Elaine remembers meeting Scott ten years before; he was handsome, successful, and “perfect on paper.
“If I could have designed a man, it would have been him,” the 38-year-old writer says with a reserved laugh. “I really had no idea what I was in for.”
Elaine, a shy, quiet brunette with an affinity for Jane Austen novels and afternoons at the neighborhood café, says she was taken with the blond, blue-eyed philosophy professor, who dressed like a European and spoke four languages.
Elaine says she and Scott fell in love almost overnight; he started talking about marriage a week after they’d met. She figured it was just the way it was now – the two of them had both exited unhappy marriages a few years before, and was convinced that his certainty over their relationship had everything to do with knowing what he didn’t want. “I just knew he wanted me,” she explains. “There’s no way you could have that fire and that connection and not have it be real.”
But within weeks of meeting, between conversations about wedding plans and where in the world they would live, red flags started to fly.
Scott made snide comments one day over some of the content Elaine had written for a national magazine about relationships. At first, Elaine brushed them off. But when he started making jabs at how much she “seemed to know about men,” Elaine was hurt.
“He kind of ripped into me about how experienced I must be, how many men I must have been close to to know that kind of detail,” says Elaine. “But then he softened, and was like, ‘Honey, I just love you so much and don’t want to imagine you ever having been with anyone but me.’ I thought it was so romantic how protective he was.”
As the weeks went on, the behavior got worse.
Scott began to criticize Elaine’s work, which was mainly about relationships and sexual health. He criticized her clothing, once asking her why she was wearing a dress to go to the grocery store. He searched her browser history, questioning some of her research and accusing her of writing content simply to lure other men in.
Slowly, Elaine gave in.
She started wearing more conservative clothing, even though she never dressed provocatively before, choosing to wear her hair down with minimal makeup to avoid Scott’s wrath. She started giving up work, and tried to take on technical writing, which according to Scott, was “safer.” Sexually, she would give in to all of Scott’s whims, and took his abuse when she initiated intimacy and he wasn’t “in the mood.”
“If I said no to his demands, I’d be in for it,” she admits. “He would ask me why I never started anything, so when I would lean in to him for sex, he would get so angry and withdraw. It was like I could never make him happy. I just didn’t know what to do.
“I was scared all the time.”
When Scott took a new position at a foreign school, it was Elaine’s way out. He couldn’t say no to the job, and she wasn’t approved for a visa. The relationship swiftly ended.
While that came as a relief to Elaine, what she didn’t expect was the trauma she’d experience after they severed ties.
Abusive relationships are traumatic, and their effects can be long-lasting. Those who experience sexual, emotional or physical abuse may have a different response to trauma than people who’ve experienced other kinds, but it’s no less damaging. In some cases, it tends to repeat itself.
Many people who’ve lived through PTRS tend to continue to revisit the trauma, experiencing it over and over and over again, which prevents the individual from moving ahead and learning how to build healthy, safe relationships with new people.
Is PTRS the same as PTSD?
Some things are similar when it comes to PTRS and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), but the one main difference is that those with PTSD tend to employ avoidance. Those with PTRS don’ t – or can’t – avoid reminders of the trauma, leaving them wholly and fully and continually aware of what went on.
PTRS is not yet a formal mental health diagnosis, but it’s regarded as a real experience by many experts. It includes a response of rage or terror toward the abusive partner, as well as intrusive symptoms that happen after the abuse has occurred and ended. Intrusive symptoms include flashbacks, rumination, nightmares, fear, emotional distress, shaking, palpitations, sweaty palms or other anxious symptoms.
Those with PTRS may be unable to sleep or concentrate, or find themselves panicked or angry. They may think they don’t deserve a healthy, happy relationship, and find it challenging to trust new romantic partners (or even friends and loved ones). They take blame for the trauma, isolating themselves from anyone they think would never understand. They might also feel unconsciously drawn to unhealthy relationships, repeating the trauma in a new circumstance.
If you think you may be experiencing PTRS, seek the advice of a professional right away, someone compassionate who can offer your guidance and support.