This article is dedicated to my amazing life partner, Jacqueline Marshall, who has walked with me as I journey wholeness.
For many men, the trauma of sexual abuse can be difficult to discuss, even with their spouses or significant others. A stigma still lingers around male victims of sexual abuse that does not exist for female survivors. This is because men who have experienced sexual abuse often feel ashamed, embarrassed, and inadequate. This stigma can often be a barrier to men seeking help or talking about their abuse with friends, family, and loved ones. In some cases, they may not even realize that what happened was actually abuse. Understanding the impact of sexual abuse on male victims is key to providing support for a spouse who has been through this type of trauma.
The Effects of Sexual Abuse on Men
Sexual abuse can have long-term effects on both women and men. However, male victims may find it more challenging to confront their experiences head-on due to societal expectations about masculinity and strength. Some common reactions among male survivors include depression, anxiety, self-blame and guilt, isolation, difficulty trusting people, anger management issues, substance use disorders, relationship difficulties (including physical or emotional intimacy), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), hypervigilance and distrustful behaviors towards partners or family members. These reactions are normal responses to an abnormal situation; however, it is important for spouses to be aware of them to support their partner through this challenging time effectively.
When it comes to relationships, this social stigma surrounding male survivors can complicate communication between partners. Some partners may not fully understand why their partner is struggling emotionally or why they are reluctant to talk about certain topics and certain intimate displays of affection. Which often can lead to misunderstandings and frustrations in the relationship. When these issues go unresolved for too long, it could eventually lead to emotional disconnection and even divorce if both parties are unable or unwilling to communicate effectively with each other.
The Need for Control
Many men don't disclose their sexual abuse because they feel like it gives them a sense of control over the situation. By keeping silent about what happened in the past, they feel like they are able to take back some power over how people perceive them—and this can help them cope with the trauma in a more positive way than simply talking about it ever could. However, while this strategy might work in the short term, it ultimately serves as an obstacle on the road toward healing and recovery from past traumas.
Sexual abuse is an incredibly traumatic experience and one that can have lasting effects on those who have been through it. For many men who have gone through such experiences, talking about it with loved ones—particularly spouses or significant others—can seem impossible due to feelings of shame and embarrassment, fear of judgment or rejection, or a need for control over how people perceive them. While these feelings are understandable, it's important for those affected by sexual abuse to recognize that there is strength in vulnerability and bravery in confronting one's trauma head-on; only then can true healing begin.
How To Help
The most important thing a spouse can do is simply listen without judgment when their partner talks about his experiences. It’s also important for spouses not to try and “fix” the problem but rather validate their partner’s feelings by showing empathy and understanding. Showing patience with your partner as they work through their emotions is also essential; it may take time before they are ready to talk about the experience in detail or seek professional help. Providing emotional support will help your partner feel safe enough to open up and process his experiences without fear or shame. I have to emphasize and repeat that As a spouse or significant other of someone who has experienced sexual abuse, it’s important that you create an environment where your partner feels safe enough to open up about their experiences without fear of judgment or criticism. You should also be mindful that they might need extra emotional support during moments when they feel overwhelmed by past trauma and allow them space if they need it without taking it personally.
One of the most damaging things you can do is make his abuse about you. If he feels he has to tailor his truth in order to accommodate your feelings, he will more than likely not share his complete truth, which can be more damaging than living in silence.
- Robert H. Marshall Jr.
Finally, it’s important that you remain patient as your partner works through difficult emotions related to their abuse, as it may take time for them to trust you enough to share what happened with you openly and honestly.
Men who have experienced sexual abuse often find it difficult—and sometimes impossible—to open up about what happened due to feelings of embarrassment and shame. As a spouse or significant other of someone who has experienced sexual abuse, it’s important that you provide compassion and understanding while your partner works through his emotions surrounding the traumatic event(s). Showing patience and validating your partner's feelings are essential components in helping him move forward on his path towards healing from this type of trauma. With love and support from those closest to him, he can eventually find peace within himself again.