem impressive on the surface but what they’re really doing is filing away our innermost secrets to use against us later.

My abuser made me feel like he was the only one in the world I could trust. He listened and interjected the “perfect” words at all the right times. He made me feel like he would take care of me like nobody else ever would. My only dealbreakers, at that time, were smoking, alcoholism, and physical abuse. My philosophy used to be based on my mother’s; she would always say, “The day he lays a finger on me is the day he’ll never see me again.” In those days, the word “abuse” meant “battered wife” because anything else was far more difficult to prove and attitudes were different. Nobody talked about emotional or psychological abuse and, even if we had, who would have taken it seriously? They barely did anything for battered wives back then. I didn’t even realize that other forms of abuse were recognized until I went to a counselor in 2008. When I finally escaped the abusive environment, my outlook changed. I read numerous books about abuse to learn as much as possible about the dynamics, methods, and abusive mindset.

Recognizing red flags is important, but if we continually overlook those red flags, what’s the point of recognizing them? In any new relationship, we are naturally cautious until trust kicks in. Most often, abusers will wait until there are deep feelings invested before letting those true colors peep out a little bit. If a red flag pops up out of nowhere, do not dismiss it as an overreaction. You owe it to yourself to think carefully about why you believe it’s a red flag. Is it a serious red flag that quickly diminishes your trust in that person? Is it one that makes you uncomfortable? Don’t be afraid to discuss your feelings because you’ll learn a lot about a person in the way they handle “touchy” conversations; the outcome of such a conversation should give you more of an idea of where to go from there. If s/he seems sincerely apologetic and open to discussion, that’s a positive sign…but you should still proceed with caution until you establish whether it’s pattern behavior. If s/he becomes defensive and angry, you must accept that as the future of your relationship. Abusers use extreme reactions to deflect from their behavior to condition you to think twice about “confronting” them in the future. Dismissing red flags gives the abuser a green light to continue and possibly escalate the abuse.

I remember feeling daunted by the idea of dating again after my divorce. What if I missed important red flags? What if I got too emotionally involved and, therefore, sucked into another abusive relationship that I couldn’t extricate myself from? What if, what if, what if?

One of the most important things one can do after fleeing an abusive relationship is to take the time to heal before getting involved with someone else. Being alone never hurt anyone and getting rid of the emotional baggage associated with past relationship{s} is not an overnight process. Taking a break can benefit us by giving us a chance to appreciate being by ourselves and, further, figure out what we want for our future, unrushed, of course. It helps to take a retrospective look at our past relationships and decide what we won’t tolerate. We should never be afraid to raise our standards for fear of “never finding anyone”. Wanting a relationship {higher standards} and needing a relationship {lower standards} have a direct impact on the quality of our relationships. We all want a relationship and that’s perfectly healthy; it’s when we have the “need” mindset that puts us at risk for “settling” for something we really don’t want.

Additionally, the more we focus on living authentically, the greater the chance of meeting the right person in the right setting at precisely the right time. We all have our own list of dealbreakers, but the one that should be on the top of everyone’s list ~ Abuse, in any and all of its ugly forms. Period.

As always, we’re here to help. ❤

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