Whether your partner was recently assaulted or disclosed a traumatic experience to you from their past, it can be difficult to know how to respond. Remember that they have likely disclosed their experience to you because they trust you and may be looking for support. It is important to know that you do not have to go through this alone and there are many things you can do to help make your partner feel safe and supported.

Everyone responds differently to sexual assault. Frequent responses include feelings of fear, distress, humiliation, anger, confusion, numbness, and guilt. It is important that your partner be allowed to experience and process through these feelings without having them invalidated, dismissed, or questioned.

How to Help as a Partner

Believe your partner when they confide in you. Don’t pressure them to talk. It is best to let them set the pace. Listen. Validate their feelings. These are natural responses that need to be felt, expressed, and heard. It is okay to tell your partner that this is a difficult topic for you to talk about. It’s good to keep in mind that survivors may want to talk about other things, have fun, go to classes and social events.

Do not blame your partner, or yourself. Avoid asking “why” questions as much as possible because these often imply blame. Focus on their needs. If they didn’t tell you immediately about the assault, listen to their reasons. It is very common for survivors to wait before sharing with others. Reassure them that they have your support.

Help to educate yourself about various options. The survivor may want to seek medical care (STI testing, pregnancy testing and/or prevention, physical checkup, evidence collection, etc.), talk to a counselor, or report the assault to authorities. Remember, you don’t need to be an expert on all the options that are available; there are professionals to help educate both you and the survivor. A Crisis Intervention Counselor at SARP is an example of a professional who can help educate you or your partner about the options available.

Respect their decisions rather than telling them how they should handle the situation or how you would handle the situation. After a sexual assault, a survivor may experience a sense of loss of power and control. Respecting the choices a survivor makes can help them regain this control. This may be particularly challenging if you feel impacted by their choices. It is important to allow your partner to come to their own decisions without feeling pressured.

Even if you have a history of physical intimacy with your partner, it is likely that they will feel differently about sexual intimacy after their assault. Although this can be very hard as a partner, remember that every individual has to decide for themselves when and how they would like to interact with others sexually.

Practice patience and remember to be open to communication with your partner. You can help your partner by creating a safe environment in which mutual and freely given consent will be respected. Open conversations about sexual desires and boundaries are important. Having these conversations before sexual activity could help you and your partner feel safe and in control.

Take care of yourself. Recognize that hearing about a sexual assault can be difficult and that you are going to have your own feelings about what has happened to your partner, and some of them like sadness and anger may even be similar. It is normal and okay for you to experience your own reactions. You may even feel confused about how to best support your partner while taking care of yourself. Remember that there are resources available to help support you as well. Talking to a counselor can help you understand your own reactions to what has happened and enable you to support your partner more effectively.

Boston University Crisis Intervention Counselors are available to BU affiliates 24/7 by calling 617-353-SARP (7277).