There are many ways that past trauma can affect your current sex life, especially if that trauma is sexual, but there are things that you can do to begin to heal from that trauma and move on.
Three Common Ways Past Trauma Can Affect Your Sex Life
Erosion of Trust
One way your relationship may be affected is by the erosion of trust that may get generalized to an entire gender or projected onto your partner. An example of this may be, “My mother cheated on my father and left us for the other man. Therefore, all women will cheat, or all women will lie, or all women will leave, OR all three.”
2. Self-Identifying With the Abuse or Abuser
Another way that couples are affected is when the person who suffered past abuse self identifies with the abuse or the abuser. An example might be the false belief from the person who was abused, i.e. thinking, ‘I am bad for letting this happen, I didn’t do anything to prevent it, or I didn’t do enough to stop it. OR I deserve it OR it wasn’t that bad.’
3. The False Belief of Being ‘Damaged Goods.’
The last way past trauma can affect your current sex life is when the person who was abused holds the false belief of ‘I am damaged goods.’ An example of this is the the child of abuse growing up and not knowing what a ‘normal’ is. Frequently people overcompensate and can become sexually promiscuous (and there are a lot of reasons for that) or sexually shut down OR become abusive to themselves in other ways that will affect their sex lives. For example, when someone uses drugs or alcohol that can interfere with a healthy sexual experience.
Moving on From Trauma
Let’s talk about what it means to ‘move on.’ In my vernacular that means looking at some type of healing. I have heard people who have experienced abuse tell me that they have ‘moved on from it,’ but in my clinical experience, and my personal experience too, moving on most often means ignoring it or coping with it in a non-healthy way.
Truly overcoming childhood trauma is very complex and this video is in no way meant to substitute for individual therapy or therapy of any kind. I hope that this will point you in the right direction to help with some ways you might start the process.
Individual therapy can be very helpful AND when you are in relationship, couples therapy can be very important for the relationship because all trauma is relational, so it is my experience that one can heal through their healthy intimate relationship. And when one of you has a serious issue, you both live with it in some way.
The Healing Process
That being said, you can begin by working through a healing process with your person.
The healing process involves:
When dealing with any complex intimate issue, the fist step is to check readiness. Are you both open to discussing it right now, is there enough time and is it the right environment? Give yourselves the right space and frame of mind for it. Then acknowledge that this is an issue affecting you both. It will create common ground when you are both on the same side of an issue rather than it being between you.
2. Acknowledge the Erosion of Trust and the Effect of the Trauma on Your Relationship
Let’s take a look at this using the first example, erosion of trust. First, it is important to recognize that it is perfectly reasonable to have a loss of trust when you have been traumatized. Especially in the case of sexual trauma, because of the nature of the intimate abuse. Intimacy is built on trust and when it is broken oftentimes, your sex life will be affected.
Notice how you have learned to cope with the trauma. You have some important coping mechanisms that have helped you to survive but they are often unhealthy and often not pro-relational. Consider how your partner might support you or choose other healthy behaviors to support the process of healing. Go slow and remember that trust is built with consistency over time. Recognize that you are an adult and that your partner is not your abuser. That leads to an important exercise in healing the abuse which is called de-roling.
3. De-Role with Your Partner
De-roling is a process of intentionally separating your partner from your abuser by naming each. For instance, you might say “(state your partner’s name), I know you are not (state the abusers name). Or, more specifically, “Jill, I know you are my wife and my love and I know you are not my mother who abused me.” Your partner can even acknowledge it by saying, “I know I am your loving wife Jill and not your abusive mother.” This is an important way to start managing trauma, so you can move forward.
4. Create a New Sex Blueprint for Yourselves
And that leads to the last of the three problems couples often experience in their sex life when there is abuse (Please know that there are many more issues that I will be talking about these are just a common few).
The last problem is identifying with the abuse – in other words, “I am damaged goods.” Especially with guilt, we can take on the guilt and shame of the abuser which feels like our own. The de-roling process can be very helpful followed by discussing the types of experiences you would like to be having and the emotional feelings that go with those experiences. This issue is even more complex because often people who have been sexually abused have a great deal of confusion associated with the experience and have difficulty sorting through the physical responses that sometimes accompany the abuse in addition to not understanding what a ‘normal’ sex life is. So rather than focus on behaviors, we instead want to focus on the experiences and how they want to emotionally feel in the sexual experience.
When someone who’s been abused identifies with the abuse or the abuser, they may experience guilt by holding themselves responsible for attracting the abuse or not doing enough to prevent it. I want to address this with a simple reminder, abuse is never something you are responsible for attracting or preventing. You were abused, which means you were victimized.
A healthy way to look at this is to acknowledge that it happened and request that your partner hear your experience. This can be an important part of the healing process.
I sometimes get asked, especially from those with jobs that deal with traumatic situations, if they can share the trauma by telling their partner of their experience. Here is how you can do that:
How to Share Past Trauma With Your Partner
1. Check readiness
Make sure your timing and setting is right for you both.
2. Share your Emotional Experience
Share your emotional experience of the trauma, rather than every little detail of the experience.
3. Go slow
Go slow, and stay attuned to your partner noticing how they are responding. Give yourself time and space and check in with your nervous system. Our partners are usually much better at supporting us once we let them into our vulnerability and we ask for what we want from them.
4. De-Role Yourself
And finally, de-role yourself in front of you partner by acknowledging the distinct difference between being a victim and being victimized. It might sound like, “Even though my cousin John victimized me when he abused me, I will no longer behave like a victim of abuse.”
Related: 10 Ways to Create Intimacy That Aren’t Just Sexual
Let’s summarize: To start healing your sex life after trauma:
First check readiness to discuss and process this for you both. Are both you and your partner ready and open to work with this complex and hurtful issue? Go slow and give yourself permission to put the brakes on when you need time or push the pause button entirely for a while – with a commitment to getting back to it at an appointed time.
Next – acknowledge that the loss of trust is reasonable and acknowledge that you are both affected by the abuse, even though only one of you may have lived through it.
Third – De-role your partner from the abuser and de-role yourself from the abuse.
And finally, create a new sex blueprint for yourselves based on the experiences both of you want and the emotional experiences you are both looking for.
In the following video, I talk about how past trauma can affect your current sex life, and how you can work with your partner to move forward and begin the process of healing your sex life and relationship.
Making Your Love Work
If you want to truly move on and heal yourself and your relationship, you do have to face your past, but you don’t have to do it alone. You and your partner can benefit from couples counseling.
Are you ready to have the relationship you’ve always desired – with total trust and true understanding and acceptance?