Surviving Sexual Assault Together: Partners’ Perceptions of Posttraumatic Stress and Relationship Distress

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Swearingen, Holly B.
Washburn University
Psychology Department
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Sexual assault (SA) survivors at risk for posttraumatic stress disorder can experience relationship distress that impacts their partner (Burden et al., 2020; Renshaw et al., 2012; 2018). While no research exists on SA partners’ perceptions of relationship distress, parallel studies of military veterans and their spouses show veterans’ PTSD symptoms may be misinterpreted by spouses as relationship distress (Ahrens & Campbell, 2000; Fredman et al., 2014; Renshaw et al., 2011; Renshaw & Caska, 2012). This study explored the relationships among partners’ perceptions of sexual assault survivors’ PTSD symptoms, partners’ relationship distress, and partners’ interpretation of the source of the relationship distress. Nonsignificant, small correlations indicated no relationship between PTSD perceptions and relationship distress, contrary to the hypothesis. Significant moderate to large correlations indicated that as partners’ accommodating behaviors toward their sexual assault survivors increased, their relationship satisfaction and communication decreased. The hypothesis that an increase in partners perceptions of their sexual assault survivors’ PTSD symptoms would be associated with an increase in relationship distress was not supported; however, the lack of relationship between PTSD symptom perception and relationship distress offers hopeful clinical implications for SA survivors and their partners. . Keywords: PTSD, relationships, sexual assault survivors, partner perception, relationship dissatisfaction