Sexual Trauma And Relationships After Abuse – Wendy Maltz
Sexual Trauma And Relationships After Abuse
Sexual Trauma And Relationships After Abuse
How do we have relationships after abuse and sexual trauma? Sexual trauma is a topic that’s not commonly talked about. The survivors sometimes think that it’s their fault why they were abused. In this interview with Wendy Maltz, an internationally recognized author, sex therapist and a licensed clinical social worker, she talks about sexual trauma and relationships after abuse. And how partners can help us recover from negative experiences.
How do we have deep relationships after abuse?
Sexual abuse is usually a betrayal of trust, a lack of consent and using sex as a way to harm or control someone instead of experiencing mutual pleasure with them.
To help your partner open up, create a safe place to talk, have compassion and understanding, and work together.
Keep the focus on what the survivor is experiencing, and the survivor’s needs are what is most important.
If you have experienced sexual trauma and want to deepen your relationships after abuse:
- Find safe people to talk with
- Break that silence. Don’t carry the shame.
- Look at the bigger context that it wasn’t your fault.
Steps for recovering from sexual trauma and have relationships after abuse:
- Create new meanings for sex
- Improve your sexual self-concept
- Realize your body’s not bad, and you’re not damaged goods
- Identify actions and things that trigger flashbacks
- Stop negative behaviors that could lead to severe sexual trauma
- Relearn touch
For people who are going through a recovery process and are ready for healthy relationships after abuse:
- Slow down
- Give space for your feelings to come up and let them be there
- Breathe with your feelings
If you found out that your partner’s been sexually abused, help them feel safe in their relationships after abuse:
- Don’t set agenda and don’t take over what’s happening.
- Be available.
- Have a positive energy.
- Applaud small steps.
As a partner, do the opposite of what went on in the abuse and try to heal the sexual trauma
It’s harder for men to admit that they are sexually abused in our society but having a partner who is willing work as a team with them on the healing process, progress can happen.
Love is stronger than abuse. Love heals sexual trauma.
Don’t let what happened in the past be the last word.
Today, we’re going to be talking about sexuality, and how to have relationships after abuse and sexual trauma. And more importantly, how can you recover if you’ve experienced sexual trauma and as a partner, how can you help your partner recover from this negative experiences so that both of you can have a lively and fun and active sexual life, intimate life with your partner.
We’re here with internationally recognized author, speaker, sexual trauma specialist, sex therapist, licensed clinical social worker Wendy Maltz.
One of the books she wrote is one I’m particularly interested in today is called The Sexual Healing Journey: A Guide for Survivors of Sexual Abuse. This is a must read for those who are going through severe sexual trauma and trying to have relationships after abuse.
Thank you for having me.
It’s really great to have you on the show.
One of things that we’re really committed to is getting couples top resources for their relationship and sexual abuse, sexual recovery, and going into relationships after abuse and sexual trauma is a topic that’s not discussed as often as I think we should discussed it so, we’re really excited to get you on the show.
I want to ask you Wendy. What inspired you to write a book about the sexual trauma and relationships after abuse? It’s such a big subject matter and writing a book is just a long and arduous process.
Relationships After Abuse And Dipping Into The Topic Of Sexual Trauma
There’s such a big need in terms of health for survivors who are encountering sexual trauma and want to be in relationships after abuse and this book, The Sexual Healing Journey is actually a classic recovery book that’s been around for a while. I have this new revised edition of it from 2013 but it’s been around for 20 years.
I started writing about sexual trauma and healing relationships after abuse when I was a young therapist who has seen a lot of people in my practice. I was trained as a sex therapist and just shaking my head and going, “How come standard sex therapy exercises don’t work with this people?” and, “What can be done? What do they need?” It just didn’t seem fair that people who had encountered sexual trauma and abuse were having difficulty with sexuality and being in relationships after abuse. They weren’t able to heal with the kinds of strategies and techniques that were out there.
I’m also a survivor myself. So, I was even encountering problems in my own marriage and really going “This needs to change.” People need to more aware of the problem so they can recognize them and make connection.
Go, “Oh! The reason I have so much low sex desire is because I have this negative associations with sex that started out from abuse,” things like that or sexual functioning problems that related to abuse.
I’m really curious what you consider sexual abuse, sexual trauma, and how are relationships after abuse affected? Maybe that can start to click in people’s minds, “Oh, wait. That is something I’ve experienced.”
Relationships After Abuse And Understanding Sexual Trauma
It’s pretty broad definition that has to do with exploitation and somebody exploits or dominates another person for sexual activity or suggest with sexual activity or suggestion. Sexual trauma and abuse can involve so many things. And it can be challenging to heal relationships after abuse. It can involve like child sex abuse, incest, molestation, date rape, marital rape, sexual assault, voyeurism, obscene phone calls, gender attack, even gay bashing, and sexual harassment. It involves a full gamut but it’s usually a betrayal of trust, a lack of consent and using sex as a way to harm someone or control someone instead of experience mutual pleasure with them. You can add in appropriate age.
What do you find the most helpful to help people start to find healing from sexual trauma and in relationships after abuse?
How To Start Healing From Sexual Trauma And Have Relationships After Abuse
I think a lot of people start out really in the dark with what’s going on with them because there aren’t lots of repercussions of an intimate nature that they might not have identified are signs of having been sexually abused or problems that occur like they might avoid sex or be afraid of it or approach it as an obligation or feel out of control with it and have compulsive sexual interest and desires, unwanted fantasies too or functioning problem.
So being able to bridge and make that connection and go, “Oh! I’m encountering some of these problems that are associated with sexual abuse. Maybe that thing that happened to me or those things that happen to me in the past are having an effect on what’s going on.”
It’s sort of a light bulb thing of going, “Need the connection” and then, it is learning about the different steps to recovery and those are outlined in The Sexual Healing Journey. It goes from changing attitudes about sex to changing behaviors and learning new approaches for touch and it’s possible.
A lot of people don’t realize that they can make great progress in terms of reclaiming their sexuality is something healthy and positive for them. Recovering from sexual trauma and deepen relationships after abuse is hard for them. They think they’re damaged goods or that they somehow are bad for what they participated in or what went on.
Dealing With Sexual Trauma In Your Relationships After Abuse
What I really get from what you’re sharing is that a lot of people feel shamed and have a very hard time recovering from sexual trauma, and opening up in relationships after abuse about this subject. I know personally, the reason why I sought you out is because I was seeing a lot of clients women for awhile that were coming to sessions by themselves, without their partner. As we dove deeper into what was going on for them, sexual trauma and relationships after abuse kept coming up over and over and I would ask, “Have you talked to your partner about this?”
As a relationship coach, people come to me because they want help on their relationship, to overcome sexual trauma and what I’ve found across the board with all this women is they were having this certain issues. The issues varied but really it came down to a sense of, “I can’t open up completely to my partner” or, “We’re not having the relationship we want” and at some point, I would find out that there is this big secret that their partner didn’t know.
One of the things I’ve found is that I really needed to help them be able to open up with me about it so that they could move forward and maybe eventually open up to their partner.
As a male partner, because sexual trauma is more common in women but that doesn’t mean men don’t have it. But as a male, how can I help my partner begin to open up?
In Relationships After Abuse – How To Help A Partner Heal From Sexual Trauma
Making it safe, believing what you’re told, having compassion and understanding, recognizing that we live in a society where there is a great deal of sexual abuse goes on and most women experience it in some form.
In terms of criminal forms, you’re looking at like 1 in 3 or 1 in 4 women experienced sexual assault and abuse where there’s an actual criminal sex offender involved.
It’s out there. It’s everywhere. It’s in subtle ways and being able to have empathy and create a safe place to talk where they’re believed and also to help the woman to feel that she can gain control in terms of what goes on intimately. To encourage mutual behavior and not to dominate, force, or cajole for sexual activity.
Try and understand some triggers and work together. It’s all about learning how to work together as a team.
When partners learn about sexual abuse, they read books like The Sexual Healing Journey, which has a whole chapter for partners or some of the books like, Allies in Healing by Laura Davis and other number of resources for partners. I have some DVDs that are really helpful partners in healing from sexual trauma and deepen relationships after abuse.
You learn about it and then, you don’t make mistakes in terms of trying to address it in ways that are counter-productive.
When I’ve talked to my male friends who have heard from their partner that she was abused, and she went through sexual trauma, many men tend to feel a sense of retaliation in her relationships after abuse. They want to hurt the person that did that to the person they love, they feel angry. Oftentimes what I’ve found is that that doesn’t help.
How To Talk About Sexual Trauma In Your Relationships After Abuse
As a male I would want to defend my partner or go back in the past or find that person who did it and beat them up or make them feel some sort of pain. I’ve found that women don’t tend to respond too well to that.
Is that true in your experience?
Yeah, because it’s sort of jumps over the whole issue of what they’re feeling and it goes into this mode of trying to get back at the perpetrator when the abuse might have happened years ago. It’s an understandable reaction.
I remember working with a couple when a woman had been abused by her father so she went through several sexual trauma and in her relationships after abuse with her young husband had knew the father and went on to some sporting events together with his father and heard that the father had been inappropriate but didn’t hear the details of the abuse until they got into counselling. When he heard the details of the abused, which involves things like oral sex and other direct touch, he got so upset. He jumped up on the side of the couch and he started to vomit. He said he was about vomit. He ran down the hall to the bathroom and then he came back and he said, “I’m going to kill the guy.”
It took quite a while to just calm things down and for her to share with him that that would be totally unproductive and he’s missing a point. What she needed in that moment was not to hear that her father was going to be killed and her dear husband would go to jail for life. But instead to hear him say, “I’m so sorry that happened to you. What can we do together to address this?”
Deal and learning how to deal with his own anger, which was justified but —
Keeping the focus on the survivor and the survivor’s needs is what is important.
Keeping The Focus On Healing Sexual Trauma In Your Relationships After Abuse
When I was a teenager, I was raped and I had a boyfriend who found out about it and he attacked the guy and ended up getting bitten by a dog while he was attacking the guy who did this to me. It was hard for me but luckily did not go through severe sexual trauma. He has a scar for life because of that and I felt actually worse from that experience of having him lashed out through the person who had done that and then, him getting hurt.
I felt more shame around him doing that.
So keeping that focus on what is the survivor experiencing and what is she needing in terms of help to actually overcome sexual trauma in her relationships after abuse. Getting help for themselves to deal with the understandable anger reaction they have and feelings of powerlessness.
In some ways though, it can be helpful for a survivor to hear, “Wow, what happened to me was really significant and shouldn’t have happened based on this reaction.” A little bit of it can be productive in terms of “You didn’t deserve this. You didn’t do anything wrong that this happened to you.” Those kinds of messages.
One of the things that I’d really like to point out for the listeners, especially the men is how important that piece is of we’re actually being counter-productive to our desire to help. If we show this great amount of anger in the sense of we want to attack that person and have this vengeance, it’s completely normal and natural if you’re a male. You’re hearing the story and you feel sadness, you feel anger, you feel upset towards that other person and to tell your partner “Wow, I’m really upset to hear this. That must have been really hard for you,” and doing a redirect where you’re putting the attention back on your partner in what his or her feelings were.
Not Feeling Alone In Your Relationships After Abuse And After Sexual Trauma
If the survivor can hear, “Gee, I’m not alone. I have somebody who cares about me and will do healing work with me,” that is a really healthy place to direct the energy.
That’s like I just told you that I was raped. That’s not something that I’ve told that many people and now, all our listeners hear it. If you have that secret or you have something that you may have considered sexual abuse, what should you do with that?
It’s to start with finding safe people to talk about sexual trauma even in their relationships after abuse. Like, in a therapy context is a good place to start. With a trusted relative or friend, with a sexual assault treatment center, you can make a phone call. There’s a national organization called RAINNE and you could go to rainn.org and there are people that you can talk with.
I think breaking that silence is so important. Don’t carry the shame that comes along with sexual trauma. The shame belongs to the perpetrator and I think to our culture, which fosters a lot of ideas, and policies that makes sexual abuse possible.
Needing to look at it in the bigger context too that it wasn’t you. This is something that’s going on and has happening to a lot of people as well. So, you don’t have to take the shame on for it.
I always tell survivors of sexual trauma that, when they start feeling a little angry about what happened to them, the chain flips and goes like, “Hey! This wasn’t right that this happened to me” “Hey! I’m really upset that this happen to.” That anger can be really good in terms of mobilizing them to seek help and to join a survivor support group or to read books on sexual recovery, sexual abuse recovery and join the online support services.
“This shouldn’t have happened to me. I want to stop it from happening to other people too.” That energy is a great thing and you learn to have compassion for yourself. Sometimes survivors will blame themselves for something and go “I shouldn’t have drunk so much at that party” or “I shouldn’t have worn that outfit” or “I shouldn’t have gone with that uncle. I knew he had a problem” But it’s like no.
You should be able to wear whatever, go whatever, be whatever and not get sexually abused so that you can yourself sexual trauma and deepen relationships after abuse. It’s a problem in our culture and problem with the person who did this.
How To Access Intimacy In Your Relationships After Abuse After Sexual Trauma
Yeah, it’s something that can be really easy to numb out or forget about or try to sweep under the rug. I found that in my own journey too and I see that in my client’s journeys who have been through sexual trauma. Sometimes, when the issue comes up again and rears its ugly head and those memories started flooding back where the body memories start flooding back is actually when you’re in the act of sex and when you’re in a space of safety and you’re with your partner who loves you. And then, those body memories can start to come back and that pain and trauma.
One thing that’s been really helpful for me and guiding other people through their recovery process is slowing down, giving spaciousness for those feelings to come up, and just letting them be there, just breathing with them, holding the body. If those sensations start coming up, they get uncomfortable and maybe you want to start thrusting faster to try to override those feelings and just try to focus on the sensation of getting off.
I think that slowing down is one of the key pieces for letting those feelings be there and not needing to figure them out in the moment.
You talk about sexual trauma, relationships after abuse, and then sexual healing. What’s one of the key pieces that you get into when those traumas come up while you’re being sexual?
I think it’s really interesting in what you just said Kamala because you’re spot on. You have to go through them but in a different go through and experience in a different way and not trying to override it because it will just come back.
In terms of steps for recovery, there are things of creating new meanings for sex, improving your sexual self-concept, avoiding sexual trauma, realizing your body’s not bad and you’re not damaged goods. Identifying automatically actions and things that trigger those kinds of flashbacks. Stopping negative behaviors because sometimes survivors can act out in ways that are harmful to themselves or others when they’re confused based on the abuse.
Relearning Touch In Your Relationships After Abuse And After Sexual Trauma
Being able to relearn touch. I recommend like something called, “Vacations from sex” where you actually stop having a genital sex for a while and work on developing some skills like being able to be present in intimate touch. Being able to breathe and relax to associate touch with feelings of respect and caring. Being able to communicate in touch and the whole series of relearning touch exercises, which are on the video, Relearning Touch Techniques, and they are described in the book too.
You can go on my website in healthysex.com and learn about sexual trauma and healing in relationships after abuse. But, those are just marvelous in terms of giving people experiences where they can slowly move forward on their own or with a partner to experience a new approach to a pleasurable touch that’s related to sexual touch.
You start out with non-sexual and then move into sexual. Sometimes it works with just slowing down and allowing yourself to process feelings. But other times that you may need to just pull back for a moment and give yourself a rest and then, start a new with approaching sex in a different way.
In Relationships After Abuse – How To Approach A Partner Who Has Experienced Sexual Trauma
As I’m listening to both of you, one of the things that comes up for me and the audience of men is how do I approach my partner if I find out that she’s been sexually abused? How do I approach her with sensitivity and touch and how do I slow down and learn how to listen to her? What should I be doing?
I would love to hear from both of you.
Don’t set the agenda and don’t take over what’s happening. Be available, have a positive energy, applaud small steps, ask like “Are you open to touch now?” or, “Let me know.” Check in with the partner during touch experiences or educate yourself about the different steps that are involved in sexual healing but don’t take over the recovery process and don’t pull on the partner to do more than the partner’s ready to do.
See you’re available, you’re positive, you’re realizing that for a while, that survivor’s going to need to feel she’s in control of what goes on in terms of physical activity.
You can work towards more mutual initiations or you’re being able to initiate some things when she feels safe, when she’s made some changes.
It really is being able to be present, positive and encouraging.
Recovering From the Sexual Trauma In Your Relationships After Abuse
I absolutely love everything you just said and completely agree with it. I think from my recovery experience, I didn’t even touch on the pain of it until years later when I’ve actually finally felt safe enough to feel the pain of it.
I think a big piece is asking permission. That was a big piece, the beginning of my healing journey and workshops. I’ve just seen women just bust open and start to really relax when someone actually ask permission of how “Can I touch your body?”, “Can I touch your body like this?”, “How would you like to be touched?”
That alone can be so healing because if a body is used to just being touched in however the man wants to touch it, then it can be so damaging for the women. Creating safety through that is really powerful.
That’s so true and as a partner, you don’t want to recreate any kind of dynamic that’s similar to how the perpetrator behaved that resulted sexual trauma. It’s sort of like a rule of thumb there. Do the opposite of what went on in the abuse. There was no choice in the abuse. You don’t have a life to choose. The other person pressured, don’t pressure.
You do the opposite and it’s understandable. This is really tough for partners to get. I see in my practice all the time. They’re sweetest partners, guys and even in lesbian relationships, you see the same thing. It crosses the sexual orientation. You can have the sweetest partners and the safest partners. It just is that because they want to be sexual with the person who’s a survivor, they are going to introvert, only trigger some negative reactions and being able to not take this personally.
As a partner, you don’t want to say “How come you don’t see me as safe? Have I ever abused you?” and things like that.
You just got to understand that the more the survivor’s able to share with you the sexual trauma that she’s having some problems and you’re being able to hear that and take that seriously and make adjustments, that’s where the healing is going to occur.
A person can’t snap out of an automatic reaction and say, “Oh, I’m no longer scared of you. Yes, you are a safe person.” It’s something that has to be learned through a new physical and emotional interaction with each other.
What About Male Survivors Of Sexual Trauma In Relationships After Abuse
Wow. Such a great stuff. I’m curious, if you would say anything different to male survivors?
In terms of what their needs are, I think being a male survivor is also can be a challenge because it’s hard for men to admit that they are having problems and a lot of times, the sexual repercussions from abuse will show up in terms of like some compulsive sexual behavior, heavy involvements with pornography, isolating into a masturbation, or having some sexual dysfunctions.
It’s just a little harder in our society for men to admit some of these things but I think that having a partner who’s not pressuring them and a partner who is willing to work as a team with them on the healing process, that’s where the progress is made.
That’s really great to hear that Kamala asked that question because it was something that was on my mind. Is there a difference? Really to me, it doesn’t sound like there is. There’s this myth around men and women being so different and yes, there are many differences and a lot of ways, we’re so similar too. We’re all wired in so many different ways in regards to how we recover, how we feel loved, how we feel safe.
And the process, in a lot of ways is going to be pretty much the exact same process. Making that person feel safe, connecting with them and letting them know that they have value and that what happened in the past, does not in any way impact how you feel about them.
Not Being Defined By Sexual Trauma In Relationships After Abuse
Yes, and it does not have to define them. I hear some kind of quote once. It was something like, “We are harmed in relationships with other people and we are healed in our relationships with other people.”
I really think love is stronger than abuse.
I say that all the time because I see it in the counselling, with what couples are able to accomplish, when people really care about each other, and they convey feelings of respect and compassion. It’s amazing what goes on and you don’t have to let what happened in the past be the last word.
Learn More About Sexual Trauma And Healing In Your Relationships After Abuse
I loved that and one of the things I want to touch based on that we have in is for anybody that’s interested in Wendy’s work and really learning about sexual recovery, sexual trauma through relationships after abuse, and healing as well as porn addiction or any subject really relating to relationships. Wendy has a great website healthysex.com and I also want to add one more plug because one of the things that we can’t really completely touch-based on in this type of platform of just audio is how do we relearn touch and do we do that? If you go to her website, she has a program called Relearning Touch Healing Techniques for couples.
Wendy, it’s been really fantastic to have you on the show. Really appreciate it.
This is the most important topic that I can think of to put out there that’s not talked enough. I really value how you’re showing up in the world and putting these resources out there for people particularly helping them with recovering sexual trauma through their relationships after abuse.
As we graduate high school and getting into our early 20s and we have this version of success that we’ve typically adopted from what we’ve seen in culture and media and maybe those that we’ve looked up to. I think as we get smacked in the face by reality, as we go through relationships, and as we looked in at certain people and go, “Gosh, I don’t like that about you,” and looked at other people and go, “I really admire that person.” It really starts to form in shape what success really looks like and I don’t think that success is very relative.
The key to success is not very specific. I think that there are different channels of success but I think to have it all, if you will. This has been one of my aim on my journey of success is to have it all. Meaning to have strong relationship with my wife, my family, and my kids, to have a really have strong spiritual life that I’m a Christian guy but just to make sure that’s a priority in my life, which suggests that the key to success is a wide term. To make sure I have good reputation, and that I protect that and the day of the internet where the internet never forgets whatever you say can be construed and pushed against you. We got to be very careful to protect our names and our reputation. And then, my physical health, on top of that, my finances. Together, those kinds of things really make up my success and really help in defining the key to success.
You can tell it. I don’t talk about my business. My business is not something that I do and I think it’s fairly successful as a channel but for the most part, I don’t want to become the wealthiest guy that nobody likes. Mere being wealthy is not the key to success. I don’t want to become the guy that got too busy making a living that I forgot to make a life. There are all these puns that I can just keep going with in terms I don’t want to be the richest guy in the graveyard. That’s the life that I want to stay away from and I define the key to success on my own terms.
I might not be the wealthiest guy that you’ve ever meet but my hope is to become one of the most successful people you’ve ever meet.
Thank so much for coming on the show Wendy. Sexual trauma and relationships after abuse are such an important topics for us to discuss.