What are symptoms of a spouse who has been sexually abused?
Life trauma of many sorts carry with us into adulthood. These symptoms vary within a wide range. Even with treatment there are flashbacks of the traumatic times. Depending on many variables such as; peer support at the time of abuse, family support, timely therapy, and how well the individual dealt with the trauma the effects into adulthood vary. Individuals are usually those of extremes when it comes to disclosure, trust and intimacy issues. The main problem area by this author’s experience is lack of disclosure, and lack of trust. The abused spouse is very hesitant to disclose and is concerned about being hurt from the disclosure. This translates to the caring spouse as rejection, and feels the lack of trust, hence we have a nice wall that does not bring the two closer but farther apart. This is only one of many issues that occurs. Individuals who have experienced life trauma do not enjoy disclosing, at least for the most part. Nothing is one hundred percent, we are all different. Some individuals disclose to an extreme and find secondary gain by sharing the drama and look for sympathy not empathy.
A classic conversation from a marital couple, where one has a history of being sexually abused with therapeutic interpretation may go something like this: This couple has been married for ten years, Husband, thirty-four and wife who has a history of being sexually abused at age seven is, thirty-two. No excessive substance abuse, or psychiatric hospitalizations, no significant medication history, and neither has been in therapy.
Husband reading the sports on his smart phone, wife starring out window, watching a slow but steady rain pelt the window on a dreary Sunday morning.
Husband: “What is wrong?” Wife: No response, Husband: “I said what is bothering you?” Wife: “No you didn’t, you asked, what is wrong?” Husband: “If you knew what I said , then why didn’t you answer?”
(Already one can see there has been pent up anger in this relationship, and a passive aggressive interaction) )
Wife: ” You know what the hell is wrong, I have told you a thousand times and you just do not care to hear it anymore.!” Husband:” I do not know what more I can do, you will not go to therapy, and I said I would go.” Wife: “Therapy is not the only answer.” Husband: “How do you know, you will not even go and I have to deal with this shit.” Wife: “Oh, I see, you see me as a piece of shit don’t you?” Husband: “No, no Jeeez This shit , this shit, this depression and you not talking to me.”
( The primary issue still has not been addressed and anger as well as misinterpretation is taking place. She most likely is fearful of truly disclosing her feelings, and he feels inadequate and not able to rectify the situation. Initially he wanted to converse or at the minimum he did show concern. Ideally, this interaction could possibly be saved by the husband disclosing his feelings of distance, and show concern about her silence, and she could of been more honest about her feelings. First and foremost she needs to understand the underpinnings of where these feelings are coming from; lack of trust, fear of disclosure, and not feeling like she is good company, most likely she has a shattered sense of self.)
Spouses who have a history of being sexually abused have gross deficits in communication. For the most part they are hesitant to disclose, and have concerns that if they do this the shared material can be used to hurt them. Learning to risk and trust are crucial to have a long lasting, bonding relationship.
Intimacy, and closeness are directly related to trust. How can one share and be open in the bedroom if there is a trust issue. A person cannot give of themselves to a partner one hundred percent if there is lingering issues of trust. An individual who is in a relationship with one who has been sexually abused must be patient, loving, and have stamina for the long haul. This is especially true if abuse issues have not been worked on. Adult abuse victims usually are very giving, and do not do well on the receiving end. They do not feel deserving, and yet crave affection and can be needy for expression of love. When there is mutual trust, the relationship will flourish, that must be a two way street for it to ever reach an apex. There must be an understanding that the abused adult was manipulated, and taken advantage of. The person gave up their body for someone else’s pleasure against their will. When this is understood, completely understood, support and empathy is easier to come by. At some point there must be a therapeutic intervention, it is a very rare case for a relationship to proceed happily without an objective mediator or trained therapist.
Anger and it’s productive or unproductive expression is also common among spouses who have been sexually abused as a child. This anger is usually due to fear that is expressed as anger. We have a belief that if we express fear we are perceived as weak, and vulnerable. The last thing a sexually abused individual wants to represent themselves as is vulnerable. It appears it is much safer to express anger and plenty of it. When this anger is displayed by punching walls or self destructive harm to self or others immediate intervention is needed.
Remember many individuals men and women present with these issues and they do not necessarily need to be sexually abused. Physical abuse, emotional abuse and sexual abuse present very similarly. It depends on the duration, intensity, and the relationship to the perpetrator.
Substance abuse is very common among the abused. They often find this as a relief and an escape. Not knowing how to cope or having fear to disclose appears easier when hiding behind alcohol or other substances. In reality there is a gross counter productive effect. Individuals become depressed and frequently make poor decisions, and they experience regret down the road. This shatters their belief of themselves even more and has a negative reaffirming effect. Now we have a cycle of depressive, self destructive behavior.
This Is only a small portion of the effects of severe abuse. Relationships are often fraught with multiple issues, including parenting. Sexually abused adults are often over protective; however they are often blind to their own children being abused. They frequently live in denial that no such thing could happen to their child.
The effects of child hood trauma are long lasting. To try and lock it away in a box IS a lost cause. It will follow you in the most overt and covert ways. Please be aware there is always choice, always a light at the end of the tunnel, and one can find it. One needs to be prepared for a journey of dedication and tenacity with the desire to find happiness.