I am twenty-nine years old…. I became good friends with a woman… and then I decided to let her know that I love her and ask her to do me the honor of becoming my fiancée and then my wife.

She answered that she needed some time to think about it and get counseling. However, toward the end of our conversation she told me she was raped when she was a child.

I was surprised to hear that…. How should I handle this situation? If she says, “Yes, I accept,” how can I help her?

Dear Friend,

We are very sorry to hear about what happened with your girlfriend. The fact that she was willing to share her secret with you most likely means that she really cares for you and is taking your proposal seriously.

We have no way of knowing how this traumatic event has affected your girlfriend’s life. There are many factors that contribute to how well she has adjusted to the sad reality and to how much more she is capable of adjusting in the future.

In any case, she was very wise to reveal her secret to you right away. Hopefully that indicates that she completely understands that the rape was not her fault. She bears no responsibility for what happened, no matter what the circumstances were.

We agree that counseling for her, for you, and for the two of you together is necessary before you formalize any plans for the future. We highly recommend that you look for someone who is experienced in dealing with the survivors of sexual assault.

There is probably no reason why you cannot go on to have a very successful relationship and marriage, but you will be sabotaging your relationship if you do not deal with this issue before you get married. Counseling could take a year or two, so before you start, you must determine if you have the patience to see it through. If you don’t, or if you have doubts, it is much kinder to break up with her now rather than let her think that everything is proceeding toward marriage.

You ask how you can help your girlfriend if she agrees to marry you. The most important thing you can do is to listen with compassion when and if she chooses to talk about what happened. However, you should never ask her for more details than what she volunteers. Never, never, never bring the subject up, but be a good listener and comforter if she brings it up.

Your girlfriend may have more than the average level of anxiety and she could suffer from post-traumatic stress syndrome. You must accept the fact that you cannot change her feelings through reasoning with her. You cannot talk her out of feeling afraid. The brain doesn’t work that way. You will definitely harm her more than help her if you cause her to feel guilty about her emotions.

Memorize the words from Psalm 56, verses 3 and 4: “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise — in God I trust and am not afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?” When your girlfriend shows any anxiety, don’t try to reason with her. Instead, quote this Bible passage in a calm and soothing voice. God’s Word, when quoted with love and compassion, brings peace. However, if she ever expresses any resistance to hearing these words, just keep silent and pray silently that God will comfort her.

We wish you the best,