It’s 11 o’clock at night and I’m crouched on my bathroom floor hanging onto the sink for stability with snot and tears dripping steadily off my face. I have this odd experience of both experiencing the residual trauma that is coursing through me and being aware of it from an academic standpoint, deploying every therapeutic technique in my arsenal to move through it and make it to relief. Kevin, my partner of 5 years, stands in the doorway and asks if he can touch me, I vigorously shake my head no. “Ok,” he says and stays in the doorway. A few minutes later, tissues appear at my elbow. A few minutes after that, still from the doorway, he reminds me, “I’m here. I’m not going anywhere.” When the tension in my body finally releases its grip, I sit back against the bathroom wall and Kevin joins me. “Do you want to talk about what happened?” he asks tentatively. I nod my head while scrubbing the last remnants of mascara off my neck and we move to our couch to debrief what just occurred.
This isn’t the first time that Kevin - or any other romantic partner for that matter - has remained alongside me as I’m experiencing residual trauma and it won’t be the last. I’ve experienced sexual violence two sets of times in my lifetime, first as a teenager and then as a college student, and, as such, I’ve been in therapy fairly consistently for the last 18 years of my life. Nowadays, my therapy is more focused on the ongoing impact of a global pandemic but, every once in a while, trauma shows up as the least welcome guest at a party I didn’t know I was having.
April 1 marks the beginning of Sexual Assault Awareness/Activism Month. In the United States, 1 in 3 ciswomen, 1 in 6 cismen, and 1 in 2 trans individuals have or will experience sexual violence in their lifetime. These statistics are likely not that new to you, but what may be new is considering what this means: 1 in 3 ciswomen, 1 in 6 cismen, and 1 in 2 trans individuals move through their lives carrying at least one major traumatic memory and the physical and psychological impacts of that memory. This means that that trauma gets carried into their relationships and there are millions of partners working to support the survivors in their lives.
Most of the PCA’s “Supporting Survivors” resources are aimed at people receiving disclosures for the first time or supporting a survivor who has recently experienced trauma. While these are excellent resources, they miss a serious piece of the puzzle: trauma doesn’t stop after a neat amount of time. Trauma is an ongoing experience for most who have experienced sexual violence; one which is navigable but rarely vanquishable. This does not make survivors of violence unlovable or burdensome, it just puts our partners on the expert level alongside us. In fact, it bears repeating that if a romantic or intimate partner is making a survivor feel guilt or shame for experiencing trauma, that is not ok. This piece will always be a part of us, but it is not a part of us that we chose; most of us would pay exorbitant amounts of money (or any other form of currency) to excise this indelible and inconsiderate part of our minds, but here we are.
This does not make survivors of violence unlovable or burdensome, it just puts our partners on the expert level alongside us
Romantic and/or intimate partners have a unique opportunity to support continued growth and wellbeing in their survivor partner and participate in the ongoing healing work that is necessary for survivors to continue to thrive. Many of the tools available to a partner or partners are rooted in general healthy relationship techniques, but some are very specific to survivors of violence; check them out below!