Planning a wedding while dealing with the emotions of being a domestic abuse survivor

December 16 | Guest post by Kelly Pinkerton
Photo by AaronCC BY 2.0

I have gone from being a young bride, to a survivor of domestic abuse, a divorcée, a fiancée, and now I find myself planning a wedding again.

A wedding is supposed to be a happy experience. For me, this doesn't seem to be the case. With my looming nuptials I can't help but feel emotionally and physically drained. I remind myself every day that "he isn't my first husband."

All my original expectations of marriage were shattered less than 24 hours after I said yes.

I thought I would spend the rest of my life with my first husband; instead I spent the ensuing months living in my idea of hell. I was young, naive, and on reflection I can see the cracks in our relationship before we married. With a bit of wisdom and age, I am glad to have moved on to a healthy relationship. I have overcome many challenges to get to this stage in my life.

This doesn't stop the dread I feel that history will repeat itself.

I can't change my past but I can make sure it doesn't define my future. My ex-husband put me through some unimaginable times. And when you leave an abusive relationship, the pain doesn't always stop there. I'm learning to let go of this. I am a fighter and I am a survivor!

The physical scars have healed, although the emotional scars will always be present. I expertly hide my feelings from everyone around me. I hate that I have to pretend to be excited sometimes. No one can prepare you for this journey.

I have learned that there is no guidebook to help through these emotions, and most women don't want to talk about this transition. It's okay to feel like this — we are only human after all. But, let's talk about it now.

Who else is planning a wedding while dealing with the emotions of being a domestic abuse survivor? What advice would you have to give to others in the same position?

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  1. We are approaching year 6 in marriage. While planning our wedding, I knew more of what I didn't want than what I did. Really, the wedding is a blip on my timeline, and my advice is directed more towards marriage and overall wellbeing. I highly recommend therapy, counseling, and/or a support group. I have several friends who attend Al-Anon as an alternative to paying for therapy. A huge problem for me was trusting my own judgement again, so it helped hearing from non-biased persons. It has taken a long time to feel normalish. I struggle with ptsd and have found a daily system that helps keep things smooth, including exercise, avoiding stimulants, meditation, breathing exercises, writing a lot, medication, and positive affirmations. Everyone is different, but it is definitely worth finding what helps you feel safe and healthy.
    Your partner may also find it beneficial to discuss any complications with someone knowledgeable. My husband has had a lot of patience while I continue to heal. I don't know if I will finish healing, but it helps to know he wants the best for me. I have learned that I need certain things to feel safe. I can ask him (or other appropriate persons) for help, and he has the choice. I am ultimately responsible for meeting those needs. Denying those needs and ignoring triggers (because I should be over it) did a lot of damage.
    I hope that is helpful.
    PS: I spent some time in Newcastle as a teenager and loved it. I hope to return with family in tow.

    6 agree
  2. I am a wedding photographer – and im not here to promote my business – but work for me was very very difficult in the aftermath of leaving an abusive marriage…there were so many mixed feelings – while I love my work – for a time, it was a constant reminder of my own failed marriage.

    I would find myself crying after every shoot because, at first, I could not wrap my mind around my own marriage experience and wonder what I had done to deserve that…prior to leaving my marriage – after an assignment, I would have to hear my ex say – "oh great, another wedding where you can compare what an asshole I am" or "all these weddings are giving you an unrealistic expectation of what marriage is" – it was an emotionally grueling head space to be in…going to work in an environment full of happiness and love and then having to go home where I was scared and nervous of when the next attack would be..what would trigger the next attack…

    Finally, when it was over – i was just drained, i felt broken and I could not see a future where things were better bc I was scared that I might find myself in that situation again.

    I have learned how to manage this anxiety. I have learned that my love of my craft should not be tainted by own marriage experience.

    And everyday Im reminding myself to continue to believe in myself, to be my own super fan and that its ok to have all these feelings

    16 agree
  3. I am a survivor of sexual, physical, and emotional abuse from past partners. I was previously engaged (although not quite publicly at the time) to a guy who managed to scare me out of leaving – all the way across an ocean. It was terrifying. He still tries to scare me 5+ years later just to remind me he's in control. He's not. It's taken me a lot of time in therapy to cope with it.

    Therapy has been really helpful because I don't want to make my FH feel as though I don't trust him but he understands my scars because he left an abusive relationship as well. He "gets" it. Sometimes it's hard to explain things to your family or friends when they don't "get it" and they are insisting on something but you just have to protect yourself and hope they can "get" your need for boundaries.

    You are strong. You are a fighter. And I'm glad you found someone who appreciates that.

    11 agree
  4. I'm here now, and I feel you. My first husband was abusive. This IS scary, even though this relationship and this person I am are very different. Also, my identity has been "solo strong mama" for so long, that I had a really hard time accepting being partnered again.

    8 agree
  5. Really glad OBB ran this post there are a lot of us survivors out there- and a lot who find their happy ending. My fiancé is amazing at helping me heal and giving me the strength and room to move forward. Early on when I was considering dating I made my nearest and dearest promise to give me their honest opinions as in the aftermath of my split we realised how many had concerns that hadn't been voiced. That's really helped me trust my judgement this time, as did a good therapist. Ptsd sucks and if you have it your fiancé may need some support to. To all who have reached this point in their journey congrats and may your happy ending be peaceful and true!

    9 agree
    • I'm a survivor… What are the symptoms of PTSD for a domestic violence survivor. I'm dealing with severe anxiety and mental difficulties. Never considered PTSD. My mom mentioned she thought I had this but as a result of previously being in the military. I assured her no that is not what is causing me to be this way. Now after reading all these comments, I wonder if it's from 10 years of DV. Btw I am happily remarried to a very healthy guy. But I still struggle with my emotional scars…

      2 agree
      • Late, but the best way to get diagnosed with PTSD is to see a specialist. PTSD can take a number of forms and often does not look like you see in Hollywood, so you can take quizzes online and so on, but they can be quite inaccurate.

        (I have PTSD from the death of my husband, and it took about a year and a half before someone even thought to point out that maybe I SHOULD see someone to find out what was going on – and it took the specialist about 10 minutes to go 'yup, that's a form of PTSD.' I also went to a specialist who had experience with people with PTSD from my kind of background – a specialist who deals primarily with people with PTSD from warzones may not be as attuned to the signs and symptoms of PTSD in someone who has it from an abusive relationship, just because the way the PTSD influences behaviors and thoughts may be different.)

        1 agrees
  6. Planning a new wedding and (especially) imagining a new life with your partner can be terrifying and cathartic. I was married for almost 14 years to a man who did not become abusive until late in our marriage. (It started about 10 years in.) He was cruel in every way imaginable. He caused me to become physically disabled and to have PTSD.

    After we separated, I fell in love with a wonderful, amazing, sweet, feminist, non-violent man, whom I have known for a while. We are engaged and everything about our relationship seems healthy.

    Yet, I cannot help feeling afraid of what will change after we are married. I have found myself dealing with family and friends who respond to some if my fears by questioning my trust in my new fiancé. It has nothing to do with trust, and it has nothing to do with my fiancé. It is me dealing with the scars of the past. When I have my freak out moments, I can go to my fiancé and talk to him about it. He is understanding and knows that I really do not expect him to become abusive.

    I guess my advise would be to talk with your partner. Tell them how you are feeling. A loving, secure partner will be supportive–and will not accuse you of holding the your past against them. (My Love sings "Elephant Love Melody" from "Moulin Rouge" when I am having a rough day.)

    6 agree
    • I am in similar shoes – my ex (a guy) did not become really horrible until 10 years into the marriage. Then, for about two years, it was HELL. Looking back, it's not like he was not abusive previously – he always had scary anger outbursts – but I was just much more willing to always appease and do what he wanted. Then… I was no longer willing to constantly appease, and it broke down.

      I am now very happily engaged to a same-sex partner. It happened very quickly; we are perfect for each other; but I freak out a lot about the wedding issue. I made a huge mistake once – am I making it again? My first wedding was hell (his parents were abusive to me, including yelling at me during the wedding itself), so wedding prep brings up a lot of triggers. We do discuss everything, so that part is golden.

      2 agree
    • Oops! I did not think this one posted because I had to attend to my demanding cats. I certainly did not mean to post this and the other one! Sorry!

      1 agrees
  7. I am a survivor of domestic abuse, and I have been able to move on with my new husband. Just remember that one bad experience doesn't make all men bad and that as long as you take your time you can find a good man that will treat you right.

    2 agree
  8. I wasn't ever married, but I was in a de facto relationship with an abusive male. I came from a family which time and time again was let down by men in our lives. I grew an intense fear of males and this grew worse when I went through my own abusive relationship. Moving forward a few years, I'm now engaged (getting married 28th Feb!) and am finding myself fearing the worst sometimes. My fiance is everything I could have ever dreamed for, he really is the one. Deep down the underlying past is affecting me though, the idea of feeling trapped is a strong fear. I think little things like that will always affect a survivor from domestic abuse because they're shadows from a very dark time. If I hadn't built a trusting friendship with my fiance before the three years of hell, I don't think we'd be here now. We're a very happy couple, but sometimes I have feared my past could ruin a future.

    3 agree
    • I've had these fears too. I'm very happily married but I still have ugly dreams about my emotionally abusive ex. Being able to be honest with my husband about this stuff has really helped. I can just say "Blerg, I had another dream about C and now I'm in a bad mood," and I'm grateful that he is super understanding and doesn't get annoyed by it (being in that bad relationship for so long means that I sometimes expect the worst).

      That's probably the very best advice I can offer the OP, other than to get counseling if necessary–talk to your partner about this stuff! It's a part of who you are.

      4 agree
  9. Thank you for putting it into words, although never married to my abuser, we were engaged and he put on this perfect guy persona around other people, my mum could see beneath my fake smile that things were not good. And after 4 years together and 1 year engaged, I managed to break away, I always have in my heart that fear of falling into the same cycle. Even tho my partner now is so different and would never treat me like he did, any teny tiny thing that reminds me of how he treated me, starts me falling apart and questioning everything we have. Lucky he is super understanding and helps me deal with everything I'm feeling.

    1 agrees
  10. Thank you for sharing this with us. As a surviving victim of domestic violence who is planning a wedding (an a new marriage!), I can empathize with you. And the best advice I can give is to talk with your partner and shut down anyone who tries to make you feel guilty for how you feel. You can tell yourself that your new partner is nothing like your old one, but that really is not the issue. Of course they aren't! And you are not comparing your new to your old. You are dealing with deep trauma and you have every right to feel as you do. My ex-husband is the complete opposite of my fiancé, and I have no fear of my fiancé; however, I find myself questioning everything. I spoke to friends about it and they replied by asking if I do not trust my fiancé–and some ask if he has hurt me. He is the sweetest, gentlest, most understanding man in the world, so I admitted my fears to him, making it clear that they are residual emotions that I cannot help and that really have nothing to do with him. He responded by listening to me, reassuring me of my safety, and validating my feelings. (He sings "Elephant Love Melody" to me when I am having a particularly difficult day, as a sweet reminder of what we have come through together.) I am physically disabled because of my ex-husband, and suffer from PTSD. I sometimes start planning something for my new wedding and have flashbacks, even though the ceremonies and plans are nothing alike. I cannot help it. Thankfully, my fiancé understands that it is my past not my future that does this to me.

    Be honest, trust your partner, and remember that the past does not dictate the future.

    5 agree
  11. I'm not currently seeing anyone because of all the abusive relationships I've had. I was even engaged to a guy who would constantly abuse me both verbally and physically. I've dated three guys and one girl and they've always ended up being the same. The final straw for me was when my ex started yelling at me and then tried to break my arm. It's been eight years and I still don't feel like I'll ever be ready for a relationship… What has helped me somewhat are my friends, family, and the ability to talk to people about some of the things that happened. If you find one or two people you trust and that understand you they will be the best ones to talk to when you start thinking about the past. My roommate knows everything about my past and I can tell her anything. She has been the biggest support for me. I'm sure some day I'll be willing to open up to a new relationship it just won't be too soon and I'll know what to look out for…

  12. How awful to have not healed and moved forward.
    I fit the first paragraph to a tee then I'm like.. Nope.. No need to pretend I'm excited! I want to scream it from the rooftops daily I'm getting married! I'm
    Not scared at all.. Because this time I know my partner. I trust my partner and I adore my partner. I made a good decision. (I'm speaking purely for myself here) whoever wrote this has not recovered and needs more help to achieve this.

  13. I'm in this exact situation, except i had a son with my first husband, so i have to see him occasionally (turns out, if you never called the cops on your abusive husband, the abuse has no bearing on visitation with a child). I also have an extremely emotionally abusive mother. Fortunately (or kind of unfortunately?) my fiancee had an emotionally and physically abusive father, so we understand each other very well. We both get paranoid at times, and sometimes we look for fights because, before each other, abrasive relationships were all we knew. I feel so lucky to have a fiancee in my life that i can keep a running dialogue with about my extremely deep feelings and fears. My maid of honor especially hasn't gone through anything near what I've been through; she had a very happy family life and good relationships. I can't exactly lean on her so much, so i count my blessings that i have a man i can fully lean on when i need to be afraid or uncomfortable and cry. It's so hard to get rid of the fear.

    1 agrees

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