For many years, I assumed that anything with the word “self” in front of it was not good: selfish, self-indulgent, self-righteous, self-pity. I’ve now awakened to the fact that there are some exceptions and self-care is one of those exceptions. Jesus, the personification of selflessness, knowing the limitations of his disciples, guided them in self-care. When “so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest’” (Mark 6:31).
Self-care must be a non-negotiable for husbands whose wives are survivors of childhood sexual abuse (CSA). We face unique and demanding challenges. We also have our limitations physically, emotionally, and spiritually. So what does self-care mean for us? Here are sensible guidelines that have helped me in recent years. I believe that if we don’t engage in these practices now, we’ll pay for it in some way later.
You are not alone . . . but I’m talking about something different this time
I’ve said previously, “You are not alone,” referring to the fact that there are many other husbands of CSA survivors who are facing the same challenges you face. At least one in four women – some studies suggest one in three – have been sexually abused as children. But there is another reason you are not alone. As husbands of CSA survivors, our compassion and care for our wives are acts of partnership with God. God walks among the weary and brokenhearted. “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18). To love and care for our wives is to join God in His work. For some sovereign reason, God has selected us to be a conduit of His love and care for our wives. We engage in self-care when we believe that as He imparts some of His care through us, He has also promised to extend His care to us. We can trust Him to replenish us because He has said, “I will refresh the weary and satisfy the faint” (Jeremiah 31:25).
Know your limits
Some husbands take on the role of the therapist, but I’ve yet to meet a couple who are doing well when the husband has assumed the role of therapist. Sharon E. Cheston wisely stated, “Do not underestimate your input and do not overestimate your skills” (p. 61). Self-care means that we take the pressure off ourselves to figure out the pathway of healing for our wives. Are we to intervene if they seek to bring harm to themselves? Yes! Are we to interject what we think is going on in their minds? No! Instead, do all you can to support your wife in finding a good therapist.
Draw lines of responsibility
In marriage, there is a degree to which each person identifies with the other. In the past, I thought “the more identified I am with my wife the better.” I did not realize how unhealthy it was, I was, at the time. I became so enmeshed or entwined with my wife that I lost a sense of who I was and who I was in the relationship. That’s why my counselor had to work with me in order for me to discover “What’s it like to be Bill?” My self-awareness occurred only at times when I groveled in self-pity. I’ll write more about this topic of enmeshment and individuation in a future blog.
Whether or not you’ve ever been enmeshed with your wife as I was with mine, all of us are vulnerable to feeling as if our wife’s stuff is our stuff or that it is because of us. This is especially true when we are the recipient of her inner rage or outer distancing.
My counselor, Dr. Daniel Green, keeps reminding me that I am responsible for two things. I’m responsible for how I treat myself and I’m responsible for how I treat others; no more than that, no less than that. I am not responsible for (a) how others treat me, (b) how others treat others, or (c) for how others treat themselves. Therefore, self-care means setting boundaries of responsibility, knowing that I am not responsible for her CSA or for her response to it.
There are some additional steps to self-care. But my desire is that my blogs become more than information. I invite you to join with me in application by reflecting on the concepts in this blog in the next few days and implementing any necessary mental and emotional adjustments. I’ll send Part 2 in one-week rather than my normal bi-weekly frequency.
Feel free to interact with me. Your submitted comments will be posted with this blog along with your first name.
The reference in this blog from Sharon Cheston was drawn from her short book As You & the Abused Person Journey Together.