You suspect your partner has been sexually abused
You’re in love. He/she is the most amazing person you’ve ever met. You’re on top of the world. Every minute you’re together you want to touch, to be as close to each other as humanly possible.You make plans together. A weekend trip, then maybe meeting the family, and then…
You notice certain changes
After a while things start to change. When you put you arm around your partner’s shoulder he/she jerks back. An intimate touch is met by a cool response. Your partner has moodswings. He/she can combust for no apparent reason. Her/his family relations are vague. He/she hates someone and won’t tell you why.
You suspect sexual abuse
One out of every four girls and one out of every six boys are sexually abused before the age of 16. With numbers like that it’s not a far stretch to think your partner may have a history of sexual abuse. You pay attention and the more you see, the more you suspect child sexual abuse.
How do you talk about sexual abuse
You could of course confront your partner: “You act like you’ve been sexually abused”, when your partner resists intimacy. That’s not a very tactful or supportive way to go about it. After all, he or she may just not be in the mood to be touched, without ever having been sexually abused. The important thing is to let them know they can talk to you about it if anything is bothering them.
Sexuality is a hard topic to talk about for the best of us. Let alone, when an abuser has always told you to keep it a secret. Still, it helps any relationship, to open up to each other and let the other know what you like/expect and where your boundaries are.
Don’t talk about it in the bedroom
The best place to talk it over, is where there’s no expectation of sex. Like when you’re having coffee at the kitchentable and your neighbors walk by hand in hand. Or something about sexuality is on the tv. Find a time when it’s a neutral topic. When there’s no ‘threat of sex’ in the air.
Don’t make it a huge deal…try to be comfortable about it
This is your sweetheart, you are in love. You can share these things. At the same time don’t push it if your partner feels very uncomfortable. Let them know you’re there and they can bring it up whenever they want to. Take the time to listen if they talk or when there’s just silence, allow that to be.
Take care of yourself
Just as important as feeling comfortable telling a personal story, is how you react to the story. It’s definitely not easy to hear someone you love has been sexually abused! It’s okay to tell them: “Look I truly appreciate you telling me all this. I need to get my head around what you told me so far, can we please leave the rest for another time? I love you but I love myself too and I need time to process this first.” That is just taking care of yourself and incidently, it’s a good example of how to set healthy boundaries.
So now I know. My partner was sexually abused. Now what do I do?
Now you can start the healing journey together. You can help look for the right therapist/therapy. Inform yourself about the long term effects of child sexual abuse. But, just as important, keep talking, keep listening. Keep talking about what triggers, about setting and maintaining healthy boundaries. Talk about what feels good and what you’re comfortable with as well as what is off-limits.
Healing from sexual abuse is possible
It’s not easy. There will be times when you both will feel discouraged. There will be lots of ups and downs. Are you prepared to take this difficult path together? If you do, don’t forget to take care of yourself. Buckle your seat belt ’cause it’s gonna be a bumpy ride. You’re going to need all the skills you can muster.
Make clear where your boundaries are and stick to them
You’re in this together! You have a say in it, too. Just because your partner has been abused doesn’t mean he/she gets to misbehave at will. All too often people make allowances for their sexually abused partner, that they wouldn’t stand for in any other people. While that may seem kind, it’s really not helping at all. In fact it’s very disempowering to have someone make allowances on account of you having been abused.
For more information about the long term effects of child sexual abuse and how to heal from them, buy the book ‘I Thrive. Healing child sexual abuse’ at Amazon.com