Author’s note: This article discusses sexual assault and dating violence.
Despite common misconceptions online and in media punditry, being sexual assaulted or abused doesn’t mean writing off dating and sex forever. Even if it takes time to recover, many survivors do date after assault.
I was in an unstable and unhealthy relationship for well over a year. Even though I began dating after my assault, I still was guarded and unwilling to open up fully to people, even close friends and family. For a long time, I didn’t tell my partner about some of the pain I was enduring because I didn’t want to burden him with it. I would harbor feelings of guilt and a shame, and sometimes try and shut him out so he wouldn’t be affected by my problems.
Being sexual again was also difficult. They were some acts from my past that left me scared, and I would tense up and panic if my partner accidentally did something similar. Sex could give me anxiety, fearing that I might be triggered. It could also make me feel guilty or ashamed. Yet other times, I was more confident in myself and felt safe to express my sexual desires.
My recovery was an emotional roller coaster but I got through thanks to the support of my partner, who made sure to remind me that I was loved and supported, even when I felt alone. My partner was able to work with me through much insecurity, and it helped us build the strong stable relationship we now have.
With one in five women likely to be assaulted in their lifetimes, and one in 33 men, there’s a high chance that the person you fall in love with might be a survivor. For those of you who are dating someone brave enough to date after abuse or assault, here are five things to know about what that person is going through.
1. I Love You, Even If I’m Pushing You Away
All relationships are about learning how to be intimate, and to some degree, vulnerable. But that can be difficult for survivors, particularly those who were in abusive relationships, because last time they were in vulnerable position, they were hurt.
Survivors can be more cautious or nervous about relationships, and it may not be caused by anything you did. A cold shoulder or some distancing may be due to the fear of being hurt again. The key is to be supportive, and reminding your loved one they’re in a safe space.
2. I May Tell You Everything, I May Not
Even though many people knew I was a survivor, few knew the exact story, and it was months before I told my partner the details of my assault. Every person recovers in a different way. Some people need to talk about their trauma to get it off their chest. Others would rather forget the incident and never speak of it again.
You don’t know how to person you love is going to react. That can mean sometimes mean listening about horrible incidents that will make your blood boil, but could also mean time sitting in silence wondering what’s going through your partner’s head. Communication between partners is important, but it doesn’t mean you should necessarily ask what happened, even if you’re inquiring out of concern. It’s important to let your partner know that they can tell you anything, but they don’t need you if they don’t want.
3. You Can’t Solve It All
If you do find out who assaulted your partner, what caused the incident, or the emotional struggles your partner is enduring, you may feel the need to take some kind of action. But no matter how much you care about someone, no matter how much you want to make it better for them, at some point you will have to accept, that you can’t “fix” the situation or the person. I know that can make you feel a little helpless, but you are there to love the person, not save them.
4. Being Sexual Has Its Difficulties
It can be scary to engage in activities that are so similar to the acts that have caused you so much pain. At the same time, being a survivor doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t crave sex anymore. Don’t be surprised if your partner wants to be sexually active, but also don’t be surprised if they have periods where they lack sexual appetite. Know that it’s normal either way. A consenting relationship means both parties respect the others’ wishes, even if your partner’s desires seem inconsistent.
5. Take Care of Yourself
You’re not responsible for your partner’s well-being, but you are responsible for yourself. Don’t forget to focus on yourself and your needs. Recognize the pain you may feel, and don’t feel ashamed if you need to take a step back or take some time for yourself. Engaging in self care is good for both you and the one you love.
What other advice do you have for supporting a partner who’s a survivor of sexual assault or violence? Let us know in the comments.
Cover image courtesy of Shutterstock.