Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Marital Relations

I won't forget different scenes in Thin Places A Memoir by Mary E. De Muth anytime soon. The scenes are powerful and the language engaging. For some of this blog's readership this book may be triggering as it shares about sexual abuse and feelings of being marked for other abusers, but it is a moving book that spotlights God's redemptive, life-giving grace.

Reading this book, brought to my attention that I haven't blogged on a very important topic: sex in marriage when one or both parties have experienced abuse from a former partner and/or parent. Perhaps I hadn't tackled it because it is such a sensitive subject and not a very comfortable one for this layperson to write about. But Mary E. De Muth brought it up, and it empowers me to write on this important topic too.

As an incest survivor and a former abused wife, I found it easy to relate to Mary's experiences. Not because our past or present experiences are identical. They are not. But because we speak the same language of inner struggle that is a direct result of past abuse. And we both look to God for answers.

For those who are eager for bottom lines: The good news, you can enjoy sex, even if you were abused in the past. The bad news, the sexual experience is marred by the former abuse. It's unfair; but it's true.

And really, when we stop and think about it how could it be otherwise? Abuse of all types attacks our self-worth and self-perceptions. When we give the gift of ourselves to our partner, how can that damaged sense of self not interfere? Abuse of all types destroys our sense of the world being a safe place and it robs us of the ability to trust at the deepest levels. Making love involves trust and safety, so we notice our internal damage at seemingly random moments during intimacy with our beloved. Abuse lodges fearful questions in our hearts that may push forward at the most awkward of times. And for those of us who have been sexually abused the damage is even more intense and pressing in the bedroom.

I love my current husband deeply and trust him more than I have ever trusted anyone. But the sexual abuse I have experienced has been a force to be reckoned with at different times in our marriage, especially in the beginning. I remember curling up into a tight fetal ball position when my husband wasn't interested in sex on the same night I was. Deep shame gripped me and fear pummeled me. Sexual abuse memories had me by the throat. I was so ashamed and confused by the experience. "Why would a woman who'd been raped be interested in initiating sex?" an ugly voice whispered in my soul. It was a tangled mess. No one had warned me that such confusion might occur after I finally found someone I could trust.

I also remember feeling safe, totally safe, in my husband's arms and then being assailed by a voice of panic inside. Was I really safe with this man or was it all a lie? Was I going to become the victim once again? I have now been married to this man for over a decade and know, really know, that he is a good man and that his love for me is sincere. And yet, now and then, I am still startled by a sudden attack of fear, an intense feeling of waiting for the other shoe to drop. Waiting for the familiar experience of being tricked and betrayed to spring up and grab me.

I don't want this post to become over long or overwhelming to read. Suffice it to say, that I know what it is to yearn for the day to come when my sexual relations with my husband will never be infringed upon by past abuse. Wouldn't that be amazing! As good as my sex life with my husband is, I've wondered to myself what it would be like to have sex that is never, not ever, overshadowed by past memories or high-jacked by yucky feelings.

I've shared these things in the hopes that it will help others who have been abused know that it is normal to see the shadows of abuse in their most intimate moments. It is sad, but not the end of the world. As we learn to trust God and our marriage partner and then honestly reveal our struggles, our healing continues. Moments of great stress or confusion may still be ahead for us, but so to are times of healing and refreshment. We can experience intimacy and rejoice in the wondrous moments. We can receive healing through really difficult and embarrassing discussions. We can release a deep breath and realize that we are quite normal folks, with hurts that take time to heal and hopes that illustrate our amazing resilience and our growing faith.


Cindy said...

Wow, Tanya I admire you so much for sharing your past and witnessing to others who might be in abusive situations. My heart breaks for you and others that went through this terrible abuse. Thank you for pointing them to Jesus our Jehovah Rapha, the One Who heals us.

Thank you for stopping by and following Life is Good. I will be praying for you and those you reach out to.



Tanya T. Warrington said...

Thank you for the prayers, Cindy! Jesus is the one who heals us to the glory of God the Father. Without Jesus and the work of the Holy Spirit it is extremely difficult to live freely after abuse.

Abuse decimates our sense of value and dooms us to a future of continued abuse--until we cry out for God to rescue us and heal us. Then everything begins to change. But it is a long process that requires perseverance and hope. Both of which God gladly supplies.

By the way, the sharing I do is done in the Lord Jesus. On my own, I would most likely spend all of my time hiding and self-protecting.

Mary DeMuth said...

Such true, beautiful words. Wow. Thanks for giving voice to so many women who suffer from the effects of past abuse!

Tanya T. Warrington said...

Mary, thank you for the encouraging comment.

I just keep trying to be faithful to the things that God urges me to post. It is so humbling to read a comment like yours. If I am a voice, it is only because God empowers me to be bold in Him. Alone, I would have kept everything hidden.

It is sad that all of us formerly abused have so much in common. Abuse is such an easy tool for Satan to use to rip away our true identities--but God the Father is an expert at releasing victims and empowering them to heal and become the cherished people that he calls us to be.

God bless your writing and speaking ministry,

Recommended Books

  • 10 Lifesaving Principles for Women in Difficult Marriages by Karla Downing
  • A Way of Hope by Leslie J. Barner
  • Angry Men and the Women Who Love Them by Paul Hegstrom
  • Battered But Not Broken by Patricia Riddle Gaddis
  • Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend
  • Bradshaw on the Family by John Bradshaw
  • Caring Enough to Forgive/Not Forgive by David Augsburger
  • Codependent No More by Melody Beattie
  • Healing the Wounded Heart by Dr. Dan B. Allendar
  • Keeping the Faith: Questions and Answers for the Abused Woman by Marie M. Fortune
  • Perfect Daughters by Robert J. Ackerman, Ph.D.
  • Recovery: A Guide for Adult Children of Alcoholics by Herbert L. Gravitz and Julie D. Bowden
  • Safe People by Dr Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend
  • Slay Your Own Dragons by Nancy Good
  • The Cinderella Syndrome by Lee Ezell
  • The Dance of Anger by Harriet Goldhor Lerner, Ph.D.
  • The Search for Significance by Robert S. McGee
  • Turning Fear to Hope by Holly Wagner Green
  • When Violence Comes Home: Help for Victims of Spouse Abuse by Tim Jackson and Jeff Olson
  • Why Does He Do That? by Lundy Bancroft