“The Partner’s Feelings”

excerpted from
Survivors & Partners: Healing the Relationships of Sexual Abuse Survivors
Paul A. Hansen, Ph.D.
Chapter 3, Page 23

During the period of discovery the Partner will recognize opportunities to confront, and deal, with his own feelings about the abuse. He will likely feel everything from anger and rage to deep sadness. Although his partner is the one who is primarily wounded, he too may experience a sense of injury. He too, can never go back to his previous state of consciousness. His life is changed forever.

At this stage the Partner finds it hard to accept that once the, initial discovery occurs, once the abuse is acknowledged, like Pandora’s box in the myth, the lid on the memories of sexual held in the unconscious can never be totally closed again. When the survivor has consciously or unconsciously decided to acknowledge that childhood abuse occurred, the decision can never be retracted, unless the survivor goes into total denial.

He or she can no longer ignore the feelings that have lain dormant in the psyche for many years. The channel has been opened for those feelings to emerge, and they may now come pouring out with little or no apparent conscious control, inundating both parties. Such feelings may include terror, rage, confusion, feeling little, loneliness, and numerous others. While many intense feelings, will be evoked around sexuality and sexual activity, almost all aspects of the survivor’s life will be affected. And, of course, the relationship itself will not escape the impact.

As a Partner, it was difficult for me to grasp at first why the mere mental awareness and understanding of the abuse did not automatically make everything all right. Why couldn’t it just enable her to put everything back in its place and we could get on with our lives? Why couldn’t she just let this make sense of her turmoil and upsets and then eliminate them?

Now, eight years later, as I write from the perspective of having lived through healing our lives, as well as dealing with my own new found history as a survivor of abuse, I understand that it is not that simple. The survivor can know what is causing the problem, but cannot voluntarily diminish the effects. One cannot pull away from the emotional interactions with the self or with the world by act of will. Those emotional reactions, the re-experiencing of emotions that arose and were repressed in childhood, really do seem to take on a life of their own. It is almost like having another person living inside you, and you don’t have control of that person!

At this point, it does no good for the partner to say things like: “Why don’t you just let it lie?” “Why do you have to drag all this up?” “After all it happened ten (or 20, 30, 40, 50,) years ago. It is in the past let it stay there.” “Why do you have to bring it all up now? Forget it. Just go on being who you are.”

Even if the partner feels compassion, love and support towards the survivor, he may still feel confused about how to express those feelings. Many partners have expressed their confusion such as these:

  • “I’m confused about which way to go that will be the most helpful.”
  • “I am confused as to what actions to take.”
  • “It’s hard to think of her as a survivor.”

What should he not do? Is it more helpful to be sympathetic? Should he be angry
with the perpetrator? It is to easy to just become angry with the survivor for not taking care of it long ago, and angry at the rejection he may be experiencing from the survivor as a result of it.

Confusing, chaos, mistrust, anger, dismay, fear, anxiety, and rejection all become common feelings for both the survivor and the Partner during this period. Such intense emotional pain often leads them into denial. Many wish they had never discovered the sexual abuse or brought it out of the closet. They would like to pretend the abuse never happened or that they don’t know about it.