I remember sitting on my bed, on the phone with her when she told me. We had only been dating for about two months.
I didn’t know what to say.
At the time, she was very matter-of-fact about the recounting. She told me what happened, but not the detail; that would come later.
She had been raped by a former boyfriend; someone she once loved deeply.
The reports were filed, her course was set, and she would be pressing charges. She would seek justice.
I think I repeated “I’m so sorry” about a thousand times.
I remember her telling me that she knew the decision to prosecute would be difficult, that following that path would be painful, but she had to do it.
Over seven months, I have watched her run the gamut of emotions, processing each moment, reliving her trauma in stark clarity. I have been her phone call when she couldn’t bring herself to get out of bed. I have watched her sit in a bathtub while unending sobs seize her body. I have been sitting alone staring at my phone, knowing she was in too much pain to reach out to talk, wishing I could help but knowing there was nothing I could do.
As her partner, I have done everything I can to provide the support she needs to heal, and I have taken away a few things from the experience that I feel every partner of a rape survivor should consider.
I am not a mental health professional, just a guy loving a survivor and doing his best to help her process a horrific event.
Listen to her. She needs you more than you can possibly imagine, but on her terms. Put away your judgment, put away your questions, and put away your advice. There will be time to ask questions later; when she needs to talk, just listen.
She told me that everyone had advice; her family and friends would listen to the first sentence or two and immediately interject with what they thought was the best course of action or their opinion on the situation. It is a source of frustration for her. She wants you to understand what she is feeling. Too often, we get so caught up in trying to find a solution to a problem, we stop listening. Unless she asks for advice, hold on to it.
It is hard for her to share, but she needs to tell you what she is feeling. She will cry and you will hurt for her, but she needs the outlet. So let her cry. Let her tell you about the details, even if you don’t think you can handle hearing it, and make it clear through your presence that you love her.
Be patient. She will pull away. She will likely not want you to touch her at first. She has said on any number of occasions when I come to see her, “I know you are going to want to hug me. Please don’t. I just can’t be touched right now.”
Even a gentle touch on the arm or a hug can tear her apart, so when she pulls away, give her some space and remember that this is not about you. She is not upset with you and she doesn’t mean to hurt you. Her trust in everything she knew is shattered and she needs time to feel what she feels.
It might feel like rejection, but you have to love her that much more. People will tell her, “You just need to stop thinking about it” or “You just need to get over it and cheer up.” She can’t do that yet. It is indelibly written on her memory and she will process it in time. The memory will never fade, but she will find ways to come to terms with what she feels.
Some days will be better than others. On those particularly bad days, love her more.
Sex will be different. There is no other way to say it.
Some women will never recover feelings of sexuality following a rape. Others will try to find a new “normal,” but it will not be the same.
We enjoyed a very exciting sex life before the rape. We experimented with dominant/submissive relationships, bondage, and toys. All of that changed. She has tried so very hard not to let the assault deter her from our love life.
But someone took an act of love and perverted it into control, unwilling dominance, and pain. She is scarred to her core. I will not lie, I miss what we had. She knows I miss it, and I know how much she loves me and wants me to be happy.
We try to find a new normal together. We made love one night several months following the assault. I ran my hands up her arms, I gripped her wrists, lightly pinning them to the bed. This was something I had done before, something we had enjoyed together. Her mind immediately took her back to that moment, to being attacked and pinned down. She instantly crumbled. I took her in my arms and she cried. I held her and reassured her the rest of the night.
You will have to be cognizant of her reactions. She won’t always tell you when something is wrong. She loves you and she wants life to be the normal it was before her world changed.
Your new normal might not be what you expected, but it can still be beautiful.
You didn’t fail her. You couldn’t protect her from this. That is not your fault. This will be hard going forward and she will need your strength now more than ever. Set aside guilt and anger; it will not serve you. Be strong.
She isn’t made of glass. She needs your love and support. She doesn’t need you to circle her like an over-protective guard dog, she doesn’t need solicitous fawning, and she doesn’t need pity.
Help her, but know that inside she is fighting the battle. She can’t worry about your emotional needs. She can’t worry that you need reassurance.
You will feel like you aren’t doing enough. Being available, understanding, and loving can be enough.
She didn’t do anything wrong. I love her for the person I have always known her to be. We met online and our first conversation hooked me, it was so unlike any I had ever experienced. I knew then that I wanted to be a part of her life. That is how I see her and how I will always see her.
I have heard of husbands and boyfriends whose attitudes change when confronted by the reality that their partner is the victim of a sexual assault. Remember, she wasn’t asking for this, she didn’t want this, and she sure as hell wasn’t to blame for this.
It doesn’t matter what she was wearing, or what time it was, or how much she had to drink. It was non-consensual. Someone hurt her and she needs you to understand.
She is the same girl you have always loved.
My girlfriend is a beautiful, vibrant, and carefree soul. She is the type of person to find the joy in the most mundane of circumstances and to leap with both feet into new experiences. She tap dances in parking lots and greets every sunrise and sunset as if it were her first. She is amazing, and I believe her unbroken by her trauma.
She will marvel at sunsets, she will love without reservation, and she will be whole again. It will just take time.
I struggle each day with the events that occurred. I remind myself that the hurt I feel is nothing compared to the torment she is feeling. There will be normal days and days when she can’t get out of bed. I have seen the pain in her eyes, but I have seen the laughter return too.
I would like to say that each day will get a little better, but that hasn’t been my experience. She will fall. Be there to pick her up. Reassure her that she is loved and supported.
She is surviving this, and you will too.
Author: Wesley Sippel
Image: Author’s Own
Editor: Emily Bartran