My relationship with Brad had felt like a bullet going off. A tiny fire in an enclosed space that could change a life in a fraction of a second.
In a brief period of dating, I’d gotten engaged, withdrawn from college in another state, moved in with my new fiancé, and been ghosted by my parents.
It all seemed worth it though because we were “soulmates.” This was a stars-aligned, once-in-a-lifetime, meant-to-be love. We’d had the kind of connection I’d only dreamed of having with another, and I changed my entire life in order to make it work.
Who cares what the cost is when it’s true love!
Until it . . . no longer felt like true love.
Our “passionate” love began to be peppered with “passionate” fights, in which “passionate” was just a nice way of saying “abusive.”
I was ashamed of how and how often we fought, confused too because why did this “soulmate” relationship sometimes feel so painful?
My “soulmate” relationship was really just a trauma bond.
A trauma bond forms when you confuse abuse with love.
Nancy Carbone on Psych Central says this about it, “Emotional abuse is often mistaken for love by those who are trapped in a cycle of abuse in their relationship. Trauma is surprisingly easy to overlook when the abuse masquerades as someone ‘caring’ for you.”
When I met my fiancé, I was looking for a way out. I was deeply depressed and felt stuck at a college in another state I didn’t want to be at. I also didn’t want to return home to live with my parents because my mother was and had always been abusive.
He, on the other hand, seemed like he had his shit together. He was 8 years older and seemed to have his life on track. He was also willing, he told me, to take care of me.
I was drawn to him not out of love, but because I wanted to be rescued.
Likewise, he was likely drawn to me because he wanted someone to be entirely dependent on him to validate his sense of self.
We fell in love with our ideas of one another, ideas that couldn’t hold up in the light of reality.
The more time I spent with him, the more I realized he actually didn’t have his shit together. He had three separate credit cards that were all maxed out, and he seemed to have a gambling problem. Whenever he wasn’t living up to my “knightly” idea of him, I’d lash out at him.
In turn, he had ideas about what my “dependence” should mean. He expected all of his meals to be prepared for him, an impeccably clean home, and sex whenever he asked for it. When I didn’t comply as “gratefully” or as “willingly” as he would have liked, he berated and insulted me.
We swung from bouts of intense love to intense pain. The intermittent rush of adrenaline and euphoria set up a chemical reaction in my brain that I began to crave, not all that different from an addiction.
The intensity of both sides of the pendulum just seemed to contribute to how “fated” I believed our relationship to be.
Most trauma bonded relationships end quickly. Whether yours is/was short or like mine which continued for a year or more, it’s likely this relationship will affect you negatively for years to come.
How do you heal from a trauma bond relationship?
Recognize how a trauma bond is not a healthy relationship.
Your relationship with a romantic partner should be, overall, positive. If you were to add every positive interaction and subtract every negative interaction, you should still have a positive score. You’re going to have disagreements and disputes with your partner. You’re going to be annoyed with your partner, but you should never feel emotionally/mentally obliterated, worthless/depressed, or scared for your safety.
If someone loves us, they help build us up, not knock us down.
When you confuse abuse with love, you’re perpetuating the trauma bond.
Trauma bonds can be intense and long-lasting because your relationship actually altered the chemistry in your brain, made you crave that insanity just as an alcoholic would crave their next drink.
You may need to seek professional help for structure, accountability, and support. Free information and referrals for a mental health counselor or therapist can be found here.
With that help, you’ll next need to:
1. Identify the true basis of your relationship.
I wanted to be rescued, for example, so I found an imagined rescuer.
2. Figure out what red flags you ignored.
When people tell you who they are, listen. My fiancé hinted along the way that he was irresponsible with money and that he had some ideas about relationships that didn’t match up with mine. If I would have listened in the beginning, we wouldn’t have gotten together.
3. Address your ideas about love.
Maybe your father always cheated, so you feel called to do the same and it keeps destroying your relationships. I had to acknowledge that I expected someone to fix my life for me, instead of taking responsibility and fixing it myself.
Trauma bonds can be intense and amazing, but the pain you feel in one is never worth the bliss. Healthy relationships may not seem as “exciting,” but they’ll never give you whiplash. The best way you can avoid trauma bonds in the future is to focus on your own mental health and self-development.
Tara Blair Ball is a certified Relationship Coach & Writer. Follow her on Tiktok along with over 200k others here.
This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.