My husband (the survivor) and I (the partner) sat in the therapist’s office. The hour had passed quickly. I felt good about our discussion that day.
I was relieved to find this therapist. After several attempts to find a skilled trauma therapist, I felt confident in this person.
I inhaled and relaxed deeply into the chair. The therapist and my husband continued to talk. My thoughts drifted.
Until these words jolted me out of my reverie:
“I’m concerned about how this decision will affect you.”
The therapist spoke to my husband. Not to me.
I sat up on high-alert. Had I heard correctly?
“What?” I thought in confusion. Then, anger, “He’s concerned about him? Him? What about me?”
I didn’t say that. I didn’t say anything. The appointment ended and we left.
What About the Partner?
How is ________? (my husband’s name)
How are _______________? (my kids’ names)
Since my husband’s diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder five years ago, I’ve heard these questions a lot. Of course, it’s normal and appropriate to ask about him and the kids.
But when you are the partner to someone with a long-term, chronic, slow-recovery, complex illness or disorder, it’s just as important to ask about the partner.
And sometimes, it’s important to ask about the partner first.
How Does a Survivor Feel About This?
I surveyed my husband. The question:
“If someone were to ask how I was doing before asking about you, how would that make you feel?”
His response: “Relieved. I would feel less stressed knowing others are watching out for you too.”
Caring for the partner of a child abuse survivor shows care for the survivor and the partner.
Here are 5 questions for you to ask the partner:
1. How are you?
It’s basic, but it works. Ask about the partner first with full attention and eye contact.
2. What do you need?
Ask this open-ended question. It leaves space for the partner to say what he or she needs and it lets you off the hook for offering and maybe paying for something that is not needed.
Partners: It’s easy to brush this question off with an ‘I’m okay. I don’t need anything’. If you are living with an abuse survivor, you need something. Be honest.
3. Can I give you a break? How?
This question is another version of #2. Ask before offering a solution.
Again, what constitutes a break for one person may be stressful for another. A break for me is solitude. For another, it may be an outing.
4. How do you feel about ____?
Partners have strong feelings about what is happening in our lives. The trauma of the survivor affects us deeply too. The recognition and validation of the partner’s feelings demonstrates care.
5. What is it like for you?
You are saying:
How has this affected you? Tell me about it. I am here to listen. Powerful words.
Partners have stories just like survivors. When you give space for the partner’s story, it is an act of deep care and compassion.
You can be the person who values and respects the partner’s experiences.
These five questions are simply suggestions for you to engage the partner of the survivor. What’s important is to remember that for the partners. . .
Sometimes, it’s nice to be the priority.
Sometimes, it’s nice to be asked first.