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Home / Articles / Ask Amanda / Ask Amanda: How Can Men Be Better Partners?

Ask Amanda: How Can Men Be Better Partners?

Mark wants to know how to best support his new partner, a survivor of domestic violence

  • By
  • Dec 04, 2023
Ask Amanda: How Can Men Be Better Partners?

Q: I came to looking for ways to support my partner. I even went to read Jimmy Spooners essay. All great info yet I’m still searching for more help on how to support who I consider my better half. 

We’ve been together for one year now. I found out about the domestic violence about six months into our relationship when I noticed she was always apologizing for the smallest things, things that didn’t need an apology. So, I asked about it and she was open to sharing some of her story. As the next six months continued on there have been periods of pulling away, being short with me, closing in on herself, half-truths and sometimes lies. As I loved harder and maintaining consistency, the truth seemed to be getting further and further away. 

A few weeks back we had a serious conversation which led to us deciding we are better together than apart. I made mistakes along the way that I didn’t have a clue were triggering her. Honesty seems to be there but sharing more of her story seems difficult at times. She has internal thoughts of Am I good enough, I don’t deserve you, you’re too good,” and second-guessing nearly everything. Where can I find help on how to support her through all of this? My Google searches are turning up nothing for support groups for Partners of Domestic Violence. 

Sincerely, Mark


Thank you for writing—I think this is such an important conversation to have. As a new partner to someone with trauma in their past, I can understand how this can feel like a confusing space, especially if you don’t haven’t endured anything similar. She, too, is in a confusing space. It doesn’t matter how long ago the abusive partner was in her life, or how long that relationship lasted. Trauma can have a lifelong impact on a person. Even if a survivor thinks they’ve “done the work” so to speak and healed to a certain extent, there can still be triggers that pop up out of nowhere. Triggers can be a word the abuser always used, like a pet name he might call her when apologizing after a violent incident. It could be a sound, like a slamming door, or a seemingly innocent question like, “Where are you headed tonight?” can take a survivor back to a time when she was being controlled or stalked.

It can also be retraumatizing for a survivor to open up about these moments, to go back to that time and recall what happened. Be aware that trauma can erase memories, or make some memories disconnected. She may remember more as more time goes on, which can be unsettling for her. Opening up can also be difficult because she may not have been believed by someone when she previously disclosed. She may take on feelings of blame or shame, thinking she was responsible somehow for her partner’s abuse. Or she may have been brainwashed by the abuser to believe his abuse was her fault, or that it wasn’t as serious as she remembers—or, that it didn’t happen at all. This is called gaslighting. You can see how untangling the mess abusers leave behind can be both complicated and frustrating. 

I spoke with licensed clinical therapist and certified clinical trauma professional Kimberly Parker, BS about this. She says what may be going on with your partner pulling back is something called “insecure attachment,” and it’s a self-protective measure. 

“This is her way in her mind to keep her safe from being harmed again even when there is no present threat. There are times when she feels vulnerable and, in the past when she was vulnerable, she was abused. The brain is triggered by the familiar situation and tells her to retreat,” says Parker, who suggests that any survivor of domestic abuse seek a trained domestic violence therapist if possible. You may want to provide your partner with some information on EMDR, or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, which could be helpful to “rewire” some of those triggers that your partner is experiencing. 

It's important that you find support as well, Mark. You need to trust your partner to heal in her own time frame, but, as Talia Bombola, certified psychodynamic therapist, says, “It isn’t his role to fix her.” When I brought up your question, she recommended that individual therapy for you might be beneficial. It can help you sort out the feelings you’re having as a support person in this difficult journey. It may also help you to research more about domestic violence and all the different ways that an abuser can assert power and control. This could help you in better understanding some of the triggers your partner is experiencing.

You mentioned you haven’t been able to find a support group for new partners. My search came up empty-handed as well, except for a nonprofit in Australia called BlueKnot that does virtual workshops for supporters. You may want to try that out! Locally, a support group may be something you could suggest to your domestic violence shelter. There are likely other partners in your community who would be interested in forming an in-person or online group. You can find your local shelter here and give them a call. 

You may also want to explore sites like,  A Call to MenShe Is Not Your Rehab or the White Ribbon Campaign, four great resources to learn about healthy masculinity and men helping to end intimate partner violence.

Some time back, I spoke with survivor Kristen Paruginog, founder and former executive director of Break the Silence Against Domestic Violence for an article about relationships after domestic violence. Her new partner, Terry Josiah, is a combat veteran who lives with PTSD. He was able to see parallels between what he was experiencing and what Paruginog was going through. 

The two of them offered up the following advice to couples who are also navigating new relationships after domestic violence: 

  • Never say “Just get over it” or “It wasn’t that bad.” Don’t victim-blame or minimize a survivor’s experience.
  • Practice patience. Dealing with someone who has been through any form of trauma can be trying, so it's important and necessary to be patient.
  • Remember that how you love yourself is how your partner will love you. If you berate yourself and demean yourself, that's how your partner will treat you. If you care for yourself and nurture yourself, your partner will do the same. (Note: This applies to healthy relationships. An abuser is going to abuse whether or not the victim loves themselves, unfortunately.) 
  • Learn your partner’s love language so you can learn how to speak to them in the ways they will listen to the most.
  • Learn what your partner’s triggers are and how to effectively assist them when they are triggered, but also do your best to not be the trigger.

I hope something here resonates. Thank you for doing the work to be a supportive partner. 

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Ask Amanda is meant to offer helpful resources and information about domestic violence. If in crisis, please reach out to your nearest domestic violence shelter for the guidance of a trained advocate.

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