In my early 20s, I was in an emotionally abusive relationship with a person who slowly whittled away all sense of who I was. When I finally left him for good, I was the shell of the person I’d been four years earlier.
So, when I met the opposite of my ex – someone who was kind, trusting and supportive of my best self– I fell heavy into his arms. Being with him helped me heal and figure out who I was.
Unfortunately, by the time I’d figured that out, we were already married, and it turned out that who I was and what I needed at that point in my life was fundamentally at odds with what he needed.
While I am eternally grateful to my first husband, looking back at that time in my life now, I can see that I didn’t give myself enough to time learn how to stand on my own two feet before committing to another person.
If you are coming out of a toxic relationship – whether it’s one marked by abuse, cheating, lies or neglect – you might similarly be tempted to find someone to “love hurt away.”
Or, you might be the opposite – reluctant to get back out there because you are terrified that you will be hurt again.
Follow these tips to make sure that your next relationship is not only healthy but will work for you in the long-term.
Do the work
If you’ve been burned, you got some healing to do.
How this gets done will vary from person to person. Some people need professional therapy, some need to turn to their friends and/or faith, some need to work through it quietly on their own.
What everyone needs after a toxic relationship is a heavy dose of self-love. You need to work through your emotions, recognize your patterns, and learn how to make different choices in the future.
If you don’t know how to do this, find someone who can show you. It will save you a lot of heartbreak in the future.
Dating again after a toxic relationship can feel emotionally risky. To keep things simple, keep the stakes low. Rather than looking at dating again as a place to find your next partner, look at it as practice for finding your next partner.
Let the people you are dating know that you are back at it after a break and just meeting new people to see what is out there. Use this time to learn more about what you want.
Although your hormones may be telling you otherwise, especially if it’s been a while since you were physical with anyone, don’t mistake lust (or a salve for loneliness) for love.
Generally, it takes at least three months or more before you can really get an accurate handle on someone’s character. Let people prove themselves to you before committing to them.
Trust your intuition
Anyone who makes you feel defensive about who you are, bad about who you are, or question who you are is a huge red flag. Similarly, if you feel creeped out when you are with someone, or fine when you are with them but question yourself after they are gone, trust that as well.
I once went on two dates with a guy who seemed perfect on the surface: we shared multiple interests, had similar values and backgrounds and I enjoyed hanging out with him.
Something seemed just slightly off, however. He would get close physically to me and then pull away. He repeatedly very discretely criticized a personality trait of mine that I am proud of and he wanted to make long-term plans way too fast.
Thinking about him after our second date, I had an almost visceral sensation of hands choking me. Sometimes your body knows what your brain doesn’t want to tell you.
If someone makes you feel both good and bad, that is the same as someone who makes you feel bad. Only date people who make you feel good. Period.
Practice setting boundaries
I firmly believe that when you learn a life lesson, the Universe tests you. You might have regained your confidence and are now reflecting that in the types of people you are attracting.
Then, out of the blue, you fall for a wolf in disguise.
Instead of putting this all on yourself, look at these anomalies as tests. It’s God or the Universe or whatever you might call it, giving you a final exam before you move on to the next level.
It’s a chance to put what you have learned into practice by telling them, “I don’t think we’re a good match, but best of luck to you.” Then firmly, moving on, without looking back.
Put yourself first
Finally, if you are dating again after a toxic relationship (or any relationship), always put yourself first in your life.
How you feel about yourself, about life and about relationships has a huge impact on the types of people you gravitate to and the types of people who gravitate to you.
Keep hanging out with your friends. Keep carving out quality time alone. Keep growing and learning and above all, keep loving yourself. Good things await.