Advice for survivors' partners
Life can be tough for the partner of a victim of abuse. You might feel that you want to ‘do something’ to help your partner feel better or you might want to turn away from the pain, perhaps feeling unable to help.
The best ‘something’ you can do will involve a rather passive role - by listening, supporting and giving space.
Listening - never underestimate the power of ‘just’ listening. Sometimes it will be difficult to hear what your partner has to say, you may need to stop and come back to it later. Most survivors want to talk to their partner about the abuse but they need to choose their own time. They also need to know that their partner will not turn away repulsed. There will probably be tears. Comments such as “I’m sorry you had to go though that” are helpful. Never question why your partner didn’t tell someone - this will sound blaming and people are too blaming of themselves anyway. Be tentative with touch - ask “would you like a hug right now?”
Supporting your partner means being on their side and accepting their view of events. Never try to excuse what the abuser did, saying for example "He must have been a sick man..." or "You can’t blame your mother, she probably didn’t know about it...". Comments like these are unhelpful. Your partner will have to come to terms with their feelings about the abuser on their own, and if you sound as if you are making excuses for the abuser this may delay the healing process and even alienate you from your partner.
Giving space means allowing your partner time to sort out their emotions and reactions to memories without pressure. Your partner may be facing several months of disturbance - sometimes withdrawing from you; at other times needing extra comfort. Your own needs may have to take second place - but the sacrifice will be worth it. If the abuser is still alive and you know where they live, you may feel like confronting them (some husbands want to beat up the abuser - an understandable but invariably bad response). Before you decide to do anything check with your partner that it's what they want you to do. To act without first consulting the person abused is to put them in a powerless position, and they’ve been there before. It may be a situation that is too frightening and confusing for them to consider. If you are left with unvented anger, bash a pillow instead of the abuser - this is supportive action. Respecting your partner’s wishes creates or restores trust, a commodity that will have been damaged by the abuse.
Don’t forget that you are welcome to attend support sessions with RASASC, during your partner’s therapy, to help you to cope with your own feelings - and to help you to know you are doing the right thing.
If you have any counselling needs that you wish to discuss please call our Helpline.