For every person wrestling with the debilitating symptoms of PTSD, there is a partner, spouse or family member significantly affected by the survivor’s recovery process. Unfortunately, there is minimal literature and almost no support for them.
Whether the survivor’s traumatic event included sexual abuse, rape, wartime events, or another life changing event, at some point, partners and family often sense there is something wrong in the relationship that defies explanation. Despite the best efforts of loved ones to be positive and encouraging, the survivor remains depressed, moody, and driven to irrational behavior. “Indirectly, partners of sexual abuse survivors are also victims,” according to Ken Graber, author of Ghosts in the Bedroom.
Graber defines partners to include lovers, spouses, intimate friends, family members or any other person in a relationship with a survivor who is affected by the survivor’s feelings and actions. Keep in mind that the survivor typically 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 partners is to practice detachment with a healthy dose of love for the survivor.
A Tacoma mother, who asked not to be named, has an adult daughter with undiagnosed but suspected PTSD. She says, “The emotional outbursts that occur seemingly without provocation and the physical ailments that no doctor can pinpoint make life for a young adult woman harder than it should be. As a family you get through the initial trauma. The child grows up and everything is good, until they get into what should be a healthy sexual relationship. That is when the hidden triggers rear their ugly effects. It is heartbreaking.”
Detaching from the recovery process with love means supporting the survivor while they face their personal issues without trying to manage the survivor’s recovery or taking offense when they express strong emotion. By gaining clarity about which issues must be addressed by the partner, which issues can be addressed by the survivor and partner together and which issues must be addressed by the survivor alone, partners or family members can go a long way toward establishing themselves as an ally.
“All you can do is walk along side them and continue to love them. They have to be the ones to accept treatment,” continues the Tacoma mother. “As a mom, I would rather take on all the hurts she is going through than see her re-live the horror of the assault that happened so many years ago. It is a heavy burden to carry for the person with PTSD and for their loved ones. Thank God there is help out there. To know we don’t walk alone is a major factor in survival and healing.”
If you are a partner or family member of a survivor and feel you have been affected by the survivor’s experience, you may be feeling confused, frustrated, angry, or a variety of other feelings. It is good to know you are not alone and that many other partners have these same feelings. Remember, these are temporary feelings that you will resolve on your own and that dealing with these feelings is your own responsibility. Is your partner or loved one a survivor of sexual abuse? Check out these 14 questions to find out.
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