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Author Topic: Mentally Stuck on an Unhealthy Relationship
LadyKay
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Dear Scarleteen,

I'm not really sure how to preface this situation, so I'll just jump right into it. It's a bit of an explanation, so I'm sorry for the long read. I do hope you'll be able to offer some insight, though.

I was in a bad relationship for quite some time. He and I were not of one mind concerning the idea of consent - there used to be times when I would say no, and he would either try and talk me into it or just go ahead anyway. I used to think that because we were in a relationship, it was alright. It was a long-distance relationship, and there used to be such pressure whenever we were able to see each other - I felt like I didn't have the right to deny him, since our opportunities were so few and far between. The one time that finally opened my eyes was when I was on my period and he started making advances. I asked him to stop - I'm not comfortable with sexual activity during my period. He drew back for a little…then went right back to what he was doing. When I asked him to stop again, he started asking "What if it's just my touching your breasts?" or "What if I turn the lights out?" Eventually he ended up having his way. I know now that this was not a healthy relationship, and I have been separated from him for about a year now.

The true issue is this: I am with a different guy now, and he's really great. I am happy with him, and he's much more receptive to what I want, and I to what he wants. This relationship feels much more balanced.
However, I can't move past this feeling of sexual hesitancy left over from my previous boyfriend. I keep turning my new boyfriend down for sex - not necessarily because I don't want it, but because I'm afraid it will get out of control like the previous guy. I become physically frightened in sexual situations - I'll shake and get really quiet. It's becoming a bit of an issue within my current relationship. He'll always back down when he notices that I'm not comfortable, and I'm grateful for that. But I WANT to be with him - at least until I'm there. When we get too intimate, my mind is immediately back in bed with the previous guy. Please let me know what you think….I feel like I'm leading this poor boy on, because I'll want sex with him and then "chicken out" (I know that's not the right word) as soon as things get serious.

Is there a way for me to move past this? I thought I had moved on, but clearly not. It feels ridiculous to still have a hang-up like this a year later…is this normal?

- Lady Kay

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Heather
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Have you been able to talk with this new guy about this? About your previous relationship, about getting on the same page around consent?

As well, did you ever get any counseling after your sexually abusive relationship?

--------------------
Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
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Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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LadyKay
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I've spoken with my new guy about this only a little. I asked him to stop once, and he did...and I'm pretty sure I looked surprised or something, because he asked me what was up. I told him the whole story, but not in nearly as much detail as here, because I figured no guy would want to hear you talk extensively about your sexual encounters with an ex. Basically, he knows the bare facts.

I would like to say that me and my current partner are one the same page. He's not pressuring me to move forward - I want to. But I feel like I keep hitting this roadblock. I'm afraid I'm making this into a bigger deal than it should be...this was a year ago! Why is it still bothering me?

No, I never got counseling. Like I said before...I guess I just didn't think that this was enough of an issue to pursue therapy.

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Heather
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Asking him to stop isn't the same thing as having an in-depth discussion about consent and how you two are going to each communicate that together.

I also disagree, strongly, that our partners don't want to know about our sexual histories, especially when those histories give them important information about who we are or what we need. If someone isn't secure enough in themselves to have a real awareness someone has had a life and relationship history, thery're probably not really ready to be anyone's sexual partner.

I think some of why this is still bothering you is that it sounds like you still haven't been able to really talk about consent and lay out your limits clearly. That's a pretty huge thing to leave unturned in an ongoing sexual relationship. Why don't you get started on that communication?

I'd say that any kind of abuse in our lives is a very sound reason to get counseling. No one needs "enough" of anything to seek out counseling, regardless. Some folks seek it out when they have had no traumas, but just feel stuck, or when they want to help get their lives going in a certain direction, but need some coaching.

--------------------
Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me • Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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LadyKay
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No, you're right. I guess it really is time for us to sit down and have that talk. I really wasn't keen on it (I guess nobody would be), but it needs to happen. Any tips on broaching that topic? I don't want to sound like I'm still stuck on this ex romantically - but I don't want to come across like a helpless victim, either.

I guess my hang-up with counseling would be that going to counseling would be saying that I let this other guy have this much of an impact on my life. I don't want that. I'm angry that I'm even having this problem...counseling just feels like adding salt to the wound.

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Heather
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Can I first ask you to fill me in on why you weren't keen on it? Do you feel close to this new person and want to get close? Is it talking about consent, period, you're not keen on, or about your history (or both)?

I hear you on the counseling, but let me propose a different take: counseling around this is about taking your life back and taking care of yourself. A BIG part of what being abused tends to do to us is to reinforce NOT taking care of ourselves. So, avoiding self-care is more telling of an abuser having an impact on your life than seeking it out. Know what I mean?

--------------------
Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me • Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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LadyKay
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More about my history. It's embarrassing that I let that relationship happen to me - it was not a choice that I'm proud of. I feel like that relationship and the amount of time that I was in that relationship reflect poorly on me. I was able to get out, I put it behind me (or tried...I WANT to, at least), and I don't want it to affect who I am now. It bothers me that it has even this much influence on who I am now.

I see what you mean, but I'm not sure I can agree. I don't think of myself as having been raped - at least, not compared to horrible crimes that you hear about. And I never thought of it as a "sexually abusive relationship" before now...just more of a bad choice that I was able to move past. Do I really fall into those groups? Wouldn't a therapist who had heard from a girl who had REALLY been raped be judgmental?

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Heather
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What I often tell survivors saying the things you are is very personal, and it's this: as someone who has survived BOTH very violent stranger rape, and as a child, no less -- so someone you're calling " a girl who has been 'really' raped" -- AND date/acquaintance rape, I do not feel that one kind is rape and the other isn't, or that one kind is automatically any more traumatic than another. I also absolutely disagree that one kind is real and the other is not. Rape can and does happen in many different interpersonal contexts, and the context in which it happens does not make it more or less real or more or less traumatic.

That's my personal experience, but it's also in alignment with legal definitions and with the stance of every rape advocacy group you'll find. Therapists who work with rape and sexual abuse also agree.

Did someone force or coerce you into having sex you did not want and did not give full consent to, or where your refusal was ignored or pushed past? If so, that's rape and sexual abuse. Were you in a relationship in which these kinds of things happened frequently? If so, that was a sexually abusive relationship. And that's really the bottom line.

A lot of people who wound up in abusive relationships feel shame, and that has a lot to do with the way our culture blames victims 9and how people tend to internalize that) and with the way people who abuse almost always refuse to take responsibility. But it really can happen to ANYONE. Dude, it happened to Tine freaking Turner, okay? I mean, you'd have a hard time thinking of a bigger badass than she is. [Smile]

You don't have anything to be ashamed of, I promise. And I'd say that how you take care of yourself AFTER abuse tends to say a lot more about who we are as people than having been in abuse.

[ 10-22-2010, 02:57 PM: Message edited by: Heather ]

--------------------
Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me • Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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Heather
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Just FYI, I need to head out for a walk, but I'll be back a little later if you want to keep talking.

You also might find that when thinking about how to talk about consent, communications, limits and boundaries that these are helpful to you:
• Be a Blabbermouth! The Whats, Whys and Hows of Talking About Sex With a Partner
• http://www.scarleteen.com/article/advice/yes_no_maybe_so_a_sexual_inventory_stocklist

--------------------
Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me • Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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Heather
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Oh, and these might be good ones for you, too:
• How can men know if someone is giving consent or not?
• [b]What is rape, and what is it like to be raped?[/b

--------------------
Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me • Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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LadyKay
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I guess I'd just never put those words to it...I'd always thought of rape in such a stereotypical sense, like a man who drugs a woman or who forces her down and takes her. I hadn't thought of coercion as a type of rape as well, since eventually, the partner does (technically) consent.
Thank you so much for sharing those articles. I had actually read the first two already, but the last two were completely new to me - and very very helpful. So much of those articles felt like things I was trying to say but didn't know how.

I especially identified with the examples in the "How Can Men Know if Someone is Giving Consent or Not" article. All of them felt so similar to that relationship - specifically the ones about the spaghetti sauce and the airplane. But even in the examples, the person in question did eventually consent - even if hesitantly. Is it still rape?
I know that I put myself in those situations...and even if it was wrong for him to try and coerce me, I was the one who eventually said yes...

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Heather
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Actually, the dynamic and context of rape you're thinking of is the least common kind. More commonly, rape involves a perpetrator someone knows or even knows intimately, and does not involve physical force.

Consent is about making choices freely. If someone is coercing you, and trying to wear you down and then you say yes or let them do something, that's not making a choice freely. It's being pushed, prodded and nagged into saying yes when you don't want to, often because it's clear your no isn't meaningful to the other person, or they wouldn't keep trying to corss that boundary.

You may have put yourself anywhere in the world, but unless you showed up somewhere expressly asking someone to have sex with, on or to you when you didn't want it, it's not your fault.

It might help to also read a little about the dynamics of abuse: Blinders Off:Getting a Good Look at Abuse and Assault.

I'm afraid I need to take care of my own self today and take the rest of my day off, but I'll be checking in tomorrow if you want to keep talking, and move into how to talk about consent and negotiation, okay? [Smile]

--------------------
Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me • Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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LadyKay
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I'm really sorry for not posting sooner than this, but I've had a ridiculous day. I hope you're still here...

I read the article, and some of it rang true...luckily, it never got to the point of any physical abuse (and was only tinging on the edge of verbal abuse - generally, that only happened during sex), but a lot of the sexual harassment and sexual assault descriptions were spot on.
Thank you again, for sharing these with me.

I would really like some more information on consent and negotiation, if you don't mind.
It would also be awesome if you have some tips on how the best way would be to go about sharing this with a current partner, since you said it was something you dealt with as well. Is there a way to say "I have been raped." and make another person understand that "rape" can mean more than just brute force? I know I need to tell him...but I'd like to have my cards in order first, you know? To be able to answer any of his questions.

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