South Eastern Centre Against Sexual Assault & Family Violence

Counselling for partners

For Family & Friends

Tags: Caring for Yourself, Counselling

The importance of counselling for partners in a relationship with someone who is dealing with the effects of childhood sexual abuse cannot be emphasized enough. For most people, counselling is often misunderstood and feared by those who have neither needed it or are aware of its function or many benefits. Even though it can provide a substantial opportunity to cope with emotional issues in everyday situations, it is even more beneficial for partners whom are in a relationship with someone who has dealing sexual abuse. There is so much to learn and understand as a partner and as an individual, from the counselling process and in my relationship with someone who had suffered sexual abuse as a child, counselling provided me with critical information, support and acknowledgement that helped me to survive and prosper both as a partner and as an individual.

It was a number of years into our relationship before either of us were even aware of the long term consequences of my partner's past abuse. Often it maybe the partner who notices that there are issues in the relationship that require outside help and support to ensure the relationship both survives and grows stronger. Before my partner admitted to suffering sexual abuse as a child, our relationship had started to show predictable patterns of conflict and vicarious trauma even though neither of us knew about the consequences of abuse. I knew from past relationships that things were not right in our relationship and the more I questioned the reasons behind our issues, the more effort my partner tried to hide her past.

Most of us are aware that relationships can at times, be stressful, confusing and hard work. Trying to handle emotional issues that normally occur when two individuals choose to commence a partnership together at times may require relationship counselling at a minimum. The dynamics of a relationship where one partner has suffered sexual abuse and is either still unaware of, or is starting to deal with the often unavoidable and unknown effects of trauma, can push the relationship to breaking point. The need for specialist advice and support becomes critical and vitally important to the emotional survival of both partners and the relationship. Often it is only specialist support agencies that understand and can provide strategies for both partners to cope with their relationship and the healing process. Because so many reactions of either partner are subconsciously based, many problems that may affect the relationship cannot be realistically understood or explained. I cannot even begin to express the relief that I felt when many of the reasons why our relationship was deteriorating were explained to me and I could finally rationalize many of our problems. Most partners will need to understand the reasons why abuse occurs and its resultant effects if they ever hope to try and understand their partners reactions.

As a person who has not suffered sexual abuse, I remember feeling emotionally, overwhelmed, angry ,bitter, helpless, confused, withdrawn and depressed when I learnt about my partners abuse. Such is the range of feelings that even a partner feels shows how much emotional impact can be felt when dealing with a relationship affected by abuse. At the time, I was naively unaware of abuse and its devastating consequences and in many ways our relationship was an emotional mind field that I was ill equipped to deal with on a emotional level. As distressing as the relationship was, I desperately wanted it to work and I was determined to find solutions to the issues that deep down I knew we should not have had.

Although I found counselling, especially in the early days, confronting from a male point of view, I persevered and discovered why our relationship was not working.

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