With winter approaching in Wisconsin, many single young folks are preparing for the cold weather and more frequent nights spent indoors by buying blankets, hot cocoa and of course, sifting through bumble, tinder, or grindr to find a possible mate just in time for cuffing season. Pause. Are you smirking right now because you know that’s most definitely you? We’ve all been there and let’s be honest, ~it be like that~ sometimes. Anyways, you adjust your settings on the dating app of your choice and eventually, you find a good match to snuggle up to while watching Disney Plus during the next polar vortex. Now that you have met the next love of your life, you spend countless nights staying up far too late to text them, you become a shoulder to lean on when they’re having a bad day, you discover they hate olives in their salad (but that’s good news because you LOVE olives), you maybe meet their friends and they maybe meet yours, and then they disclose to you they are a survivor of sexual assault. What now? Remain calm. It’s going to be okay; I promise. I’m here to help you navigate being a significant other to a parner who is a survivor of sexual assault.
As a sexual assault survivor who also spends her nights switching between bumble and tinder, I often think about the moment that I may have to tell my next partner about my triggers and why I have them. (For some sexual assault survivors, that moment of talking to a partner about their story may never need to come and that’s okay too.) I also think about all the many things I wish my past partners knew about dating someone who is a sexual assault survivor. So, buckle up as I tell you what I wish someone would have told my past partners.
First things first, if your partner decided to tell you they are a survivor of sexual assault, chances are they pretty comfortable with you and confident that you will be a source of comfort rather than hurt. So, let’s dive into how you be the comfort instead of the hurt.
For one, don’t make things about you. For example, if your partner tells you that they don’t want to be touched in the moment or at any moment because of their PTSD triggers, then understand, honor and support them rather than berate them with questions like “Why don’t you love me? Am I not enough for you? A significant other should be able to/want to hold their partner right?” No survivor wants to be belittled or invalidated when they are seeking support. Sometimes, we will want to hold you and kiss you and let you hold us and kiss us, but other
times… we may not want any of that. Now, if you are lingering on the mention of PTSD still, let’s talk about it.
When most people think about PTSD, they think about people who have been through trauma in the military. While military PTSD makes up about 50% of recorded PTSD, sexual assault survivors who report PTSD make up 30% which is a significant amount. Now let’s break down the acronym. PTSD stands for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and it happens after someone has gone through a traumatic event. Remember, trauma is self-defined. So even though you may have not gotten trauma from a certain event, a different person might have and could be experiencing PTSD. What does PTSD even look like?
Here are some symptoms of PTSD that you should be aware of:
· Flashbacks or hyper-reactivity to stimulus like sounds or colors that reminds them of the trauma
· Intrusive symptoms like random thoughts which will drastically change their demeanor
· Avoidance of thoughts or things that remind the person of the trauma
· Hyper-sensitivity and easily triggered feelings
· Detrimental impact on their ability to function day-to-day Source: https://vitalrecord.tamhsc.edu/ptsd-after-a-sexual-trauma/
Your partner may experience all those symptoms or just some of those symptoms, there’s really no formula to follow.
Now let’s get back to talking about how to be a good significant other.
If your partner has disclosed their story of what happened to them, it’s SO important that you don’t probe or ask intrusive questions. For example, don’t ask things like “were you drinking” or “how many times did you say no” because those questions appear invalidating and imply victim blaming. Also, don’t tell them things they could have done better or what you would have done in the situation. Again, it’s not about you so stop.
Remember to be patient and to be loving. Recovering from trauma and learning to cope with PTSD is a journey and your significant other is going through it. Be there to listen. If they don’t want to talk, then just be there. For me, my trauma felt
like a broken bone that I only I could see and feel. And just like with a broken bone, I need to patient as it began healing. Don’t rush your partner. Be patient.
Don’t be scared of your significant other. Yes, dating someone who has survived a sexual assault can be different than dating someone who hasn’t, but that doesn’t mean you should love them any else. Love your significant other and remind them they are loved and worth it.
Now go comfort them however they need to be comforted and go back to watching Hannah Montana.