What I want you to know: how to help a spouse recover from sexual abuse

What I Want You to Know is a series of reader submissions. It is an attempt to allow people to tell their personal stories, in the hopes of bringing greater compassion to the unique issues each of us face. If you would like to submit a story to this series, click here. Today’s guest posts is by Mary DeMuth.what i want you to know

I've shared my sexual abuse story in the last few years, but I haven't always been so open. Initially I kept it silent for a decade, then over-shared, then went silent another decade. The healing journey hasn't been easy, but it has been good. About a year ago, I sensed it was time to be bold in sharing about sexual abuse. The overwhelming response to two posts I wrote about it prompted me to write Not Marked: Finding Hope and Healing after Sexual Abuse.  In the book, my husband shared his unique journey of how to walk a loved one through their sexual abuse. The following is an excerpt from Not Marked about how a spouse can support a partner in recovery:

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It can be very difficult to become a victim of the fallout of someone else’s abuse. As a spouse, it’s all the more frustrating because you didn’t cause the issue in the first place. You and your marriage are suffering for someone else’s violation.

On the practical side, allow your spouse to bring up the abuse whenever memories or emotions or thoughts arise. Don’t sigh and give a resigned, “Okay.” Listen without judgment or even comment about the abuser. Don’t try to fix it (because you can’t). Just listen carefully. Ask questions. Offer to listen after a counseling session as the stories and emotions unspool even more. And don’t be afraid to ask, “What do you need from me right now?”

Sometimes the need might be to be held through tears, sometimes it might be to stay away, or sit across the room and listen to rage exploding—again, without judgment. Be a safe place for your spouse to be on the healing path. The best thing you can do for your own broken-heartedness about her abuse is to process your pain with a trusted friend—particularly when she turns away from you, or can’t seem to change at a pace that you’d prefer.

I remember telling my husband about eight years ago, “I want to change. I want to be different. I just can’t right now. There’s some sort of blockage.” I sought outside help. Eventually, the issue resolved, but not in fanfare or in one great moment. Over time, I began to desire my husband again.

What made my healing journey harder was when he gave in to his anger, saw my difficulty with sex as an affront to him. If I sensed this kind of anger, I wanted to withdraw even further because I felt like I’d never get over it, never be the wife he wanted, never get better. Even though it’s very, very hard, choose to reassure her that your love for her isn’t dependent on her perfection or even desire in the marriage bed. That kind of grace opened me up to change and genuine growth.


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