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Dating Someone With A Traumatic Past When You Have Ptsd

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I grew up in a highly abusive environment, have dated two abusive boyfriends, and been sexually assaulted twice. I've done intense work to manage my flashbacks, lose compulsive behaviors, etc., and am in a really good place right now.

I just started dating someone who also had abusive parents. He doesn't know about emotional flashbacks, although he has them in times of stress. I just told him about Pete Walker's book, but I'd love some advice in how I can support him. So far I know to give him tons of massages, affection, and encouragement; give myself tons of self-care; ask questions; share how I'm feeling; listen for emotions; and be proactive about tasks so they're not a problem on tough days. Is there anything else all you wonderful supporters have found helpful?

Also, I'm really nervous about some aspects of the relationship. One is sleeping together. I have narcolepsy, and take an extremely strong sedative to sleep. It's so strong that I could be raped in my sleep and not know it. The sedative usually keeps my nightmares out of my awareness, but I'm afraid they'll be worse if I sleep with him in my bed in a position that triggers me in such a vulnerable state. I've had partial flashbacks, but I'm afraid I'm going to remember everything. Another is having sex. I've had sex once since the sexual assaults, and it was totally fine, but I did check out for part of it. How did you broach these subjects with your significant others, and was there anything you could do to avoid retraumatization? He's extremely kind and empathetic, so I'm not worried about him expecting too much or having difficulty communicating. I plan on going very slowly, and starting with things like receiving a massage, but I would like at some point reclaim a normal sex life. Was that possible for any of you with sexually abused partners?
Hi, Kendall!
Wow, You are SO brave! It is beyond difficult to have the courage to work through all the trauma that you have! I am SO sorry that you have had so much to deal with...life deals a hard "deck of cards" to say the least. I think it will take time before you can progress to having sex, or "sleeping together." You have done TONS of work on you, and he does have some emotional flashbacks in times of stress. My concern is you, and YOUR support during this time.

I think it is important for HIM to learn to support you, since you are more likely to have flashback, and "side effects". He will need to know that YOU most likely will need to be able to RECEIVE massages, and affection, as well as encouragement, WAY before you have sex. I know that it can be "easier" to share our bodies intimately, before we have shared our pasts, and our needs. It would be easy to start having sex, and you learn to "block it out" than it would be to "teach" each other how to be supportive.

He needs to know that there is a chance of you "flipping out" (I've been there) before you ever are actually in that situation. Especially if you learn to accept blocking out, then one day that doesn't work. He'll need to know to ask questions, ask how you are feeling (you being 100% honest), listen for YOUR signals, and support each other fully, BEFORE having sex. It's really hard to get back on track if you start being intimate too soon.

I say these things, because I always had sex too soon, and that changes EVERYTHING! Even a back rub, or affectionate kiss turns into sex, and then you don't want to "let him down". That's what happened to me, and I ended up confusing those feelings of intimacy into "love" and got married too soon. FOUR times. Along with more sex partners than I would ever tell. I eventually gave up on all of it, and am now celebrating 22 years of being single. I had some "relationships" since, but had sex too early without sharing my issues, and they didn't last. I am VERY okay permanently single.

PLEASE let him know your heart, you know his heart, and learn to be affectionate....giving and receiving....so that there is a comfort level for both of you. "Teach" him that massages don't always lead to sex (men get aroused giving or receiving), and that affection is needed frequently WITHOUT leading to sex. I know it sounds like a lot of "work", but it will be worth it if you can be wonderful friends FIRST! You DO have to put your mental health first as well.

Blessings to you....
Hey, AJK!
This was truly fantastic advice. I think I will need more practice at receiving affection, and I never would have thought of warning him about flipping out before I'm ever actually in that situation. I'll communicate more clearly, be committed to the snail pace I need, and will put my mental health first. Thanks so much!!! *hugs*
Just on the PTSDx2 side of things:

The vast majority of men I've dated were either also diagnosed PTSD or shared my particular version of crazy :D

For the most part it made things a lot simpler / more easy, as the things I did as a matter of course -that might be viewed as weird out in the wide world- were this they themselves did also. And vice versa. It also made PTSD pretty much a non-issue, because what was important wasn't that XYZ = triggered = reaction!... But what the reaction was. Meaning, to draw a non-PTSD parallel; everyone gets angry. That people experience anger? Not a surprise nor a deal breaker in a relationship. Anger happens. What's important is how people get angry. Take 10 guys with PTSD and they're all going to insert symptom here differently depending on their personality. Just like 10 guys -with or without PTSD- are all going to deal with anger differently, depending on their personality.

So if it worked between us, it worked, and if it didn't, it didn't. None of this excusing behaviors "because" it was PTSD. For them or me. Which is something one sees a lot of supporters struggling with; sacrificing what they need/want in their lives because the feel they "have" to, that they would never excuse in any other relationship (much less enjoy), because something is disorder-related. Did my quirks and theirs line up? Yes or no. Just like every other aspect of dating.

Were there extra frictions? Yep. Of course. But I really don't see them as any different than he same extra (and expected) frictions that would happen if we were of differing religions, political parties, etc.


My primary traumas weren't sexual. I added a whole bunch of rape and other sexual trauma later, but was extremely lucky in being able to sort out most of those problems relatively easily. A few quirks are persistent, but I don't mind them, so they don't really matter. Nor has anyone else minding them ever really mattered. Hey. This is me. Take it or leave it.


I've never actually "told" anyone I've dated I have PTSD, as in big deal thou shalt know this, because I never had any clue it was a big deal until recently. I was just "me". In the beginning "everyone" I knew was diagnosed with PTSD, but that info didn't come along with details of what that actually meant. Yeah, PTSD. That's nightmares and shit, right? LOL. Oy vey. Yeah... A little bit more to it than that ;) But I didn't know. I just knew I was who I was. Just like the men I dated were who they were. Have I told people I have PTSD? Yep. It just wasn't a big deal back then. It is a big deal, now, because I understand where a lot of "me" comes from... And how cyclic this motherf*cker is. So it's become very line item in my life.

As to when, how much, and what trauma I've shared with people? That all hugely depends on the person themselves. I never trusted my ex-husband with any of it... For very good reason, come to find. And I'm very much glad I never trusted him with it. Other boyfriends / people alive date, I've shared virtually all of it, to virtually none of it. Totally depended on the person.
Thank you for your kind words about my advice, and the hugs!:hug:
Also, when did you tell the guys?

I never did tell them. I thought I could control my emotions. My communication skills were horrible, and TRULY, once you have been sexually intimate, it is impossible (in my opinion) to go backwards. Once I flipped out...I was GONE!

I have a friend who used to "sleep walk" and even had "sex in her sleep". She didn't believe it until her husband FILMED her! She couldn't believe it! She was COMPLETELY different. NO INHIBITIONS AT ALL! Once she found that out, she didn't trust her husband any longer. He wanted more kids, and she was/is a bad diabetic, and she was afraid he wouldn't wear a condom, and she'd get pregnant. She "serviced" him, without affection, then would sleep on the couch. They divorced, and when she remarried it was to a man she had been friends with for many years, and there is a HIGH level of trust between them. If she wakes him up being amorous, he ALWAYS makes sure it's the "real" her.

Your man really needs to know a LOT about your history. Maybe not the (TMI), but enough to know that he has to be EXTREMELY sensitive to your body language (as in being ready to "back off" if you start to get uncomfortable). You shouldn't have to tell him "no", but he should be able to "read" you. I know this sounds hard, and time consuming, but I think it's worth it if you really have feelings for him, and he REALLY cares about you. It would be horrible if you went through all the work, and things didn't work out between you.

When I was young, I was told, "don't date anyone you wouldn't want to marry". Did I listen? Heck, NO! Hence, I listened to my emotions, and didn't follow ANY kind of LOGIC when I got married.

Truly hoping for your happiness...you deserve it!:hug:
I grew up in a highly abusive environment, have dated two abusive boyfriends, and been sexually assau...
Hi Kendra! I was actually going to ask the same question. I've dated someone with PTSD that stemmed from physical and sexual abuse like me and we clicked on so many levels emotionally because we understood each other's pain and could relate. At the same time we were toxic in many ways. For example we would both be depressed at the same time and I'd have trouble expressing my emotions at times which would trigger him to think I'm not interested and pushed him away and he would look for attention from other girls and cheat on me. Our trust became completely broken after 5 years. Sex with him was fine until the last time I got raped 3 years ago. I would get a lot of flashbacks and feel uncomfortable and have to stop and then I'd start crying apologizing thinking he was going to leave me or hurt me. A lot of times I felt like I had to have sex with the guy I was with even if I didn't want to because I thought they'd leave me, flip out and hurt me, or cheat. The last guy I talked to was really attractive but I didn't feel sexually attracted to him. I think because I'm more drawn to an emotional connection than physical appearance. I met a guy at work today who I felt a good connection with. He was sweet, funny, and intelligent. He mentioned he's been in the army for 13 years so that worried me if he has PTSD too. He offered me to go out for wings so we'll see what happens he seems like a great guy.
Dating while having PTSD can be very difficult. Dating someone else with emotional afflictions can be akin to walking through a virtual minefield, where either of you can be triggered at any time. Plus the trust issues...plus the mutual paranoia...plus the sexual dysfunction one or both people can have. Besides my PTSD (and all that that implies), I, myself, have very little 'baggage' with me. I have no crazy ex wives or gf's causing trouble, I have no rotten ass parents or family to make waves (I DO have rotten family members in my gene pool, but they are long booted out of my life). I have only one child, who is an adult, lives out of state, and is kind-hearted. Finding those attributes in someone over 40, male or female, these days is hard. That makes me worth a little something, right? :unsure: BUT, my PTSD is difficult to explain to 'outsiders' of the illness, and I cannot hide it forever from someone--nor would I want to. Despite my online personality, which is colorful, to say the least..in the real world, I am actually pretty humble. Really, all I have is my mother and my cats..and I DO have a lot of them. Animals have been my source of comfort and acceptance for a very long time. And, while practically every other human being that enters my life eventually becomes a fading memory, my pets are always here. SO...my advice is to invest your emotional energy in things that are non-human; at least until you are sure that you have met someone that totally accepts you and will always have your back. Their actions always speak louder than their words.
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