Whenever I hear or read stories of children sexually abused, I often tear up, sometimes cry, and now and then sob for the horrible wrongness of such an act. I can think of little that it is more evil than sexually violating the most vulnerable among us.
But these trauma survivors should know they are often the strongest among us. Because you went through hell and came out the other side. Now, the struggle is to put together the life God wants you to have, despite your terrible past. Here’s today’s reader question:
I am a childhood rape survivor. This caused many problems throughout my childhood and teenage years, and because I didn’t know what to do with that situation, I suppressed it. After almost 10 years of marriage, I confessed to my husband what had happened to me . . . He often wants to fondle me, or “just look” and I get annoyed by it. I feel it is very degrading and vulnerable. So then he often asks, how come in a world where so many live topless or it is socially acceptable to be topless — you struggle with me wanting to look at you or touch you — even if you know it will lead to nothing else. My response is sometimes — they are just boobs — get over it! So he responds with — well if i went to a Hooters and those same “boobs” were flaunted in front of my face, you would get upset at me for looking. So how come if you won’t let me look/touch yours, you would get upset if i looked or touched someone else’s. He has said the same thing about sex in the past. If you don’t want to have it as often as I do — then explain to me why you would have a problem with me getting it elsewhere! I feel numb and void and unable to process how this makes me feel as I am still working through my own issues around rape and how it made me feel. and to be quite honest — he often makes me feel like a victim with his comments and behaviors — even if he doesn’t mean to.
I simply don’t know how to explain my position to him! Can you help shed some light? Am I wrong? Do I just need to get over it and let him look/touch?
We look at life through our own prisms. I can almost imagine sitting with each of these spouses in a room and hearing their stories. She would tell me how she’d been sexually assaulted, how she carried around such wounds and scars, how she’s still fearful at times, and how she needs her husband to give her compassion and even distance. He would tell me how he feels neglected and rejected, how he aches for her sexual touch and intimacy, how he would never do to his wife what some horrible man before did to her, and how he just wants things to be okay now.
Of course I don’t know exactly what they’d say, but what first hit me was how this wife and this husband struggle to get past their own lenses. And, in her case especially, that’s understandable.
Now I absolutely believe the husband needs to show more grace and generosity, given what she went through. However, I’m going to talk to the wife. Because she’s the one who wrote, and — as I hope you know by now — you can’t force your spouse to change. So let’s talk about where she can go from here.
First, you haven’t healed completely. What you went through was truly awful, and you have residual pain that you carried on your own for far too long. I urge you to seek help to work through the issues that remain. Children don’t go through sexual assault without adopting some coping mechanisms that may have served you well at the time, but don’t work well for adult life and in marriage. So you need to adjust your lens and learn healthier ways to view yourself and your sexuality.
Find a childhood survivor support group, a trauma counselor, a trusted pastor, and/or a fellow-survivor mentor. And while I still have yet to read this book, The Wounded Heart by Dan Allender has been recommended on this topic so many times by trusted friends and colleagues, I feel confident mentioning and recommending it here. Seek out resources that will help you finally and fully address what you went through and how you can move from surviving to thriving.
Second, you need to sit your husband down and talk about “triggers.” I looked up several definitions of trigger, but I like this one best: “A trigger in psychology is a stimulus such as a smell, sound, or sight that triggers feelings of trauma” (from GoodTherapy.org). When your husband ogles or fondles you, particularly without warning or express consent, it can trigger the feelings you experienced during childhood sexual assault — loss of control, personal violation, objectification, and more.
Also, his statements about Hooters and getting it elsewhere come across like a man only interested in using you for sex. I don’t think that’s true about your husband — I think he’s just frustrated and lashing out — but it still triggers the tapes already running through your head that men can be sexual predators who want to use you. You have to tell your husband, calmly but firmly, “When you say X, it subconsciously triggers all these feelings. And I’m even less likely to feel safe enough to be sexually vulnerable with you.”
If and when he says or does something that’s a trigger for you, it’s perfectly reasonable to tell him in the moment. Something like: “I need you to stop, because that’s making me feel unsafe.” When you consistently and calmly set boundaries, you can establish new scripts between you. And you’ll feel more in control of the situation, and thus more likely to relax and consider following through on my next point.
Finally, God intended you two to have wonderful sexual intimacy in your marriage. That’s part of the deal of saying I do. It’s perfectly normal for a husband to want to enjoy the physical beauty, even nakedness, of his wife and to want to touch her. So that’s going to be a goal for you — figuring out how to get to the point that he can view and touch you without you being triggered. And, more importantly, you need to set as a goal learning to awaken your own sexual desire and pleasure, because God made sex for wives too.
Now notice what I said and didn’t say. I said learn and figuring out how, but I didn’t say get over it. Because this isn’t about you sucking it up, ignoring your pain, and letting him do whatever. By no means! Tell your husband that being sexually open and excited is a huge challenge for you, given your past, but that you want become more sexually engaged. It will take some time, it will take some effort, and it will take some trial-and-error. But you can do this.
From here, it’s really about baby steps. You need to figure out which of your husband’s touches feel good and which ones feel threatening, then ask for the former and discourage the latter. (Your husband might benefit from reading my post on wives being sexually harassed.) You need to be in more control of the sexual act than he is, for the time being, so that you can break the lingering association of sex with powerlessness. You need to take steps to awaken your sensuality, learning through trial-and-error with your husband what provides you physical pleasure.
Here are a couple other posts that might help:
It breaks my heart that someone would misuse you as a child, and I know it breaks God’s heart as well. I’m praying that you pursue a healthy and healed view of sexuality in your marriage. Not just for your husband, but absolutely for you. You deserve to know and experience what sexual intimacy truly is, and with patient persistence, I believe you can get there.
“The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18
READERS, DON’T FORGET MY NOVEMBER GIVEAWAY. CLICK THE BANNER BELOW, AND SCROLL DOWN THE POST TO FIND OUT WHAT’S HAPPENING!