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Partner with PTSD, I think


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My partner was raped & emotionally tormented 20 years ago, when she was 20, by a clergyman who was her intellectual mentor. She has been dealing with this in therapy for about 15 years, since just before we met. I think it is PTSD ... but no one has actually put that name on it, including my SO, so I'm not sure that's what it technically is

In the beginning of our r'ship we had normal sex -- not as frequent as I've had with non-victimized partners, but I wasn't starved of sex. It all seemed normal. Then, about three years into the r'ship, the sex just ended. She couldn't do it anymore, she just couldn't. For years I thought it was about me (because isn't everything?), but I'm beginning to understand that it really isn't. That doesn't help me with my sexual desires, but it makes me feel slightly less crappy about not being the object of her desire.

The thing is, when the sex stopped, so did all other physical intimacies, even holding hands became so infrequent that it now feels awkward when we do occasionally hold hands. I miss this kind of contact at least as much as the expressly sexual contact. I don't know how to get it back. I've felt so beat up by the situation, I've just shut down on emotional intimacy, maybe in retaliation for her shutting down sexually.

At this point, the r'ship is on the rocks after 14 yrs. Neither of us wants to throw it away, and both of us realize we need help to get back both forms of intimacy that we backed off from. We're going to find a couples therapist to help us. We've never done couples therapy before; both of us are in individual therapy, but it doesn't seem appropriate for us to use one of our tdocs to do the couples therapy.

Question 1: Can anyone offer some useful questions we can ask prospective couples tdocs?

Several yrs ago my tdoc suggested some nonsexual forms of physical intimacy (foot rubs, back massage, etc.) that SO & I could try just to keep a sense of connection between us. At the time I rejected the notion b/c I feared being turned down by SO for even these innocuous forms of intimacy. (We really screwed up this r'ship.)

Question 2: Can anyone offer some activities that will help my partner ease back into physical (not necessarily sexual) contact? I'm especially interested in hearing from people with PTSD whose partners had to take the lead but did so in a way that was completely acceptable to you.

I find that talking about it with her is kind of difficult. Part of it is my impatience -- the feeling that it's been 20 yrs since it happened & 15 yrs of tx for it. I knock myself for this but can't seem to get it out of my head. (Of course, maybe she feels the same about my MDD, which has been 33 yrs in me, with 23 yrs of tx for it & 13 yrs of meds. I understand that the shoe could always just as easily be on the other foot here ... or what's the phrase I'm trying to find here?)

I've turned to a friend -- strictly a friend, in emotional terms -- for sexual relief. It also helps that I can talk to him as a sympathetic ear about our situation. My SO has a very very close friend (she's only met IRL one time, & we were together when they met) who offers a sympathetic ear as a fellow survivor of abuse by clergy. She claims this friend really is just a friend, but they talk to each other on IM half a dozen times every single day & tell each other very intimate details of their lives. This friend has stepped out of her marriage to be with another woman, and I'm afraid that she has set her sights on my SO, even though SO denies it completely. She's still in her marriage, hanging onto it for reasons I don't understand & can't judge because her life is so foreign to me. And sometimes I wonder what it is that keeps SO with me. I feel so insecure in this r'ship for reasons that both of us have brought into being. It's a nasty feeling, but I never want to be the kind of partner who alienates my SO from other r'ships that aren't meant to threaten me, especially one where she finds great support for all the stuff she apparently feels she can't tell me. (I'm not trying to sound like a saint here. I've done and thought plenty of things that I'm ashamed of or at least ought to be, some of which I've disclosed here.)

I guess there's not a third question here (I'll forgo the crass "How much longer is this going to take?"), so I'll end. I'm so mixed up right now. This is a fantastic r'ship when it's working -- we're good at compromising instead of fighting, we really care about each other, we don't play r'ship games, and it used to be easy for us to talk about how we feel. I want to try to save it without denying myself my actual needs or denying her hers.

Thanks for listening,

clumsycrawling

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hi

i can sort of identify with your situation i  have ptsd and am married so there are

times that we have problems with sexual and emoional intimacy. both usually have to do with me putting up a guard and not wanting any intimacy. it is hard at the beginning of our relationship things were fine but when i started therapy and began speaking of the things that happened to me i just shut down. the more i talked about it the less i wanted to be near my husband especially sexually. still if he is the one that initiates any activity i pull away tense up and make him sleep on the couch. if it is me initiating it it seems to happen easier and i am ok with it.

he really hasnt been able to do much to make me feel at ease it always has to be me. but of course everyone is different so there may be something you can do to ease your so into becoming more intimate. the only thing he can do is be patient and understand that there are times when i cant even be looked at without sometihng bad happening.

i understand it must be hard for you especially seeing that she is speaking with someone else about it. there are just certain things though that are easier to talk to with someone who has experienced them rather than with someone you care about. it is hard enough having the memories but when you talk about them you want someone who can say with all honesty they do understand becasue they too have been through it. at least that is how it is for me. i have a really hard time tlaking to my husband about the things that have happened to me and how it effects me now. i just dont think he will understand and i dont want him feeling sorry for me or being hurt by knowing that i went through these things. sometimes you just need to know you arent alone and the best way to do that is to speak with someone with similair experiences.

i hope i have made some sort of sense. i guess the main thing i am getting at is just that it is a very difficult thing to deal with. but you are doing a good thing about going into couples therapy that way you can see it is not a personal attack but rather a part of her life that has had a huge impact on her that she needs to be able to live with. the therapist will probably also be able to give you advice on what techniques to use to start regaining the intimacy. i am sorry i cant do that but i am still working on that myself. i hope things work out for yall though. good luck

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Hi Justme,

Thank you very very much for responding. What you say about my SO talking to someone who understands the abuse firsthand makes a lot of sense. Survivors stick together because they have to, they're the only ones who can empathize, no matter how much I wish I could. My difficulty, I suppose, comes from the notion that maybe this friend is also a little screwed up by her experience and may not be good at drawing boundaries between herself and my SO. It may be a personality quirk or it may be the result of her particular abuse, but I do suspect it is there to some degree.

The things she says to my SO defy boundaries. For example, this friend compares herself to me & notes how different we are but we have one thing in common: that we both love her (SO). I just find that incredibly strange for someone who doesn't have some other kind of intentions toward my SO. She relishes every opportunity to diss me, in an backhanded manner so she won't make herself look so bad. Or maybe it just is my SO's real tendency to say negative things about me no matter what I do. She just seems much freer to say them when she's chatting with this friend.

By the way, I've stopped looking at the IM's, because I started to feel just too icky about invading her privacy like that. I wish I could still monitor what goes on, but I'm having strong feelings about not doing that anymore, thank goodness.

Still, having said all that, I know you are probably right about the bond between them because they are both survivors of the same thing.

As for the sexual part of it ... in the past few days, SO has started touching me a little more -- holding my hand, rubbing my head -- so maybe she got the same advice from her tdoc that I got from mine: try to find nonsexual ways to connect physically with each other.

Anyway, thanks again for reading and responding. I really appreciate it. Probably this week we're going to try to find a couples tdoc, so if anyone out there has suggestions of particular questions that would be good to ask a potential tdoc when there may be an issue of PTSD in the r'ship, I'd still love to hear from you about that.

Thanks,

clumsycrawling

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By the way, I've stopped looking at the IM's, because I started to feel just too icky about invading her privacy like that. I wish I could still monitor what goes on, but I'm having strong feelings about not doing that anymore, thank goodness.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

clumsy,

I think this is a very good idea. I know you may be very concerned about what they talk about and any kind of relationship that may come from your SO talking to this friend. But I have found that "looking into" what a partner is saying to someone else, even a tdoc, if the person is not willing to share the information, can only make you feel worse.

As for the sexual part of it ... in the past few days, SO has started touching me a little more -- holding my hand, rubbing my head -- so maybe she got the same advice from her tdoc that I got from mine: try to find nonsexual ways to connect physically with each other.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

This sounds not only like positive news but also like it may be key in becoming more comfortable, for both of you, regarding (re)developing closeness and sexual intemicay in your relationship.

Probably this week we're going to try to find a couples tdoc, so if anyone out there has suggestions of particular questions that would be good to ask a potential tdoc when there may be an issue of PTSD in the r'ship, I'd still love to hear from you about that.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

I think the best way would be to directly ask a potential tdoc when you are shopping around to find the right tdoc. Tell the tdoc that you are looking for someone to help you work on intimacy issues that involve problems due to your SO having PTSD issues and the problem this is causing both of you. At some point in time, once you get working with a tdoc, the issue of talking to your friends may come up and will have to be handle carefully (IMO).

Good luck finding the right tdoc for couples therapy. And go with your and your SO's gut feeling as to whether a particular tdoc would be the right one for you both.

Erika

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