Many men who are married to a survivor of childhood sexual abuse are confronted by a marital question that they never anticipated on their wedding day: Should I stay or should I go?
Think back to your wedding day. Like most grooms, you had bright hopes. But, as the husband of a childhood sexual abuse survivor, you are probably reading this blog because you’ve experienced trouble. In fact, you’ve possibly experienced trauma.
When I officiate weddings, my opening remarks to the couple typically include the idea that “before you lies a future with its hopes and disappointments, pleasures and pain, successes and its failures, and its joys and sorrows.” If the pastor officiating my wedding said something of that sort, I either entirely missed it or foolishly dismissed it.
The effects of childhood sexual abuse impose disappointment, pain, sorrow, and often a sense of failure on both the survivor and her husband. A husband’s disappointment and pain can be provoked by numerous factors including:
The sense of rejection stemming from their wife’s emotional distancing
Frustration resulting from unpredictable behaviors
Emasculation resulting from a dysfunctional sexual relationship
Dealing with their wife’s eating disorder or other self-injurious behavior
Dan, the husband of a childhood sexual abuse survivor, learned of his wife’s abuse three months into their dating relationship. It was neither pleasure nor pain for him. His impression was, “it was a data point . . . I was ignorant of what that [the disclosure of sexual abuse] meant and what it was going to mean for us. It just was like, ‘ok, great.’ It was input . . .”
But the data became trauma after they got to their hotel room on their wedding night. Up to that point, both Dan and his wife Nikki had great expectations of intimacy. They had saved themselves in their relationship for this moment. But the anticipated pleasure became unexpected pain. Nikki broke down into tears when Dan began to unzip her dress. Dan recalled the moment by saying, “I remember thinking, ‘How did I end up here? I’m in my tux on my wedding night, and this is not a good sign . . . This is not what I thought it was going to be.’”
The disappointment, pain, and sorrow husbands experience can mount up to a burdensome load and a troublesome marriage. Another husband of a survivor confided, “I’m challenged by my inner struggle of selfishness and desire while knowing that God has called me to love her unconditionally and to be her protector and ally.” Should I stay in this marriage with my unmet desires or should I go where God-intended desires can be met?
Should I stay or should I go? There are at least two ways of going, or leaving, the marriage.
A husband might choose to leave his survivor wife through separation or divorce. Though there are conditions for which God permits divorce, some husbands opt to leave their survivor wives because they feel it’s just not working out for them. In so doing they follow the siren call of the culture to be true to themselves.
Chad, a husband of a survivor, imagined another way to go. When I asked Chad if he ever contemplated divorce, he spoke of his refusal to break his marriage vow. But he went on to say, “I asked God to take my life. I didn’t want to take it myself. I never thought about taking pills and overdosing. I still felt the responsibility for my family. At the same time, I would have . . . relished a heart attack . . . or even cancer . . . or ‘God, take me in a car wreck, please’”. Chad was committed in his head to stay but his heart wanted to go. The disappointment, pain, and sorrow were overwhelming.
Jay Wolf could have never anticipated what happened in his marriage. Though he and his wife faced a trauma different from childhood sexual abuse, everything changed for them three years into their marriage. All their hopes were immediately shattered. You may have never heard of Darling Magazine, but Jay’s article in the publication is of great worth to any husband of a sexual abuse survivor. It is a compelling account of continual commitment to his marriage vow. Jay stated, “I can stay because . . .” I urge you to read Jay’s full article, “Do We Need New Love Songs”.
Jay’s article is a “must read” for anyone asking, Should I stay or should I go? It offers reason and motivation to stay.