The Mighty Logo

How My First Fight With a New Partner Helped Me Heal After an Abusive Marriage

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

Editor's Note

If you have experienced emotional abuse or domestic violence, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741. You can also contact The National Domestic Violence Hotline online by selecting “chat now” or calling 1-800-799-7233.

Before my decade-long marriage unraveled two years ago, I never realized just how unhealthy our relationship was. When my therapist started using words like “manipulation” and “emotional abuse” to describe my marriage, I laughed it off. However, the more I’ve worked on myself over these past two years, I’ve learned a lot about what abusive relationships really look like, and just how much that kind of environment can erode your self-worth without you even realizing it.

• What is PTSD?

Needless to say, when I started dating my current partner seven months ago, I found myself in lots of unfamiliar situations (in a good way). Many of them may seem trivial, like the first bouquet of flowers my partner gave me or the first time she offered to get me items to deal with my migraine pain. However, I think one of the most significant moments came from something else that may seem rather small: our first fight.

The argument started over something minor. In fact, it was something so trivial that I don’t even remember what it was about. However, I remember everything that happened after in painful detail.

As soon as I heard the inflection in my partner’s voice change, I panicked. My heart started racing, and my breathing changed. With each beat of my heart, the car grew more silent and even the road noise faded into the background. The automatic thoughts began running wild inside my head as my body went numb.

“Now you did it! You should have thought about your words more carefully! You always mess everything up!” I thought to myself as I prepared for retaliation…

But the “punishment” I imagined never came.

Instead, the silence that had settled into the car broke with my partner’s soft, comforting voice: “Babe, are you alright?”

“I… I’m fine…” I lied.

My partner instantly called me out on my feeble attempt to cover up the truth and gently asked me to share what was going on. I hesitated, mainly because I didn’t know how she would respond. However, I knew honesty was the best course of action here, no matter how uncomfortable it felt.

I gently explained when the inflection in her voice changed, I thought she was angry. I then explained all of the ways my body responded to that assumption. When I shared I worried she would yell at me or resort to physical violence, she simply said, “Babe, it’s OK — you’re having a trauma response. I understand.” She then asked how she could support me and reassured me she loves me and would never hurt me.

I couldn’t believe what was happening at that moment. Instead of lashing out at me over the original argument or mocking me for my emotional response to it, my partner was comforting me and validating my feelings. She wasn’t angry or upset — she was concerned and empathetic.

Although the events of that car ride may seem insignificant to most, I learned an important lesson that evening. While all couples argue from time to time, healthy relationships don’t force you into a place of constant fear, nor do they involve aggression and mockery. Instead, partners who truly love each other can set aside their disagreements and still show each other love, kindness, and empathy no matter what.

It will take time for me to adjust to this new relationship dynamic and let go of the trauma responses that once kept me safe. However, I know I’ve finally found a partner who is not only willing to wait, but is also willing to hold my hand as I undo years of damage to my self-esteem and mental health.

Getty image by Teraphim

Originally published: January 12, 2022
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home