How childhood sexual abuse affects my marriage

It’s not news to anyone that a child who was sexually abused suffers long-term effects that carry over to adulthood. The early trauma is not an event that can be isolated because abuse touches all parts of a person’s identity, their social-emotional lives as well as the perceptions of themselves and others.

I have written about my experience of incest. I was prepubertal and research shows that the onset of childhood sexual abuse (CSA) factors into measuring the extent of trauma. Some studies show that younger children are somewhat more vulnerable than older children to trauma. I don’t need research to tell me this; of course a brain that has not developed (especially in terms of maturation and puberty) would be more affected. Other research shows that if the survivor lacks a sense of being protected by their parents, which is especially true with incestual CSA, the trauma can be worse. When I say trauma, I broadly speak of all the ways a child could be hurt; the more trauma the more far-reaching the effects and the harder the road is to recovery.

I’d like to address how CSA has affected my marriage of 23 years. I struggle with the ability to trust and be intimate with my husband. I fear re-traumatization if I stay in any relationship with the potential for emotional harm. When my fears over-power my rational thought, I want to escape. Yesterday in my blog I shared that I felt my husband does not respect or value me. Do you have any idea how many times I’ve had similar fears? More than I can count. Just about every time I don’t get my needs met.

My marital relationship is a concern but I am awakening to a realization that the bigger problem is that I continue to replay the same stories in my head. Recovery is hard because I keep my shame, guilt and sense of unworthiness hidden.

My thoughts regularly turn pessimistic and I fall into an all too common space in my mind that is self-protective. The proof is in every journal I ever wrote. I go between drastic states of believing that my husband is safe and loves me to an overriding sense that he hates me. Realistically, I am not in a relationship with a man who hates me. The relationship is unpredictable because I cause it to be so. A published piece of scientific literature about CSA says that dysfunctional family dynamics may occur in the families of survivors. These include “denial, unpredictability, lack of empathy, lack of clear boundaries, role reversal, a closed family system, incongruent messages (body language differs from speech) and extremes in conflict (too much conflict may result in abuse, too little may result in hiding problems and not dealing with them).” (Engel, 2000)

This is my reality — I do not think or react normally. CSA causes extremes in the quality of my intimate relationship with my husband.

My past shoves its way into the present and I re-live feelings of trauma and express myself in an extreme manner. I’ve never been diagnosed with a personality disorder of any kind, so this behavior is your standard post traumatic stress disorder. The reality is that my husband does not hate me nor does he think I’m stupid.

Yesterday, on Thanksgiving, I believed he hated me. I admit throughtout the day, I was recalling my childhood and I suspect it triggered my thoughts to go into protective-mode, hence the previous blog post threatening divorce. I have similar journal entries from the past 30 years, stating my husband doesn’t love me and I would be better off without him.

He proved me wrong yesterday by working in the kitchen all day, cooking the Thanksgiving dinner, from stuffing the turkey, to peeling potatoes to heating up rolls in the oven. I showed up just in time to set the table. He didn’t complain and in a sense proved he is good to me, to the kids and to my emotional health.

Dinner was followed by some television and then mutually satisfying sex that left me completely satiated. So much so, I forgot to take Klonopin at bed time and slept well regardless of missing my medication. This morning, my husband initiated more sex and I responded positively because he proved he could be trusted yesterday and so I felt safe.

This flip-flop in my thinking is the aftermath from CSA. It’s so paradoxical that half the time, I can’t trust myself. Is my husband loving or is he full of hate for me? My distorted thoughts aren’t reliable and so I’ve learned to go into isolation-mode when I feel unloved and low on self-esteem. I don’t want to do anything rash or sudden because I think it will hurt me more in the end to not be with this man I’ve loved for 30 years.

My instincts are good because it protects me from doing further harm to myself. Otherwise, I would still be living out my adolescence with sexual promiscuity, an eating disorder and drugs. I realize that when my thoughts turn to self-hate, I should isolate myself in order to stay safe. This defense mechanism has kept me in a good marriage, allowed me to raise well-adjusted children and kept me employed.

Things are beginning to change. I’m recognizing these stories and past patterns of thought are hurting me. No doubt they impact my relationships, and especially my marriage; but I count my blessings. I’ve never threatened divorce, I’ve only fantasized it would be best. I know it wouldn’t be the answer to my problems. My husband is aware of my past CSA and has stuck by me. He is a good man and I am ready to change my thoughts so that I can both give and accept love fully.


14 responses to “How childhood sexual abuse affects my marriage

  1. You describe this so well. The flip flop of love to hate, my own unpredictable behavior, and the constant cycles of revisiting what we thought we already worked through. It is so hard to accept love when we feel unlovable. So hard to trust, both others, and ourselves. I have also been in that lovely safe zone of trust and love when things seem to be working. But it never lasts long, and is so painful to go through again and again. I’m so happy you’re in a better place and feeling peace and love.

    • By no means do I mean to compare myself to your situation. There are so many variables to relationships and mixing in CSA makes things fuzzy. There is a fine line between leaving a relationship where we are not growing and staying because we don’t think highly enough of ourselves to leave. I’m always doubting myself but I think, for me, it is the effects of early trauma. Of course, I want to be loved by my husband but when he is loving I can be overwhelmed and self-protective and push him away. I want to learn to recognize that my patterns are hurting myself and then begin to change them. Since I’ve been with my husband through thick and thin, I am committed to growing within my marriage.

      That is not right for everyone. I hope you are doing okay. Stay true to yourself and everything will work out.


  2. Very well written, thank you.

  3. I’m so glad you are in a relationship with a man who cares, works to understand, who loves you and who shows that love in real ways that you can see, feel and grasp. I relate to your difficulties and struggles. It sounds as if you have overcome a lot in your journey already. You have a lot to be proud of. Keep fighting for yourself and your healing. It’s hard when we can’t trust what we feel or think. But the fight is worth it. Because you are worth it.

    • Thanks for the encouragement — it means a lot. I’m in totally new territory here and if someone shows even a bit of understanding it makes me feel not so alone in my life.

  4. Oh, Daylily. You’ve done it again. You’ve put such deeply complex struggles into easily understandable terms. I can relate on so many levels, as will others who have similar backgrounds. I love how you stay IN the struggle. You’re with it, dealing with it, moving with it as it changes…as you change.

    I’m very sad when I think about you being abused. And I’m so sorry you went through it.

    Thank you for blessing us with your honesty and vulnerability. It’s encouraging to relate to such a force of resolve and stick-to-it-tiveness as you are. There’s simply no room for lying down in it. We must press on to freedom.

    It’s worth every bit of fighting, isn’t it?

    Thanks for the great post. Love to you.

  5. I don’t know why I haven’t found you before now. We both comment on Casey’s blog. I relate to what you are saying here. This is interesting to me. I deal with a version of this myself. I grew up with CSA, and I’m a survivor of human trafficking. So, I have spent almost 2 decades rebuilding my life. I am medicated for PTSD because, let’s face it, that’s just a reality for me. But, the splitting–what you call the flip-flopping–is something I, too, struggle with. It’s better now, but I still go inward when I feel betrayed. I liken it to my ‘secret garden’. It’s my safe place. I have found that the less I judge myself the faster I recover and come forward into the outside world. Anyway, I just blogged about a two month patch of troublesome relational issues with my husband. My blog used to be public, but I had to privatize it. If you’re interested: I’m not fishing for followers. Just mutual conversation on something in common…xo, J

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