By Nicole H., advocate
If you’re reading this post, you might be feeling like you have to change or be someone you’re not with your current partner because of things that happened in your past. Maybe you’ve had a number of partners before, or maybe you’ve experienced some kind of sexual trauma, and your current partner is using those experiences to control, blame or shame you. This can be incredibly painful; after all, why would someone who is supposed to love you make you feel so bad? It’s important to understand that if you are struggling in this way, you are not alone. You cannot change the past. You deserve someone who is willing to understand, respect and care for you, no matter what happened before.
Your sexuality is something you have with you for your whole life. From birth to death, it has nothing to do with anyone else, and no one can define it for you or take it away. How much or how little value you place on it is solely up to you – not current or past partners, not friends or family. Your path is your path, and your choices are your choices. Even if you feel you’ve made mistakes, it’s important to know mistakes and regrets can and do happen to all of us. Try to be forgiving and nurturing toward yourself. Good times and not-so-good times are all part of your personal learning process. If you’ve experienced trauma or abuse in the past, please know that it is not your fault. You are never to blame for someone else’s decision to cause harm to you.
As you’re getting to know someone, it’s totally okay and natural to share with each other what you’ve been through in your lives. Open, honest communication is important at every phase of a healthy relationship, whether it’s just beginning or you’ve been together a long time. When you do share things with each other, keep in mind that it’s also okay for a partner to voice their concerns or feelings, as long as they do so respectfully. But it’s not okay for anyone to use what has happened in your past (by choice or by force) to gain power and control by blaming, shaming or making you feel guilty. For example, it’s never okay for a current partner to:
- Make you feel like intimacy with them is “less important” because of your previous intimate relationships
- Not trust you alone with friends of any gender if you’ve disclosed that you identify as bi/genderqueer/a different gender now than in the past
- Make you feel like you owe them your forgiveness and understanding because they have to “cope” with your past
- Threaten to leave or say things like, “You’re lucky to have me” or “You won’t find anyone else who accepts you or loves you.”
- Tell you that your past makes you “dirty” or your current relationship not meaningful
- Bring up your past over and over without the ability to let it go
- Make you feel it was your fault if anything was forced on you (rape/sexual assault/incest) and/or blame you for staying in contact with someone who hurt you in the past
- Make you feel like you are untrustworthy because you have more sexual experience than they do
- Make you feel like you “owe” them, ignore your wishes or pressure you into doing things you don’t want to do because “you’ve done them before”
If any of these warning signs resonate with you, it can help to ask yourself the following questions to help process and verbalize what you’re going through:
- Do you feel like you are walking on eggshells around your partner? Do you feel like you owe them an explanation for things they seem to hold over your head?
- Do you feel secure about who you are and what you have done in your life in your partner’s eyes?
- How does your partner make you feel when they bring up your past?
- Does your partner try to control who you talk to (online or off) or what you wear?
- Are you ever called names or made to feel less than/not good enough?
- Does your partner make you feel that your religion, values and/or morals need to change?
- Do you think your partner would do anything in their power to take your pain away, instead of making it worse?
If you feel the only way to fix your current relationship is to go back in time and change who you are or what you experienced, you may want to consider whether the relationship is right for you. A healthy relationship supports the obstacles you have been through and the choices you have made because it is built on a foundation of respect, communication, trust, honesty and safety at all times. Everyone has the right to their own life experiences. A healthy partner likes you for who you are, past and present, and understands that your life has and will exist outside of them.
If your partner is using your past against you in any way, Hotline advocates are here to support you. Call 1-800-799-7233 24/7 or chat here on our website.