These tips for coping when your boyfriend can’t deal with your rape are inspired by a reader, and by my own experience as a survivor of sexual assault. What do you do when your boyfriend doesn’t understand your fear, confusion, and feelings? This blog post was inspired by a reader who commented on my article about sexual assault…
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“I was raped by one of my best friends and I felt it was my fault, so I didn’t tell my boyfriend I was raped,” says Sally on How to Tell Someone You Were Sexually Abused as a Child. “A few months later I talked to a girl who was raped, and I really related to her. I realized the rape wasn’t my fault. I told my boyfriend two weeks ago, thinking he’d understand and be there for me. I was wrong. He couldn’t handle it and broke up with me a few nights ago. He wants to remain friends. It hurts that he can walk away so easily. Although he’s being a jerk and a baby about this, I love him. I want to tell him how angry I am, but I’m scared if I make him mad he will stop talking to me. Part of me doesn’t want to be friends so I can move on, but I also want to be with him again. I’m torn. Please help.”
Below, I offer a few ideas for coping with a boyfriend who doesn’t understand what it’s like to be raped, or how to cope with a traumatic rape.
I Was Sexually Assaulted – But Not Raped
When I was 18 years old, a man broke into my apartment to try to rape me. It was the most horrifying experience of my life, and I still live with occasional bouts of fear and anxiety in certain situations. I’m almost 47 years old now. I can’t believe it’s been almost 30 years since that guy attempted to rape me, and the memory is still fresh.
He had my kitchen knife – I lived alone in a basement suite – and I woke up at 3:08 am to see his crouched at the foot of my bed. It was actually the night of my grade 12 graduation, which I hadn’t attended.
I screamed, and he shoved his hand down my throat. We wrestled for a bit, and he touched me. I somehow managed to get over to the side of the bed and turn on my clock radio. I blasted it, hoping someone would hear and come save me. He reached for the plug, and I was able to break free and run outside. I wrote about the whole experience in How I Survived an Attempted Rape in My Bedroom.
That was almost thirty years ago, and just last night I was scared that someone would break into my house and try to rape me again. The consequences of being attacked, sexually assaulted, or raped never go away, do they?
And it’s even worse when your husband or boyfriend doesn’t know how to support you.
When Your Boyfriend Can’t Cope With the Rape
One of the consequences of being raped is that your loved ones often don’t know what to do or say. Your boyfriend may have certain ideas and opinions about your rape, but he has no idea what you’re really going through.
Rape triggers deep-seated, painful emotions for men
I taught grade 8 for three years, and one of my male students’ sisters was raped. My student had a very, very difficult time coping with his sister’s rape – his pain came out in different ways, all the time. He felt helpless, scared, and unable to help her deal with the rape. He was emotionally volatile, and would outburst in anger at the drop of a hat.
Rape can trigger very painful emotions for men. They may not even realize how deep-seated their reaction is to your rape. They don’t know how to interact with you physically and emotionally. They’re confused and bewildered.
If your boyfriend can’t cope with your rape, remember that he’s dealing with his own emotional baggage – and his pain may have nothing to do with you. It’s a selfish response on your boyfriend’s part, to allow his own pain and discomfort overcome his love and compassion for you. But, humans are often selfish – we often act out of self-preservation and survival.
Some men are too emotionally immature to cope with their girlfriends’ rape
Helping someone you love cope with something as painful and violent as rape requires patience, maturity, and a deep sense of compassion. It’s not necessarily about love – your boyfriend can love you with all his heart, but not be able to cope with your rape.
Your boyfriend may not know how to separate his own emotional baggage from his feelings of compassion for you. He’s simply too immature to cope with a girlfriend who was raped. He has his own issues about rape, and he’s not able to reach out to you.
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It’s not about you. It’s about him. But this doesn’t make it easier to be with a boyfriend who can’t cope with the fact that you were raped! If you’re lonely and sad with your boyfriend, read What to Do When You Feel Alone in a Relationship.
Some boyfriends don’t know how to handle the idea of rape
If your boyfriend is making your recovery from the rape more difficult, you might have to let him go. I know how painful it is to break up with your boyfriend at the most painful and lowest point of your life, but if he can’t cope with the rape, you have to protect yourself.
A great way to heal from being raped – and from the breakup – is to reach out to other survivors. Volunteer at a crisis center – give other women the opportunity to connect with you. Their own boyfriends may not be able to cope with their rape, and they would be grateful to have you to talk to.
No matter what your boyfriend says – keep talking about being raped
Sally said she related to a girl who had been raped – and that’s one of the best ways to cope with being raped! Connect with other women who were raped, and ask them how their boyfriends or husbands coped with it.
If your boyfriend was more mature, I’d suggest he join a men’s support group or get counseling to help him understand and cope with the rape. I’d also suggest he read A Man’s Guide to Helping a Woman Who Was Raped. But, it’s important to accept that some men can’t cope with rape. They walk away instead of reaching towards you. I think it’s better to let a boyfriend like that go, so you can move on and start a new chapter of your life. Maybe one day he’ll come back to you – maybe he’ll cope with the feelings of his girlfriend being raped, and he’ll get healthy and able to love you.
Help Healing From Rape or Sexual Assault
Read Healing from Trauma: A Survivor’s Guide to Understanding Your Symptoms and Reclaiming Your Life by Jasmin Lee Cori. While there are many different approaches to healing the trauma of rape, not all books or resources offer a wide range of perspectives and options.
In this book Jasmin Lee Cori helps you:
- Understand trauma and its devastating impacts
- Identify symptoms of trauma (dissociation, numbing, etc.) and common mental health problems that stem from a traumatic experience such as rape
- Manage traumatic reactions and memories of the sexual assault
- Create a more balanced life that supports your recovery
- Find the right therapies, self-help groups, medications and alternatives to healing
- Recognize how far you’ve come in your healing and what you need to keep growing
Whether or not your boyfriend is supportive of your experience of rape, it’s crucial that you create a balanced life that supports your recovery. This includes learning learn what reactions to expect from loved ones and how to cope with them. The first thing you need to do is face your own feelings about the rape – and reclaim your life, personality, and inner strength.
In Life, Reinvented: A Guide to Healing from Sexual Trauma for Survivors and Loved Ones, Erin Carpenter brings both inspiration and practical tools to survivors of sexual assault, rape, or childhood sexual abuse and their friends, family members, and partners.
Combining recent research, years of clinical experience, and first-hand accounts of healing, she offers a unique viewpoint on recovery from trauma. Life, Reinvented is a truly complete guide to healing. Beginning with the myths and facts about sexual trauma, Erin introduces common symptoms and describes what happens in the brain when trauma occurs. And, she explains in a fascinating way how trauma-related symptoms are actually signs of healing after you were raped or sexually assaulted.
Were you raped? How did your boyfriend or loved ones cope? I welcome your thoughts below. I can’t offer advice or counseling, but it may help you to share your experience.
My prayer for all women who have been raped or sexually assaulted is for peace, healing, and guidance. May we handle the outfall and be brave, strong, and courageous.