What happens to a couple after the disclosure of a sexual abuse to a partner?
The denunciation movements of recent years have raised questions among many couples. What happens to couples where one partner reveals a history of sexual abuse? Researchers from the SCOUP team have recently looked into this issue, more specifically when the disclosure concerns a sexual abuse experienced during childhood. We aimed to document the responses received from the partner during the unveiling of a sexual abuse during childhood, as perceived by the survivor, as well as to examine the associations between these responses and the sexual and relationship satisfaction of both partners. To do this, we sent online questionnaires to 70 couples in the general population, in which one of them had experienced this trauma, and had revealed it to their spouse.
What did we find?
We found that most partners' responses were perceived by the survivors as being supportive, that is, they showed emotional support (94.3%) or tangible help (67.1%). A minority of survivors had perceived harmful responses, such as stigmatization (41.4%) and blame (14.3%). However, we noted that for half of the survivors, the supportive responses were accompanied by blame responses and/or stigmatization.
In addition, analyzes revealed that emotional support responses, as perceived by the survivor, were associated with greater sexual satisfaction for both partners, whereas stigmatizing responses were associated with lower relationship satisfaction for both partners.
These results suggest that survivors can receive both supportive and harmful responses from their partners. Emotional support seems to have a positive impact on the sexual satisfaction of both partners, while stigma has a negative impact on their relationship satisfaction. Hence, supportive responses are beneficial not only for the survivors having disclosed a sexual abuse experience, but also for their partners.
For more details, we invite you to read the full paper:
de Montigny Gauthier, L., Vaillancourt-Morel, M.P., Rellini, A., Godbout, N., Charbonneau-Lefebvre, V., Desjardins, F., & Bergeron, S. (2018). The risks of telling: A dyadic perspective on romantic partners’ responses to child sexual abuse disclosures and their associations with sexual and relationship satisfaction. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy. doi: 10.1111/jmft.12345