I thought I had a normal marriage. My wife and I had normal children, normal celebrations, normal habits, normal communication, normal sex, and normal arguments.
Then, ten years into our marriage, my wife disclosed her childhood sexual abuse (CSA). Her disclosure was a defining moment in our marriage. Once we got into some counseling, we were able to connect some unsettling relationship patterns to the effects of her CSA. Some of those patterns extended back to the time when I thought our lives and marriage were normal. I became confused as to what was normal in marriage. As husbands observe what they perceive to be the effects of their wife’s CSA, they often wonder, “What is a normal marriage?”
Laura Davis, in her book Allies in Healing, addressed husbands’ question of “What is normal?” She contended that
There is no such thing as a “normal” union by which to gauge your relationship. By their nature, relationships are quirky and unique, based as they are on the individual personalities and unique needs of the people involved in them.
It’s easy to fall into a pattern where you blame every problem in your relationship on the fact that one or both of you was abused. But the fact is that you and the survivor would be having conflicts, struggles, and rough places even if neither of you had been abused. Long-term relationships have struggles. . . . Any two people who form a partnership are going to have to deal with differences in the way they communicate, cope with stress, and resolve conflicts; with varying levels of sexual interest, and differing needs for intimacy and independence. . . . Although being with a survivor . . . adds to the complexity and intensity of these problems, you wouldn’t be free of them even if both of you had the happiest childhood in the world. (p. 143)
Davis was right, there’s no normal marriage. Yet, it took her a whole book to address the abnormalities of marriages affected by CSA.
I’ll never forget my verbal vomiting with a counselor as I grumbled about wanting a normal marriage. He asked me, “What’s normal?” I had enough sense to refrain from answering his question; I would have only made a fool of myself.
Here’s what I’ve concluded: It can be prosperous to strive for a healthy relationship and preposterous to seek a normal relationship. Striving for a healthy relationship begins with me. In my next blog I’ll ask three questions as a self-check on our own health as a husband.