I’m so glad to see you here, but also to hear some updates. Congratulations for this new relationship! It is such a blessing to know that you’ve met each other and things are going well - besides what you’ve shared of course. You deserve happiness, to love and feel loved as well.
I’m in a relationship with a man, we’ve been together for almost 11 years now, and we’ve known ups and downs because of my past traumas and his own, such as what you described. I could never emphasize enough how communication is important in a relationship, but even more when there are traumas that are affecting one or both individuals, because traumas are difficult to understand at first, including from the person who’s experiencing triggers and such.
Physical touch, especially, is a major aspect of learning to trust someone again after being sexually assaulted. We want to love, we want to receive that love too, but sometimes our body just says no, because physical touch would be associated with pain. Maybe something triggered your girlfriend, and as her partner, you can invite her to talk about it in a gentle way. Just to let her know that you’ve noticed her attitude changed, that it’s okay and you understand, but also that you are there to listen and support. Never try to cross her boundaries of course. Never try to force her to talk. Just leave the door open. Someone took her right to decide for herself at some point in her life, and even if it’s scary for her, she needs to learn to invest her right to be herself and make her own decisions again, including when it is appropriate or not for her to ask for help. It’s a trial and errors process, but with you by her side, she might be more confident to actually try. A loving and not pressuring reminder sometimes, that you are here to listen without judging, is a way to not let her mind forget that reality sometimes.
Thankfully, love can be expressed in many ways that are not only physical. It’s heartbreaking when it’s one of our love languages though. It’s one of mine, and I feel so helpless when I physically can’t accept a hug from my partner. It makes me feel guilty, bad, and utterly broken. It makes me feel like I’m not allowed to heal and access to love. And the most painful to me is to see how it hurts him, because I start to believe that he would be better with someone else.
But he reminds me that I am loved, in different ways. Spending quality time together. Doing something we like. Having nice and tender words at unexpected times. Being silly together and make each other smile. He’s reminded me multiple times that he was my ally in this, even when it was hard on him too and got upset, frustrated, etc.
I know it’s really hard though. I went through sexual traumas, and learned some time ago that my partner too. It’s since that moment that I realized how helpless he felt sometimes when I started to shut down. I see myself in him and his reactions sometimes, and vice-versa, which can be a very painful and draining cycle if we don’t give ourselves some grace and space. Somehow, we love being alone together. It’s how we feel safe and loved. It doesn’t look like most “conventional” relationships. But it’s how it works for us, and we’ve learned to be okay with this.
He always respected my silence but he also couldn’t ignore how it was affecting him too. He expressed his frustration many times, which generally put me into a spiral of guilt that I was already feeling. So, last year I’ve started to seek help again with a therapist even though I’m unable to talk about those things with my partner, still. On his side he’s not ready to give a try to therapy again. It hurts sometimes to only be allowed to be there, even though we wish we could do more. But… we need to remind ourselves that being there is a lot, actually. And I can talk from my own experience that trusting someone after being assaulted or physically hurt is an incredible mark of love. Everything else is about learning how our own traumas affect us, what are our triggers, and how we can learn to cope in ways that are loving and mindful in the present moment, which can take a lot of time.
Traumas can take ALL the space in a relationship as it tends to affect every aspect of someone’s life. And as much as it’s important to follow your partner’s pace when it comes to her own healing, it’s also really important that you take care of yourself too. Some people experience secondary trauma - they never experienced the thing that their loved one went through, but they internally build up a deep feeling of guilt, grief and helplessness. It’s important to make sure that you have spaces to talk too. To be yourself. To have times when you won’t have to think about these past events, without feeling guilty for it. Over time, you learn to create that balance too.
Overall, with time as well, I can only encourage you 1/ to educate yourself about that type of trauma and how to support her and yourself; 2/ eventually, to seek professional help at some point. Even if she doesn’t want for herself you can seek counseling for yourself individually. And having that space to express all the things that can affect you and weighs on you on your daily life including your relationship, can really be a needed breather sometimes.
Withdrawal and distance are not something to be taken personally. It’s a normal reaction that can happen from time to time when someone used our body without our consent before. I understand though that it might trigger some insecurities of yours. But it’s really important to progressively distinguish what is about your relationship, what is about you, and what is about her. Insecurities that collides together can create a really vicious cycle. The more you try to stay rational and clarify your thoughts, acknowledging your feelings, being honest with yourself but not letting them take all the space, the more you’ll be able to respond to those changes of behavior in a loving, compassionate and calm way.
It is a challenge for you as well, because it kind of forces you to get to know yourself better. Your limits. Your patience. Your boundaries. The balance can be subtle, but with the right amount of communication and trust invested in each other, you can also move mountains and grow stronger together.
You are a good partner for seeking help for that matter. You obviously care and you are aware that you need to take care of yourself too. It’s a first step, and a good beginning.