Opening Up to Your Partner About Your Experience of Abuse
One in seven children in the U.S. experience child abuse every year in the form of physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, and neglect, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Abuse. While this is already a bad statistic, what’s worse is that majority of child abuse cases go unreported both to the authorities and other people, which means that there are many people walking around with scars that they’ve never told anyone about.
If you’ve ever been a victim of child abuse, you know that even admitting it to yourself that it happened can be difficult, let alone other people. However, studies have shown that talking about it is a key part of the healing process, especially with your significant other. Being a traumatic event that can have long-lasting effects on your life and personality, it is important to talk to your partner about your child abuse experience as early as possible in the relationship to avoid complications later. But, being a deeply personal event, you must approach this conversation the right way.
Make sure you are ready
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to the question of how long you should wait to tell your partner about your child abuse experience; only you can know when it’s the right time to do so. It’s normal to be afraid to talk about child abuse due to the awkward and embarrassing nature of the conversation, the fear of losing your partner after telling them about it, as well as the fear of the conversation triggering some old feelings that you’ve worked so hard to get over. But, if you feel that you are ready for that conversation, you must not let the fear stop you.
If you are not sure how to go about it, you can always discuss it first with a therapist, friend or family member who knows, or a reliable support group to get valuable advice on how to approach it. While considering your readiness, you must also ask yourself if your partner is emotionally ready to handle such a conversation. If you have concerns that he/she won’t be fully supportive, you might want to evaluate whether that would be a deal-breaker for you in advance so that you know how to proceed.
You don’t have to spill everything at once
Talking about a traumatic event like child abuse can cause you to re-experience painful memories, so have a plan on how to stop if it becomes to difficult to tell the entire story. Early on in the conversation, let your partner know what you expect from them when sharing your story and make them understand that you can stop at any point if it feels overwhelming. For example, you can tell your partner to hold in any questions until you’ve told him/her everything you needed to.
To calm your nerves, try to focus on sights, smells, and sounds in the room that remind you that you’re currently in a safe place and what happened was in the past. If you’re able to get through the entire conversation in one sitting, well and good. If not, you can put the conversation on hold until a later time when you feel more comfortable. However, don’t wait too long or else the issue will turn into an elephant in the room that none of you want to acknowledge even when it’s slowly killing your relationship.
Be prepared for any reaction
There’s no telling how your partner will react to the news that you were abused as a child, especially if it was sexual abuse. Hearing child abuse disclosures affects both the person telling the story and the person listening. Your partner might feel defeated, worried, or even angry especially if you kept it from him/her for a long time. As such, you must be prepared for any outcome, including an end to your relationship.
As your partner takes in the information and considers what to say, they might be quiet for a while or even seem like they don’t care about it while in reality, they are just struggling to find the right words. Give them some time to process it even if it means not seeing each other for a few days. You can always suggest therapy to your partner if you feel like it will help him/her process feelings better. Take all the time you need to work through it and remind each other that it is a process.
An experience of child abuse can be a large part of your life, but it’s not the only thing that defines who you are. Opening up and discussing it with your partner won’t be easy, but such challenging moments are often the ones that end up creating milestones in your relationship that ultimately bring you closer than ever before.
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