Has Your Partner Been Abused?
You may need to take action to build emotional intimacy.
The Effects of Abuse continued...
Some who have been sexually abused have problems staying faithful, says
Linda Blick, MSW, LCSW-C, a New York City retired social worker who has
counseled many sexual abuse survivors.
But others may have a sudden loss of desire, says Bette Marcus, PhD, a
Rockville, Md., psychologist. She recalls a patient who, two years into her
marriage, began having flashbacks of sexual assaults at the hands of her
stepfather. Marcus said the memories made it difficult for the patient to
continue having sex with her husband, and although she underwent therapy, the
marriage ultimately ended in divorce.
Those abused as children also may have difficulty trusting people, including
relationship partners. A sense of security may be totally absent, according to
Paul Tobias, PhD, a Los Angeles psychologist.
Abuse survivors and their partners should consider counseling, whether it's
with a therapist, self-help group, or religious organization, says Judith
Herman, MD, a psychiatrist on the faculty at Harvard School of Medicine. It is
just as important for partners to talk through their emotional states as it is
for victims, she says. Tobias recommends checking with local associations of
licensed psychologists and psychiatrists for referrals.
Partners should be especially understanding with abuse survivors, who can at
times lash out for no apparent reason. "Have patience and sit down with the
person and try to talk ... about what's going on," Blick says. It might be
that they are having a flashback, for instance. In physical and verbal
interactions, experts suggest following the lead of the partner who was
But Herman cautions partners against thinking that their support alone can
vanquish their mates' demons. "You didn't cause this, and you can't fix it
all by yourself," she says. But partners can go along to therapy sessions,
if invited, as a show of support.
As for Haney, she plans to continue with therapy until she is able to
combine physical and emotional intimacy. "I am pretty determined when I set
my mind to something," she says. "I don't like to live this way. I
don't want what happened to beat me."
Stephen Gregory has been a journalist for 10 years and has worked for such
publications as The Los Angeles Times, The San Diego Union-Tribune, and
U.S. News and World Report.