When we enter a new relationship, we often want to tell a partner our life story; the events that shaped us, and the stuff we wouldn’t disclose to most people. However, opening up about past sexual trauma is not easy, and can oftentimes be triggering to talk about. It can take people years to come to terms with past events, and even longer to to openly talk about it. The uncertainty of how your partner may react or if they’ll look at you differently after disclosing this information can be fear-inducing. Knowing whether or not you open up about sexual trauma can be a confusing process. However, it’s also a decision you don’t have to make instantaneously, and of course, depends on if you feel comfortable disclosing this piece of information. Click here for more tips on how to cope with sexual assault
Try asking yourself these questions
- Do I see this becoming a long-term relationship? Is our relationship progressing well?
- Does my trauma affect how I act and feel in this relationship?
- Can I trust my partner? (have they shown this through making your privacy important in the relationship)
- Is my partner a non-judgmental person? Do they show empathy in other situations? (i.e upsetting news or a graphic movie that may show different forms of trauma)
- Have you both had conversations about sexual assault? If so, how have they reacted? Was there victim blaming in their response?
- When you talk about yourself or problems going on, do they show active listening? Do they give thoughtful advice? Do they switch the subject to their own issues?
- If you don’t want to talk about a certain topic anymore, do they respect your boundaries and not bring it up or do they push until you give them the answer they want to hear?
If your answers to these questions weren’t what you were hoping for, perhaps that is a sign to hold off on disclosing and continue to evaluate the relationship. However, if you’ve chosen to move forward and want to tell them, here are some points to consider.
It can be beneficial to ensure a certain time and place for when you initiate this conversation. Perhaps, plan out a certain amount of time in a day to talk to your partner so you know this discussion won’t be rushed. It’s also important to choose a setting that’s private, rather than a busy one where people could easily listen in. However, we also realize that everyone has their own preference of how they want to communicate. If you want to talk this out on the phone or through text, that’s also completely your choice.
How you want to bring it up
Giving your partner a heads up that there’s something important you want to discuss could be a helpful choice. You could say something like this when initiating the conversation…
“There’s something that I’ve wanted to talk to you about. It’s nothing that you did, just a part of my past I feel you deserve to know and that I want to share. It’s taking me a lot of courage to tell you this so I’m only going to disclose what I feel comfortable with for now and need your support.”
Decide what you want to disclose
You don’t have to go into detail when sharing your story, simply express the parts that you feel most comfortable with. You can even write this down beforehand, or rehearse what you want to say in your head or out loud. Overtime, if you feel you want to share more that’s also totally fine! You don’t have to go into everything all at once. That’s a lot of pressure to place on yourself, and can be triggering to go through again.
We all have certain expectations when telling anyone close to us news within our lives. You may imagine this individual to have a great response only for them to be silent, or unsure of what to say rather than showing immediate support and words of affirmation. This doesn’t necessarily mean they’re a bad person, but they may just struggle in knowing how to react to upsetting information. This could be due to the fact that they lack experience in this area, or just don’t know what the right thing to say is. On the other hand, they may have also dealt with similar trauma and this discussion could have been triggering. Of course, if they do respond poorly or in a way that you feel is a deal breaker, don’t feel guilt or shame. It’s better to discover this side of them now rather than later on. You want to be with someone who can support you in troubling times. Communication is key within any relationship, and being able to listen and respond well is a top priority. Perhaps, discussing how the conversation went with a professional or trusted friend could be beneficial. Hearing an unbiased perspective on the issue, can help you understand why things may have gone the way they did.
It can always help to discuss what to do with a trusted friend or mental health professional beforehand. However, what’s most important is that you take care of yourself during this time, and never pressure yourself into doing something you’re not ready for. Below we’ve listed crisis resources which are featured on the CAMH website.
Written by: Taryn Herlich