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When a History of Sexual Abuse Impacts Marital Intimacy

Trust is vital to marital intimacy.

Unfortunately,  sometimes through no major fault of a spouse, trust may be lost — or at least buried–beneath feelings of anxiety, fear, or even an emotional shut down.

Why?  Because past hurts caused by other people can become mentally associated with one’s spouse.  Once these links are made, even subconsciously, these feelings of hurt, despair, shame, hatred, and more need to be dealt with or they will continue to haunt the marriage.

One life experience that can intrude on marital intimacy in this way is a history of sexual abuse, especially a history of sexual abuse as a child.

photo by  Stuart Dallas Photography--cc flickr

While a history of sexual abuse may not always interfere with marital intimacy, it would be a very rare couple with whom it never has any impact on their relationship.

Occasionally, the effects of prior sexual abuse will be evident early in a relationship.   In such cases, an alert couple will educate themselves and be consciously prepared to persistently and patiently work through these issues as they unfold through the early years of their marriage.  Bravo!

In other cases, a couple may be taken by surprise by issues arising out of a history of sexual abuse.  Or worse, they may have no insight at all as to how this past is contributing to the disintegration of their marriage.  This can occur because survivors of sexual abuse are often unaware of its lingering effects and impact on relationships.

Indeed, if an affected spouse believes the past abuse is not something that needs to be addressed (much less has successfully suppressed memories of the abuse), it is quite likely that their spouse, too, will treat it as a non-issue presuming he or she has even been told about the past abuse.

As a general rule of thumb, however, sooner or later it will always become an issue.   As trust, love, interdependence grow and wane, and as unexpected events in life create emotion sapping tension and hurts, unresolved feelings will be triggered, misdirected, and misinterpreted.

In many cases, a couple may enjoy period of normal and pleasurable marriage for several years.    During this time, the affected spouse may actually be coping well, and healing on many levels.   Alternatively, the affected spouse may mostly be suppressing the all the little hurts and resentments which are due to normal marriage experiences rubbing up against unhealed trauma wounds related to trust, self-esteem, control, sexual boundaries, and more.  In such cases, the affected spouse may be working hard to convince themselves and their spouses that they are happy when in fact they are getting by, coping, doing their best to their “duty,” while inside true marital intimacy is not growing but is instead eroding.


The All Too Common Trauma — A History of Sexual Abuse

It is estimated that one in every four girls and one in every six boys has experienced some level of sexual abuse.  Up to 85% of cases involve someone the child knows; either an immediate family member, an extended family member, or someone the child and family trusts.

The abuser may be an adult, or may be an adolescent.  While sexual abuse by a female is not uncommon, most acts of abuse appear to be my men.  Some researchers suggest that there are two “peak” ages for male sex offenders to abuse, the first being around the age of 14 and the second being in the mid to late 30’s.  A history of exposure to family violence or sexual abuse may contribute to an abused person, either as a youth or an adult, engaging in abuse of another child.  But research indicates that only a minority (between 7% and 26%) of victims are likely to subsequently be perpetrators of sexual.

Many cases of sexual abuse by persons known to the child occur only after “grooming,” a period of time during which the perpetrator prepares the child to be accept the sexual advances.  This can include gifts, verbal praise, enticement of curiosity regarding sexual acts,  increasingly sexual rough housing and game play, and alternatively, on the darker side, domination, punishments and intimidation which train the child to accept, to endure, and to never discuss these secret or  “special” encounters.

While it is obvious that these experiences can be profoundly humiliating and violating, it is also true that they can also include a mix of praise, affection, and sexual pleasure which adds additional layers of confusion and conflict.  Many victims of sexual abuse begin to believe, on some level, that sex equals love and is the only way they can get or deserve affection.

Traumatic experiences often push people toward coping mechanisms which can be at polar extremes.  For example while some sexual assault victims,  may become adverse to sexual contact, others may become promiscuous.

In many cases, because they have a confused sense of sex, love and intimacy, some may use  sex as a proxy for receiving some semblance of the love they truly desire because on one hand they feel they don’t truly deserve love while on the other they see sex as the price they must pay for what ever scraps of love, affection, and admiration they can acquire.

To make matters even more difficult, sexual assault victims may oscillate between these polar extremes.   A person who was promiscuous and even sexually addicted prior to marriage may subsequently develop an aversion to sex and an inability to arouse sexual feelings within a marriage relationship.


Avoidance Behavior versus Integrating Behavior

“I don’t want to think about it.”   Even if this attitude isn’t explicitly stated, it is often the the reigning rule in the mind of a trauma victim.  On a conscious or subconscious level, any distraction or excuse to avoid directly confronting unresolved feelings about a past trauma is preferable to the much feared,  hard and messy process of healing: the weeping, the grief, the memories, the questions, the day-to-day work of integrating complex experiences and emotions into one’s core understanding of one’s self and others.

Isn’t it easier to just bury all that ugly muck and forget about it?

The problem is that rejected feelings are like rejected people.  Sooner or later they make you pay for ignoring them.

Profound feelings of hurt, if not acknowledged and respected, will inevitably find ways burble up in disguise as emotions and behaviors which will cause problems in one’s life.

photo by prashant_zi Flickr CC

A person with strong coping mechanisms may be able to successfully avoid and suppress traumatic reactions for many years.  But this takes emotional energy.  Over the years, this effort to cope and “appear normal” will eventually falter, especially in times of stress.

Anger, for example, is almost always an expression of some deep hurt.   The most direct, honest way of expressing hurt is with sorrow and tears.   The leap from sorrow to anger is one that hides vulnerability, proclaims some injustice, and demands respect and compensation.

When anger is exaggerated far beyond what an the immediate situation, hurt, or misunderstanding could possibly warrant (which is often the case), what you are seeing, or experiencing in yourself, is an expression of pain regarding hurts which are not directly the result of the current situation but which are being tapped into by the current situation.

The best clue answering the question, “where is all is anger coming from?” is to ask “where are all unresolved pains in this person’s life?”  Following this lead, one will find that persons who suffer from chronic anger are often tapping into a deep well of putrid, festering hurts.   These hurts may be so deep actually have great difficulty actually discussing directly.  The only way they may know how to express their hurts is through anger.

Anger is hardly the only way in which past hurts can be expressed.  Other, quite opposite reactions may dominate the hurting person instead:  timidity, feeling frozen, or emotional numbness.   Self-blame, fear, powerlessness, low self-esteem, feelings of persecution, difficulty forgiving, substance abuse, eating disorder, depression, anxiety and many, many more emotional conflicts can be fueled by unresolved traumatic hurts.

There is not a simple one to one correspondence between a history of trauma and specific reactions.  The main point here is simply to recognize that unresolved hurts have their own persistent, burbling energy, which builds pressure over time, like a steam cooker,  that sooner or later will find some weak spot, or escape valve, for release.

In many cases these negative feelings will be “explode” in response to triggers that may reflect or imitate some aspect of the original trauma.   Why?  Because just there is a part of the mind that doesn’t want to look at the trauma (let’s call it the Avoider), there is another part wants to heal and make sense of everything in one’s life (let’s call it the Integrator).

The Integrator wants peace of mind, and that means it wants to heal past hurts, no matter how deeply they are buried.  It wants to to make sense of everything, molding our life and views and understanding of the world into one integrated, consistent whole.   It seeks self-knowledge and self-consistency.  To achieve this goal it wants to finish the business of confronting the past, to find a way to put it into context regarding who I am, where I came from, where I am going, to finally release all the pent up feelings associated with the event that continue to disrupt peace of mind, and to find a safe, productive way of confronting and releasing any negative feelings that might arise in the future.

This desire to avoid thinking about past traumas combined with the counteracting desire to heal from past traumas is a classic “approach-avoidance conflict. ”   We want to be emotionally balanced and content.  But we’re loathe to go through the effort of confronting our traumas and committing to the work of purging ourselves of all the self-blame, resentments, anxieties, fears, et cetera, by which this past trauma continues to inhibit our ability to be the persons we want to be.

In short, the Avoider and Integrator both want peace of mind but seek it by different paths.   The Avoider looks for short term peace of mind by means of avoidance.  The Integrator looks for lasting, permanent peace of mind by means of healing.

Avoidance behavior regarding past traumas is normal.  For a relatively short period of time, it may even be healthy and necessary.  But when unresolved feelings are allowed to fester for years, or their existence is even actively denied, that’s not healthy–for either the trauma victims or his or her loved ones, precisely because traumas effect relationships.

The Avoider and Integrator both vie for control.   Neither rules the roost.  Little acts of free will can tilt the scales toward one or the other.   Taking an extra drink favors the Avoider.  Talking with a friend, loved one, or mental health professional about negative feelings or memories favors the Integrator.

Notably, blaming others is one of the tools of the Avoider.

For example, it is easy (and safer) for a wife to blame her lack of libido on her husband’s lack of “enough romance” or his pot-belly than to confront the fact that sexual intercourse itself, even when lovingly offered by her husband, is creating feelings of anxiety and revulsion that are echoes of her prior sexual abuse as a child.

Conversely, it’s easier for a husband to blame his wife for being unattractive than to admit that his difficulties with sex are due to his own history of sexual abuse.

It’s not just sex that may be the focus of blame.  Other issues related to trust and control (dominance or submissiveness) may also become major battlegrounds because of destabilizing feelings related to a history of abuse.

When blame is being passed around in this way, couples should look deeper.   It could well be that this blame (like anger) is arising from unresolved past hurts.   Until the couple can get past arguing about the specific real, exaggerated or imagined hurts of today (for the Avoider will always be able to offer up a new complaint in the hopes of distracting attention from the underlying trauma) it will be hard, if not impossible, to make real progress.

The victim of abuse certainly can and should expect, even insist upon, the support of his or her spouse during the healing process.  But it totally self-defeating,  and relationship destroying, for the trauma victim to refuse to address the underlying traumatic issues until the “blamed spouse” corrects all the issues of which he or she is being blamed.

In short, the blame game is likely at least a bit exaggerated and unfair.  It may even be very exaggerated and unfair.  But most certainly, and most importantly, it is a distraction from the real work that needs to be done.


Triggers of Discord

Returning to concept of negative emotions finding ways to bubble up to the surface, one can picture the Integrator as directing these emotions to be vented in ways that are symbolically linked to the source trauma.  These symbolic connections serve as clues, subtle invitations to trauma victim (or loved ones or a therapist) to finally recognize and confront the real source of these negative feelings and memories.

The idea of triggers is important to understand in regard to all traumatic reactions.  Triggers can be any stimuli that is subconsciously associated with a past trauma.  They can be sights, sounds, smells, words, tones of voice, emotions, or even weather conditions associated the subconscious mind links to the trauma or unresolved feels surrounding the trauma.

One way to spot triggers is to simply notice when emotional reactions to some stimulus are out of proportion to what would be expected from “normal, healthy, well-adjusted” person.

For example, a normal person, even if startled, is unlikely to become become highly aggravated, scared, or angry just because of a loud noise, like firecrackers.   But such a reaction makes more sense if the person having this highly emotional reaction to firecrackers is a war veteran who suffers post-traumatic stress disorder related to experiences in a bombing.

Similarly, it seems unreasonable for a wife to emotionally freeze up and feel sick to her stomach because her husband hugs her in the kitchen, nibbles her ear, and expresses his desire to for sexually intimacy that night.  But such a reaction makes sense if the wife was sexually abused as a child and any little thing about her husband’s advances are triggers related to her abuse.   And if her coping energies are especially low, any sexual contact may trigger adverse feelings because she has simply lost the ability to the ability to distinguish between exploitative sex and marital intimacy.  Wrapped up in her own pain and insecurities, there may come a time when there is literally nothing he can do to erase her fear that he is simply wants to exploit her for sex.

In cases of sexual abuse, any sexual contact may be a trigger.   Or the triggers may be more specific, associated with only a certain type of touch, certain words, a time of day, the perception that sex is being demanded, or just a general sense that one is being “used” for sexual gratification.

In some cases, the experience of sexual arousal itself may release a turbulence of conflicting feelings: attraction, aversion, shame, fear, unworthiness.


Self-Limiting Barriers — When Growing Close Can Feel Like “Too Much”

While one might hope that a good marriage relationship may help to heal old sexual wounds, in practice it may actually begin to expose old sexual wounds, as well as unresolved issues of violated trust, low self-esteem, and more.

As married couples grow closer, there should be an increase in trust and vulnerability–the good kind of vulnerability that comes from being truly open, exposed, and intimately interdependent on one’s spouse.   The problem is that this good kind of vulnerability can riff off past feelings of vulnerability which are negative–feeling exposed, dependent on, and subservient to an abuser.

In cases such as this, where growing vulnerability, love, and intimacy is itself a trigger,  successes in deepening of true intimacy in a marriage may lead to an inevitable push back.  For it is  precisely when the abused partner is beginning to feel “too safe, too open, too vulnerable,” that all the insecurities associated with unresolved past issues will suddenly set off alarm bells.   “Don’t let your guard down!” the subconscious will yell.

If a fear of “too much” intimacy is aroused, the Avoider will look for issues which can be erected as walls against “too much” intimacy.   Conflicts can be created out of exaggerated or imagined offenses.   Forgiveness may feel impossible.  The imagination may run wild with proofs of neglect of ill will that will  justify and endless string of upsets and acts of rejection.

For the trauma victim who fears “too much” vulnerability the idea arises that there can be “too much” marital intimacy.   On a conscious and unconscious level, the abuse survivor may seek conflicts which justifies “self-preservation” and “self-protection” from a lover who, the subconscious is determined to prove,  is not fully trust-worthy.   And since even the most devoted spouse has short comings and makes mistakes–finding such “proofs” is easy as long as the fears and hurts of the past abuse hold sway.


An Example of Growing Discord

As previously indicated, difficulties with marital intercourse may change over time.   For the sake of illustration, let’s look at a relatively common example of the way in which sexual problems can grow within a marriage.

Anne was a victim of sexual abuse between of seven and nine years of age, events about which she had no clear memory.  She was sexually active as teenager and young adult, but no more than was typical of her peers.   She considered act of sexual intercourse itself to generally be pleasant, but it was mostly valued as a way of getting the attention and love she desired.

Anne eventually married Ted, a devout Christian who insisted on waiting until their wedding night to consummate their marriage.   She respected him for wanting to wait.  This patience and willingness to defer sexual gratification even attracted him to her.

For the first few months of their marriage, their sex life was about what one would expect for two people discovering each other’s bodies for the first time . . . especially given Ted’s inexperience.   For her part, Anne was initially satisfied with pleasing Ted.  But while she experienced orgasms, marital intercourse did not help her to actually feel more emotionally or spiritually close to Ted. In other words, it did nothing in the way of helping her feel more in love.  It was just something that was expected of her and seemed to please him.

Unbeknownst to her, since it was so alien to her own experiences with sex, for Ted marital intercourse continually fed his love and emotional bond to Anne.  The more they made love, the closer he felt to her, the more he treasured her.   For his part, he assumed her experience was similar to his.

After a few months, Anne began to feel the first inklings of aversion to Ted cuddling up to her for sex.  She began to look for ways to have intercourse less frequently.   “Let’s wait until date night.”   After they had their first child in the second year of their marriage, the excuses for less frequent sex were easier.  “I’m so worn out from taking care of the baby.”

Ted generally accepted these rejections relatively good grace.  But he did feel them as rejection.  Wasn’t he attractive or desirable enough to spend fifteen minutes with making love?  Why was a healthy, abundant sex life such a low priority?

For Ted, sex was a way to feel closer to Anne.  It fed his desire to please her, and to talk to her, and to be closer to her in every way.  He had imagined it was the same for her.  Therefore, if she was wanting to make love less often, didn’t that indicate she was growing less in love with him than before?

He also couldn’t get it out of his head that if he could just make love to her in a way that would truly please her (if only he could figure out that way), she would start feeling closer to him again.  After all, he wondered, didn’t God make sex – part physical, part emotional, part spiritual — to feed every aspect of marital intimacy,  drawing couples emotionally and spiritual into union just as their bodies entered into one union?

The high regard Ted placed on marital intimacy as both a sign of their love and a renewal of their love and commitments to each other made Anne’s evasions of intercourse more troubling than it would for a man who considered sex to be “just sex.”  The more she often he felt that Anne was dodging his affections (i.e., rejecting him), the more emotional angst he felt when they did make love.  What could he do to please her?  To make her want him again?  If anything, these anxieties made him less proficient in the mechanics of love making, a fact he noted and was humiliated by.

By this time, Anne was beginning to experience feelings of shame and inadequacy.   On a conscious level, this was because she truly did wish to be a good wife to Ted and was clearly failing to be “the wife he wants.”  On a subconscious level, these feelings of shame and inadequacy and self-blame resonated with the very similar, unresolved feelings rooted in her past abuse.

For a few months, she tried harder to “force” herself to endure more sex.  But she didn’t experience these acts of marital intercourse as mutual giving or mutual welcoming of each other.  She experienced them as her giving into him.  She was “self sacrificing” while he was “demanding.”  Precisely because she did not frame or experience marital intercourse as mutual self giving (with Ted being just as honorable in giving of himself as she was), she saw herself as the more giving and loving of the two.  If anything, he “owed” her for all of the self-sacrifices she was making in “giving” into acts of sexual intercourse which drained rather than energized her.   If it had been a topic of discussion, the idea that she was receiving Ted’s gift of himself would have been laughed at.  She was the one giving; he was the taker.

On a fundamental level, because of her experience with sex in a childhood trauma, Anne had never really embraced the ideal of marital intercourse as a mutual gift, a mutual self-giving, a mutual yearning and journey toward ever deeper emotional and spiritual unity.   Anne’s childhood experience with sex was never about mutual giving and receiving.  It was never about becoming “one” emotionally and spiritually with a lifetime spouse.

In short, Anne’s formative life experience with sexual abuse was totally at odds with Ted’s Christian ideal of mutual affirmation, mutual self-giving, mutual deepening of marital intimacy on every level.

More specifically, Ted’s aspirations for a healthy sex life were running directly into Anne’s unresolved emotions connected with that trauma.   The defensive walls Anne had built around her sexual traumas made it impossible for her to trust, experience, and to even fully understand Ted’s intent and desires as mutually altruistic.  Fundamentally, she was convinced that he was just being “selfish,” like so many other men who had used her.   Conversely, Ted’s ignorance of Anne’s experience and difficulties made it impossible for him to understand the true source of their problems and his own feelings of rejection.

Eventually, Anne’s “self sacrificing” began to take it’s toll.  Marital intercourse, for her, became increasingly draining.  Her excuses became more frequent.   The frequency of love making plummeted to a new low.  What little desire she had to at least please him was swallowed up by increasing feelings of blame on him for her all of her negative feelings.  He just wasn’t romantic, or lovable enough, or patient enough, or this or the other thing.

Soon, Anne’s aversion to “too much sex”  was extended into an aversion toward even his little acts of intimacy–a kiss, a hug, a touch, a look, or even a gift of roses–all of which she suspected to be just little manipulations to “get more sex.”

Ted, for his part, experienced these additional rebuffs of his effort to show affection (much less, his romantic initiatives to seduce his wife) as further signs that he was unattractive, unappreciated, even disdained.   In turn, when Ted dared to show his feelings of hurt and rejection, much less allowed these feelings to be vented in moments of impatience and anger, Anne saw these failures as additional proof that Ted was just a “selfish sex addict.”   He didn’t truly care what was best for her.  If he truly cared for her interests, he would be content with less sex.  Every indication he made that he would like to have sex, even in the little symbolic ways, was proof of his sexual addiction and lack of respect for her real needs and desires . . .  sleep, space, and freedom from expectations.

In short, once Anne began to question Ted’s motivations and blame him for being the cause of her lack of interest in sexual intercourse, there were plenty of opportunities to accumulate more complaints, more claims of debts owed, and a ever deepening sense of general negativity.

By the time Ted and Anne entered into marital counseling,  Ted’s efforts to explain his belief that a healthy sex life was essential to a healthy marriage was met with cold cynicism.  Even though she was a Christian, too, the idea that God had designed marital intercourse as a means of renewing marriages and deepening emotional, spiritual, and psychological union through physical union and mutual self-giving, Anne was inclined to believe that all of this theological speculation was really just patriarchal clap-trap which men through the ages had invented just to justify subjecting wives to their uncontrolled, bestial lusts.

Fortunately for Ted and Anne, their marriage counseling included identification and treatment of Anne underlying sexual traumas.  Once Anne’s underlying traumas related to sex were identified, she was able to shift her focus from Ted’s “selfish” demands to the perpetrators of abuse and how those experiences had hobbled the sexual intimacy she and Ted were seeking.

Progress was slow, especially at first.  And progress came at the price of Ted agreeing to a six month period of total abstinence. Ted readily agreed to this condition, especially when he saw that Anne was truly committed to working through these issues with his support.   This promise that he would refrain from even the hope of any sexual pleasures for this period of time gave Anne space and security — the foundation she needed to start working through the tangle of emotional issues and intellectual beliefs which were wrapped up both her childhood trauma and her adult experiences of sex before marriage and within her marriage.

Anne and Ted’s full journey toward creating the marriage they both wanted and desired took considerably more than six months, in all.  But it is one they are both glad they took.

It can be done.  You owe it to yourself and your spouse to do the same.


Do’s and Don’ts for the Spouse Supporting a Partner Sexual Aversions

  • Do be alert to the possibility that a history of sexual abuse may be impacting your marriage, even if  your spouse has never mentioned or even denies a history of sexual abuse.    If the examples in this article lead you to suspect that your spouse may have a history of being abused as a child, and most especially if he or she has told you of an past abuse, I strongly recommend that you study Allies in Healing: When the Person You Love Was Sexually Abused as a Child..   Learning about this issue may help you to confirm or reject your suspicions and may also help you to create a safe zone in your marriage where your partner can begin to relax and open him or herself up to a long buried issue.
  • Do be prepared to give up some or all sexual contact, at least for a time.  Your spouse may truly need to have a period of time during which there is no expectation, or even any expression of hope for sex from you.  One of your priorities is to help him or her to feel as safe and supported as possible.
  • Do be prepared to vocally reassure your spouse that you believe his or her accounts.   Child abuse survivors fear rejection, including rejection of their memories . . . especially those memories they are themselves afraid to confront.  Any expression of disbelief will push a survivor away from trust and back toward denial.  The specifics of memories, as for all memories, may include inaccuracies and inconsistencies.  Ignore these.  Acknowledge the feelings that arise around these memories and the validity of such feelings and your empathy for these feelings.
  • Even if you have always been trustworthy, you are dealing with a wounded soul and must continue to proving your trustworthiness.   As the focus shifts to dealing with past abuse, your willingness to express your love without an expectation or demand for sex, will help your spouse to recognize and rebuild the emotional capacity to trust you more than ever before, precisely so you can both work toward sex life you both deserve.
  • Don’t blame your spouse for struggling with these issues or for not “getting over it” as fast as you would like.   Patience is hard.  It will wear on you and you will long to cross the finish line and be tempted to push and badger.   Don’t.  It is your patience that will help to build trust.
  • Don’t let your pain turn into anger.   It’s okay, even honest, to share how this situation causes you pains and struggles, too. It okay to say, for example, how you feel rejected, neglected, and unappreciated–but it is better to say these things also in the context of how you understand that your spouse isn’t intentionally rejecting or neglecting you.    Sharing you sadness, your longing, your pain, without anger, provides your spouse with an opportunity to show that he or she does care, does want to show love to you and to ease your hurts, even if he or she cannot do so through sexual expressions of love . . . at least for the time being.
  • One helpful tool is to work together to create a list identifying what types of touch are save, even desired, and what types ar triggering negative reactions.   This list may change over time.  Indeed, as progress is made, fewer and fewer items are likely to feel unsafe.

To create your list, start by identifying a scale for ranking kinds of contact as desirable or undesirable.  For example:
1=I love it / More please!
2= I like it / Pleasant
3= I like that you like it / Okay for me
4= Don’t know / Never tried  / Neutral
5= Does nothing for me / Can tolerate
6= Makes me nervous, uncomfortable / Hard to tolerate
7= Can’t handle at all / Don’t like / Makes me numb / Fills me with panic
Next, create a list — highly detailed — of types of touches and sexual acts that you want to understand each other’s reactions to.   Start with light kissing, deep kissing, hand holding, foot massage, touching of breasts, touching of genitals, man on top, woman on top, taking a shower together, et cetera, and rank each type of touch on the scale from 1 to 7 . . . or your own scale . . . from appreciated to unappreciated types of touch.
Remember this list may change with time.   Be patient with allowing it to change, even if in the wrong direction for a time.


Do’s and Don’ts for the Spouse With Sexual Aversions

  • Don’t blame yourself or think the effects of sexual abuse “should be over it by now.”  The abuse happened at a pivotal time in your development.  It twisted and perhaps even destroyed your childhood.  With support, you can process and heal this loss.  But do not blame yourself for not having gotten through all of this sooner.  Instead, focus on doing your best to work through it now.  The experience of hundreds of thousands of other survivors should give you every confidence that you can heal and grow and be freed from the bonds of your past abuse.
  • Don’t blame your partner for being too demanding.  Don’t blame your partner for being unattractive. Don’t blame your partner for being unappreciative of what ever physical affection you can show.
  • Remember that your spouse’s feelings of rejection will not disappear just because you reassure him that your really do love him but just can’t express it in the ways he wants.  He may understand this to be true, but understanding in the head is different than feeling in the heart.  And sometimes, his feelings need to be expressed and tenderly honored, too.   Just as you have can’t erase your feelings of aversion to certain kinds of touch (even though you know he doesn’t intend you harm), so your spouse cannot not help but to feel rejected even though you don’t intend to cause feelings of rejection.   Remember, you may not be able to prevent him from experiencing feelings of rejection, but you can refrain from being impatient with his struggles.
  • Do ask for patience.   Show immense gratitude for this patience.  Find non-sexual ways to show your admiration and appreciation for this patience on a frequent basis.   Preferably daily.  Certainly, at least three or four times a week.
  • Do promise your partner that you will work with a counselor to work through these issues ASAP.
  • Do read books, work through workbooks, attend support groups, and spend time in reflection and prayer to focus your mind and will on working through these issues.
  • Do include your spouse, as much as possible and advisable by your counselor, in your healing process so he or she can both understand and empathize with your struggles and also be encouraged by your progress, even if it is slow.
  • Do offer your partner extra snuggles, kisses, hugs and signs of affection that are within your comfort zone.
  • Do convey your regret and sorrow that your spouse is feeling rejected or unattractive, and assure him or her that you really do want to be with them, want things to be better, but that there is a pain or brokenness inside you that you need to fix first.
  • Don’t fall into the trap of allowing your psychological aversions to intimacy to become an excuse for not working through these issues.  The temptation to cling t the excuse “That’s just the way I am,” is a cop-out.  Remember, there is a part of your psyche that doesn’t want to deal with these issues.   This Avoider part of your psyche will always offer excuses for engaging in avoidance behaviors, denial, defensiveness about your “rights” and demands for your spouse to be happy with you “as-is”–without any hope for or effort toward improvement.   Remember:    You are in a relationship.   And a marriage relationship is all about two people both growing as both individuals and as a couple; it is not about staying the same.  Hiding under a rock and hanging onto your pain is not the best for you or your spouse.   Any temptation to be satisfied, much less to demand that your spouse be satisfied, with sexless marriage, just because it is easier for you to avoid sex than to work through the healing process, is fundamentally a rejection of your marriage vows (which includes a promise to welcome and embrace your spouse in the fullness of marital intimacy) and deeply unfair to your spouse  .  .  .  and ultimately, to yourself.   This doesn’t mean that you can “will” yourself to be healed or should rush into resuming sexual intercourse with your spouse before you reorient, catch your breath, and at least make substantial progress in your healing.  But it does mean that you can and should use your commitment to your marriage as motivator to help you through the times when you might not do what is best for yourself alone.   So set aside the excuses.  Buckle down and do you part.   Muster as much will power and strength as you can, and add to it the support you will receive from your spouse, and work with a professional counselor to explore and heal these deep inner wounds which have been an obstacle in the way of the marital intimacy you and your spouse both deserve.
  • Do convey your commitment, as an act of will, in honor of your marriage vow, to become better at loving him, desiring him, and welcoming him marital intercourse.  Promise him you will not be swayed from that goal.   As long has he believes you are truly committed to that mutual goal, it will be far easier for him understand be patient with your struggles to master and realign your emotions to achieve that goal.   He needs to know that he is important enough to you that you are determined to work through these psychological issues.  As long as you can avoid the temptation to blame him for your lack of progress, and can instead show appreciation and love for his patience and tolerance, it is more than likely that, if he has any real love for you, he will be patient and supportive through this process no matter how long it takes.






ASCA – Adult Survivors of Child Abuse

National Sexual Assault Coalition Resource Sharing Project

Adult Survivors of Childhood Sexual Assault | RAINN | Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network

Allies in Healing: When the Person You Love Was Sexually Abused as a Child The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse 20th Anniversary Edition The Courage to Heal Workbook: A Guide for Women and Men Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse


Adult Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse

Prevent Child Sexual Abuse – Darkness to Light

Adult Manifestations of Childhood Sexual Abuse

Adult Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse Resources – Band Back Together

ACOG – Adult Manifestations of Childhood Sexual Abuse

Young People Who Sexually Abuse: Key Issues




MOCSA :: Child Sexual Abuse

Child Sexual Abuse



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