Living with a victim of childhood sexual abuse
For Family & Friends, Female Survivors, Male Survivors
I can still recall the innocent and wonderful feelings of excitement and anticipation that I felt when the relationship with my partner was just beginning. As my feelings began to grow towards someone that I had known for many years, I was blissfully unaware that events that had happened over forty years ago would ensure that our relationship was doomed to fail before it had even begun.
Although I had been led to believe by my partner that she had always wanted a relationship with me, the more I tried to express the feelings that I felt for her, the more withdrawn, both physically and emotionally she became. Whenever I asked her as to why this occurred, I was often subjected to confusing and demeaning responses and behaviors that left me constantly questioning my own beliefs, actions and self worth, both as a person and as a man.
My journey of experiencing a relationship that was severely affected by trauma, had commenced long before I was even aware of what my partner had actually suffered. lt would be a number of years and much more heartbreak before a series of events uncovered my partner's well guarded secret.
In many ways I was unknowingly contributing to my partner's ever increasing level of stress which, only threatened the continuation of our relationship even more. It wasn't until she ended the relationship a number of times, that I confronted my partner and asked her a question that would change our lives forever.
I will never forget the actual moment when I asked her if she had been sexually abused. Every detail, such as where I was at the time, even her reaction, is still so vivid to me. I felt terribly sad and helpless to have learnt that she had suffered such horrific and cruel abuse and that I could do nothing to have prevented it from happening. Eventually though, with appropriate support and guidance, I would feel tremendous relief and empowerment to know that I could help offer her a way to overcome her trauma.
Although I now understand the reasons why my partner had chosen against confiding in me, unfortunately we were both unaware of the detrimental consequences that often affect a relationship with someone who has suffered childhood sexual abuse. Before long, the inevitable effects were taking their toll on both my emotional and physical wellbeing in ways that I could neither understand or control at the time. I started to become withdrawn, depressed and angry with myself thinking that I was responsible for her treatment towards me.
Although I cannot even start to appreciate how difficult my partner found it to live in silence with her secret, the consequences of her not disclosing and dealing with the abuse, resulted in the transference of abuse towards myself and others, that were close to her. I eventually learnt whilst receiving counselling, that without support, understanding and a sustained effort by her to deal with the trauma, there was only one of three likely conclusions that the course of our relationship would take.
I also remember that, although it may have been insensitive to have asked such a confronting and potentially damaging question, ln many ways I knew it was the right thing to do for the sake of our relationship and more importantly, her emotional well being.
Many times whilst we were together though, I felt like giving in to her behaviours and accepting her beliefs, that all men were cruel and could not be trusted. To do so would have meant that abuse, both to herself and others was acceptable and could not be prevented. Regardless of the way I had been treated by her, I chose to increase my understanding of our situation and not give in to accepting abuse under any circumstances.
To live with someone who was suffering trauma was so distressing and frustrating and the more I tried to discuss our issues or help her to increase her self confidence and self esteem, the more angry, manipulative and abusive she became. It is for these reasons that I learnt that as a partner I had an extremely important role in helping not only her to overcome such a confusing and complex problem, but just as importantly, myself.
The emphasis of support, considering the trauma that has occurred is rightly focused on the primary victims of sexual abuse, but it was myself and her family that were the silent victims of a problem that affects many generations. This is why help is so critical to ensure, that abuse is prevented from being inflicted on people removed from the initial abusive incidents.
Looking back over the three years that I had spent with my partner, it was a mixture of hope, frustration and utter determination to understand why our relationship was not working, that eventually helped me to search for and provide an opportunity for my partner, to feel hope for the first time in her life.
It was also my reluctant acceptance of inadequate emotional skills and a growing concern about the situation that eventually prompted me to seek support. This helped me to understand that there was a solution to help overcoming the trauma, despair and hopelessness that a survivor, her partner and family all feel.
To be able to provide the understanding and support that is required in the difficult and complex healing process of someone who has suffered from sexual abuse, required emotional skills that I was capable of, but generally had not yet developed or ever needed before. The acceptance of having such inadequacies may have contradicted my value as a man, but it was such a critical requirement for helping to make a difference to my partners difficult journey towards recovery.
Regarding my emotional abilities at the time, it was the feeling of overwhelming and seemingly uncontrollable emotions that caused me so much grief, anguish and confusion. When I finally realized that actually feeling emotions that I had rarely experienced before did not mean that I had failed in my role as a man, my world could open up to appreciating emotions that would provide me with the potential to lead a more enriched and fulfilling life both as an individual and as a partner.
It was the eventual improvement of my ability to feel emotions such as empathy, vulnerability and compassion that would provide me with the opportunity to relate to my partner in ways that she would especially need during her most difficult journey towards recovery.
I do not need to have lived through the exact same experiences to be able to appreciate what she may be actually feeling at any time, but it is the emotional acknowledgement of how my partner is feeling that would allow intimacy, love and an emotional bond between us as partners to continue to develop.
The trauma and its consequences that I felt whilst in the relationship with my partner were very complex to understand and live with and when I eventually took the first steps towards seeking support from both, friends, family and agencies that provide specialist help, the process of breaking the cycle of abuse in our relationship had begun.
My refusal to accept abuse and its affects, that are unknowingly inflicted on a partner by a survivor, was so important to changing the dynamics of my relationship. When I understood this fact, the possibility for my partner to live truly as a survivor, instead of as a victim, became a reality and a likely possibility.
The emotional journey that I experienced as her partner, tested my patience, understanding and sanity to breaking point many times. lt is only now that I fully appreciate, that because of the type of relationship I had with my partner, I was affected vicariously in many ways, by the devastating and far reaching implications of abuse and subsequent trauma.
Even so, I do not regret what I have experienced and learnt whilst on this journey with her. Most importantly, I realized that when you care for someone so deeply and unconditionally as I did, the journey will effect you in many unforseen and stressful ways.
Although the outcome of my relationship with someone who had suffered abuse and trauma may not on the surface have provided me with much happiness or emotional empowerment, I consider myself to be so fortunate to have been able to have given my partner the gift of hope that so many people wish for and deserve, but so few ever receive.
My motivation to write about my experiences is due to the willingness of others to help me and if I can help other partners in similar circumstances to survive and prosper in their relationships, then I have started to repay the opportunities that have been afforded to me, whilst I tried to survive in a most difficult and complicated relationship.
I am so very proud of my friends who have confided in me of their experiences and as someone who has not suffered the terrible acts of abuse that survivors have endured, I will forever admire the courage and strength of character they display regardless of the trauma that they have so needlessly suffered nor deserved.
For every survivor, there is often a partner, family member or friend and my own survival from this relationship shows that there is reason to believe in hope. The days when people had to suffer in silence and without support and understanding are well and truly over.
Numerous people have helped me to reach this point in my life and every day I try to earn the gift of compassion, understanding and love that has been shown to me by these people who, have also felt the trauma of abuse, either as a survivor, partner or family member.
As much as I would like to say that this story has a happy ending, this story is by no means finished for either of us.
In fact in many ways, it is only just beginning.