Your girlfriend tells you that she was abused as a child, but that it doesn’t bother her now. You think differently. Or maybe your boyfriend shares a startling and disturbing story about his past, and you’re quick to brush it off as irrelevant to your relationship. Think again. On the other hand, maybe you’ve been married for a number of years but recently, your spouse has been distant, emotional and spaced out. You suspect it has something to do with the past, but can’t be sure.
It doesn’t matter what kind of trauma your loved one experienced. Lovers, spouses, intimate friends, family members or any other person in a relationship with a survivor can be affected by the survivor’s feelings and actions, according to Ken Graber’s book, Ghosts in the Bedroom. Typically a survivor is not aware of how far reaching the impact of the traumatic event is or how difficult the recovery process can be for themselves and the people who love them. The key for people supporting a loved one in the healing process is to practice detachment with a healthy dose of love for the survivor.
As a spouse or significant other, the best thing you can do is to prepare yourself for your loved one’s recovery process by creating your own support system, as well as educating yourself about PTSD and the healing journey. You can begin by looking within to identify your own patterns of destructive or limiting behavior and taking responsibility for your own issues. This is an important part of being in relationship with a survivor, since the survivor’s recovery process can and will trigger your own issues. Your courage to take on your own core issues will be an encouraging example to the survivor you love.
However, being the intimate partner of someone struggling with PTSD as a result of sexual abuse comes with an additional, healthy dose of trust issues. For this reason alone, you need to feel confident about what you’re dealing with. Below I’ve provided a brief quiz to get you on the right track. Use these questions to build up your confidence that what you’re experiencing with your partner is real. Then, take the next step and begin educating yourself.
Am I the partner of a sexual abuse survivor? Is someone I care about wrestling with PTSD and the aftermath of sexual trauma? Remember, entering into recovery must be the survivor’s decision and in the survivor’s timing. However, the questions below will help you identify the possibility of whether or not someone you love might be carrying the weight of a PTSD struggle as a result of childhood sexual abuse. For more information about survivors of other forms of trauma, check out the book I Can’t Get Over It! A Handbook for Trauma Survivors by Aphrodite Matsakis, Ph.D.
Answer ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ to the following questions:
- Was my partner raised in an alcoholic or other dysfunctional family?
- Is my partner in an Alcoholics Anonymous, Al-Anon or Adult Children of Alcoholics recovery program?
- Does my partner have an eating disorder such as overeating, anorexia or bulimia?
- Is my partner moody or someone who cries easily and frequently or suffers from prolonged depression?
- Does my partner frequently space out or lose track of a conversation for no apparent reason?
- Is my partner often accident prone during unremembered time periods?
- Is my partner afraid to have children? Or children of a particular sex?
- Is my partner uneasy about being around adults of a particular gender?
- Does my partner frequently wear inappropriately tight or revealing clothing?
- Does my partner frequently wear loose clothing or excessive layer of clothing?
- Does my partner compulsively have sex or love relationships?
- Does my partner almost exclusively use sex to get money, control or affection?
- Does my partner have siblings who were victims of incest or sexual abuse?
- Has my partner engaged in self-mutilation, self-tattooing or threatened suicide?
If you answered Yes to three or more of these 14 questions, you are likely the partner of a sexual abuse survivor who may be struggling with PTSD. However, keep in mind that only a qualified, PTSD informed mental health professional can make a diagnosis. Check out the article PTSD Support for Spouses: Wrapping Your Mind Around Healing to find out more about loving someone in the PTSD healing process.
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