Panelists answer a Patreon listener question about how to trust your intuition and avoid old patterns with new partners after leaving an abusive relationship.
Wild & Sublime Podcast Transcript
S4E6 | Dating After An Abusive Relationship
Diane Long : Having a sense of my personal values is like a compass that I can come back to. And it’s not something somebody can take away from me. Right? So, gaslighting is a lot harder. If you’re clear about what you want and need and what you value, some of that work around self-awareness, I think, can be super helpful.
Karen Yates : Welcome to Wild & Sublime, a sexy spin on infotainment®, no matter your preferences, orientation, or relationship style, based on the popular live Chicago show. I chat about sex and relationships with citizens from the world of sex positivity. You’ll hear meaningful conversations, dialogues that go deeper, and information that can help you become more free in your sexual expression. I’m sex educator and intimacy coach Karen Yates.
This week, our panel discusses how to break unhealthy patterns when you start dating after a traumatic relationship. Keep listening.
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Hey, folks. A bit of an update. I’m healing well after my operation, I’m happy to say. We’re now a number of weeks in from that fateful day; people continue to be amazing, bringing food, checking in on me, driving me places. And I want to thank all the folks who have shown their support in so many ways. And all of the folks who have thrown money in the Wild & Sublime Tip Jar online and joined our monthly Patreon program. Links to both of those things are in our show notes.
What is interesting to me is the complete perspective shift having a major health crisis can do to you. And we all know this. But it’s way different when you’re inside of it. Like, you really begin putting things under the microscope. Do I really want to be doing this or that? Hanging with this particular person? What is important to me? In the case of this episode, perhaps you’ve come out of a truly terrible relationship, and you really want to be doing it differently this next time. But how do you do that? I think we’ve all been in a place where initially the new person we’re seeing is wonderful, but then you begin noticing you’re still confronting the same issues within yourself. Well, what do you do then? Well, you’re in for a really excellent conversation today that doesn’t offer easy answers, but does provide some next steps.
I’ll be talking with folks who have been on the show before: somatic therapist and empowerment coach Elmo Painter, individual and couples therapist at Best Therapies Clark Hazel, and empowerment self defense coach and trauma-informed bodyworker Diane Long. And before we begin: I am currently on the unceded lands of the Council of Three Fires, the Ojibwe, Odawa and Potawatomi nations, also known as Chicago. And now, for the episode. Enjoy.
[reading listener question] “Hello, panel. I got out of a long-term relationship last year that was emotionally abusive. I’m doing therapy and finally feel ready to date again. The dating world has really changed since I last was out there, and I’m wondering if you have any advice for folks like me, who maybe are dealing with trauma but really want to start meeting new people. Thank you.” How does a person know, as one meets new people — having gotten out of a relationship, a lot of times we can identify patterns that didn’t serve us, generally. And we think oh, I’m never going to do this again. And yet, sometimes we find ourselves back in a relationship that has the same pattern. And it’s sort of like seeing the blind spot. But how do you know when you’re still in the same pattern with a new partner? Are there signs and signals?
Elmo Painter-Edington: The signs and signals are going to depend on what your patterns have been. How the relationships have felt to you, what has been kind of the issue and pattern that’s come up historically. So it’s hard to give kind of a general answer, because it can be so individual. Like, if somebody has a pattern of jumping into a committed relationship really fast with somebody who is kind of putting them up on a pedestal and might be love-bombing — I’ve done some writing about how to tell the difference between love-bombing and healthy falling in love, and how at the beginning it can look and feel really similar. But when love-bombing happens, there’s this pedestal. And when you’re falling in love, you’re kind of putting somebody on a pedestal too. But the difference, when it’s love-bombing, it’s like, the person, from their perspective, you’ve made some sort of mistake, and they’re hugely disappointed, and you get knocked way off this pedestal, and you have to work your way back up so that they give you that nice, yummy devotion and super lovey-dovey stuff. When it’s healthy love, when, say, you make a mistake, or you fuck up somehow, and the person is like, they get hurt, but it’s not that you get knocked way down and they’re like, I’m so dis— I thought you were a different person, kind of a thing. But it depends. Again, it’s so hard to generalize. I recommend doing some somatic therapy, so you can get in touch with your intuition. That’s what I specialize in, is doing somatic experiencing and feeling those sensations in your body, and getting to know what your authentic yes feels like, and what your authentic no feels like. And getting to know what your flags feel like. There are green flags and red flags. I also highly recommend making lists of those, like looking up what are green flags — and there are a lot of really great articles, or you can do a Google image search, and there’s stuff like that. And then for you, making a list of your red flags, a list of your green flags, and a list of your yellow flags. Like, last time this kind of thing happened, so this is a maybe for me. But your red flags are like, you know, this person puts me down, this person tries to isolate me from my friends, this person drinks more than I’m okay with, or, you know, is just never sober when they see me, or whatever it is. Whatever that is for you. And then green flags might be things like, they have a really solid spiritual practice, they have close friendships, and you see that they are really great communicators, and they are consistently kind. Or maybe they are very patient with you. Especially if you’re recovering from an abusive relationship, you’re going to need the people that you date to be patient, because they’re going to need to earn your trust. And that’s kind of it, too. You’re going to need to figure out what is the cost of admission to your life. Because that’s really important, because it can’t be free. People can’t have free admission into your life. They’ve got to earn their way into, you know, an intimate relationship with you. Because you’ve been hurt so badly, it’s going to be really important for you to vet people.
Karen Yates : Wow, I really love this idea of ‘people don’t get free admission into your life.’ And so, being able to mediate that — as well as this idea, which I think is important as you move along in relationships, is the Yellow Flag. Because sometimes there can be these moments where it’s like, am I being too harsh on someone? Am I being too judgmental, coming from a trauma place? But yet, it’s a noted moment.
Elmo Painter-Edington: Yes.
Karen Yates : Alright, so we’re just gonna put this here — not like I’m waiting for this person to prove that they’re, you know, a real red flag person. But I will do that myself. I’m like, alright, that’s interesting. Okay, that could be this, but it could be this. And then allowing everything to just play out as it needs to. And then getting more information.
Elmo Painter-Edington: Green flags should always way outweigh any other flags. Like, red means stop. That’s kind of another thing that the follow-through on that is that if you see a red flag, if this is a hard no, red means stop. That means you might need to break up with this person. Right? And like, you know, get some distance from them. So, following through the action step is really, really important.
Karen Yates : You know, you’re saying something — I’m just sort of laughing over here. I’m thinking about myself. Like, okay, you know, five red flags, one green flag — look at the green flag! Oh, my God, there’s a green flag, that’s awesome!
Elmo Painter-Edington: No, girl!
Karen Yates : Oh, my gosh, so many great points, Clark and Diane.
Diane Long : So, I mean, for me, so much of healthy relationships is this piece of discernment. And this sounds a lot like what I teach in sex-positive self-defense — like, making sure that you’re speaking the same language. Because some people, yellow means ‘I need to slow down,’ right? I don’t know what I want. I always tell people, hear the ‘no’ in “I don’t know.” Maybe I need more space, maybe I need more time, maybe I need to build more trust, right? For some people, yellow light means plow right through that light, right? You use momentum to get through it, right? Because I don’t want to deal with whatever’s coming up. So, actually talking about what those things mean to you.
I also think that it can be really helpful to get in touch with personal values, personal needs and values, like, outside of relationships in general, and do regular check-ins about that. And I do this exercise with people a lot where I’ll have a list of like, common needs and values or whatever, what’s most important to you in relationship right now. Right? And if it’s trust, then you want to be maybe attending to, are people following through with what they say they’re going to do? Right? Do people have consistency between their actions and their words? If you’ve been in a lot of relationships where you’re feeling disrespected, then looking for those signs of respect. And it’s also looking on purpose for the things that actually want to help you deepen and build relationship, and asking for those things. Having a sense of my personal values is like a compass that I can come back to. And it’s not something somebody can take away from me. So gaslighting is a lot harder if you’re clear about what you want and need and what you value; if you’re clear about your own intentions in relationships. Some of that work around self-awareness, I think, can be super helpful. And also recognizing that these patterns show up. So when I first heard this question, I was thinking about, I have less experiences of emotional abuse in my own life, and more in interpersonal relationships, like intimate relationships, and more experience of that kind of abuse in work settings. Because in my own abuse history, there was a lot of abuse with people who had role authority. And so, I found myself getting into job situations where I felt undervalued, or micromanaged, or something like that. And after a number of these — and partly, it’s the not-for-profit world, [laughing] but after a number of these, I was like, okay, the common denominator is me. Like, there’s something happening here where I’m working out this pattern of not feeling valued, or not feeling respected, or this kind of thing. And it’s also a pattern that a lot of people struggle with in leadership, I think. Founder syndrome and micromanaging, and having a hard time letting go, you know, which is a different kinds of wounding, right? So sometimes you’re meeting people and their patterns, but helpful for me to be like, there’s something going on that I want to change. So this person writing in and saying, ‘This is a pattern I don’t want to repeat’ is already huge, right? Like, there was something that was happening where I’m not feeling respected in a relationship; I want this to be different. And so then, I think finding role models of that is really helpful.
One of the most healing things in your life, I think, can be to have a positive relationship. You know, to have something positive to compare to what wasn’t happening before. But yeah, so I just just want to stress the importance of being able to recognize that you’re wanting something to be different, right? And then get support around that — whether it’s friends, whether it’s couples you admire, whether it’s a therapeutic setting. And I can’t say enough about the somatic work too, really working through the body, and the stories that the body holds. Because those patterns, a lot of times are so deeply embedded. And this is where I think, you know, things like training in assertiveness and self defense, you know, helps us train our bodies to be able to have more tools in the toolbox. So we’re not only avoiding conflict, but we can also respond in the moment. We can have access to our voice, we can have access to a felt sense of choice and an ability to say no, and to deflect and move away from the things we don’t want and to move towards the things that we do.
Karen Yates : Great, great.
Clark Hazel: I love the idea of coming back to your values of what’s important to you, how do you want to feel in a relationship with a person? You know, even coming back to kind of like, how do you want to feel in a scene? Like if this was a kink scenario of like, how do you want to feel? How do we set that container? What are those boundaries around it? And you know, are we moving away from that ideal? Or, you know, those feelings? And if so, do I need to check in with my partner? Is this relationship working? And just using, like you said — I really liked that — that compass and kind of anchor and bring it back, of like, is this serving my needs? And is this getting me closer towards my ideal of a healthy relationship? And I’m so happy that this person is in therapy and actively seeking out changing patterns, using a therapist to kind of break it down, of, like you said, Elmo, finding green, yellow and red flags. And even utilizing friends who’ve probably seen you go through this pattern before. You know, over coffee, someone could be like, oh, that kind of sounds familiar to your past partner. And sometimes we don’t catch that, and we’re like, “Ah! So glad that we have coffee on Thursdays.” You know, I wouldn’t have caught that maybe. So I think having people in your life that you trust that you’re able to share with and use as a sounding board, whether that’s a therapist or a friend, or trusting yourself with like, this feels eerily similar to past relationships. I want to look into that a little bit deeper.
Karen Yates : So what sort of advice would you give to this person around that, just the first steps into dating? Like, would you say, oh, go immediately to a dating app? Would you say — is it depending on what this person’s preferences are? Would you say keep it simple?
Clark Hazel: I guess it depends on preference. Like also, you know, with queer folks, like, yeah, I mean, apps are where it’s at, right? If they’re a kinky person, try going to munches and classes, and meeting folks through that way. I mean, I’m a believer in kink, especially when there’s trauma involved. It’s pretty revolutionary. I felt like my relationships have significantly changed now that I’ve been in the kink community and with other kinky folks, you know, having check-ins with partners, discussing safety measures — and so intentional, right? Like setting scenes with people, playing. There’s a lot of intentionality in the kink scene. And so, I feel like if this person’s kinky, I think kink could be really good way of building safety and trust, and having community around them and starting out, you know, going to classes and building trust in that way before jumping into a date, where I have to figure out, like, do I want to drink? Do I not want to drink? There’s so many factors going into dating, and having it already set up as a date with the intention of dating, as opposed to going out in the community and doing fun things and meeting people as friends and building up into a relationship. So I guess it’s like, wherever you’re at in your healing journey, whatever the vibe is, trust your gut.
Diane Long : To just pick up on that piece of building community — you know, I’m a big proponent of healing in community and working in community. You know, everything from community-based acupuncture to community-based healing, to theater of the oppressed, or authentic movement, or contact improv, or improv for anxiety, or whatever it is. Part of, like, what I think I’ve had to do in my own life, is rebuild the capacity to be in relationship. And I did that through a lot of classes and therapeutic contexts in group settings, and being able to feel comfortable being in my body and expressing myself, and in particular, expressing boundaries and limits, and stuff like this. So, I think that’s a great counter, also to individualism. I think trauma can be so isolating, right? And so, to actually be able to engage in stuff that’s maybe giving you tools that you feel like you’re missing. So, if you feel like you have a hard time setting limits, then doing something that’s going to help you with your assertiveness and doing it in community, so that you’re sharing skills. There’s sometimes, like, you know, what do they call it? Like, speed dating for introverts or something? You know, if you’re more introverted, then, you know, seeking that out. And having fun, having fun with what we might think of as some of our limitations, I think. But I think we can build a lot of capacity that helps us kind of move towards what we want. And I’m also maybe, you know, significantly older than some folks here, too. Like, I’ve never used a dating app. I’m trying to, like, work up to that idea. I might be too private! But I think, you know, the types of collective experiences — I think sacred sexuality is a great place, too, if you can find classes in Tantra and intimacy that are going to be more, you know, more gender-inclusive, and that kind of thing. It also teaches tools for intimacy, and I think gives people more ways of connecting, and I think builds some of those skills around confidence and kindness.
I love the idea of, like, seeking out classes and things that you’re interested in, and then learning more about that and meeting people there who share your interests. And that can also — you know, going back to the munches thing, can be a really low-risk, low commitment way to just go out and kind of start meeting people. Even if you make friends, and then those friends introduce you to their friends, and one of those friends happens to be super hot and really kind and really, you know, just rad, and you’re you’re like, okay, what’s what’s going on here?
Elmo Painter-Edington: Another piece that I wanted to add is, with my clients, I do a lot of shadow work. And bringing in the shadow pieces to things like this can be really important, especially if you’re afraid of being a bitch, or if you’re afraid of being seen as high-maintenance. To reclaim that. The day I reclaimed the word “bitch,” and I was like, “You know what, maybe I am a bitch!” Because like, I just wanted to be nice to everybody. I wanted to be cool and available. Chill, you know, and all that stuff. And then I was like, but what if I’m a bitch, though? And that’s fine. And then I was like, Oh, now I have permission to have boundaries! You know what I mean? Doing stuff like that. And then, you know, there’s the like, Oh, you’re cool, you’re chill, you’re low-maintenance. And to me, that translates as, like, you don’t have feelings or needs. So like, I reclaimed the title of high-maintenance. And I was like, No, I am high-maintenance. Like, I have feelings. And I have needs, and I have standards. It’s important to have standards, and it’s okay to have standards. So I just wanted to throw those out there too.
Karen Yates : That’s great. I don’t know why — something you were saying reminded me of, you know, when I used to look for jobs, it was like, “Self starter must be blah, blah, blah.” I’m like, oh, self starter — that means “We will not support you in any way! You have to figure it out on your own.” [laughing]
Diane Long : I’m just laughing too. Because when you say, I reclaimed bitch and high maintenance, you’re gonna get a lot more dates with the people that are service-oriented! [laughter] I mean, you can find people like, I want somebody with clear boundaries. Right?
Karen Yates : Great. Well, Clark, Diane, Elmo, thank you so much for this great conversation tonight. I really appreciated your wisdom.
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Well, that’s it, folks. Have a very pleasurable week. Thank you for listening. If you know someone who might be interested in this episode, send it to them. Do you like what you heard? Then give us a nice review on your podcast app. You can follow us on social media @wildandsublime and sign up for newsletters at wildandsublime.com. I’d like to thank associate producer Julia Williams and design guru Jean-Francois Gervais. Theme Music by David Ben-Porat. This episode was edited by The Creative Imposter studios. Our media sponsor is Rebellious Magazine, feminist media, at rebelliousmagazine.com.
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- Elmo Painter-Edington – Somatic therapist and empowerment coach
- Clark Hazel – Individual and couples therapist at Best Therapies
- Diane Long – Empowerment self-defense coach and trauma-informed bodyworker
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