The aftermath of abuse is pervasive and painful. It impacts not only the victim but his or her loved ones as well, particularly the spouse. As the person closest to the victim, the spouse often takes on the lion’s share of the emotional fallout as he or she desperately tries to make the partner’s pain go away. Unfortunately, this is no easy task, especially since the emotional symptoms of abuse can be covert and complicated.
As you seek to support your partner during this difficult time, consider the following:
You can’t “fix it.” Many partners desperately want the power to erase the pain of their partner’s abuse. They want to “fix it” and resolve the issue forever, tucking it neatly away and never thinking of it again. Unfortunately, the trauma of abuse can never be completely lifted, no matter how much love and support you offer your partner. Some days will be good days, and some days will be bad days, but the reality is that painful memories can never be washed away forever.
Resist the urge to force a perfect resolution, and don’t try to “fix” your partner’s pain. Instead, give your support and unconditional love, and offer what comfort you can. For example, if you know that your partner gets upset at a certain time (perhaps your loved one has nightmares), try to offer comfort by recording a favorite TV sitcom so he or she can watch this show late at night and get back in a more positive frame of mind. Or, if a certain time of year is painful because it is strongly associated with memories of abuse, plan a small vacation for the two of you during this time. It will offer a change of scenery and keep your partner from getting stuck in a mire of painful memories. Although you can never erase your partner’s painful memories, you can offer ongoing, small comforts to help keep him or her from getting lost in the pain.
Be prepared for symptoms to manifest in unexpected ways. We often think that the symptoms of abuse will be simple and straightforward, like depression or anxiety, for example. But sometimes the symptoms can be complicated and confusing. For instance, your partner might shut down sexually, or hate being touched, or might become jealous and insecure. Many people find it hard to trust after suffering abuse, and this can manifest in different ways. For most people, these trust issues do rear their ugly heads in the bedroom, meaning that sexual activity can sometimes be unwanted. Alternately, some victims of sexual abuse become hypersexual and crave sexual activity and release all the time. Either way, this is an issue that is best addressed with the help of a therapist, particularly one who is well-versed in treating adult abuse victims.
Get help for yourself. Just because you weren’t the victim of the abuse does not mean that you don’t need help working through your feelings. This is difficult for you as well, and luckily, there are many resources for the loved ones of abuse victims.
Check out http://www.rainn.org/get-help/help-a-loved-one or find a local crisis center in your area by going to http://centers.rainn.org/. Many of these centers offer resources and assistance for partners of victims, and these can be invaluable for both you and your partner as you go through this tough time.
For more information on abuse and how to find help, visit our abuse resources page.