A Partner’s Dilemma

Apparently, emotional intimacy and the sexual part of recovery are the hardest to work through. Unfortunately, there are no quick fixes. For some of us, it’s a matter of working through one issue at a time.

The most common letter HAVOCA receives from a partner of a survivor is the conflict of feelings and the feelings of hopelessness, powerlessness, and loneliness they endure. Here’s one such letter; Although this is written about a female victim we obviously get lots of letters about male victims too.

There’s no way I would blame my wife for our situation. She was an innocent child who was sexually abused for 8 years. In addition, she was physically and emotionally abused by her mother. She never knew what love and acceptance was, nor did she learn how to trust or relax and enjoy intimacy.

After 26 years of marriage, I still love my wife. I marvel at the struggle she is putting up with to work through the issues. On the surface, we’ve had a good family life. The children have college degrees and good jobs. Our oldest child is married (No grandchildren yet!). My wife also works in her chosen profession.

The strange thing is, that outwardly we appear to be the ideal, happy family, but underneath all this is a lot of pain. I’ve been aware, from very early in our marriage, that something wasn’t right. I knew of her abuse before we married, but neither of us considered it could effect the present, as it happened in the past. (such ignorance.) At times, this caused us to be very hard on each other as issues arose in our relationship.

Here’s the confusion. While outwardly we looked like the perfect family, our intimate relationship was far from good. Sometimes, I think our outward happy, active, involved lifestyle was a compensation for what was missing.

Beginning about 6 years ago, as the children left home in stages, my wife and I began facing the reality of our relationship; the issue of control and perfection. My problem is, that while I understand what makes her want to keep control of all situations – especially emotional situations – it still is hard to live with. I can self-validate and know it’s her issue. However, how do you get close to somebody who is always in control? Can you understand that while I agree that being in control is important, that control also stifles our emotional interactions, not to mention our sex life? The control is more in the form of protecting herself and therefore closing herself off from anything but superficial connections.

In the past, I’d work and get involved in something and just forget about everything. However, as self-awareness has increased, I’ve found work, exercise, movies, and sport – while still great – far from satisfying when all the activity stops. I want to come to somebody, love that person, and

feel that person is responding because she loves me, without loving within very controlled parameters. I find I have fantasies about another relationship and feel I can’t keep going in this structured relationship. My mind just goes around in circles, love – sadness – despair – anger – regret – fear – hopelessness – a little hopeful – love – and so on, around-and-around. I have such a good work and social relationships. There’s fun and joy in these relationships. What stops the fun and joy with my wife? Is this the best it gets?

Earlier this month, my wife “announced” she’s tired of working on the sexual abuse and mother issues and that she’s given herself until the end of February (next Monday) and then she’s going to forget it all. She says that “where we are at, is where we are at, and maybe this is as good as it gets and we just have to live with it.” If that’s the case, do I want to spend the next 26 years like the past 26 years? I feel broken and can’t continue to put on a positive face and keep going.

It goes without saying, our sex life is empty. There’s no spontaneity or freedom, and it tends to be just a physical thing for her. While I want to make love with her, I don’t want to look into those empty eyes.

Maybe you can tell me. What is normal in a sexual relationship? Is sex an optional extra to a marriage? Is wanting sex, say once a week, too much? I don’t see sex as an obligation within a marriage. While I may physically feel strong sexual desires, I don’t want to have sex unless she wants it too.

Most of our married life, she would agree to sex, but very guardedly and controlled. Of all the things I’ve found myself apologizing for, the most was to request or participate in sex with her. Is it wrong to desire her active involvement in our sex life?

New rules

For the last 3 months, our sex life is completely closed. Now her rule is that when she’s ready, she’ll let me know. She is allowed to touch me, but I’m not to touch her without her prior approval. Neither am I to tell her what I’m feeling sexually because it makes her want to have nothing to do with sex, even if she instigates it.

I feel like a little boy sitting in a corner of a crowded room hoping that maybe somebody may notice me and hold me, but until then, I’m not supposed to make my presence felt.

Sometimes I wonder if the reason I don’t leave is because I am scared that I won’t find another relationship. In truth, I don’t want to leave, I love her. I would do anything to help her hurt go away. What I need just now is some magical remedy that gives me endless hope, stops me from feeling empty, and gives me the strength and patience to be there for her.

This email is about me. I cannot speak for my wife. And in truth, I really cannot “fully understand” what she is going through. Somehow I have to get some bearings on my position so I can care for myself and also be there for her in an appropriate way. Any suggestions or comments are more than welcomed.

Response

What you’ve shared seems to be so common with partners of sexual abuse survivors, even those who haven’t been with the survivor as many years. Your marriage is similar to ours in that everyone thought we were the perfect couple. In many ways, we were good, but there was all the “underneath stuff” that neither of us knew how to handle. For some issues, we’d see our pastor, and he advised us as best he could and we’d get through it. But it’s not the same as seeing a therapist who specializes in sexual abuse issues.

For me, sex was primarily a physical thing for all those years. I didn’t even know there was more to it. That’s what I learned as a child. It was physical, and when the physical was over, that was it. Through therapy, my husband, Tim, and I have just begun to understand the emotional parts of love-making.

It still isn’t easy. We both have our own issues that get in the way. Tim also has a past and he’s on anti-depressants which diminishes his sex drive, and I’m in those “menopause years” that make life difficult, too. But the thing about being married is that we get through it together. We know we’ve spent over 20 years living in denial and pain; the last nine years in the transitions of recovery, and we’ll probably spend the rest of our lives together still learning and growing and going through phases in our marriage and personal life.

Get marriage counselling. I would suggest that even though your wife doesn’t want to deal with her abuse (it’s not uncommon to want to stop or take a break) that the two of you go in for marriage counselling. She needs to know how you are feeling. The tendency for abuse survivors is to get self-absorbed and only feel your own pain while dealing with past issues. I’m not saying that’s bad. For a time, we need to work on ourselves and discover how we’ve coped and why we’ve done what we’ve done, learning to set boundaries, finding out what we really are like, etc. However, I don’t think it’s healthy to not be in touch with how we are affecting those around us. Part of becoming healthy is becoming a better wife, mother, and friend as well, or we’ve missed the point of therapy.

I don’t know your wife, but let me tell you how I would feel about what you’ve shared with me. I would want to know. I’d want to know that you feel uncared for. I’d want to know that you feel empty and that you want more closeness and nurturance as well as having a more intimate sex life. Survivors don’t understand this, and many of us feel that all men want is the act of sex to satisfy their own needs. She needs to know that it’s not just a physical need with you, but that you want it to be an expression of love between the two of you. She needs to hear that her need for control is affecting the closeness of your relationship and how it affects you personally. She needs to understand that this is her way of keeping you at a distance.

As far as what is normal in a sexual relationship, I don’t think there is a normal. In a marriage, I think normal is to respect one another, to give and take…sometimes giving perhaps more than taking when issues are in the way of being able to enjoy sex fully, meeting the other’s reasonable needs as best as possible.

I don’t want Tim to always wait for me to be in the mood. That only breeds more problems for us. I like it that he asks me, and I like it that he wants me to be fully involved and enjoying sex, but because of my physical problems now, that is not always possible. When I tell him it’s okay for him to go ahead and have sex regardless, I want him to take me up on it. I don’t believe the other person should have to suffer on a regular basis because of my problems. This is where you need to sit down with you wife and tell her how you feeland what you need and discuss how best to work it out. (i.e., your need sex once a week. Would she mind if you had sex even if she wasn’t in the mood, or can she fulfill your needs without intercourse, etc.?)

Sometimes, it’s the other way around. Wives have greater sexual needs than their husbands and, of course, intercourse isn’t possible when the husband isn’t aroused, but he can meet her needs other ways. I think the problem comes when one feels rejected or like they are a failure. Those feelings need to be worked through and those issues faced. I’m also wondering if during those times when she was able to really be free in a sexual situation, if it brought out more guilt and shame for her. Sometimes, we can feel it is bad or wrong, or we can feel like a slut for enjoying sex.

I also want to suggest a book called “Restoring Innocence” that helped a friend of mine, and I’ve been reading a book entitled “A Celebration of Sex” by Dr. Douglas E. Rosenau, that I’ve been finding very insightful.

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2 Responses to A Partner’s Dilemma

  1. I am the wife in this story. I am aware that he has needs but I am just unable to meet them. My husband asks for sex at least once a week and I usually oblige but now he is asking for it more often and when I just can’t, he asks for a hand job. All of which I give with resentment or little emotion. It is just a task. Nothing makes my body “feel” anything…ever! I can’t fix it! I want to but therapy hasn’t helped in the 26+ years we’ve been married. He does not engage in touching romantically unless he “wants it.” To me, this is not love but a physical need to which I want no part of, especially when there is no reward. Yes, I am aware that that statement is from the molestation experience but it doesn’t change within me to be aware of it. I am broken! I can’t fix me and if he leaves me, I guess all will be proven to have been true in the long run…I have no worth!

    • AvatarLauren says:

      Hi Kimberley! I randomly saw this today. I wish I could tell you some quick fix because I hate you feel that way and have gone through that. This might not be the most appropriate place for this, but I hope you know that you are treasured by your Creator and He says you are worthy. Jesus suffered so that you could have a beautiful relationship with Him. Cry out to Him and continually ask Him for healing. If you can trust Him and believe what He says about you in time, I believe everything else will be restored to you. Don’t give up faith. You are very loved! xx Lauren

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