bethanie8's picture
bethanie8

My Husband Was Molested and I Think It Is Affecting Our Marriage

Hello,

My husband was molested as a child. Over the past 6 months, we've had a couple of arguments with the same theme - he thinks that "I'm out to get him." For example, I said something at a dinner with his family that he (I found out later) didn't want me to share. While it was a complete accident on my part -- it never occurred to me that he wouldn't want me to share the piece of information I did -- he insisted that I "did it to embarrass him" or "hurt him." No matter how often I try to explain to him that (whatever the issue is) I'm not out to hurt him, he doesn't believe me.

I think this type of "trust" issue may be related to him being molested as a child. Does anyone have any experience with this sort of thing? Does anyone know of any good resources for spouses who have partners who have been molested as children?

Thanks!



mayamay's picture
mayamay

I find that most people don't really know how to apologize. A real apology is very short. Here are the things it doesn't contain, either expressed or unexpressed:

"Why is this such a big deal for you?"

"That shouldn't bother you."

"You know I would never deliberately hurt you."

What it does contain is:

"I am sorry. I can see that I have hurt you. I will try never to do it again. Is there anything I can do that will fix the problem I have caused?" Then, you really do try to fix it, you really do try to never do it or anything like it again.

See the difference? One is about the offended one 'getting over it.' The other is about the offender expressing and showing genuine regret.

bethanie8's picture
bethanie8

Unfortunately, this issue is not about anything as simple as an apology not delivered correctly. This is a repeating issue in our marriage, and my instinct is that it runs much deeper to what happened to him as a child. Thanks for your input though.

mayamay's picture
mayamay

Your husband was molested. It is affecting your marriage. You can't change that he was molested, but you can make your marriage more robust.

When he was molested his feelings were disregarded. So, be respectful of his feelings. Don't argue that you didn't know he wouldn't like you sharing the information, just acknowledge his feelings, "I can see you are hurt."

He doesn't trust you. So, be more trustworthy. "I will be more discrete in the future. Is there anything else I can do that will fix the problem?"

bethanie8's picture
bethanie8

Once again, thanks for your input. I appreciate your effort to help. However, I am looking for advice from someone who has a close personal relationship with someone who has been molested. I imagine that unless you are a psychologist (or other professional in a related field) it may be hard to give accurate advice in this area. Although I am not a professional, I do have an intuition that my husband's scars from his childhood run deep and affect our relationship in a way that make it difficult to fix with generalized advice.

I have acknowledged his feelings each time he feels like I've done something "on purpose to hurt him." We've had in depth discussions about each time I've hurt him and I am always left feeling baffled...like there is no way to anticipate what he will be hurt with next. This is why I feel that advice that may apply to a relationship where neither party has been traumatized as a child will not work in my situation.

mayamay's picture
mayamay

The proof of the pudding is in the eating.

Give my advice a try. Just because it's free doesn't mean it's worthless. Just because it's good advice in a general sense doesn't mean that it won't make a profound difference in your circumstance.

You are really good at dismissing other people's input in a way that appears to be respectful. I imagine that this is hard on your husband because--and I know I'm repeating myself--his feelings were disregarded when he was molested. It is particularly important that his feelings and ideas are acknowledged and utilized.

I also repeat this. Your husband was molested. It is affecting your marriage. You CAN NOT fix that he was molested. However, you can make your marriage stronger. It will take some humility on your part.

Alternatively--pay for therapy. After 6 weeks and 600 to 1000 dollars, you will have learned that you CAN NOT fix that he was molested. You will learn that you CAN make your marriage a safer place for both of you to be. That the way to do this is to acknowledge and value his feelings, which is the area where he needs the most safety, because his feelings were disregarded when he was molested.

I'm already composing my next post on this subject. I promise to use big words and complex sentences. I'm making fun of you a little bit, but I do think your question is an important one.

mayamay's picture
mayamay

There are few psychotherapists who are either comfortable or competent to treat adult males who were molested as children. Most research that is available focuses on female victims and there are noticeable differences between male and female responses to sexual abuse.
It is common for patients to present with many symptoms—sexual dysfunction, depression, interpersonal conflict, and PTSD symptomatology.

It is inadvisable for you to attempt to treat your husband’s symptoms. You are his wife, not his therapist. Your interest in his recovery is admirable, however it is likely that if you take the initiative in this matter you will be perceived by him as another perpetrator, a person who does things to him without regard for his feelings. The sequella could include increased distrust, failure of the marriage, and further delay in his seeking help for himself. When he is ready to seek resources and make further progress in recovery, he is capable of doing the research himself. There are some good resources online. He can also get a referral for a therapist from his physician.

If he is exhibiting some of these behaviors, more common in males who were molested than in females, it may be necessary for you to live separately for at least some period of time: sexual promiscuity, drug abuse, interpersonal violence. If there are children in the family, they also need to be protected from these things.

It is advisable that you do some research on PTSD; also, male victims of sexual abuse are more likely than females to experience suicidal ideation.
If you desire to foster in him the resources necessary for him to seek recovery for himself, here are some principles that will be helpful for you.
Your initial strategy should be to promote a healthy attachment. The attachment cycle is as follows:
A subject experiences a need. The need is expressed to the other person. That person (partner) fills the need. The subject is satisfied. Then the subject experiences another need, expresses it to the partner. The partner fills the need. You can see the cycle. The attachment is weakened if the partner actively or passively fails to meet the need. In a healthy adult relationship, each person will spend some time as the subject, some time as the partner, and the relationship will be valued by both partners so that there will be few instances of failure to meet needs.
In addition, while remaining committed to maintaining your own boundaries, you need to foster an atmosphere where vulnerabilities are mutually accepted and respected. This is accomplished by a two pronged strategy: accepting his feelings and ideas--not disputing them, and revealing your own self-doubts and weaknesses. In an atmosphere of mutually increasing trust he may gain a desire to overcome the consequences of the abuse he suffered.

In other words, Your husband was sexually molested. It is affecting your marriage. YOU can't do anything about that directly. But you can provide a foundation that may allow HIM to change how it affects him.
When he says you are out to get him, say that you understand that you hurt him. Say that you are sorry. Tell him (and mean it) that you won’t do it again. Ask him if there is anything else you can do to repair the relationship.

I am a state-licensed foster parent, trained by an agency contracted to my state government. I have more experience with children, but I have helped one adult male who experienced sexual abuse.

bethanie8's picture
bethanie8

Thanks for your tireless efforts to help. I am really good at respectfully disagreeing wtih opinions that are different than mine. As such, I respectfully disagree with you. Furthermore, I am looking for free advice, so am confused as to why you imply that I think free advice is worthless.

I imagine that it must be hard for your husband/partner/children/friends/family to cope with the fact that you have the tendancy to not digest what others are saying. Your advice is obvious (I don't mean that in a condescending way) and my husband and I have been together a long time and we regularly employ the common sense tactics that you suggest. Therefore, I feel the need for a suggestion from someone who has been through what I'm going through.

I am interested in the adult male that you helped. I wonder if he spent years in therapy (like my husband) and if he and his wife or partner experienced anything similar to my situation (i.e. trust issues).

PS) I also wanted to let you know that the reason I keep replying (and politely conveying that I haven't gotten the answer I seek) is because I don't want others to not respond because it appears as though your advice has resolved my issue. I am not continuously responding because I want to continue this back and forth argumentative exchange. I

mayamay's picture
mayamay

That was lovely!

You had indicated that the problem you wished to address was some relatively mild interpersonal conflict generated by underlying ‘trust issues’. If your husband has already taken the initiative to seek therapy, that is a very good thing. If, on the other hand, it has been forced on him, it is even less likely to be effective.
Some victims of sexual abuse develop PTSD. It would be useful for you to know about PTSD so you can anticipate it. Also, Bruce Perry’s 6 core strengths (he’s a pediatric psychiatrist, but I do believe that the principles generalize to adults) will be of interest to you. The first core strength is attachment, and is our primary focus as foster parents. We are also reminded that, although we provide a therapeutic, i.e. safe, environment, therapy is best left to the professionals. Children need time when they are not being ‘treated’, and it seems common sense to me that a ‘safe’ place for adults would also be one where they are not always under the pressure of being ‘treated.’
I strongly recommend that you look at Bruce Perry’s work. His book for the popular press was “The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog.”
As for the adult male I worked with, he has been able to seek therapy. Unfortunately, he has not been able to find someone locally who he can work with. Of course, I am not sure if this is because no-one is willing, or because he is unable to trust enough to actually engage in therapy. He has been able to keep a job for nearly 2 years now, and in this economy. He is also closely involved with a local congregation, so I feel that he is making progress on both self-regulation and on affiliation. He is single, which is probably appropriate, although he is lonely. I am unable to be his partner in developing attachment because I’m married and thus his needs must take a lower priority than those of my husband, children and foster children.
I have a more distant connection with another adult male who was sexually abused as a child. I am friends with his wife. I find it interesting that his profession is therapy. I hear about a marriage filled with distrust, poor money management, conflict, sexual addiction, and at least two violent episodes. They have been in therapy off and on for years. This is a problem that is extremely resistant to therapy. The only issue which seems to be completely resolved after many years is the substance abuse, the husband was a secret drinker in college and used various drugs in high school. I believe he has been clean and sober for about 17 years.
It could be that your husband has a resilient personality and is well-integrated despite the trauma he endured. You are very fortunate if he is exhibiting Perry’s core strengths: attachment, self-regulation, affiliation, attunement, tolerance, and respect.
As the wife of a person who has been molested, there are three things that should be your concerns: First, your own boundaries—are you (and your children) safe in the relationship. Second, building attachment. Third, being trustworthy. Your husband’s therapy will be most effective if you focus on these things. It won’t hurt you to become more educated about therapy if you can resist the impulse to become his therapist.

mayamay's picture
mayamay

p.s. Your response to my snottiness was masterful, but you started it. “I imagine that unless you are a psychologist (or other professional in a related field) it may be hard to give accurate advice in this area.” I do know what I am talking about . I am sorry that I can’t give you a magic wand that will make this all go away. The reason I keep saying that what you can do is provide a relationship that is accepting and not argumentative of your husband’s feelings and opinions is because – that is what you can do. It doesn’t always solve the problem, but it is essential to solving the problem. If that is what you have been doing, then keep doing it. If he is the one who is seeking therapy, then you are doing everything right. Keep doing it. If you are the one who has pushed him, then back off. If you are NOT safe in the relationship, then you need to address your safety needs first.

mayamay's picture
mayamay

I felt it would be useful to make something more clear. It is important to understand that being respectful of his feelings does not require that you agree with his feelings.

When he says that he feels you are out to get him, play this script in your mind. Please don't use it out loud, that just gets annoying.

"When I did ____, you felt unsafe." (Notice that you are NOT taking responsibility for his feelings, it was not your actions that made him feel unsafe, you are merely acknowledging that in the circumstance, he felt unsafe)
"I will try not to ____ again." (This does not mean that you were wrong to do it, however, now that you know it makes him feel unsafe it would be wrong for you to repeat it.)
"Can I do anything else that will make you feel more confident in my love for you?" (This step of asking for his ideas may be the most important in resolving the trust issues between you. You show vulnerability toward him and faith in him when you ask for and act on his input. You stated that you never know what will set him off. He probably doesn't either.)

Also, be aware that when you do change this dynamic in your marriage it is likely that there will be resistance and upset. Changes make people feel unsafe. This is the one step backward that happens when you take two steps forward.

I hope that this will help you address this part of your relationship. "No matter how often I try to explain to him that (whatever the issue is) I'm not out to hurt him, he doesn't believe me. . . . We've had in depth discussions about each time I've hurt him and I am always left feeling baffled...like there is no way to anticipate what he will be hurt with next "

I realize that I am reiterating the same principle in every post. That is probably annoying. When you marry someone with a disability, it is not always possible to make the disability go away. Usually, you must accommodate the disability for the rest of your life. I hope that you have the patience and commitment to make this marriage lasting.