How My Sexual Assault Affected My Relationships

June 23, 2019 Hannah O'Grady

The symptoms of my sexual assault affect my relationships by cropping up in unexpected ways, years after the traumatic event. As I slowly came to terms with what happened to me, these symptoms began to interfere with my romantic relationships in a variety of ways, both subtle and overt. I tried to navigate these symptoms of sexual assault and the further I strived to avoid them, the further they popped up unexpectedly and uninvited. Over the years, I have discovered that there are several things that my partner and I can do to help ease my mind and work towards understanding the aftermath of my assault.

How Symptoms of Sexual Assault Affected My Relationships

The sexual assault affected my relationships from the time it happened. When I was assaulted at the age of 16, I blamed myself for what had happened, as so many other survivors do. The situation replayed itself in my nightmares, vivid to the point that I woke up in terror. I internalized this blame for years. Five years later, my symptoms were still wreaking havoc on me.

Whenever my partner approached me too quickly, I'd flinch. If a partner used the phrases my abuser had said or moved in a specific way, I would spiral downhill. I had partners call me fidgety and find my high startle response amusing.

At the beginning of college, when my symptoms were at their worst, years after the assault, I never told my partners about what had happened to me. I already blamed myself for what had happened, and I couldn't bear the thought of others blaming me as well. Furthermore, talking about the assault made it feel even more real. As the years progressed and I began to resist physical touch increasingly more, I feared that I would never be able to form a healthy relationship and that the sexual assault would affect my relationships for the rest of my life.

How I Began Controlling How the Sexual Assault Affects Relationships

In college, I went abroad to Amsterdam to study sexuality, and I began delving into courses on feminism. For the first time in my life, I found myself surrounded by women who had experienced the same traumatic events. I joined support groups and began talking about my assault in therapy. Slowly, I began to come to terms with what had happened to me. I realized that although blocking the memory from my mind for years felt better at the moment, it never allowed me to reflect on my assault fully.

When I felt comfortable in relationships, I began to self-disclose about what had happened to me if I felt my symptoms arise. I found that the partners I told were extraordinarily empathetic and attempted to understand where my symptoms may be coming from. My partners were more patient with me and respected my triggers and boundaries and adjusted their actions accordingly. 

Recovery Is Not Linear 

One of the most significant takeaways from dating in the aftermath of my sexual assault is that recovery is not linear, and I need to practice patience with myself. I would go through periods where I felt safe, stable, and trusting in relationships. Yet, when a relationship crumbled,  I would re-experience my symptoms and begin to distrust anyone that remotely looked like my abuser or was of the same gender.

I began to hate myself for not getting over this assault, over half a decade later. Every time I flinched at the slightest movement or changed my route home because I was convinced someone was following me, I'd grow frustrated. However, one remarkable therapist told me that recovery is not linear, and I repeat this mantra to myself daily. Recovery can be hard and take years, and self-love and patience are critical in this journey. 

How has sexual assault affected your relationships?

APA Reference
O'Grady, H. (2019, June 23). How My Sexual Assault Affected My Relationships , HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 15 from

Author: Hannah O'Grady

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