The #MeToo movement has helped to empower countless victims of sexual harassment and sexual violence. But after hearing all of the painful stories, one question remains: How can people help support their partners who have bravely spoken up about past sexual trauma?
“The #MeToo movement has served as a social catharsis for those who have suffered in silence for so long. However, one issue that I have seen arise as a result of the #MeToo stories is that [people] do not know how to support their partners,” says Laura Berman, PhD, a Chicago sex therapist, television personality, radio host and author of the bestselling Quantum Love. “Whether your [partner] is publicly taking part in the #MeToo battle or has been privately triggered by these stories, it is important to support your loved one during this very emotionally challenging time.”
So how can people support their partners through their #MeToo moment? Berman, who has spent over two decades helping couples better communicate with each other, suggests the following steps.
Avoid blame. “Wherever possible, avoid any questions that demand ‘why’ of your partner, such as ‘Why didn’t you speak up sooner?’ ‘Why didn’t you say “no”?’ ‘Why did you keep working at that office?’” Berman says. Instead, simply observe and listen. “It’s human to demand answers when something hurts us, to want explanations when things feel wrong or frightening,” she says. “But commit to sitting with that pain and fear rather than needing an answer or requiring a solution.”
Follow your partner’s lead. “Maybe your partner wants to press charges. Or maybe they want to discuss the issue one time and never talk about it again. All of these reactions are valid and should be supported. Make it clear to your partner that you are by their side no matter what path they choose. Ask how you can best support them by asking, ‘Does it help if I ask you how you are doing around this topic, or would you rather be the one to bring it up?’” Berman says.
If your partner wants to press charges, offer to help interview lawyers and handle the legwork, she says. “There can be a lot of bureaucratic red tape when it comes to prosecuting any crime, but especially when it comes to sexual crimes. Anything you can do to take these painful errands off their plate will be helpful.”
Consider therapy. “In my line of work, I have found that many women say that #MeToo has altered their love lives,” Berman says. “Whether it has triggered deeply buried shame or even rage, addressing sexual trauma can be very healing, but it can also be a huge upheaval. These changes can ripple across into your own bedroom. Talking to a couples’ therapist or sex therapist can help you to ensure that your intimacy stays healthy and strong even during this very difficult time.”
Honor their strength. Celebrate your partner as a survivor and as an inspiration to others, she says. “Honor the strength and resilience that it took to not only survive such an ordeal, but to bravely speak out about the trauma. Don’t assume your partner knows they are strong or that you are impressed by their courage. Make sure you say it out loud and say it often. They are going to need positive messages about their battle as they face criticism and pushback from nearly every other corner.”
The important thing is that your partner feels supported. Dealing with sexual trauma can be intensely isolating — the more you offer a judgment-free shoulder to lean on, the easier the process of moving forward will be.
For additional healing and advocacy resources, visit MeTooMvmt.org.