Supporting a Partner who has Experienced Sexual Trauma
The woman you love has revealed that she has been sexually traumatized and it may feel like a bomb has dropped; there’s anger, sorrow, grief, and so many other unexplained emotions building in you. You cannot imagine someone hurting her and your first reaction may be “how can I fix this? What do I do?” Your instinct to protect your tribe has kicked in and you’re ready to go to battle. Although this is incredibly admirable, your partner does not need a knight in shining armor to come to her rescue, instead you are both embarking on a journey of healing that requires time, patience, safety, and communication.
How much time? Well that is completely dependent on processing and circumstance. Is your partner in therapy and/or has she worked through the trauma in a safe and healthy manner? If your partner hasn’t done these things, then it might be worth it to gently encourage her to take that step. This might also include helping her find the right therapist who specializes in sexual trauma and being supportive of her attending sessions and actively participating in the therapeutic process.
Patience is key when you are in a relationship, partnership, or marriage with someone who has been hurt sexually. There will be times when your partner may not want to be touched or they are sensitive to your physical affection. It is incredibly important that you do not take this personally. It may feel like your partner’s lack of desire for intimacy has something to do with you and it could be that she genuinely wants you, but maybe that day she was triggered by a TV show or a terrible flashback of the event, and now she’s in a negative headspace. Being patient and communicating can look like taking a step back, removing your expectations from your partner, and asking “how can I support you in this moment?” She may not always know the answer to that question, but I am sure she will appreciate you recognizing that she is struggling and for offering help.
A safe partner is a thriving partner. When a woman has been violated in such a terrible way it is important that she feels safe with the person she loves. Safety looks different for everyone and this gives you another opportunity to ask how you can help your partner feel safe and what makes her feel unsafe. Some women get triggered by being in large crowds or groups of people, especially if there are strangers present. Maybe the two of you can come up with a safe word for situations where others are around. For example, when she says “pineapple” you both know that she is uncomfortable or needs to leave the current setting. This gives her the opportunity to maintain privacy by not having to explain what’s going on and allows you two to get away and talk about what was triggering for her. As with all things trauma-related, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach for being there for your partner.
This is immensely important in understanding the intricacies involved with knowing what works for her, how her mood and desire for intimacy may fluctuate on a daily basis, and when your presence is all she needs. It can feel incredibly frustrating not knowing when your partner might get triggered and also feeling helpless to it all when you truly just want to take her pain away.
At Mind Works Counseling Services in Lubbock, TX we not only specialize in treating clients who have experienced sexual trauma, but we can also join you and your partner in understanding how to be the healthiest individuals for yourselves and each other.
To learn more about our specialization in trauma counseling, click here.
To schedule an appointment or ask us a question, click here.