Dating After Abuse: What You Need to Know

Written by Angela Atkinson

A discussion in my SPAN (Support for People Affected by Narcissistic abuse in relationships) online support group recently led one of my beautiful members to ask me what I meant when I told another group member that she could avoid getting involved with another narcissist in the future by simply raising her standards when it came to dating new people. Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Setting Standards for Your Future Dates

While she was recently divorced from a toxic narcissist and not quite ready to think about dating yet, she wanted to know what I meant.

“When I am ready to date again, it would help me to know what you mean exactly to ‘raise your standards’?”

Dating Safely After Abuse

Raise Your Standards, Avoid Getting Involved with a Narcissist Again

Anyone who isn’t already in a relationship might be in search of that perfect someone that they can imagine building a life with – both men and women. When you’re waiting for Mr. or Mrs. Right, you sometimes start to think the opposite sex is just far too picky.

But, if you’ve been in a toxic relationship with a narcissist, the abuse you’ve experienced has left you damaged and you might be a little unsure of what you really want in a relationship. And, if you’re anything like many survivors of narcissistic abuse, you might have been raised by a toxic person, too – and that means you could be struggling to figure out what “healthy” looks like in a relationship. So how do you know? And what do you do to safeguard yourself as you go forward with dating again after narcissistic abuse?

Start with Creating Some Dealbreakers

What are ‘dealbreakers?;

Dealbreakers are a way to create “rules” for yourself in order to safeguard your heart. In other words, when you create a dealbreaker in a relationship, it means you walk away without discussion if one of the dealbreakers is “done,” so to speak. This means that if anything outside of the dealbreakers happens, you will be willing to at least discuss it before walking away. It does NOT mean that you’ll stay for anything else that happens – just that you might be willing to discuss it and possibly work it out if possible.

How do dealbreakers work?

So, if your dealbreaker is “never lie to me,” then you’d immediately end the relationship without discussion if your partner were to lie to you. Of course, that particular example is extreme and, in my opinion, might be both unfair and too vague to qualify as a dealbreaker. After all, a decent person might tell white lies to save your feelings. For example, they might tell you that they can’t tell you’ve gained weight, or that your new haircut doesn’t look as bad as you think it does. Those lies aren’t meant to hurt you and shouldn’t be considered “abusive,” right?

What are some examples of dealbreakers? 

Personally, I have some basic deal breakers for any relationship, including my current marriage, and they are as follows:

1. Don’t hit me or intentionally hurt me physically.
2. Don’t cheat on me.
3. Don’t hurt my children.

And after I got divorced from my first husband, I added a number four: Don’t emotionally abuse me.

Your own dealbreakers might be the same or different than mine. It is important that you focus yours on the things that matter to you the most

Dealbreakers Can Protect You From Yourself

Anyone who has struggled with narcissistic abuse and codependency may also have trouble setting and standing behind their boundaries. Even when we heal, we might still find ourselves tolerating things we should not. Codependency combined with the trauma bonding we experience in toxic relationships with narcissists can leave us feeling weak and unable to stand up for ourselves.

By creating little “unbreakable” rules for ourselves and communicating them early in a relationship (around the time the two of you choose to be in a relationship or to be monogamous together), you sort of take the power out of your own hands, in a good way. In other words, if you set your dealbreakers and you stand by them, your partner will know that up to a point, they decide if you stay or go.

It might surprise you to know that when it comes to deal breakers with dating, men and women are surprisingly alike in what turns them off (and what won’t lead to more dates). Knowing this can help you avoid a dry spell – and, if you’re willing to raise your own standards, it can also help you avoid getting stuck to a narcissist again.

Healing & Dating Safely After Narcissistic Relationships – Truth, Not the Illusion

Are you ready to start dating again? Dating after narcissistic abuse is hard! When you get a divorce or move on to a new relationship after a narcissistic one, it makes dating a completely different experience.

When your ex is a narcissist, it’s a whole other ball of wax. In this video, I’ll expand on safeguarding your love life so that you can avoid dating another narcissist in the future.

These articles might also be of interest to you if you’ve been through a toxic relationship with a narcissist.

Dating After Narcissistic Abuse: Things to Know 

So, what sorts of issues are red flags for potential future mates? Let’s start there – some basic Dating 101. You might already know this stuff, and that’s okay. It never hurts to have a quick refresher, right?

Communication is Key

Not knowing how to communicate on a date is something that a lot of women just don’t want to put up with, such as not being able to talk clearly and not knowing the basic difference between commonly misused words.

  • To men, this might seem too picky, but to women, a man that doesn’t know how to communicate from the start, including with their eyes, it won’t get any better as the relationship progresses.
  • Women do put more of an emphasis on communication than men do because this is how women relate. A dealbreaker with communication is a man or a woman who is obviously the star in their own world – ahem, this is also a sign of narcissism.
  • These kinds of people might talk so much that it’s hard to get a word in edgewise. While a man or woman wants to find out about their date, give them the condensed version of yourself, not your life story – and on the flip side, you shouldn’t expect a guy to tell you everything on day one. It’s not normal behavior, despite what the narcissist might have led you to believe.
  • During a date, you don’t want to focus on the bad stuff. Someone that you’ve just met or are just now starting to get to know doesn’t want to hear all about the job that you hate, or the terrible day you’ve just experienced – and, quite honestly, they’re not going to necessarily enjoy hearing about your narcissistic ex. That’s more like seventh date material if you understand what I mean – and focusing for too long on any negativity from your past isn’t healthy anyway.
  • Communication during a date means communicating with the person with whom you’re on the date. It doesn’t mean that this is a fresh avenue for you to spill all of your resentment and heartache about the person who was in your life before him or her.
  • If you bring your ex into the conversation, it can be an instant dealbreaker because it shows that you haven’t worked through feelings about that former flame. No one wants a preview of the excess baggage you’ll be bringing along if they date you.
  • It also shows that you’re inconsiderate. It’s a dealbreaker to use someone you barely know as a sounding board about the lost loves in your life. You might feel that you’re connecting, while the other person feels like they should be charging you a therapy fee.
  • Work through your issues about your ex before you move on to dating someone new. See a real therapist and make sure all of your issues with that situation are resolved prior to you dating someone else. You’ll be doing yourself a big favor.

Don’t Be Rude

Most people know how to be polite. Some don’t. If you don’t know how to be polite, that can be a dealbreaker. If you haven’t mastered basic table etiquette, then you need to learn before you hit the dating circuit. Most people reading this article won’t need to go through this section, but I’m including it just to be safe.

  • First, don’t put your elbows on the table. Don’t slouch down so far in your chair that it looks like you’re practically resting on your neck. When it’s time to eat, don’t share your food in open-mouthed chewing with the other person.
  • It’s rude and disgusting to look at someone else’s chewed up meal. These are dealbreakers – especially for women. Don’t slurp your food, push your food onto your fork with your fingers, don’t burp, don’t blow your nose, and don’t pick your teeth when you’re on a date. If you get a bite of something that tastes terrible, don’t make a show of spitting it out. Discreetly remove it in with a napkin. If something is out of reach, ask for it, don’t reach across the table and grab it.
  • One of the biggest issues that’s a dealbreaker among both men and women are dates that get on the cell phone. If you text or take a call during a date and it’s not an absolute emergency, you can bet you’ll probably never get another date.
  • It’s rude to pay attention to someone who isn’t even there via a cell phone. Being rude to others (including the waitress or waiter) around you on the date is a dealbreaker. If you’re out with your friends, treating them rudely is also a dealbreaker.
  • Your date will end up wondering if that’s how you treat other people if you’ll start to treat him or her that way as well. Under the heading of being impolite is not having a tolerance toward people who have different religions, are from different cultures, are of a different race, or have different sexual preferences.
  • Being small-minded or making bigoted or racist comments is a dealbreaker. It’s rude and offensive.
  • It’s also not polite to expect your date to like all the same things that you like. Just because you like a certain style of music doesn’t mean she will. And to expect someone to give in to your tastes is a dealbreaker. Instead of looking for someone that is exactly like you when it comes to preferences, learn how to explore the differences.
  • It can be a dealbreaker to be sarcastic or to make fun of something that your date finds interesting. It makes you look mean and bullying to make fun of someone just because they’re into things that you’re not.

Be Aware of Your Appearance

I hate that we need to address this one, but let’s just touch on it really quickly. Despite common assumptions, most men and women aren’t looking for someone who doesn’t have any flaws. But both sexes do look for someone who takes pride in his or her appearance. This can range from clothing choice to hygiene habits. Be aware of the following.

  • When you show up for a date, even if it’s a casual date, you should always look your best. Those worn sweatpants might make you feel comfortable, but to your date, they say that you couldn’t be bothered to put forth much effort.
  • That bright Hawaiian shirt might look great on a vacation, but on a date, it’s better to choose clothes that blend in and save the wilder choices for a later date. My best advice here is to wear the nicest outfit you have that is also appropriate for the occasion. Don’t break out the formal wear for a trip to the movies, and save the “around the house” clothes for around the house.
  • Wear appropriate shoes for the date, too. Don’t wear a pair of shoes that could be worn when cleaning out the garage or mowing. Don’t wear shoes that don’t fit the occasion. An example of this is wearing high heels for a beach walk. The shoes are out of place and will only tell your date that you’re trying too hard to impress. Be careful going too bold.
  • A dealbreaker in both men and women is showing up for a date without having spent some time on personal hygiene. If you can’t be bothered to brush and floss your teeth, it’s better that you stay home.
  • Poor hygiene habits can also be a dealbreaker. These include things like wiping your mouth on the sleeve of your shirt after eating. Or coughing up phlegm and then spitting it onto the ground.
  • Take care of your smile. It’s one of the first impressions that you’ll make on someone else when it comes to dating.
  • Certain habits can also make your appearance less than desirable on a date. Someone who smells like cigarette smoke can be a dealbreaker to some people. People who drink more than their limit on a date are a turnoff, too.
  • A big dealbreaker for men and women is pretending to be something you’re not online or through text messages, then showing up in person and you look and act totally differently. An example of this is a girl who pretends to be into things guys like just to impress the guy. Or a guy who says he has washboard abs when it’s really more like a beer belly.

Bottom line here: What both sexes really appreciate is a person who’s honest with them right from the start. Don’t lie about your body type, your looks, or your hobbies just to get someone interested in you. When the truth comes out, it will only backfire. You want to date someone who likes the real you, not some fictional person who doesn’t exist. And while “faking it” might get someone interested in you initially, this will bite you in the butt later when the truth comes out.

Avoid Sharing Unresolved Personal Issues Too Soon

Every person in the world is going to have some emotional wounds given to them by life experiences. Most people go on to get through these issues by working them out or seeking the advice of a counselor. Having experienced personal problems is nothing to be ashamed of and is normal. However, dragging these issues around with you, especially on dates is when it becomes a problem. As a rule, you want to keep things light on the first few dates. Avoid sharing the hard stuff too soon. Some examples of things to avoid sharing in the first few weeks or months of dating a new person include the following,

Your Deep, Dark Secrets

It’s important to wait until you can truly trust someone before you share all of your deep dark secrets with them. Not only might “early disclosure” be a dealbreaker for your date, but if they are a toxic person in love-bombing mode, you might be telling the wrong person. After all, narcissists are known to store away the information you share about your weaknesses and insecurities in the early days of the relationship, only to throw it back in your face later and use it to hurt you.

Your Emotional Traumas

Personal issues that can become dealbreakers involve things like not being able to let go and move on from anything that hurt you emotionally. So you don’t necessarily want to discuss your toxic ex or anything related to them, outside of possibly acknowledging that you have been in a relationship before, especially if you have kids.

People Who Have Wronged You

Your date doesn’t want to hear about the times your former friend stole money from you or skipped out without paying rent. He doesn’t want to hear about daddy issues. She doesn’t want to hear about your issues with your mom or your dad. Or your siblings. Or your neighbors. And they definitely do not want to hear about your narcissistic ex – at least not yet. If those things are still eating away at you, it’s a sign that you need to deal with them rather than date and talk about them.

Problems You Have That Aren’t Your Fault

Your date doesn’t want to hear about a list of problems that were someone else’s fault. Even if you have completely and legitimately been hurt through no fault of your own, your date might not fully be able to grasp the depth of it – nor should they be required to at the beginning. If you aren’t able to fully express what happened to you in a way that they can truly get it, they might feel like you’re being whiny and immature. That will only make you feel unfairly invalidated, and it might trigger you. This would be enough to scare a “non-toxic” person away and fast.

Your Addiction Issues

Active addiction of any sort can be a dealbreaker. When there’s an addiction, the person that you’re dating never gets to know who you really are because the addition can mask that. People with an alcohol or drug addiction can often have varying mood swings and that’s not a good way to begin a relationship. If you have a personal issue that’s driven you to try to deal with it through the development of an addiction, that’s a definite dealbreaker. Having an addiction to drugs isn’t something that’s fair to expect another person to have to deal with, especially someone that you don’t even know that well. It puts too much on them emotionally. If you have an addiction to drugs or alcohol, take care of it and get well before you seek a relationship. The same goes for an addiction to a person – the kind that happens with trauma bonding and narcissistic abuse. In any case, an addiction can introduce a level of upheaval into a relationship that can add a lot of drama. Even if you’ve already overcome the addiction, wait until you know them better to explain that you’re in recovery.

Do What You Say You’ll Do

A dealbreaker among men and women is dating people who don’t know how to keep their word. These people are often flighty. They’ll say one thing and mean another. Sometimes, they can be prone to mind games.

Show Up When You Say You Will

Men and women are looking for someone who has solid character. They know that if you’re not dependable, as the relationship develops when they need someone, you won’t be the one they’ll be able to call. It’s a dealbreaker because a person who isn’t dependable has all kinds of excuses for his or her behavior. Why they didn’t show up when they said they would. Why they blew you off, why they couldn’t pay for a meal they promised to pay for. These people are often not financially stable and they’re looking for someone they can lean on. Being someone who can’t take care of himself is a dealbreaker.

Handle Your Own Business

In a healthy relationship, partners will help one another deal with the issues that come up in their lives. But when you’re dating, especially early in the relationship, your issues should not be their responsibility (and vice versa). Both men and women want someone who is independent and who has their life in control. A man or woman who has a life that’s out of control isn’t someone that anything can be built with because that person can’t be trusted. Without trust, there can’t be a healthy relationship.

Don’t Be Too Clingy

Whether you prefer to be sort of “joined at the hip” with your partner or you would rather have your own space in a relationship is something you’ll want to communicate at some point, but not necessarily on the first date. Be careful to avoid being too demanding on your date’s time and steer clear of clinginess. Someone who’s too clingy isn’t someone who can be depended on. This is because the other person in the dating relationship will constantly have to reassure the clingy one, constantly have to feed their need for reassurance and company. That is exhausting, as you may recall from your previous toxic relationships.

Don’t Try to Control Everything

When you first start dating someone new, before you have  “the talk,” where you discuss your relationship and decide that you’re going to be together officially, you might find yourself feeling triggered if they don’t return your text right away or answer the phone when you call. This will set off little alarm bells for your date – as well they should. They will feel like you’re being controlling if you start demanding to know where they’ve been or who they’ve spent time with, especially if you start doing this before you’ve committed to one another.

But why would you do this? Well, having been in a toxic relationship with a narcissist, you might feel overwhelmed and anxious when this happens because, back then, it would mean your ex was cheating on you, for example. But when you’re dating someone new and they’re always wanting to know who you’re with and what you’re doing, it can be a huge dealbreaker.

Be Ruled by Intuition, Not Paranoia

Remember that, even in a long-term relationship, if you find yourself feeling doubtful and anxious in this way and it isn’t related to trauma from the past, there’s a chance that your intuition is trying to tell you something. Being with the narcissist might have caused you to forget how to listen to that little voice that tells you something’s off. That’s your intuition – and it’s important to learn to listen to it. If you’re not there yet and can’t quite discern your intuition from residual paranoia and anxiety related to what happened to you in the past, it’s best to focus on healing right now instead of dating – at least if you want to be able to find and develop a healthy relationship for your future.

Have Your Own Friends and Interests

Each person should have a circle of friends as well as friends they enjoy seeing as a dating couple. It’s important for each person to have outside interests in a dating relationship and this includes different friends. When you have separate interests, it can help a dating relationship stay fresh and seem more interesting. Don’t allow yourself (or the other person) to lose their identity and friendships just because you want to spend more time together. That leads to codependency and unhealthy connections.

Avoid Being Too Familiar Too Fast

Being too familiar too fast can be a dealbreaker when it comes to emotions, too. When a person starts pushing for emotional depth that hasn’t developed yet, this can turn people off. An example of this is when a couple just starts dating and by the end of the first week, one party is ready to move in together, to be exclusive, or already talking about being in love.

This is usually a sign of a deeper emotional problem that should raise red flags.  When you date someone, there are certain physical boundaries that shouldn’t be crossed unless it’s clear that the other person is open to the contact. On a first date, you should have and expect personal boundaries. Treating someone like they’re an old friend that you can hang all over is going to make the other person uncomfortable. While this is usually a dating dealbreaker that’s more common in the way that men behave, women are also guilty of this one. Be respectful of boundaries and even if you feel like you’ve known this person forever, you haven’t. So be mindful of their feelings and watch their cues. And be aware of how YOU feel around them, too.

Supermarket Shopping Your Date is Off-Limits

Ever been on a date where you felt like a couple of melons in the produce aisle at the grocery store? Look, I get it – on a first date, a lot of people are trying to see if the other person fits the bill physically for them. This means that he or she is trying to figure out if they’re compatible – if they’re a good fit. Though it’s important to date someone that you’re physically attracted to, dating isn’t a supermarket where you can go in and start rubbing and touching to see if you like what you see – so be respectful of your date’s personal space and mindful of their physical cues.

  • Because men are usually bigger, taller, and have more physical strength, being too hands-on can make a woman feel uncomfortable, intimidated and sometimes can cross the boundaries into sexual harassment.
  • Never assume it’s okay to touch someone else. Instead, make sure that you have a clear okay before you do. It’s not just the physical where a date can get too familiar.

Throw Away Your Checklist for the First 3 Dates

Now, don’t get me wrong – anyone who is actively looking for a partner is going to have sort of a checklist in mind of what they want and what they don’t want. While you should most definitely have dealbreakers and you should be very clear on what you’re looking for in a partner, try to skip the checklist for the first three or four dates. You’re getting to know the person, and if you’re focused on ticking off those boxes, you might miss something important. Then again, be aware of your personal feelings and don’t feel obligated to go on a second or third date if someone makes you feel uncomfortable or in any way pushes you beyond what feels appropriate to you.

Though it’s not easy to date in today’s world, there are plenty of good men and women looking for that special someone. Figure out what your deal breakers are and try to find someone who suits your personal preferences!

Related articles for survivors of narcissistic abuse

Author

  • Angela Atkinson is a certified trauma counselor and the author of more than 20 books on narcissism, narcissistic abuse recovery, and related topics. A recognized expert on narcissism and narcissistic personality disorder who has studied and written extensively on narcissistic personality disorder and narcissistic abuse in toxic relationships since 2006, she has a popular narcissistic abuse recovery YouTube channel. Atkinson was inspired to begin her work as a result of having survived toxic relationships of her own. Atkinson offers trauma-informed narcissistic abuse recovery coaching and has certifications in trauma counseling, life coaching, level 2 therapeutic model, CBT coaching, integrative wellness coaching, and NLP. She is a certified trauma support coach and certified family trauma professional. She also has a professional PTSD counseling certification. Her mission is to help those who have experienced the emotional and mental devastation that comes with narcissistic abuse in these incredibly toxic relationships to (re)discover their true selves, stop the gaslighting and manipulation, and move forward into their genuine desires – into a life that is exactly what they choose for themselves. Along with her solution-focused life coaching experience, Atkinson’s previous career in journalism and research helps her to offer both accurate and understandable information for survivors of abuse in a simple-to-understand way that helps to increase awareness in the narcissistic abuse recovery community. Atkinson founded QueenBeeing.com Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support, the SPANily Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support Groups and the Life Makeover Academy. She offers individual and group coaching for victims and survivors of narcissistic abuse here at QueenBeeing.com and at NarcissisticAbuseRecovery.Online.

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