Learning LIST-Learning

Trust, intimacy and relationships

Men who have experienced sexual abuse can face the same pressures that all men face about self-reliance, dealing with things yourself, and so on. However there may also be other struggles that are connected to sexual abuse when it comes to closeness and relationships.

Trust is often used as a tactic of abuse, especially child sexual abuse. Such a profound betrayal of trust can lead to the conclusion that trusting people or getting close is dangerous. This conclusion is not ‘wrong’, because it is a sensible conclusion to draw from your experience. While being careful and not trusting people can be important in some circumstances, it can get in the way of intimate, close relationships with people you really care for.

If you want to feel closer to the people you care for, it might take time and feel like a slow process, but it is possible. The first thing to realize is that you can’t build intimacy by yourself – it is a shared project.

Some men have said they struggle with some of the following things, related to this betrayal of their trust.

  • Reluctance to trust someone or let anyone get close.
  • Perceiving any expression of care or attention as a sign of sexual interest, or an attempt to get something from them.
  • Feeling vulnerable.
  • Wariness about sharing personal information.
  • Feeling uncomfortable with gentle touch or touch without prior specific agreement.
  • Difficulties with any sexual intimacy.

These issues can make for unsatisfying relationships for both partners. Many men feel frustrated that they just can’t seem to get close to people, including their partner.

It is important to remember that it is not trust that causes sexual abuse, but the misuse of trust. In fact, children need to trust adults in order to survive. You did not cause or deserve to be abused because you trusted someone. The abuse happened because someone abused that trust.

Intimacy means more than sexual intimacy. It is also about sharing special and important moments with close friends. Intimacy can develop through connections you make with a friend or partner; spending time, playing together, discussing ideas, including disagreeing, shared parenting experiences, supporting family members, enhancing spirituality.

This way of relating is profoundly different to abuse. The dynamic of abuse is where one person’s ideas and wishes are important and the other person’s wishes are not considered at all. Intimacy is about developing mutuality, equality and negotiation.

It can be helpful for you and your partner to talk about some of the things that bring you together, to work out what ideas you share about your relationship and what differences can be appreciated and respected, as well what areas could do with some extra work and time being put into them. You could take some quiet time to consider:

  • What kind of relationship would you like?
  • What brings you closer to people, what pushes you away?
  • Are you aware of your friends or partner’s likes or dislikes?
  • What builds connections in your relationship with them?
  • How close a relationship do you/they want?
  • What time and energy are you willing to put in to developing intimacy in this relationship?
  • How might you start to do this?