As the partner of a survivor, you may be very important to her in her efforts to deal with the effects of sexual violence. Since this often takes some time, and can affect your relationship, it is important that you get your own support, and look after yourself so that you can best support her.
It is very likely that the sexual aspect of your relationship will change while your partner is dealing with the effects of sexual violence. Be sensitive to her needs in this area, and never ever persuade or cajole her into any contact that she isn’t enthusiastic about. By rejecting sex she is not rejecting you, even though it may feel like it; the associated memories around sexual behaviour, or even touch, may make it too difficult for her to even contemplate this. If this is the case, reassure her that you understand how important that is, and that you assume that sex is off the menu until she says otherwise.
Men whose female partners have suffered sexual violence can have very varied attitudes and responses. They may feel a sense of helplessness or guilt that they were unable to fulfill their role as “protector” and prevent it happening to someone they love. They may feel a great anger towards the perpetrator and consider revenge. They may share their partner’s pain so that they experience some of the same reactions as her: nightmares, sadness, disillusionment with the world.
Sometimes, a man might feel that the perpetrator or abuser has injured him because he has somehow diminished his partner’s value by abusing her. They might stigmatise her and blame her for what has been done to her. They may feel betrayed, ashamed and repulsed. These responses obviously rely on myths about sexual violence, and are deeply unhelpful.
Just as women need to talk about their feelings; so do men. It can be easy to adopt the role of the strong partner, supporting the woman with no apparent hurt to you, but in reality, any partner is going to face some difficult feelings. It is very important that you get support, so that any issues you are dealing with don’t end up affecting her recovery.
Women whose female partners have suffered sexual violence can share most of these reactions. There may also be additional concerns, such as wondering how abuse might have affected their partner’s sexuality, or specific issues around relationship dynamics or intimacy. Seeking help may be more difficult if either partner is not “out”, but there are sources of help available. However, it is just as important for you to get your own support as you support her.
Explore the SARSAS and Survivor Pathway websites so that you understand some of the common reactions to sexual violence and what’s myth and fact.
- Explore and challenge your own views about sexual violence.
- Appreciate that there is going to be serious disruption in their life, and that this will probably affect you. Take your needs seriously and seek your own support.
- Take every opportunity to remind them that you love them for who they are, and that she/he is still the person she/he was before that happened to her/him. All her/his reactions are normal reactions to an abnormal situation.