Some people might think rape is something that happens only between strangers. Yet nonconsensual sex in a marital relationship occurs as well, and it’s not as uncommon as you’d think.
Sexual violence has many faces. It’s rarely an isolated incident, and it may also come with other abusive behaviors.
In romantic partnerships, forced sex is still sexual violence, and it’s never the victim’s fault.
Rape refers to forcing or manipulating another person into unwanted sexual intercourse. It is sexual assault.
Rape in a marital partnership is considered intimate partner violence. This includes forced sex and sexual assault between spouses.
Sexual assault is not always overtly violent. This means that the use of force is not the only thing that makes this assault a violation of someone’s integrity. For example, using drugs to make you lose consciousness to perform sexual acts on you is also a sexually violent exploit.
Sexual coercion may be considered forced sex as well. This means that you may have been deceived, threatened, or made to perform sexual acts with your partner or someone else. This coercion can happen in both physical and nonphysical ways.
Intimate partner sexual violence not only happens between spouses. It also applies to dating partners, whether you live with them or not. Sexual violence includes acts of sexual assault, rape, and sexual abuse.
It’s natural to have a difficult time facing the thought that your spouse is capable of rape. This adds to the intense emotions you might already be experiencing associated with the sexual assault itself.
It’s also natural and not uncommon to wonder why it happened. The answers to this question may vary, but one aspect always remains: It is not your fault. There’s nothing you did or didn’t do that justifies or explains spousal rape or sexual assault. It’s all on the perpetrator.
“Rape is about dominance and power over someone,” Charna Cassell, a sex and trauma therapist in California, says. “While seemingly sexual in nature, it’s not about sex, even inside a relationship or a marriage. Rather, it’s about a partner believing they have the right to sex.”
Surviving experiences of sexual assault may have a big impact on how you see yourself, others, and the world. It may also affect how you view sex, love, and relationships. “It’s a form of trauma,” Cassell says. “And as with all trauma that isn’t treated, it may lead to physical and mental health conditions.”
There’s no one way to react to sexual assault by an intimate partner. You’re doing the best you can with the resources at hand.
Because of the nature of this attack, you might experience:
It’s also not uncommon to feel lonely in your experience or contemplate harming yourself.
Being violated by someone you care about may feel confusing, and you may experience an array of emotions. Whatever you feel, it is natural. You’re not broken, and you deserve a safe space to process your experience and get support.
Other symptoms you may experience include:
- panic attacks
- digestive issues
- intrusive thoughts and rumination
You may or may not experience any of these symptoms. You could also go through other symptoms not mentioned here.
Everything you’re feeling is valid. And things can get better. It’s highly advisable to seek the support of a mental health professional who can help you process these emotions and make a plan to start feeling better.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), for example, can help you reframe your thoughts. It can also provide you with practical coping strategies when you feel upset, uneasy, or experiencing stages of grief.
“Somatic therapy can be especially beneficial for those who have gone through intimate partner violence,” Cassell says. This form of therapy is also called Somatic Experiencing. It works by helping your body “release” the trauma. It also aids in restoring balance to your nervous system.
Here are some resources to find mental health support:
- National Domestic Violence Hotline
- Suicide Prevention: Where to Get Help Now
- American Psychiatric Association’s Find a Psychiatrist tool
- American Psychological Association’s Find a Psychologist tool
- Asian Mental Health Collective’s therapist directory
- Association of Black Psychologists’ Find a Psychologist tool
- National Alliance on Mental Illness Helplines and Support Tools
- National Institute of Mental Health’s Helpline Directory
- National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color Network
- Inclusive Therapists