Being partnered to someone, whether casually, in a romantic relationship, or marriage, means loving who they are and where they are. This means understanding and embracing their personal history, including their experiences with trauma.
We talk a lot about how to navigate trauma, especially sexual trauma, from a first-person perspective; I have both written and read dozens of articles on how you can heal and communicate your needs after experiencing violence.
As a society we are offering more and more information on how to navigate these feelings and needs as individuals, but what about the person who is loving us through it?
Loving someone through trauma or the healing process is never a simple or easily defined journey. It is also important not to see yourself as your partner’s healer, taking on unhealthy emotional labor or letting yourself be a target for anger or avoidance.
You can, however, be a vital support in encouraging and validating the work that they are doing. Whether you are meeting them months, years, or in the midst of a traumatic experience know what ways to approach and understand trauma-informed tools can enhance and strengthen any relationship.
Trauma-informed care is a theory and practice developed in therapeutic communities that have spread to be used in dozens of settings, such as schools, yoga practices, and hospitals.
Trauma-informed practices rely on three main principals:
- Understanding the breadth and depth of trauma in the world
- Treating everyone as a survivor
- Actively working to not retraumatize.
In a sexual intimate setting understanding how to physically and emotionally connect with your partner in a trauma-informed way is vital to not re-traumatizing and creating an environment of safety and security. These tools also enhance the experience for all parties so that everyone leaves feeling safe, satisfied, and seen.
Here are my top three tips for being a trauma-informed sexual partner:
1. Communication is Everything
Knowledge is power and in order to be a trauma-informed sexual partner, we need to make communication central to everything we do. Explaining what we are feeling, what we desire, and regularly checking in with our partners needs to be integrated into every interaction.
This also includes non-verbal communication and noticing when our partners seem tense or pensive and then checking in to make sure that we are on the same page.
In order to facilitate an openly communicative environment, we have to check in with ourselves and assure that we will not push away or punish our partners for communicating their needs, even when it may be hard to hear.
Read: Sex Communication 101
2. Empower Each Other
Interpersonal violence and trauma of any kind rests on one main aspect of abuse: power. Victims are denied their power and any ability to feel in control of what is happening to them.
By understanding this we can work to make sure we are empowering each other in intimate encounters. Everyone should feel heard and appreciated before, during, and after sex of any kind.
3. Let Go of Expectations and Scripts
By increasing communication and working to actively empower one another we create new norms when it comes to sex and intimacy. Being a trauma-informed partner means releasing expectations of what love and sex have to look like, what counts, and how we see ourselves as sexual beings.
In this space, we create sexual scripts that hold no requirements or bars that must be met. Everyone is free is to experience and explore sexuality as they feel is right for themselves, and their partner(s), in the moment.
Being a trauma-informed sexual partner isn’t just about interacting with people who have openly disclosed trauma. It is the mindset we need to be working from with any intimate interaction.
In a world where we are all operating from a trauma-informed lens, everyone can feel safe, accepted, and celebrated for who and where they are.