What Partners' Need
Just as a survivor has specific needs in recovery, so does the partner. Following is a list we will be compiling as you, the partners, send in more information. The link is located below. I hope this will help you in your journey with your loved one.
Partners of survivors need:
Support: Partners feel alone. There are many outlets for the survivor to find support and help, but the partner feels like the forgotten one. They need to find support from other partners, from family, from a counselor, from friends, but often, too, their survivor partner is afraid for the partner to disclose any of the abuse. Survivors need to understand that their partners are victims, too, and very much affected by what the survivor is going through. They need that freedom to find help where they can get it. If the only friends are shared friends, then permission of course needs to be granted to share information, as with family members.
Information About Abuse Recovery: Partners need to know as much as they can about abuse recovery, what to expect, and how best to live with the effects abuse issues are bringing into the relationship. Survivors need to share this part of their life with their partner, and partners need to be interested and caring and learn from the survivor how best to support and help her.
To know that the issues that come up are not about them personally. It is not uncommon for a female survivor for instance to hate the male penis. This can be generalized to 'all men" until they learn to separate the husband from the abuser(s). This takes time, but in the meantime, the husband needs to understand that this isn't his fault. It is not about him at all even though the hate may be directed toward him. If partners can keep from personalizing the issues that come up, they will be better able to cope with them. There are also exercises the survivor and partner can do together to help with these gender issues. (If you've found some helpful tips, please share them with us.)
Nurturance: Many times the survivor is so absorbed in her own recovery and needs that she/he can't or doesn't take time to give to her loved ones. In my opinion, this isn't healthy for long periods of time for any relationship, and doesn't ultimately help the survivor either. Continuing to support, nurture, and love your spouse, as well as receiving the same from him/her, will go a longs ways in facilitating healing in your life. What good is healing from past issues if we neglect, abuse, hurt, or destroy the relationships we now have in our life. That will only leave us more alone. Use this time of self-discovery and healing to draw closer to your loved ones, allowing them to meet our needs as we also meet those we are able to meet in their lives. Also, partners need nurturing relationships outside of the marriage. Keep in touch with friends and family members that provide support and encouragement.
Emotional Intimacy: This will surprise some women, but I know many men who crave emotional intimacy as much as women. Sex without intimacy is not as fulfilling or satisfying. Men I know who have had affairs have often said it wasn't the sex but the fact that the two shared on an emotional level. I've also noted that with sexual addictions, the emotional connection is absent.
Survivors may not connect emotionally during sex because it was absent when being abused, and this I believe can be one important reason why sexual abuse is so damaging to a child. They so crave an emotional attachment and nurturing, but the act of sex leaves them sadly alone causing them to feel even more worthless and used.
Both the partner and the survivor have this need, realized or not, and a counselor may be needed to help you achieve this goal.
Sexual Intimacy: I've heard men criticized because the sexual relationship is important to them and they find it difficult to think of living the rest of their lives without it. I don't agree with this at all. The sexual relationship is important, although not the most important part of the relationship. Emotional intimacy is a higher need. I understand the survivors need to withdraw from sex when dealing with a painful memory or dream. This can feel abusive to have sex immediately following a dream from the past. But to cut off the partner sexually for undetermined lengths of time is not in anyone's best interest. Men need to know they are loved and desired, too. Departure from the sexual side of a marriage will only increase the likelihood of an affair, addiction to pornography, etc. If the survivor needs a break, it should be for an agreed upon time, after which she/he will agree to facing the problem head on and working through it together, or with the help of a counselor if necessary. Denying the partner this part of the relationship is a way of running from or avoiding the problem. After all, if you don't have sex, you won't have triggers, or won't have to deal with the parts you don't like. But your partner is a part of this process and needs to be included in it by communicating what it is you like, don't like, what causes triggers, what can be changed, etc. It is hard to work through it all because it is a sensitive, and for some of us an embarrassing issue, but important none-the-less. I've gained much insight by facing this. I've learned things about my own abuse, I've learned why I turn off with a certain touch or position, and I've been able for the most part to separate the past from the present so that my husband is no longer associated even sub-consciously with my abusers.
To know how to support the survivor: This can be difficult because survivors will have varying needs at different times. The best thing for the partner to do is to not try to second guess the survivor, or read his/her mind, and don't try to fix the survivor. The survivor is the best person to know what she/he needs and when. This puts the responsibility with the survivor to be open about his/her needs at the time. Sometimes, this can be difficult because even the survivor may not know or be able to communicate (such as in the midst of a flashback). At these times, the partner can let the survivor know he/she is there and wants to help. Sometimes body language will tell you what not to do...i.e., if you try to hug and the survivor pulls away. Don't take it personal, simply wait for direction. After it is over, you can ask her/him if there was anything you could have done to help. Many situations will arise that can make the partner feel helpless. Communicate this with each other. If you have some helpful tips about how to support your loved ones from your experience, please share them with us...information on how to support and help with: rage, hate, generalizations, flashbacks, dreams/nightmares, sexual triggers, spacing-out, etc.
Time for Play: The process of recovery can become all-consuming, even obsessive, and if care isn't taken to plan times of fun and relaxation, abuse issues can become 'all' the survivor and partner talk about or deals with on a regular basis. Our relationships, in order to survive and grow, need to be balanced. Plan times on a regular basis where you involve yourself in activities that will take your minds off the problems and especially times of fun. Plans should involve times of fun together and times apart from each other.
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