How to Help Your Partner Cope with Male Sexual Abuse
- Let him know you are willing to help him locate outside help, therapists and support groups if he is too afraid to reach out.
- Some male survivors of abuse have a very difficult time staying present during any emotionally challenging discussion. If you notice your partner drifting away, getting sleepy, losing track of the conversation or if you notice a sudden shift in his mood, he may be engaging in a defense called dissociation. It's a learned defense mechanism that allows him to protect himself from intense emotions. If you notice this, it's okay to gently say his name and tell him you are still here and willing to talk when he's ready.
- A male survivor may engage in a variety of self-defeating and self-destructive behaviors to cope with the feelings of betrayal, violation and shame they feel as a result of his abuse. These behaviors often serve the purpose of helping him feel numb, such as smoking, drinking, compulsive sexual behaviors, compulsive gambling or compulsive eating. Any and all of these behaviors will absolutely interfere with your ability to be intimate or close to your partner.
If your partner or family member is engaging in these behaviors, he's not only hurting you, he's also hurting himself, but he may not be able to accept this. Denial, a powerful defense mechanism, allows the survivor to resist awareness, which affects the survivor and the people in his life who care about him. Accept that the survivor is doing the best he can to deal with his abuse today. That doesn't mean you need to accept that he cannot address these issues differently tomorrow. If he's stuck acting out, outside help is most likely needed to break the cycle. There are 12-step programs to deal with these behaviors that will help the survivor, partners and family members. Remember: It feels shameful for a survivor to need help—he often believes he shouldn't have allowed himself to be victimized in the first place, so he's not likely to feel welcoming of help. At the same time, some part of him knows he's hurting.
Again, love is a powerful healing force—letting him know you love him enough to invite him to get the help he needs is critical. You are not responsible when he acts out, so refuse to take that responsibility. Do take responsibility for being sensitive to his feelings.