Being there for your partner is something courageous and great that will be appreciated down the way. I was in an abusive relationship for 6 years. Counseling does tremendous things...
New relationship affected by former abusive relationship
Originally Published: January 24, 1997 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: February 13, 2009
My current girlfriend is still getting over an abusive relationship that she was involved in two years ago. The abuse included repeated rape throughout the two-and-half-year-long relationship. She has never been able to enjoy sex and cannot bring herself to do it again. Despite her feelings for me, she cannot relax enough during sex for it not to hurt her. I have not forced her into having sex she cannot enjoy. We have been together for nearly a year now and the problem does not seem to be getting better for her. She has nightmares and is uncomfortable and afraid in many day-to-day situations. She is worried that going to a counselor will mean she will be in counseling for the rest of her life to get over this. This has become such a hindrance to us being happy that I sometimes wonder if it is best to stay with her to try to help her through this, or whether I am out of my league.
Any time two people come together in a relationship, they each bring bits of their unique pasts into the present — as you well know. It turns out that there aren't easy or "right" answers for your situation. While it's possible that staying to support her will help her in some way, there's no guarantee that the relationship will necessarily improve. What may give you and your girlfriend hope is knowing that many survivors of abusive relationships have been able to put their past behind them enough to open doors to healthy relationships.
Now, we can speculate about how your girlfriend might benefit from counseling, but it's her choice whether she wants to go. To start, she can choose to go to a counselor for a couple of months to learn to manage her feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. And, she wouldn't have to be in counseling for life unless she chooses to be. It would be unethical for a mental health provider to lock her into counseling against her wishes. She'll always be the one to call the shots about whom she sees, how often she sees that person, and for how long. With help, the strong, fearful feelings don't have to last a lifetime.
You both might consider visiting the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) website for more information on survival after rape and sexual abuse. RAINN also operates a 24-hour hotline: 1.800.656.HOPE (-4673). Through this organization, she might find a counselor or group that specializes in treating people who've been abused. If she's a student at Columbia, she can call the Barnard-Columbia Rape Crisis/Anti-Violence Support Center (RC/AVSC) at x4-HELP (-4357; available seven days a week from 7-11pm during the school year).
Other places to go might include:
- her school's counseling department or mental health clinic (if she's a student). At Columbia, she can call Counseling and Psychological Services at x4-2878.
- the National Institute of Mental Health's Getting Help: Locate Services. This site offers more information on finding a counselor in specific areas.
- her health insurance company's referral source (if she's insured). Her plan may have a list of counselors and a way to connect with services. That information should be on the insurance company's website or brochure. She could also call the company to get more guidance.
No matter what, healing takes time and courage. Your girlfriend is a survivor, and you've been a supportive force in her life. If your girlfriend doesn't choose to take opportunities to make some of the important changes in her life, then it may be that she isn't ready right now. In that case, you also have some choices to consider, including whether you want to be her boyfriend right now or transition into another role.
February 5, 200921330
Being there for your partner is something courageous and great that will be appreciated down the way. I was in an abusive relationship for 6 years. Counseling does tremendous things for a special person who has been broken. Encourage your friend to seek a professional with whom she is comfortable with. Maybe find yourself a counselor to help you learn more, even if it does end up in just friendship. Hopefully in time your partner will realize she can heal and with help she can realize how wonderful she can be.
February 16, 200721188
I am 26 now. Between the ages of 15 and 17, I was repeatedly raped and mentally, physically and emotionally abused by my acting/vocal coach at the time. I experienced the symptoms...
I am 26 now. Between the ages of 15 and 17, I was repeatedly raped and mentally, physically and emotionally abused by my acting/vocal coach at the time. I experienced the symptoms your girlfriend is experiencing, plus anxiety attacks and depression.
After I met the man who is now my husband, I had the courage to go to therapy. I needed his understanding, patience and support, and he gave it to me.
Going through therapy was the hardest thing I ever had to do. My therapist had me re-live every bad thing that happened to me in total detail. She recorded the sessions, and I had to listen to them every day. I also had to realize the things that would trigger my emotional upsets and immerse myself in them until they no longer affected me. I watched movies with rape scenes and read books about people who had been abused as well.
After four months of this, I stopped getting nightmares and anxiety. It has been two years since I saw the therapist, and I am a better/healthier person because of it. I hope my input helps you help her.