My name is Erin and I’ve worked with survivors of sexual assault for over five years. I’v experienced sexual assault myself. I have told romantic partners about it, I have been believed and not believed. It is from these experiences that I write to you about helping your partner. Whether they are male or female, they need your support so much. We will talk about: safety, trauma, and a few tips to remember along the journey.
Let us start with safety. If your partner has recently been sexually assaulted, make sure to offer that they can get tested for sexually transmitted infections(STI’s). Make sure they have gone to the hospital, if their assault was violent and there is a possibility of damage to any of the body. Your partner will need a lot of emotional support when being seen by medical staff. Their choice was taken away and their body was violated. Every chance you have, advocate for their choice around what does and does not happen to their body.
If their perpetrator is still around, do they want to report it? Do they need your support to report it? If you are unsure of how to approach any of these topics, you can always come back to your love for them, and then see how you are moved to talk to them. Remind them you love them and this is why you are trying to help. Ask them how they feel. Listen, do not interrupt. Take a minute to let what they say sink in before answering, reacting or defending. Respond to them with “I” statements. Ask what they want and figure out together what is best in the moment.
When choice in taken away a deep sense of loss happens. It is enormous and difficult to understand in words. When a person is sexually assaulted, trauma can happen. When someone experiences trauma, this means that their nervous system has been overwhelmed. When this happens, a person can experience many symptoms: roller coaster emotions, easy startle response (jumping from loud noises or someone standing behind you), extreme anxiety, dissociation. These are just some of the symptoms you can have after a traumatic experience.
If your partner is experiencing any of these symptoms, it can be overwhelming for both them and you you. It may feel like you do not know how to help. That is ok. Do not let that stop you from trying. Here are a few things to remember in regard to someone who has experienced trauma and is having symptoms:
- They are not crazy and sometimes feel out of control, they are not intentionally acting out.
- It is hurtful ask them “when are going to get over this?” or tell them “you should be over this by now.” Healing takes time and is usually painful. Trusting that your partner will heal, and communicating this to them, gives them the strength to move through the painful process of healing their wounds.
- Believe them when they tell you about their experience. It is hard enough to speak about it, harder when someone questions if you are telling the truth.
- The percentage of false reports is so low, it rarely, if ever happens.
- All levels of your partners’ being can be affected; mind, spirit and body. It is not uncommon for previously religious or spiritual people to falter in their faith. This may be a hard thing for you too, if you had some of the same beliefs as your partner. Again, remind yourself that you love them, and that something terrible has happened to them. They are not a bad person for questioning their beliefs; it is just something that happens sometimes when people experience trauma. It is also un-helpful if you try to push them back into their old beliefs. Give them space to figure things out and ask what they want support around. Trust them.
- You can suggest therapy or another healing art; but do not push it. Your partner will know when they are ready. They may need more time than you would think, but remember, they need to make their own empowered choice.
- Counseling is a wonderful way to address symptoms of trauma. Body based therapies work really well with traditional talk therapy. Here are few examples of body based counseling: Sensorimotor Psychotherapy, Somatic Experiencing, EMDR, Hakomi. It is also a great idea to do other things to work with body and spirit, for example: Core Synchronism, acupuncture, Intuitive healing, energy work. I’ve provided links for some of the above for practitioners that I highly trust and know do integrative work.
We are always moving toward health. Sometimes we get in our own way, but if we allow our natural healing processes to take place, and this may sometimes look like a spiral more than a straight line, the body mind and spirit know what to do to come into balance.
This list is not exhaustive. You will come across things that work and do not work for you. Use your intuition and always come from love.
If you and your partner are experiencing tremendous shifts in your relationship and are struggling, I can help. I work with couples where one or both partners have experienced sexual assault. Contact me to set up your free 15 minute phone consultation.