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How to Help Your Girlfriend Cope With a Bad Relationship From the Past

by Anna Green, studioD

The National Domestic Violence Hotline describes dating after a violent relationship as “nerve-wracking and complicated.” When a girlfriend has been through a bad relationship in the past, she may struggle with trust issues and feel apprehensive to open up to you. If her bad relationship was abusive, she may struggle to accept affection and love. She might also live with anxiety issues or depression that can affect your relationship with her.

Respect Her Limits

If you know your girlfriend struggles with residual issues from a bad relationship in the past, learn about any triggers she has. For example, if she gets anxious when people raise their voices or approach her from behind, respect these boundaries. Additionally, WebMD explains that women who have experienced severe trauma often have a low sex drive or a complete aversion to sex. If your girlfriend has experienced rape or other serious trauma in her past relationship, do not be pushy or try to persuade her to do anything with which she is not comfortable. Respect that it may take time for her to recover fully and be open to physical intimacy.

Display Empathy

Even if you do not understand why your girlfriend cannot cope well with the issues from her past relationship, showing empathy is an important key in helping her recover. For instance, let her know that you care about her pain and are there to support her if she wants to talk. You can also show empathy through kind gestures, such as getting her favorite foods or taking her on relaxing day trips.

Understand Her Needs

Since all women's responses to bad relationships are different, take time to ask your girlfriend about what she needs and expects from you. Although she may not be ready to tell you all the details about her bad past relationship, talk to her about what she wants from your relationship and what she needs to feel safe, happy and secure. It may also be helpful for you to learn more about the dynamics of the bad relationship. For example, if she was physically abused in the past, seek out information on its long-term effects.


Dating a girl who has come out of a bad relationship may require patience. The website Help Guide advises loved ones of abuse victims to "remember that everyone’s response to trauma is different.” Before she has recovered from the hurt of her past relationship, she might move slower than other girls and may not open up as readily as girls who have not been in bad relationships.

About the Author

Anna Green has been published in the "Journal of Counselor Education and Supervision" and has been featured regularly in "Counseling News and Notes," Keys Weekly newspapers, "Travel Host Magazine" and "Travel South." After earning degrees in political science and English, she attended law school, then earned her master's of science in mental health counseling. She is the founder of a nonprofit mental health group and personal coaching service.

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