Telling your boyfriend you were raped could be the most important thing you do in your relationship. How will he cope with the shock, anger and pain of his girlfriend being raped? His reaction may surprise you. These tips for coping with a boyfriend who can’t deal with his girlfriend’s rape are inspired by a reader and my own experience. I am a survivor of sexual assault – and so are you.
“I was raped by one of my best friends and I felt it was my fault, so I didn’t tell my boyfriend,” 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 my boyfriend 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.”
Talking to someone in person or on the phone can be an important step to healing. Just saying “I was raped” might be a relief. It won’t be easy to talk about. You won’t immediately be healed. But you if you find the right type of support, you can work your way through the grief, pain, shock, confusion and terror of being a rape victim. This part of the healing process – your own personal journey – does not require you to talk to your boyfriend about being raped. Your boyfriend doesn’t have the power to help you. It doesn’t matter how strong he is, how healthy your relationship is, or how long you’ve been together. Healing from the trauma of rape is a journey you ultimately have to take alone. Getting support and help from others is important, but they can’t heal you. Get the support you need to cope with the rape. Call a sexual assault hotline, or a women’s help center.
In this article, I share 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 Dealt With an Intruder in My Bedroom in the Middle of the Night.
That was almost thirty years ago, and just last night I was scared that someone would break into my house again. The consequences of being attacked, sexually assaulted, or raped never go away :-(
And it’s even worse when your husband or boyfriend doesn’t know how to support you.
What to Remember if Your Boyfriend Can’t Cope With the Rape
One of the after effects 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 the assault, but he has no idea what you’re really going through. This is normal. Even another survivor doesn’t know exactly how you feel or what you’re going through. Only you know exactly how you feel, which makes this a journey you must walk alone. Find companions, people to support you, kindred spirits to connect with…but know that this is ultimately a journey you take alone.
1. Know that rape triggers deep-seated, painful emotions
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.
2. Accept that some men are not emotionally equipped to cope with 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.
It’s not about you. It’s about him. This doesn’t make it easier to be with a boyfriend who can’t cope with the fact that you were raped, but try not to take it personally. If you want to get closer to your boyfriend, learn how to overcome emotional disconnection in a relationship.
3. Ask your boyfriend if he’s willing to learn how to talk about rape recovery
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.
Here’s a helpful resource to help and educate your boyfriend: Supporting Someone Who Has Experienced Sexual Violence: Information for Partners.
4. Look for a different source of comfort, healing and support
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.
Recovering From Rape
In Healing from Trauma: A Survivor’s Guide to Understanding Your Symptoms and Reclaiming Your Life Jasmin Lee Cori offers a wide range of perspectives and options for rape recovery. You’ll learn what reactions to expect from loved ones and how to cope with them. Facing your feelings and reactions to the rape is painful, but it will help you heal.
In this book Jasmin can help you understand trauma and its devastating effects, identify symptoms of trauma such as dissociation and emotional numbing. If you learn about the mental health problems that stem from traumatic experiences such as rape and sexual assault, you can manage your reactions and memories.
Whether or not your boyfriend helps you recover from the rape, try to create a balanced life that supports your healing. You can reclaim your life, personality, and inner strength. You will heal and get through this. You experienced a terrible thing that should never have happened to you, but it doesn’t have to define who you are or where your life is going.
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.
Erin combines recent research, years of clinical experience, and first-hand accounts of healing to offer a unique viewpoint on recovery from trauma. Life, Reinvented begins with myths and facts about sexual trauma. Erin introduces common symptoms and describes what happens in the brain when a trauma like rape occurs. She also explains how trauma-related symptoms are actually signs of healing after you were raped or sexually assaulted.
The Wounded Heart: Hope for Adult Victims of Childhood Sexual Abuse is another helpful book for women who were raped, but can’t talk about it.
Were you raped? How did your boyfriend or loved ones cope? Write about your experience in the comments section below. I can’t offer advice or counseling, but writing can help you gain clarity and insight. Sometimes just telling your story helps you cope with both rape and a boyfriend who doesn’t understand.