The last several days, weeks, and months have been significant reminders of the trauma that exists in our world and in the lives of many, many people. From the #metoo movement to the recent trial and imprisonment of Dr. Larry Nassar, more than a few men and women have been reminded of their own sexual abuse and trauma. With current stats saying that every 98 seconds someone in the US is sexually assaulted equalling more than 570 people every single day, I expect that very few couples exist where both individuals were able to completely avoid sexual trauma while growing up.
According to Dr. Diane Langberg, licensed psychologist and a well-known expert in trauma and recovery, sexual abuse can cause damage to one’s physical body, emotional self, relationships, and spirituality. Those that have endured sexual abuse know this full well. Sexual abuse can lead to a lack of trust in your marriage or a strong desire to avoid intimacy. It can cause you to shut down instead of sharing yourself or can cause you to believe lies that can rob you of the union that God wants you to have in marriage.
Even so, many survivors of sexual abuse have learned to walk in healing and closely connect to their spouse. Here are some ways that they do that.
They know that their voice matters
Sexual abuse has the ability to silence a person. Most people who have survived sexual abuse have learned that their voice doesn’t matter. They said no, but the no was ignored. Some even told others about the abuse only to have it minimized or not believed.
Because of this, people who have been through sexual abuse learn that their voice doesn’t matter. They learn to keep their emotions and their thoughts to themselves as a way to protect themselves from being hurt again. In marriage, this can mean closing yourself off from your spouse to make sure that you stay safe.
But, for those that thrive in their relationship, there is a deep desire for intimacy that pushes them beyond the uncomfortable fears of sharing their thoughts or feelins. Those that thrive learn how to express emotion. They are risk-takers in this way, willing to take a chance on getting hurt with the ultimate reward of being comforted when they express negative emotions.
You may find that coming up with the right words to express discomfort or upsetting feelings can be really difficult. You’re not alone in that regard. I often give the people I work with charts that can help them express their mood. Many of us never learned the language of emotion when we were children. If you’re in that place, use this chart to help you express the emotions you feel when you talk with your spouse. Your voice matters! Use it.
They are truth-seekers
Sexual abuse is wrapped up in lies and causes us to believe things that simply are not true. Survivors of abuse often believe, “I don’t matter, I’m not important, I’m only good for sex, and I have to keep this secret to myself.”
Abusers are great at making those they abuse feel like the trauma was somehow their fault. But, these beliefs are not true. People do not seek abuse. They don’t seek violence. This evil done to you was because of the heart of the abuser. Jesus said that it was satan who came to steal, kill and destroy, but that Jesus comes to give us the fullness of life.
Those that thrive are seeking the Truth. They seek to know Christ and to understand his goodness in a broken world. They seek to know him as healer and redeemer. Those that thrive are not just settling for a truth. Instead, they seek out The Truth.
And, their seeking for truth extends beyond their relationship with God into their relationship with their spouse. These individuals ask touch questions and listen for a response. They refuse to settle for “average” in their relationship because they know that God promises that marriage will bond a man and woman together. Since healing requires some work, they take the practical steps needed for becoming one. You can do this too! Don’t settle for a roommate type marriage. Seek to really become one with your spouse.
Extending and receiving grace
I often say that marriage isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s hard work to stay in a committed marriage because both individuals in the relationship are imperfect. For those with a history of sexual abuse, navigating the challenges of marriage can be even more difficult.
Marriage requires us to really love one another well, but for those that have been through abuse, it can be incredibly confusing to even know what love means. Sexual abuse can make someone wonder if they know how to love, if they can give love fully, or it they can receive love. All of these questions can cause people to shy away from conflict or intimacy in hopes to protect themselves. But, loving well means that you need to turn toward your spouse when feeling hurt and practice grace.
I’m sure you’ve heard it said in Christian teaching that God gives us grace, or unmerited favor. Well, he also gives us the ability to show this to others. Colossians 3:12 tells us to clothe ourselves with “compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.” When your vulnerabilities are exposed, which happens often for those that have undergone abuse, you can choose to act lovingly, or act in a way that pushes your spouse away. I encourage you to practice extending grace when your spouse accidentally upsets you. And at the same time, practice allowing your spouse to show you grace by lettign yourself receive love.
Don’t give up on healing
If you’ve been through sexual abuse, I encourage you to not give up on your healing. Don’t believe the lie that you can’t love or be loved. Pray for God to help you understand Truth and to help you see his goodness in the midst of the battle. Pray for Him to comfort you and to give you peace. And, while you do this, seek out Godly counsel that can help you grow in healing and in your relationship.
My prayer for you is that you walk in healing and wholeness with an understanding of the great love that God has for you.
P.S. Would you like to get a little more connected? If so, join me in my closed Facebook group where you’ll find a community of married Christians aiming to improve their marriage and intimacy in a way that honors God.