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Can anyone imagine the courage and vulnerability behind every #MeToo story? What can you do, if your partner comes out with a #MeToo story?
What happens right after when somebody types their #MeToo story and hits that post button? What kind of support and help do they expect to remediate those vulnerabilities? What about healing those scars left on their souls? Whom do they seek to help them deal with those uncontrollable thoughts about the event, those horrifying flashbacks and anxiety?
At this time when so many sexual assault survivors are coming forward to be heard, all I was thinking about was providing them with the support to be healed. So this article here is about those survivors’ partners who want to be more supportive, and sensitively help their partners through the healing process, because I believe that survivors’ partners too encounter some real challenges related to the trauma.
First, the #MeToo movement is not just about women protesting against sexual harassment but about the victims of sexual abuse, and that victim can be your male partner too.
Second, while the #MeToo movement is bringing awareness about sexual abuse, let it recognise emotional and verbal abuse too.
Remember that it takes a lot of courage for anybody to decide whether to tell their partner about their story, and this is one of the hardest things to do. Because there is this constant fear of judgement, fear of the partner’s reaction, and most importantly, to decide the right time to confide in a partner.
So it’s not necessary that they come up and directly talk to you over this matter. It’s really good if they do, but if they don’t then the key is doing your best to pick up on certain signals from their behaviour and then ask them (don’t interrogate!) if they are comfortable sharing.
Don’t press them for more info and details; just genuinely let them know that you are willing to listen and be there for them. They might just want to vent out and don’t want your advice.
Once they are comfortable telling you all, it will still need a lot of effort and a great deal of patience to listen, on your side. They being comfortable doesn’t mean they are not worried about your reactions or judgments. First, you have to believe everything your partner is telling you. You have to make it very clear that you trust them and their story, and that you know it wasn’t their fault.
Just really listen, without thinking about how you want to respond or how you should ,respond. Listen wholeheartedly, without interrupting, making excuses, or getting defensive. Try to keep the conversation free of your own narrative.
Watching someone you love suffer in pain can definitely cause you distress and discomfort. You want to do everything to cure it but you can do nothing to undo the pain. You realise how helpless love can make you feel, and it is completely understandable. But accept this discomfort. Because your partner needs you to be at your best to handle them through their worst. Try not to change the subject. Just keep listening however hard it is but it is worthwhile, believe me.
Yes, you can have some time to figure out how you feel. But you have to do something, you have to say something, and not just stew. Make sure the sharing doesn’t end up scaring them more. You are the one who can help them deal with it. Don’t allow yourself to get consumed by it. Do let your partner in on how you’re feeling, but the worst thing you can do is making them regret confiding in you. Let them vent out, let them be hollow and empty of all the grief. Let them cry, let them shout, let them know that you love them and you are proud of them. Let them know they can be vulnerable and they can cry on your shoulder.
No, you are not at all required to be a mind reader here, engage in the conversation. Just be sensitive and aware of the conversational vibes. Ask them how you can help if they are triggered, dissociate or have a panic attack, ask them “What will make you feel good?” Or “How will I know if you feel comfortable? What signs should I look for?” Understand the impact.
Share if you have a story too to share, but remember not to compare traumas. Each instance of assault is separate and different so is the journey of healing and coping with the agony.
It is not just about listening when it comes to such strong emotions, intense and heavy moments. Just don’t shrink from the moment.
Trust me, not doing something is not at all an option here. Getting awkward and nervous will break your partner’s strength even more. Your silence at this place can be interpreted as a lack of awareness or a lack of empathy. There are chances that you might make your partner feel as if they are a burden to you. Be aware of your partner’s needs, they may be really receptive of physical support such as a hug, kiss or other physical intimacy, and there is also a chance that it is not their preference at that given moment. Respect their preferences.
As dealing with pain can be a long and difficult process, there may be times when your partner needs help. Ask them if they seek any therapy or the support of an expert counsellor.
Approaching sex after such conversations can be tricky but can be handled with emotional intelligence. Always ask your partner about their changed preferences of safety, comfort and control. When it comes to approaching sex no one can really recommend you a one size fits all trick. The best you can do is to help your partner frame their needs and priorities.
Go the extra mile, do a lot for them to let them know how much they are valued, how much they are loved. Admire their courage, help them to forgive and move on, help them fight if this is what it requires. Anything that can help them heal. Those little cute things might be really helpful. Prepare the chore. Prepare for them a hot bathtub to relax. Take them out, help them in any way you can. While dealing with haunting traumatic experiences, we often feel like being left alone. So just make sure that they know that they are not alone. Their past is not just their burden to carry but you can work as a team to throw it away. When they are tired of fighting bravely to let go of the past, show them how beautiful their present is. Be understanding, be loving.
A version of this was first published here.
Image source: shutterstock
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