Your partner may have completely moved on from their ex. But unfortunately, baggage from past relationships can have a way of staying with you for an undetermined amount of time. If your partner was emotionally abused by they ex, chances are, it will affect your relationship now.
“Our past experiences and the way we responded to them determine who we are in the present moment,” Human Behavior Expert and Relationship Expert, Patrick Wanis, Ph.D., tells Bustle. “Thus, emotional abuse in a former relationship results in trauma and will affect the way we interact and the way we express and receive love in a present relationship.”
According to Wanis, emotional abuse can take many forms such as criticism, condemnation, judgment, isolation, lying, and claims that the abuser is “perfect” while but the abused is flawed, worthless, and never good enough.
“It’s the mistreatment of someone with the intention to gain a benefit such as control or dominance,” he says. If that describes your partner’s ex, they may have used things like manipulation tactics to keep your partner hooked. As their current partner, it is important that you be supportive, and patient with any fears or difficulties your partner may be having now, as a result of this past trauma. It may also be helpful to encourage your partner to seek professional help.
Like Wanis says, experiencing emotional abuse in a past relationship may affect the way someone behaves in relationships after. So here are some signs that your partner was emotionally abused by their ex, according to experts.
If someone’s been emotionally abused in the past, they may not feel completely comfortable expressing themselves. According to Wanis, they may not feel safe enough to speak up for themselves or be authentic because they fear criticism, condemnation, judgment, or rejection. “This is the overarching effect of emotional abuse and also contributes to the other signs and consequences,” he says. Once again, being patient with your partner will help build trust so they eventually feel comfortable opening up.
“When a person is emotionally abused [they] will often form a twisted definition of love,” Wanis says. The lines between loving actions and abuse become blurred and it confuses them. For instance, they may think that sweet gestures you do for them always come with conditions because their ex used those gestures to manipulate them in the past.
Your partner may say this seriously or even in a joking way, but regardless, pay attention. If they ever mention being “unworthy” of you or “not good enough,” they may have been emotionally abused in the past. According to Wanis, “You only get what you subconsciously believe you deserve and no more.” When someone doesn’t truly believe they deserve a loving relationship with someone great, that may have been the message they got from a previous relationship.
“If your partner has ‘abnormal’ reactions to normal situations, they may be reacting to a past trauma-like abuse,” relationship expert and author April Masini tells Bustle. You could be talking about the weather, trying a new restaurant, or getting busy in the bedroom. If something randomly triggers a strong reaction in your partner, they may have been emotionally abused by an ex. “If you care about the relationship, use this event to ask questions, and listen to the answers without judgement,” Masini says. “Relationships are a process, and if you find that a partner has been abused by someone in their past, this discovery is part of the process.”
If your partner apologizes for everything even things that are clearly not their fault, their ex may have emotionally abused them. As Dr. Jo Eckler, licensed clinical psychologist and author, tells Bustle, “People who are emotionally abusive tend to blame their victims for everything.” If that was a big part of your partner’s relationship dynamic in the past, apologizing may become a reflex to them.
“Physical intimacy has a direct correlation to emotional intimacy,” Wanis says. If a person has been emotionally abused by an ex, they may struggle to express themselves in bed. They can easily be perceived as “cold” because they won’t be as affectionate and open with their words and actions, he says. You’ll get the feeling like they’re holding back in some way. While they may be comfortable with the act itself, they may be uncomfortable connecting with you in a more intimate way. If this is the case, discuss with your partner what they feel comfortable with, and work with them to build that trust and security.
As part of their “defense against abuse,” Dr. Claudia Luiz, award-winning author of The Making of a Psychoanalyst, tells Bustle, your partner may walk away or shut you down at times when you should be communicating. “Ironically, their defense systems may frustrate you, which will make you feel angry and disappointed,” Dr. Luiz says. That’s why it’s important to know what’s going on with your partner. “It’s the only way you can try to turn things around to create a safe space that slowly breaks down the walls,” she says.
Nobody ever wants to see the one they love in pain. Unfortunately the effects of emotional abuse can stay with a person for a very long time. But be sure to remember that you are not their therapist and you are not responsible for their healing, Wanis says. All you can do is consistently be a loving, patient, and understanding partner. Be supportive and encourage them to seek help if they need it