When a loved one tells you that they’ve been sexually abused, your initial reaction can be strong. You might be angry. You’ll probably be confused. It can be challenging to work through the emotions you’re experiencing. Also, you might wonder how you can be supportive of the loved one in your life who has been abused, no matter who it is—your spouse, your cousin, a friend. This blog is for you. It’s not about a single supporter. It’s compiled from lots of different stories we’ve heard from people who support sexual abuse survivors. If you’ve experienced some of the feelings described here, you’re not alone.
I’ll always remember when my wife first told me that she had been sexually abused. We had been married for a couple of years, and something confusing happened when we went to a movie. Someone sat down in front of us, and my wife started to panic and left the theater. I followed her out to see what happened. She just wanted to go home. I tried to ask her a couple of times what was wrong, but she wouldn’t say anything. We had an awkward silent car ride home. It bugged me that she wouldn’t share. I thought we were closer than that.
A couple of days later, she came to me and explained that she had been sexually abused on and off for two years when she was a teenager by one of her uncles. The guy who sat down in front of us at the theater reminded her of him. The thought of abuse had never even crossed my mind, so I was shocked when she told me. I could tell that she was really upset. In fact, I could tell this is something that she had been upset about for a long time.
I felt angry at lots of people. I was mad at her uncle, obviously. I didn’t really know him, but I remembered meeting him at our wedding. I couldn’t believe that he would show up after what he had done. I wanted to cause him the same pain he had caused my wife. I was also angry at her parents. They had to know what was happening, right? I couldn’t imagine that their own daughter was going through so much and they wouldn’t be suspicious or try to do something to help.
I even experienced some anger toward my wife. I knew that I shouldn’t be angry at her, and it frustrated me that I felt that way. It made the situation even worse—I didn’t want to be angry at the person I loved the most in the world. I had so many questions. Why didn’t she trust me enough to tell me what had happened? How would this impact our relationship? Could we still talk to each other in the same way? Would our sex life change? And why had the abuse gone on for so long?
When I first found out the woman I love was sexually abused, I was confused, angry, and hurt. I knew I didn’t want to keep this mindset. There were a lot of emotions, and they weren’t good. But that’s where I started on my own path to understand what happened and then learn how I could support my wife as she healed. I just wanted her to be happy, and I wanted our relationship to be healthy and fulfilling for both of us.
Healing from the impact of sexual abuse is a journey for both supporters and survivors. For more information about how you can support the survivors in your life, look at the Supporting Hope e-book on our resources page. Also, read more about the journey of supporters at: I Am Educated and I Understand and I Will Listen, Acknowledge, and Support