Sexual abuse or assault is arguably the most psychologically damaging occurrence that can happen in a person’s life. The profound impact of the person abused can be seen in one or all of the following symptoms:
Mild, moderate or severe sexual dysfunction, eating disorders, personality and mood disorders, social phobias, intimacy and trust issues, obsessive compulsive disorder, low self esteem, and a variety of different addictions, just to list a few.
But not much has been discussed about the effects sexual abuse has on the people who fall in love with a mate who has been sexually abused or assaulted.
The object of this article is to understand your mate and yourself better – while helping each other heal from the effects of sexual abuse and assault.
We’ve touched on the painful impact sexual abuse could have on your mate, but what about you?
Here are a few examples of what you may be experiencing:
1. You may feel rage against the person who abused your beloved, which can at times affect your peace of mind, ability to concentrate, or sense of overall well being.
2. You may have overwhelming feelings of empathy for the pain your mate went through, and you may feel powerless, because there is nothing you can do to take the pain away. (There are not enough hugs and kisses in the world to make it go away completely, but it helps!)
3. You may be directly affected by your mate’s behavior patterns sexually, mentally and emotionally.
Here are several ways to be supportive of your mate who has been affected by abuse:
1. Realize your mate is not a victim who needs your pity. As a matter of fact, the exact opposite is true. Your mate has survived the effects of abuse and has a tremendous amount of strength. So, treat your mate as the strong, capable and resilient person that they are.
2. Respect your mates “odd” requests, even if they don’t make sense to you. If your mate gets the creeps when she feels facial hair brush against her chin while kissing, it could be the same feeling she experienced from her perpetrator, and it could trigger a flashback. Therefore, you may want to shave before approaching her with a kiss. The same holds true for touching certain areas of the body, such as the throat or inner thighs. Or even the kind of touch you give may be uncomfortable for your mate, who may feel uneasy with a light and breezy touch – or the sensation of a powerful grab.
Another example is about a good friend of mine who was sexually abused. She always covers up with a blanket at night, no matter how hot or cold it is inside. She leaves the television on while sleeping at night because if it is too silent, she will have nightmares about the abuse that happened years ago. If my friend is like your mate, and you need to have complete silence and darkness while you sleep, consider ear plugs and a mask to put over your eyes. Or maybe your mate can wear headphones. Make a list of these “odd” or “quirky” details about your mate – and make a conscious decision to be sensitive to those needs, no matter how irrational they may seem to you.
3. Always respect your mate’s personal boundaries. The tragic consequence of sexual abuse is the aggressive disregard of personal boundaries. This can range from accepting, “No” as an answer for sexual advances – to accepting, “No” as an answer to borrowing your mate’s personal belongings. Your mate needs you to honor their boundaries in as many ways as possible, without whining, arguing or sulking.
4. Do not ask your mate probing questions about the abuse, even if you are the closest person to them in the world. The experience is too painful for them to go into explicit details about. Your mate may feel an overwhelming sense of shame about the abuse, even though it was never their fault. Also, if nobody believed your mate when they came forward with information about the abuse, or worse, if they were blamed for it, or accused of lying, it makes the pain far greater than anyone who has not suffered this form of treatment can imagine. However, if your mate volunteers information about what happened, you can make eye contact and quietly listen.
You can also send non-verbal messages, such as putting your arms around your mates shoulder or holding their hand. When your mate finishes talking, thank them for trusting you enough to share (Because that was a HUGE step for them!) Also, explain you will always be available to listen, if they want to share again. You may also offer to go to counseling or a support group with your mate. However don’t advise your mate to go. Just explain you trust that they know what is best for them, and that you intend to support them 100%, regardless of what decision is made.
5. Not everyone who has been sexually abused gets offended by sex jokes, dirty talk, or playful name calling. But if your mate is a person who finds this behavior distasteful, find as many ways as possible to be polite, gentle and respectful.
6. Love your mate unconditionally. Remember trust and intimacy can be very difficult for a person who has been sexually abused. There is no need for you to be a doormat if your mate lashes out at you, or pushes you away. Just explain you love them very, very much – but that you have no intentions of being mistreated. If you have to distance yourself from your mate temporarily, do it with a tremendous amount of love, not as if you are punishing them for being mean. For instance, gently squeeze their hand and make eye contact before leaving to go for a long drive to cool off. Give your mate space, and allow them to come back to you. Let it be on their terms, because they don’t want to feel like you are “forcing” them to do anything. Send them the non-verbal message you will always love them and you will always be there, and you should find the behavior happening less and less often.
Sexual abuse not only affects the victim and the perpetrator, but everyone who has a relationship with the person who is abused. The reason why we are so attracted to our mates is because we can see what strong, charming, beautiful and amazing people they are, despite what happened to them in the past. We feel inspired by our mates, and wonder how they even have the courage to love. We question if we would have the same courage, had the same thing happened to us. Therefore, we love them, adore them, and do everything in our power to let our mates know that they are safe, cared for and protected. In turn, we become a better person. We strive harder than a person who is in a “normal” relationship to be gentle, kind and respectful. We learn patience, perseverance and understanding – all for the sake of love. And this love transforms both our mate and our self.
In closing, here are some ways you and your mate can share your experience, strength and hope with other people in the world who are hurting. And at the same time, you will form a deeper bond with your mate, heal the effects of sexual abuse, and make the world a better place:
Volunteer for organizations that take a proactive stance against sexual abuse and assault. For instance, protect children’s rights by being their advocate in court hearings.
Send an anonymous donation to a non-profit dedicated to healing the effects of sexual abuse. If such an organization doesn’t exist, create one!
Volunteer to take calls at a crisis center / hotline.
Join either an online community or a brick and mortar one to congregate with other people who know exactly what you are going through, and who have the same resolve to do something about turning the negative experience into a positive one.
A great way to reclaim your personal power and to not feel so helpless about what has happened to you or your mate is to do something in a positive direction to prevent the abuse that is happening right now in the lives of millions on a daily basis.