Not long ago, someone shared vulnerably with me about a painful sexual abuse experience that happened when they were a child.
I could tell the person was still tormented by the pain and confusion of this traumatic encounter. I couldn’t help but think how many men and women have endured similar experiences in their past…how many people still feel the grip of something sexual that was agonizing and scarring.
As a writer and speaker on sexual intimacy in marriage, I am well acquainted with the toll sexual trauma takes. On the surface, it would be easy to naively believe that once someone is in a healthy marriage with the opportunity for healthy sexual intimacy, the pain and confusion of their past sexual abuse is magically minimized. But often the opposite happens. Even in a healthy marriage, the pain and confusion may be magnified.
The waters are rough and disorienting, right?
You want great sex with the person you love. But it seems just out of reach, what with all the triggers and mental tapes and anguish of thinking maybe it’s just not in the cards for you to experience authentic intimacy.
So where does this leave you?
Because sex is part of marriage, it’s not a reasonable expectation that you just push it to the side. The risk of doing that, of course, is that the trauma still wreaks its havoc, undermines stability in your relationship, and sabotages your self worth. And the irony too is that the pain that once was inflicted upon you morphs into pain you unwittingly inflict on the person you deeply love.
You don’t mean to, of course. I get that. But it happens nonetheless.
I hear of this often. A person who was sexually abused in their past—as a child, teen or young adult—is now in a marriage with someone who is safe, compassionate, respectful and committed. But the past abuse becomes a stumbling block.
And the person who was abused believes it is an insurmountable stumbling block, to the point that they also believe their loving spouse should simply accept this.
But sex is part of marriage. It’s not reasonable in a loving relationship for one spouse to arbitrarily take it out of the relational equation. Sex is meant to bring oneness, pleasure, comfort, passion, enjoyment and even revelation to a marriage. God designed it to draw a husband and wife together, not drive them apart.
So where does this leave you?
First let me say this. If you are someone who was sexually abused in your past, regardless of whether it happened once or several times, that pain you experienced is legitimate.
Deciding past sexual trauma will no longer define you, including who you are sexually, does not mean it wasn’t traumatic.
So you can acknowledge the anger, sadness and confusion about this horrible abuse that was inflicted upon you. And you also can step toward healing. Those two things—acknowledging the horror of it all and stepping toward healing—are not mutually exclusive. They both can occur at the same time.
I would even argue this is what has to happen if you want your marriage to be healthy and whole.
Sex is part of marriage. And when we dig into God’s Word, we see His heart isn’t that it would simply be duty or that we would just go through the motions. Making your body available but not your heart and soul is not the image we get from God of healthy marital intimacy.
I point this out to shed light on the dangers of begrudgingly having sex out of obligation and thinking this suffices. You call it good because you offered your body, but God longs for you and your spouse to experience something much more profound.
So where does this leave you?
My hope is if you are reading this, you will take to heart the need to loosen the grip of sexual abuse trauma. Will that be easy? I’m no expert, but I’m going to go with absolutely not as an answer to that. It’s going to be messy and painful.
But does such healing have the potential to bring you closer as husband and wife? Yes. A million times yes.
So what now? What do you do if you know this tragic thing from your past is still finding its way into the crevices of your marriage?
Be vulnerable with each other as husband and wife about the sexual trauma. Embrace that healing is something the two of you likely can’t sort out on your own.
For some couples, individual and couple counseling may be most helpful. As far as counseling, let me add that if you don’t have a positive experience with one counselor, that doesn’t mean counseling doesn’t have value. It more likely means you need to try a different counselor.
For some couples, books or online resources may prove to be monumentally transformational. There are many resources out there, of course.
On the Threshold of Hope by Dr. Diane Mandt Langberg and The Wounded Heart by Dr. Dan Allender are two books I highly recommend. Both of those have workbooks as well. You also may find countless resources on Diane Langberg’s website at this link.
For some couples, intensive healing retreats may be helpful.
For most people, it’s going to take a combination of steps and resources and approaches to loosen the grip of sexual abuse trauma. Accept going in that it will be hard and it will be an ongoing process. But also keep your heart and eyes fixed on the merit of healing and what it will do for your marriage.
Ask God to help you and guide you. Ask Him to shed light on your heartache and brokenness to bring it out of the darkness. Ask Him to encourage you and sustain you when you want to give up because healing is hard.
If you were sexually abused in your past, that’s devastating. It would be further devastating if that trauma robs you of ever enjoying authentic sexual intimacy with the person you deeply love.
So where does this leave you? What steps will you take to loosen the grip of past sexual trauma?
And I have a 5 video series available on building better sex in your marriage. Great way to invest in your marriage! You can find out all about it at this link: Better Sex in Your Christian Marriage.
Copyright 2020, Julie Sibert. Intimacy in Marriage Blog. Links may be monetized.