Jeanette really wants to have a “normal” sex life with her husband Carl. The problem is her memories of being sexually abused as a child by a neighbor.

It seems like whenever Carl touches her or talks to her in a sexually suggestive way, she freezes up. This has been a struggle for the two of them since they started dating and it doesn't seem to be getting better. Jeanette frequently forces herself to have sex with Carl and she does enjoy it to some extent. But, she is aware that she holds herself back from him and is not as passionate as she'd like to be.

This is frustrating for Carl. He tries to be patient, but he just keeps waiting for Jeanette to get over the past so that she can be the kind of lover he really wants.

Both Jeanette and Carl want to improve intimacy and lovemaking in their marriage. The challenge is that neither one knows how.

If your partner or you are a survivor of sexual abuse or rape, you might be dealing with some of the same difficulties. You may want to be more open, passionate and intimate with your mate, but the aftereffects of the abuse keep standing in the way.

If you're not already working with a counselor, coach or therapist, you might consider doing this. A trained professional can help you sort through your feelings and memories and can also teach you and your partner strategies to gently and lovingly connect in intimate ways.

You can also try these suggestions...

Don't use the past as a block to intimacy.
This first tip can be a real challenge. If you are an abuse survivor, it's probable that you aren't intentionally re-calling the trauma you experienced, especially when you and your partner are having an intimate moment. It just happens.

Unfortunately, sometimes survivors of abuse or rape feel overwhelmed by or stuck in their traumatic past. They have a difficult time really living in the present moment. It's important for you to honor how you feel and to say “No” to sex when it doesn't feel good to you.

However, it's also important for you to learn how to bring yourself back to this moment and respond to what's going on now instead of what happened in the past. This takes practice so be kind to yourself as you learn to live more in the present.

If your partner is the abuse survivor, you can also benefit from this advice. Don't make assumptions about your partner. Just because your partner rejected your intimate advances last week does not mean that he or she will respond in the same way today.

Be honest, authentic and...

Be patient-- with yourself and your partner.
Regardless of whether you are the partner of an abuse survivor or the one who experienced past trauma, always remember to be patient. Be patient with yourself and what you need and want at this time and be patient with your mate. He or she may be in a different mood than you are, but this doesn't mean that you can't keep your connection strong.

If you feel frustrated, angry, resentful or however your feel, honor that. Don't try to stuff down your emotions because they will inevitably come out in some way.

Give yourself space and provide yourself with resources that will help you process your feelings and stay open (and patient) with yourself and your partner.

Don't take “No” personally.
This is a big one. No matter how long you two have been together, it can still sting when you hear a “No” to your invitation to have sex or be intimate. It can feel like a rejection and your mind might start to spin off with stories about how your partner doesn't love you, doesn't find you attractive, etc.

Catch yourself before you get all wrapped up in stories about what your partner's “No” means. It's vital that you respect the “No,” but you can gently ask for more information.

If, for example, you kiss your mate seductively and he or she pulls back and makes it clear there will be no sex right now, you can choose some different responses. You might take it personally and get offended. You might pressure your partner to proceed with the intimacy anyway.

Or, you might take a deep breath, stop your thoughts and ask your partner to “Please tell me more about how you're feeling right now...”

If your partner is willing to share more information with you (this doesn't have to involve specific memories of abuse), you can more easily understand what he or she is feeling at the moment. From there, you can each decide what you will do.

Find ways to be intimate that feel comfortable and safe to you both.
One thing that you can do when your partner says “No” to sex, is to ask if he or she is open to finding some alternative way to be intimate and close with you.

Perhaps holding one another or cuddling is not what you had in mind, but it is a way to stay connected and close. Stay open and be willing to be flexible.

If you are an abuse survivor, you're going to best know where you are in your healing process. If you feel like you can challenge yourself a bit and move beyond the level of physical intimacy that you're usually comfortable with, do so.

Stay open and be flexible. Remind yourself that you are not in the abusive situation anymore (if this is true) and invite yourself to explore new and different ways to be intimate with your partner that feel safe.

Above all, it's essential that you and your partner keep communicating-- honestly, clearly and lovingly-- about where you each are and what you each want and need at the moment. Together, you can keep your relationship healthy and close, no matter what your past experiences have been.

Author's Bio: 

Communicate honestly and effectively about even the most difficult subjects-- like sex and intimacy-- with help from Susie and Otto Collins' free communication secrets e-mail mini-course.

Susie and Otto Collins are relationship coaches and authors who help couples communicate, connect and create the passionate relationships they desire. They have written these e-books and programs: Magic Relationship Words, Relationship Trust Turnaround, No More Jealousy and Stop Talking on Eggshells among many others.