Sexual Intimacy – Getting Past Challenges of Abuse

by Sharon Leukert

My husband is crazy about my body. Through it, we’ve had three children and I suffer the effects of Crohn’s disease, but he’s still crazy about it, so I consider myself blessed! I’ve learned to love his desire for me, and even tease him playfully on a regular basis. A healthy love for your spouse’s physicality is a key part of sexual intimacy, so of course I’m glad he loves to touch me, but it hasn’t always been easy.

Everything was great right after we got married. All of the nuances of married life were so new, so wonderful, that you would never imagine problems creeping into the bedroom, but they did. Aside from a few “risky” encounters (like sex outdoors on the edge of a cliff), I’d always felt safe in my husband’s love and protected in our lovemaking. After our first child was born and we relocated to a new job for Karl, things began to change. When things got tough for my him at work, high amounts of tension came into our home. As his job situation grew worse, so did the stress and frustration. The longer the work problems continued, the more stress made itself known and brought a new dynamic into our relationship – fear.

Fear does a funny thing to you. It reaches into your file cabinets of painful experiences and drags out every single one it can find, focusing especially on the ones that we don’t like to talk about. It thrusts these painful experiences to the forefront and – all of a sudden I was there again, trembling, confused, violated. I had just been molested by my grandparents’ elderly neighbor. I was seven years old.

Suddenly my husband’s caressing of my breasts became an ugly reminder of my painful experience. I knew my caring husband who I wanted share my love with wasn’t that deceitful elderly man who lured me to be alone with him so he could force himself upon me – but all of my emotions were tied up with the new dynamic of fear that had entered our home.

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Sex didn’t stop, but it changed. Our marriage didn’t stop, but it changed. When my husband resigned from his job, and we moved to be near family, healing began. But by this time we were both more than a little emotionally damaged. It was a dangerous time to be angry with each other, dissatisfied with each other, to be tempted.

The intense stress that Karl had at his previous job, and the baggage from the past had a deep impacting on our marriage, including, our sex life! We both had to feel safe again. We had to eliminate fear from the bedroom. It took time. It took much effort. We still made so many mistakes, but somehow, miraculously, we came out on the other side more in love with each other than we had been – and expecting our second child.

What this experience has taught us in our own life and as we help other couples is that:

1. We’re not alone. Many people have gone through the same struggle, that when a large negative impact comes, old fears and painful experiences can come to the surface. And it surprises us. We aren’t prepared to deal with it, because we weren’t expecting it. In speaking with one friend in particular, our stories were so similar it was uncanny. This happens to many people. You are not alone and you don’t have to go through it alone.
2. We have to share, even the painful experiences, with our spouse because they impact us and how we relate to others. My husband could have demanded that I get over whatever peevishness I had and said I’m going to touch your breasts whether you like it or not, you’re my wife! But because he knew my past, how deeply it had impacted me, he understood. He didn’t like it, but he understood.
3. It’s okay to ask for help. This was one of our biggest mistakes. We didn’t ask for help as a couple. We tried to do it all on our own – and healing took much longer. After this painful experience is where we began to lose our “you can’t talk about that” attitude. Yes you can talk about it. You need to talk about it. Yes it should be done appropriately. I would suggest speaking with a licensed counselor or therapist instead of the drunk at the corner, or the gossip columnist who can’t wait to spread some juicy news, but yes you can talk about it and get help.
4. Do something together for healing. This is what we got right. We were living in Arizona the year the Arizona Diamondbacks took the baseball world by surprise and won the World Series. At each step along the way, we bonded with “our team.” Their victory was our victory. As they progressed, so did we. It sounds silly, but we needed something to identify with, something that could remind us that we had overcome just as they had. When Luis Gonzales hit that ball that scored the winning run and everyone cheered – our marriage hit a home run. We knew we were going to make it.
5. It sometimes takes more than once. I’d like to say that no more stressful situations ever came into our lives, but that would be a lie. However, the lessons we learned helped us to deal with it much quicker and much better. We know that stressful situations can damage our relationship, so we take more time outs for ourselves when we see it coming. We nurture one another, instead of pulling apart.

Sexual intimacy was created to be a dynamic and beautiful part of marriage. The original plan is that it is to be experienced – unashamed. When painful experiences of the past threaten that intimacy, bringing shame and fear, it’s time to deal with it. Get help. Share with your spouse. Heal together. And experience love again – unashamed!