Dating Someone Who was a Victim of Incest

Most singles have emotional issues which they need to confront in order to have a normal dating relationship. Some of the most common among these are quarreling parents, marital breakup or some kind of substance abuse in the past. However one of the most difficult situations arises when the individual has been abused a family member in the worst way possible. So if you feel or know that the person you are dating was a victim of incest, here is how you can help him/her as well as your relationship.

Learn to read the signs

The most significant indicator of a sexually abusive past is perhaps an aversion to sexual intimacy. So if you feel that despite having a warm, fulfilling relationship otherwise, your partner - inexplicably - keeps avoiding intimacy with you, it could mean she has been hurt in the past. Sexual abuse in childhood especially has a strong chance of being manifest as unwillingness to come close to a loved one. The memory of the physical and emotional trauma that she went through as a result of incest during childhood or teens is often enough to make any thoughts of intimacy abhorrent or scary to the abused person, even as an adult.

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is another common psychological consequence in incest survivors; so if you witness usual symptoms in your partner like amnesia, nightmares and flashbacks coupled with sexual aversion, it could indicate deep-seated sexual abuse and most probably by a family member. Also watch out for self-destructive behavior such as substance abuse and sexual promiscuity which along with feelings of guilt and shame, low self-esteem and depression are even more intense in incest victims than those who have been sexually assaulted by a stranger during childhood.

What you can do

Incest is largely believed to be the worst form of sexual abuse - a child molested by a stranger can run home for help and comfort whereas a victim of incest cannot. What makes all this worse is that Incest is perhaps the most common form of child abuse. Studies have shown that 43 percent (43%) of the children who are abused are abused by family members, 33 percent (33%) are abused by someone they know, and the remaining 24 percent (24%) are sexually abused by strangers1 . Under such circumstances, you need to move ahead slowly in your relationship. Let the other person know that even though you find him/her attractive and are deeply in love, you are willing to wait till the time he/she feels she can open up to you. When your partner realizes there is no pressure on him/her to engage in intimacy, he/she will be able to better sort out painful feelings with regard to the unhappy past and present relationship.

Don’t enable self-destructive behavior

As a result of being sexually abused in past, your partner may sometimes display behavior that is difficult to support, despite your sincere love and best intentions. It is common for victims of sexual abuse, especially incest, to give in to addictions related to drugs, alcohol, and sex or succumb to depression. If such self-destructive behavior is still in the initial stage, you could communicate your concerns to your partner. Offer him/her support to end this kind of behavior but don’t make excuses on their behalf or indirectly support the pathological behavior. Sooner or later, the person will have to take charge of her own life and put the demons of her past to rest.

Help her to trust again

Men and women who have been victims of incest in childhood are particularly prone to having trust issues later in their adult relationships. Apart from the physical pain, what hurts most when abused as a child is the realization that no one, not even an adult from the circle of family or friends, is worthy of trust. The memory of this abuse of trust makes it difficult for the victim to have faith in others, ever again. So you may find your partner at times suspicious, jealous and highly emotionally insecure. Taken to an extreme, the inability to trust a partner may also result in commitment issues where despite finding herself compatible with you, he/she is unable to commit to the relationship. The only way to get over this is to prove yourself worthy of your partner’s trust in a real practical sense. Give him/her enough time to find out that you are truly committed to the relationship. When you feel that your partner wants to talk about his/her painful past, be sure to listen actively and later offer unconditional support. At the same time however, don’t nag at him/her to share the traumatic events with you – the memories might still be painful and it may be some time before your partner is ready to discuss it.

Take professional help

If you truly want to be with your partner but find yourself unable to cope with his/her emotional ups-and-downs despite your sincerest efforts, the only way left is to seek professional past. A therapist or counselor will go a long way in helping your partner work out his/her feelings of hurt and betrayal and encourage him/her to take responsibility for her present. In fact while you may be right about your suspicions of your partner being an incest victim, he/she may be living in denial. Victims of incest are often extremely reluctant to reveal that they are being abused because their abuser is a person in a position of trust and authority for the victim. Often the incest victim does not understand -- or they deny -- that anything is wrong with the behaviour they are encountering. Many young incest victims accept and believe the perpetrator's explanation that this is a "learning experience" that happens in every family by an older family member. Incest victims may fear they will be disbelieved, blamed or punished if they report their abuse.  In fact some recent research even suggests that at times victims of incest may suffer from biochemically-induced amnesia. This condition can be triggered by a severe trauma, such as a sexual assault, which causes the body to incur a number of complex endocrine and neurological changes resulting in complete or partial amnesia regarding the event. Thus, any immediate and/or latent memory of the incident(s) is repressed. All these conditions require the intervention of a trained professional if the victim is to heal enough to get on with his/her life again.

Other than that, seeing a counselor is necessary for you too since being forced to be the ‘understanding’ or ‘supportive’ partner in the relationship for over a time can take its toll. You might begin to feel that you have always been giving to the relationship and have got little in return. Also the nagging suspicion that you always fall for the ‘wrong’ kind of girl or guy can have disastrous consequences on the relationship. Thus rather than give in to such negative thoughts, it is far better that you and your partner seek out someone who will be able to help you through a complex situation and move ahead to a mutually fulfilling relationship.


  1. Hayes, Robert. (1990, Summer). "Child Sexual Abuse." Crime Prevention Journal