Discussing Sexual Abuse

Dear Dr. Frankie,

I just started dating someone who is really special to me.  I don’t know how to, or even if I should, tell her that I experienced terrible physical and sexual abuse from a relative growing up. I don’t want to freak her out because things seem to be going really well, but I also want to have a trusting relationship with her. Should I tell her?

Dear Afraid,

It’s important not to share extremely personal information, such as a sexual abuse history, too early in the relationship. Once there is a foundation developed you can begin to share more significant personal information. Avoid sharing personal information of this nature until at least 2 months into the relationship and a sense of safety and trust has been established. Give her the opportunity to learn some personal information about you that is less charged early on and see how she handles the information you’ve shared.

Let your guard down gradually regarding traumatic personal issues. If you share the information too soon it can indicate a lack of healthy boundaries. However, if you wait too long and a significant amount of time has passed your relationship will most likely have moved into a more mature state and you may feel uncomfortable about her not knowing about something this significant about your past. I imagine sharing is eventually necessary because it sounds as if the abuse you suffered has deeply affected you and could potentially impact your relationship. Sharing the information with your partner may help her to better understand you and give context to certain behaviors that may come up when interacting with her as a result of your trauma. Take your time and ease into the relationship. After a couple months do a “gut-check” and reevaluate if you feel safe and secure enough in the relationship to share your history.

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