Writer’s note: In this week’s column, we talk about childhood sexual abuse.
I’m a childhood sexual abuse survivor and I worked really hard to put my mental and emotional well-being back in order. I met my husband during the initial stages of my healing and he patiently waited for me.
The tables have now turned. I’m now supporting my husband as he starts to unpack all of his childhood trauma. I can meet my own sexual needs. I was hoping to start exploring partnered sex again, but my husband just isn’t mentally there.
It just really fucking sucks that I put in all this work and now I have to wait some more. Do you have any self care exercises that I can engage with by myself while I wait? Or, maybe, do you have something I can tell myself to reframe my mind from being so frustrated?
Waiting to Sexhale
Well, shit. I’m sorry that this has been the order of events. First, allow yourself to be frustrated by how this has unfolded. Healing from childhood trauma itself is a lot of work that can require us to face and feel a lot of challenging emotions like shame, fear, and anger. Continue to bring that skill set here to the present and allow yourself to feel both empathy and patience towards your partner and frustration and disappointment as well as even more anger and sadness at the abuses.
Feeling comfortable and competent in meeting your own sexual needs is a skill set that can take you far in this situation. In all relationships, not putting all of your sexual eggs in your partner’s basket (sounds so kinky!) is always a smart move as there are bound to be times of sexual connection, individual disconnect, or even just an off day where one of you will be chomping at the sexual bit and the other will be far more interested in living in a blanket burrito on the couch (hello, New England February!).
As for self-care exercises while you wait, this might be a great time to experiment with amping up your self-sexual practices with more exploratory and elaborate masturbation adventures. Many people view masturbation as a quasi-necessary solo experience that is often quick-and-dirty (literally or not) with the goal of checking off getting off. Setting aside time for solo sexiness that is drawn out, teasing, invests in new toys or new porn, or involves sensation play like rope, blindfolds or even dirty talking your damn self can be erotically energizing.
Some people might be comfortable hiring a professional sex worker or trauma-informed professional cuddler for partnered intimate contact that is well-boundaried and not romantic. This way, one partner can experience partnered intimacy while the other can let go of guilt in not feeling able to provide that kind of touch at the moment. Others might open their relationship temporarily in these moments to accommodate differing needs.
In the non-sexual self-care arena, having a therapist or a friend that isn’t your husband could be a vital tool here so that you can have your own space to vent about your frustrations without adding pressure to your husband. Though this may sound like it contradicts what I just said, it’s also important that you feel able to share your own experiences with your husband, too, so that a dynamic isn’t accidentally created where you’re stoically waiting around and your husband is “the broken one” trying to catch up.
Set aside some benchmarked times to check in with your husband, for example, once a month, where the two of you can talk about how this process is going (a couples therapist or coach could help here). This way, if you feel like you’re white-knuckling it through this time or wondering “When will this process end??” you can have more manageable bites of time to look towards and have a better read on the progression of the process.
Finally, in a super impatient “fix it” society, holding each other through painful and transient healing processes is an incredible gift and might very well leave you rock-solid in your bond and even more free in your sexual connection once you’re through this season of your relationship.
Yana Tallon-Hicks is a relationship therapist, sex educator, and writer living in the Pioneer Valley. You can find her work and her professional contact information on her website, yanatallonhicks.com.