That response can occasionally make things more difficult for him and that is something nobody wants. The focus, however selfish it might seem, needs to be him so don’t try to make him do anything he does not feel comfortable with. This includes sexual acts, pressure to conform, people pleasing, doing something he feels uncomfortable with, etc. All survivors need to recognise their gut reaction and work with it as it is often their only safety valve and has protected them since they were abused. DO NOT criticise him for being where he was at the time; for not resisting more; for not screaming; for not talking about it earlier…or for anything else. Anyone can be a ‘victim’, regardless of age, gender, looks, etc. Any criticism of the way he handled the situation, either during or after the assault, simply adds to that guilt and it is important that the blame is placed firmly where it belongs – the perpetrator.
Try not to over-simplify what happened to him. Let him say how he feels, allowing him to work through it in his time.
DON’T tell him to “get over it”
Trust us on this one, that really won’t help at all. It will only make him feel even more isolated from you!
DON’T take controlL
Sexual abuse makes people feel invaded, changed and out of control. Try to imagine how this feels and try to do what helps him rather than what makes you feel better – listen to what he wants and needs. It is crucial to his recovery that he is able to make his own decisions and regain influence over what happens in his own life, in order to rebuild trust and strength. It is common for loved ones when they themselves are distressed by what they see, to step in and be too protective, treat him differently and make decisions for him, all of which will add to his frustration. If it was a member of his family who abused him and they are still alive, your anger will undoubtedly rise. But remember to allow him to be remain in control. This is not your battle, however much you may want to sort it all out.
DON’T see him as a victim
Continue to see him as the strong, courageous person he is who is reclaiming his life. Ask him how he wants to be helped and in trying, you’ll help rebuild his trust. Often this means leaving him alone to deal with it in his way but always be there if he needs you around. If he belongs to a support group that may make you feel unwanted, or unsupported in some way, it may also make you feel jealous which is very common. Please also know that once he starts healing, he will change, and will be a different person but the person he ultimately becomes will the person he has always wanted to be – free from guilt, anger, shame and fear, to name but a few.
DON’T frighten him
Don’t come up behind him, touch him unexpectedly or in a way that reminds him of the assault or abuse. He may want to be held and comforted, or prefer not to be until he feels safe – ask him what feels safe and respect that. Don’t be offended if he finds it difficult to be close, emotionally or sexually – often it is just the memories being recalled and most of them are feelings of violation and fear. But do try to encourage him to say what it is he is comfortable and safe with without trying to add further pressure to him. He, and only he, will know what is comfortable for him and only he will know how he wants to spend his time with you. If you find that there is an emotional distance between you due to “problems, remember that it is not your problem, just something he needs to work through either on his own or with outside support, so don’t blame him or yourself, nor put pressure on him. Knowing that you listen and respond to him will help him re-establish feelings of closeness and trust.
DON’T direct your misguided anger at him
Don’t direct the obvious anger and frustration you feel towards the person or people that abused him towards him. He may be more worried that what happened to him will hurt those close to him, namely you. Reassure him that you know it is not his fault but if you do feel anger, make it very clear that it is directed towards those who committed the abuse and not towards him. Do not allow your anger to become time consuming, remember it is not your problem, although it may feel that way most of the time. It can make him feel out of control of the situation, that his needs are being ignored, something he’s already experienced and possibly ran way from in the past. You may need to ask friends or other trusted people for support and ideas about how to deal with your own understandable feelings of anger and frustration, but inform him first – Remember: his needs come first and he may not want you to discuss his issues with others, so don’t break his confidentiality or trust in his disclosure. It’s a hard situation to manage but it is manageable.
DON’T blame yourself
Whatever problems arise during your relationship, always remember that you played no part in the abuse he suffered and therefore you have no guilt, even if he directs it towards you at times. The responsibility, blame and guilt remains with those who committed the abuse. Although it may seem like a hell of a struggle, it is possible to overcome all of this, and in time he will too.
DON’T forget you have a life too
We don’t mean that nastily, but you shouldn’t live his pain. Do something to distract you from the trauma of the abuse and fallout that comes with it and in doing so, allow him the time and space to come to terms with his past and his actions since the abuse ended. It also helps to have an outside interest that you can turn to, in time of need, to ensure your sanity dealing with these issues. Having said that, we don’t mean he should be left to himself all the time to work on the abuse issues, he needs you too. But by giving him the space he needs, when he needs it, he will fully come back to you as the man that he should be, the one you’re so lucky to be with. But lets not forget how unbelievably fortunate he is to have you too.