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Why Boyfriends Can’t Cope When Their Girlfriends Are Assaulted

Telling your boyfriend about being assaulted could be the most stressful thing you experience in your relationship with him. How will your boyfriend cope with the shock, anger and pain of his girlfriend being raped?

Your boyfriend’s 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 you were assaulted 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.

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.

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. 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.

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