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Whatever the status of you and your partner’s relationship, there are feelings and reactions commonly experienced by the significant other of someone who has experienced intimate partner or sexual violence. As you support your partner remember: you are not alone.

You may find yourself confused about your partner’s experience of sexual abuse. You might find it difficult to listen when your partner wishes to talk about certain aspects of the abuse. You might be hesitant to let others know about the abuse for fear of how they could react. You may experience feelings of guilt or responsibility, believing that somehow you could have prevented the abuse. It is not uncommon to feel anger at the survivor and at others around you, or at your partner’s assailant. You might also be unsure as to how to best to approach the issue of physical intimacy with your partner.

All of these feelings are understandable when someone you care about has experienced intimate partner or sexual violence. The important thing to remember is that these feelings need to be recognized and addressed—by you and by your partner—in order to work through a traumatic situation.

Sexual abuse often leaves a survivor with a deep sense of violation and emotional upset, and many significant others feel inclined to tackle these emotions. The following guidelines can help both you and your partner get through some of the difficulties you may experience:

  • Believe your partner
  • Respect his/her need for confidentiality, time, space, etc. (it takes time to heal, this may require much patience and understanding on your part, or even time and space for yourself to process the emotions you're feeling)
  • Avoid making judgmental comments or jokes (ie. WHY did you go there, WHY haven't you reported it, etc.)
  • Educate yourself about sexual violence, the effects of trauma, etc.
  • Listen to and validate your partner's feelings
  • Respect his/her decisions regarding the abuse, even if you don't agree with them
  • Don't ignore what happened or try to smooth it over or "make it better."
  • Ask your partner what s/he wants or needs as opposed to giving him/her advice
  • Avoid pressuring or resuming intimacy/sexual activity with your partner until you both talk about his/her boundaries and level of comfort
  • Respect your partner's new boundaries (ie. around trust, safety, sex, intimacy, etc.)
  • Encourage your partner to seek support and seek support for yourself
  • Talk with someone confidentially about your own feelings regarding your partner's experience

Contact a SAAP Coordinator with questions about sexual abuse, helpful strategies, or additional support.

Last Updated: 3/21/12