Relationship My girlfriend wants space because of physical intimacy anxiety

I’ve spent a lot of time on this forum over the past few weeks, and found it to be a great support in trying to help me process my recent situation with my girlfriend.

I’m sorry, this turned out much longer than I thought…

I’ve been with my girlfriend who is diagnosed with ptsd for around a year now. Her ptsd stems from her childhood when her dad sexually assaulted her. And later in her life she was raped by someone she considered a friend. It’s worth saying she has had counselling in the past for this.

The start of the relationship was great. We grew very close, and I can honestly say I’ve never met anyone like her. We had even discussed the idea of moving in together. As time progressed, she slowly became more distant. She initiated sex less, she was less affectionate in general and it felt like she was distancing herself and pulling away from me. I was growing to love this girl more and more, and it felt like I was maybe committing myself too much to this relationship. Being inexperienced with ptsd, my initial thoughts were that she was losing her feeling towards me and was slowly pulling away. Looking back now, I see this was a ptsd response.

Eventually we had a discussion about this. At this point she mentioned that she had been in a relationship that had ended a few months before we started dating. This guy encouraged her to open up about everything, but would eventually go on to end the relationship and disappear without much closure.

This hurt her more than she initially realised. It left her feeling worthless and the fact she felt safe and trusted him, to then be suddenly left feeling vulnerable and exposed, is affecting her in this relationship. As our relationship has become more serious, her self preservation instincts have kicked in and by distancing herself from me emotionally it goes some way to stopping her getting hurt again. After this we decided to slow down talk of moving in together, which did help for a while.

A few months on she has become more distanced, we rarely are intimate with each other and I can sense she’s going inside herself more. She’s very busy with work, and she’s been struggling with feeling overwhelmed more recently. I felt like I was having to initiate most affection, and due to work demands we didn’t get chance to spend quality time with each other like we used to.

She was really cutting herself off from me emotionally, we were communicating less and it felt like a wall was building up between us. This lead to a discussion two weeks ago where we both said we felt distanced from each other.

She went on to explain that she’s been experiencing extreme anxiety, a fight or flight response to physical intimacy with me. She’s being trying to overcome this herself, but it’s eventually reached breaking point when she found herself crying during/after sex. She’s never experienced this in such a way before.

She went on to explain that her way of dealing with this was to avoid intimacy, she was less affectionate and less emotionally connected with me to reduce the scenario of it happening. And the longer this happens, It’s like she gets in a negative feedback loop of anticipating feeling like this during sex. When I first met her she was extremely sexual, so reflecting now on how it’s changed over time should have been more of a clue something wasn’t right. I kick myself for not picking up on it as being a ptsd response, or for thinking it’s because her feelings have changed towards me. I respect her and her boundaries and never want her to feel pressured into anything she’s not comfortable with.

The outcome of this discussion was that she needs space. She feels like she’s not able to breathe and process why she’s feeling like this while she’s still trying to be present in a relationship. She feels the best way is to remove the pressure/exposure of intimacy to help her gain some clarity. We both still love each other. She feels she needs to face up to this by herself as to not ruin any chance of this relationship working. And I’m proud of her being brave enough to voice this.

Since then I’ve remained in contact with her, although significantly less, and we’ve recently decided to slow things down and go back to the dating stage.

She’s hoping by taking things slow we can rebuild up to being intimate. However, she’s also said she’s scared because what if somewhere underneath I’m reminding her of her dad/attacker in some way?

I feel in limbo. I love this girl very much. I want to support her to support herself, but finding the balance of also supporting my own feelings quite hard.

The optimist in me wants to take things slow and try and work it out. But am I being naïve? I’m finding it hard taking a step back watching her keep busy with friends, when deep down I want to be with her for days at a time not just once a week. I want to make memories and continue building a life together. But equally I want to try everything in my ability to make this work, and understand this is part of that journey.

Does anyone have advice or experience of a relationship that has experienced these types of intimacy issues? Any comments really are appreciated, thank you for reading
 

Wendell_R

MyPTSD Pro
Thanks for sharing. Many years ago, I was dating a woman that I deeply loved. We had a lot of fun together, but she too started to pull back. She had some deep trauma in her past, although she hadn't been to counseling about it. On my end, my parents had emotionally neglected me when I was very young, and I had no sense of deserving intimacy. That was all undiagnosed at the time, and somehow it seemed normal to me to become engaged and then married to this woman who I was very much in love with, but who didn't want to be intimate with me. The marriage ended after 1 1/2 years, with the problems unresolved. The divorce was amicable but brought up a lot of old traumas for me. The therapist that we were seeing was completely out of his depth and should have referred us each separately to trauma-specialty therapists.

I have often wondered what I would have done differently. I would have told her that I loved her dearly, and was willing to wait, but that the situation as it was wouldn't work long term. I would have told myself that I deserved to have a partner that wanted to be sexually and emotionally intimate with me, and who felt safe near me. There's the question of how long to wait. In my case, I was getting a degree in a year, and that would have been a reasonable time to wait and see how things progressed. Whatever would have happened, the outcome would have been better than blindly getting married.

Is your girlfriend seeing a therapist that knows about trauma and PTSD treatment?
 

dug

Not Active
not sure its ptsd thats her issue , at least in this case, it seems that she wasnt over her former lover when she met you, she compensated , by having sex with you reminded her of the goodness of him, once the realization came to light that he wasnt coming back , and she realized she was with you instead, im not say she didnt love you or had feelings for you but it just serms she wasnt over him, and now the distancing is where she likely should have been before she met you, im not an expert but ive been in many of these type relationships , i wish you luck and find what your looking for, but i dont think shes in plans for your future
 
H

Harpy

The more there is concern about sexual intimacy, the more it will be on her mind, and the more it will be a trigger for her. How can she let something happen naturally when it is looming over her, you know?

I strongly advise just removing sexual intimacy from the equation. Let her know you love your relationship the way it is and you have no expectations. You want to support her in what she wants if and when she wants your help making intimacy feel safer. If she's in therapy now then even better. Let her know that you don't expect anything just because you're with her, you don't anticipate sex just because she's your partner. And say let's just forget about that altogether for now.

Just take it off the table for the time being and I guarantee things will get easier. If you bring it up again later on, ONLY do it in a sense of "how have you been feeling about that thing that you were struggling with?" In other words, checking in on her mental health NOT checking in on if she has "progressed" towards wanting to be sexual. You don't want to make it an open secret either.
 

StillWurdy

New Here
This sounds similar to what happened in my past relationship 6 months in. At the time I packed my bags and asked her if she wanted me at her place, because if I didn’t feel welcome I didn’t want to be there. She was being distant and not communicative but perked up with when her friend called and seemed to switch entirely. What happened is that we had a long talk about boundaries and having her never feel like she needed to be physical with me if she didn’t want to, which is something she had the option of previously. Looking back, knowledge of her PTSD was very new and we had no idea what may have been under the surface. I don’t suggest you do what I did, like I said we didn’t know what we were dealing with.
 
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