I decided to write this article based on my own experiences as a survivor of child sexual abuse while also trying to view things from the perspective of my partner.
My hope is to give a little insight for others who are living with a survivor and feel that their partners past trauma is having an impact on their relationship now.
I am not a counsellor and write purely from my own lived experience.
You may get confused at times as to how your partner reacts to certain situations or circumstances.
These moments may not seem to be a big deal to anyone else, but to your partner they can cause a wealth of different emotions and reactions.
You may be finding that your loved one has been drinking more, been more emotional or teary.
Perhaps intimacy has become a problem or your partner has been showing difficulties managing their anger.
One of the things I believe people often think is:
“How can something that happened when they were a child still be having such an impact on their life now?”
I do not think there is any straight forward answer to this question. Trauma can come in many different forms and effect people in many different ways.
The emotions may arise after a huge life changing event such as becoming a parent, a change in job, a relationship breakdown or the beginning of a new one.
Everything can be going really well for the survivor when all of a sudden, the trauma seems to come back and cause hurt and pain to the individual.
This can have a huge impact on your relationship and it is so important that when this occurs you realise that you are both now victims of that trauma through the effect it is having on your lives in the present day.
Do not try and mask or hide your feelings.
Being honest with yourself and your partner in regards to how you feel is of the upmost importance and although I know it can be a difficult subject to approach and will take courage because you may not want to hurt or upset your loved one.
By communicating your feelings, you take the first step towards considering counselling or other form of help.
Please always remember neither of you are to blame. Pointing the finger will not help, both parties are suffering in this situation through no fault of their own.
You have to protect and care for yourself also
You may not be the person directly abused and perhaps feel you should be responsible for all of the support.
However, you are both in this together and although you may feel stronger at first if you do not take care of yourself, you run the risk of neglecting your own self-care which in turn will have a huge effect on your personal wellbeing.
Remember to set and maintain boundaries.
You do not have to fully accept unreasonable behaviour and ultimately you are not responsible for your partner. You have a responsibility to them but not for them. Mutual respect is essential.
Give each other space and time to process feelings as and when it is necessary.
Remember this one thing always, your partner did not choose to be abused and like many probably did not think that they would still be suffering the effects today.
Most survivors of childhood trauma do not disclose the full nature of what happened to them until around 25 – 30 years after the last incident of abuse.
That is a huge burden to carry around for so long.
A journey you are now on together
I can of course only talk from my own experience and every survivor of childhood trauma is different and I am fully aware of this but I hope some of what follows may assist you and your loved one in moving forward.
The more the trauma that has been buried begins to rise to the surface the more you may find that your partner is having difficulties coping.
Personally, I found that when I began to open up, I was allowing the pain that I suffered to be lived and this was all a part of my own journey in regards to acceptance.
If your partner is undertaking counselling they will learn where these feelings come from and who they are actually directed at and where these feelings truly belong.
By actively listening to your partner and trying to learn more and understand your partners personal story the better position you will find yourself in to help.
When I was beginning to open up my partner took the time to hear me, showed she believed me and worked to understand my story while learning more about abuse from other sources.
This will assist you in knowing when words aren't necessary and simply a hug can offer so much comfort while allowing the tears to come out.
There could be other times when you feel your partner is projecting their anger and hurt on to you.
I know these times can be extremely upsetting and difficult for you.
During calmer times you could perhaps ask your partner without pointing the finger.
- Where that emotion comes from?
- Who is it really directed at?
And do so in a loving, caring manner while letting them know that you love them and whatever they went through in the past will not change your love for them in the present or future.
The trauma will not win.
Most survivors have deep feelings of shame and this has a knock-on effect on their self-worth.
This resides below the surface and may not be apparent to anyone, including the survivor.
Since childhood many survivors carry these feelings with them into adult life. Then they are afraid of being judged, accused of being a liar and much more.
In many instances one of the factors that fuel this was the experiences of harbouring this secret as a child and fearing speaking out due to the pressure of the abuser.
Sub consciously this still has an effect on them in later life.
For myself I had a very low sense of self-worth and whenever things did start to go well for me, I would push the self-destruct button.
What is important for you to remember is that your partner trusts you enough to open up and communicate.
Through caring, honest support your partner will begin to build trust within themselves.
Many adults survivors struggle with addiction
I am a recovering alcoholic and struggled with drugs and alcohol all my life.
I drank as a means to suppress my feelings and because I feared moments of calm like when I went to bed.
I would feel triggered, scared and when memories replayed sick to my stomach.
I turned to alcohol as a means to fill the gap where myself worth had left.
This was my comfort for many years until I began to talk and communicate what happened to me.
Many other instances would trigger me certain songs, smells, sights and sounds.
Even ones that most people would deem as pleasant and so going about my normal day would at times seem like a minefield I would need to navigate and this is the same for many survivors.
The more you can learn about the effects of abuse the greater understanding you will have of this which will benefit your partners and your healing journey.
You can both get through this
Your love for your partner is one of the most powerful tools you have to support them in this journey.
Your love will help them to understanding their self-worth and find their way forward breaking the chains from the events of their childhood.
Work together to find professional help and communicate your feelings to each other.
Spend time together, find things you can enjoy together to give you moments of joy and happiness to drive a wedge into those times of tears and pain.
Always remember to be as gentle with yourself as you are with your partner. Your feelings need to be heard also.
The journey may be long and the process at times difficult but with the right care, help and support you can get through this with patience, compassion and a little learning from any resource you can get your hands on.