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How to Help Your Triggered Partner 
1st-Jul-2009 11:41 pm

I am so so lucky to have a boyfriend that inspired this post. He unintentionally triggered me the other night but I didn't feel triggered until the next day. It was probably the most triggered I have felt in years. He responded so perfectly that it inspired me to write this. <3

Disclaimer: I do not claim to speak for all survivors and will be using the term "she" to refer to rape survivors. This is not meant to downplay male survivors or ignore gender identities. Statistically, it is the term that makes the most sense to use. Apologies if I offend anyone with my omission of other pronouns.

+Firstly, understand that your partner has been through something very traumatic. Triggers are extremely subjective and will depend on the individual. What triggers one person may not trigger another, and one survivor may be triggered by a multitude of things, while another survivor may never get triggered at all.

+Hopefully before you engage in any sexual contact, boundaries and triggers will be discussed ahead of time. However, don't push the issue. If your partner says she has no triggers, or doesn't want to discuss them, don't debate it, and don't push. It is so very important that your partner has control over her experience. Taking that away from her may make her feel violated all over again.

+If/when your partner communicates her triggers to you, stop everything you're doing and listen. It can take a lot of emotional energy and courage to discuss these things, and listening intently shows that you care and understand how traumatic such an experience can be to someone. It doesn't matter if you feel like that moment is not the right time, or that you don't have enough time to listen. You need to. If you shut down your partner, it is possible that she may be reticent to bring the subject up again.

+It is possible that the triggers discussed may not make sense to you. It is also possible that you don't think you'd ever do them. They may involve things like not wearing certain colognes, not saying certain phrases, or not doing certain sexual acts. Respect her triggers and you'll respect your partner. Here is an example of how to respond to trigger "confessions":

"Thank you for sharing that with me. I will do my best to respect your triggers."

+You may want to reassure your partner by telling her that you would like to know when she is being triggered so that you can stop that behavior immediately. But also know that she may not feel comfortable sharing her triggers with you right away.

If you end up unintentionally triggering your partner:
-Stop what you're doing immediately, whether you've triggered her in the moment or she's speaking to you about it afterwards.
-Listen to your partner, even if it means listening to her silence. She may not want to talk.
-Don't assume that she wants a hug, or to be touched. Ask her how you can help and do what she asks.
-Apologize for the behavior, even if it was unintentional or a trigger that wasn't communicated beforehand. It is possible for triggers to come up that she didn't know about previously.
-Thank her for telling you she was triggered, and vow to do your best not to do it again.
-Give her the time she needs to recover. She may not want to engage in sexual acts for weeks or even months, depending on the severity of the trigger.
-Reassure her that you won't leave her because of her triggers.
-Remind her that you will be there to listen whenever she needs to talk.

When your partner feels triggered, she may:
-Seem unresponsive or "numb"/dissociative
-Have flashbacks
-Startle when she is touched
-Become very angry or irritable
-Seem paranoid/hypervigilant
-Have a panic or anxiety attack
-Have nightmares
-Have a racing heart rate
-Have difficulty sleeping

When your partner communicates her triggers to you, she may feel:
-Extreme shame for being triggered
-Vulnerable and afraid that you will leave her
-"Broken," "Crazy," or "High Maintenance"
-Like she shouldn't have to put you through the process of understanding how she feels
-Like she doesn't deserve to have your understanding

What your partner wants you to know, but might not say:
-That just because she was triggered doesn't mean that she doesn't like you, care about you, or love you.
-Just because she was triggered doesn't mean that she didn't enjoy other parts of the night, or other sexual elements of your time together
-That she may not ever stop being triggered, and she wants that to be ok.
-That your understanding means the world to her, and thank you so much for being so.

Feel free to link elsewhere.
2nd-Jul-2009 03:13 pm (UTC)
It's a good disclaimer to have - thanks for including it, as we have many male survivors in the group, and on the mod team!

This is a great list, very complete. The tone throughout is very non-judgmental, which is a great voice to communicate this type of thing.

And yes, a supportive and loving partner can make all the difference!
2nd-Jul-2009 09:46 pm (UTC)
I feel like kind of an asshole for using "she" pronouns, but I was having a hard time with "they" and "their." It was starting to get confusing. I considered using "ze" and "zir" but those are pronouns I'm still not completely comfortable with using.

For anyone reading, this is not to say that these tips can't be applied to male survivors or survivors of other genders. It certainly can be applied universally.

Gotta say though, the bf just surprised me with the way he responded. I've never told him how to, but maybe he's checked it out online or something? He did a super stellar job of it. This is the first time I've been triggered by him in our relationship and he knew exactly what to say. :)
2nd-Jul-2009 05:26 pm (UTC)
Thank you! This is definitely a good thing to keep handy!
2nd-Jul-2009 09:43 pm (UTC)
You're welcome! Please use/share as necessary. :)
2nd-Jul-2009 06:51 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much for posting this. I feel like I don't even have time to recover from one trigger before something happens, and then they instantly expect me to get over it and do whatever they want. It makes me sad to read this because I wish I knew someone who would understand how upset I am and what they need to do to help me deal with it.
2nd-Jul-2009 09:42 pm (UTC)
I'm sorry it makes you sad. :(

Maybe linking them to something like this might help? I'm lucky because communication is very important to my boyfriend and I. We're in a polyamorous relationship so we have to be honest and open for it to work. It is super hard to do at times, and I still cried a lot when I told him and felt ashamed, but I'm glad we have that policy because it makes things like this easier to bring up. You are the same age as me, but I've also found that older, more mature partners help too. My boyfriend has never dated a survivor before but he's very empathetic person and Gets It. Guys closer to my age haven't, but that could just be me being ageist.

You'll find someone who understands or is willing to learn to understand. I know it. It just may take a while. :hugs:
3rd-Jul-2009 04:09 pm (UTC)
It's ok. It was a really helpful post and I put it in my memories.

My boyfriend has never dated anyone, much less a survivor. But the last boyfriend I had is 14 years older than me and he didn't act any different.
2nd-Jul-2009 08:07 pm (UTC)
thank you for this post. it's definately something to keep for the future.
2nd-Jul-2009 11:06 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much for posting this. I might share this with my partner, because I can never explain anything well and maybe it'll help her better understand.
2nd-Jul-2009 11:50 pm (UTC)
You are very welcome.

One thing that has helped me better communicate my feelings, not just on this but on everything, is realizing my communication style. I am much much better, coherent, and thorough when I can type things out or write them. When I try to speak about the same subject or topic, the words come out all flustered and jumbled. I think a lot of people see writing as less personal, but for me it's really a matter of realizing that it's the best way I communicate. My partner saw this before I even did, so he doesn't mind when I type serious things or conversations out, but that might be something to consider. The conversation we had about me being triggered was on AIM and made it much much easier for me. In person I don't know if I would've been able to explain it or handle it very well.
3rd-Jul-2009 02:52 am (UTC)
I am the same way. I can communicate better with writing, because it lets me organize my thoughts. There are quite a few issues in my relationship and my triggers just seem to add to the problems. Mainly, she doesn't try to understand and blames me..I've tried to communicate some triggers, but she just gets angry with me.

But I'll try showing this to her..maybe it'll help.

Thanks again.
4th-Jul-2009 08:52 pm (UTC)
Mainly, she doesn't try to understand and blames me..I've tried to communicate some triggers, but she just gets angry with me.

That isn't right. I understand that dealing with triggers must be frustrating to our partners at times, but there is no excuse for them to get angry or certainly to blame us. We have as much control over it as they do, you know?

I hope things get better. <3
4th-Jul-2009 09:49 pm (UTC)
I just ended the relationship, because we've got a lot of individual work to do..and I feel like the blaming/anger was causing more harm than anything.
Thanks a lot. I really appreciate it. <3
4th-Jul-2009 05:32 am (UTC)
Thank you for writing this, I really appreciate it!
4th-Jul-2009 08:53 pm (UTC)
You are very welcome. :)
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