By Otto Collins
Joe’s wife, Cindy, has been quieter and more withdrawn than usual. She definitely has not been in the mood for lovemaking or any physical intimacy from him during for the past few weeks.
Some might think that because Cindy has been pushing Joe away in these ways she could be having an affair. Joe doubts this. He knows that Cindy has been grappling with some very difficult issues from her childhood. She was raped by a cousin when she was barely a teenager.
Recently, Cindy saw this cousin at a family reunion and painful memories have flooded her ever since. Even though Joe is certain that Cindy is pushing him away as she deals the after effects of this trauma, it is still a tough time for him too.
He really wants to be there and support Cindy. He misses holding her in his arms and he also misses making love with her. A part of him is worried that she’ll never fully heal from the rape. He feels sad, frustrated and angry too.
If your wife is a survivor of sexual abuse, rape or incest, you might be dealing with very similarly mixed emotions.
On the one hand, you might feel outraged that someone could have ever hurt this woman whom you care so very much about. You might feel protective of her and angry that she had to go through what she went through.
You might also feel angry because the trauma that your partner experienced has left such a deep and lasting wound on her. When the traumatic past barges its way into your marriage now, it can be irritating and frustrating.
You may not know what to say and how to act when your woman is dealing with a resurgence of memories or feelings associated with the rape or abuse. You probably try to be patient and supportive but are not always sure what would be most helpful to her.
When she pushes you away this could make it all the more difficult for you to know what to do.
Resist the urge to react.
Some initial advice for men who are married to women who are rape or abuse survivors is this: try not to take it personally and try not to react.
It’s absolutely natural for you also to have intense feelings come up– especially if you see the person who abused her or are in the location of where the abuse happened. These reminders can trigger painful memories for your partner and difficult emotions for you too.
If you truly want to support your woman, you’ve got to first be in a place where you can be a source of support. Acknowledge your own feelings about what you know about her experience.
Remember to breathe and to be with whatever you are feeling. Pause before taking an action. Even if it’s just a few seconds, give yourself the time to choose a response instead of merely saying or doing something from your intense feelings.
Understand or remember why.
Remind yourself why she is needing extra space right now. This can be tricky. Don’t make assumptions about how your woman is feeling or what you think is best for her.
This will only cause more disconnection between you two. But, do remember what you know and be sure to listen closely to what your woman is asking of you.
After the family reunion in which Cindy and Joe saw the cousin who raped her, there was a lot of tense silence between Cindy and Joe. He wanted to help her but was at a loss for what he could say or do that would really be beneficial.
Cindy was frustrated to be re-living the memories of the past and was trying to handle it all herself in an attempt to prevent Joe from having to deal with her past.
Joe resisted the urge to react and, instead, went to the gym more frequently to de-stress. He also made it clear to Cindy that he needed her to tell him how she wants to be supported. He told her that he loves her and he wants to be there for her…he just isn’t sure what she wants.
Even though Cindy remained quiet and withdrawn, she could hear Joe’s words and she could feel his love. She told him that she would open up to him soon and that she appreciates his patience and love.
Choose a response that will honor you both.
Yes, it is difficult to be patient and loving when your partner is going through traumatic memories and emotions like this. It so important for you to give her that space, patience, and love.
But, do not neglect yourself and your own needs when you do.
You don’t have to choose between supporting your wife and having your needs met. You might be required to be flexible, but there is no either/or choice to make.
You can actually create an even closer marriage with her when you are honest with yourself and with her too. You can let her know that you miss holding her, touching her and making love to her. Share this using words that are not guilt-inducing.
When you tell her that you are willing to be patient and that you miss the intimacy, this honesty and openness can strengthen the trust and connection between the two of you.
It is also a way to honor where you both are.