Sex in an Abusive Marriage, Part 2


This isn’t an easy series. I don’t like talking about sex because, in my experience, sex was never okay.  If you arrived with your knickers all a-twist, this post will set them twirling. You might want to skip on over to here.

Interesting thing happened once I came out as an unloved wife. Other women started talking, looking over their shoulder from time to time as if the spirit of their own private beast might be listening, then slipping quietly back inside the likeness of an Ozzie and Harriet life. Some spoke openly if only for a moment, usually of times long past, then back they went  to make goo-goo eyes at the new husband, more than happy to leave the dead burying their own.

Who can blame them?

Listening as I was with ears still bleeding, I kept hearing the same theme—sex as a power play. Specifically, sex used as a tool to gain power over the victim. And oh! what an effective tool it is—

Many Branches, Same Roots

In some cases, the husband refused to have sex with his wife claiming she’d let herself go, gained weight or otherwise made herself repulsive to his delicate sensibilities.  Two women told almost identical stories of husbands who kept them on the hamster wheel for years.  One man told his wife how many pounds she had to lose, then once she hit her target weight, told her it didn’t matter because he didn’t really like a woman with large breasts. Another treated her body as radioactive, refusing to touch her as she aged and taking up with a girl just out of her teens the minute she left.

Other stories mirrored my own experience of a demanding man always wanting more. The stories all went something like this (with a few kinks here and there just to keep things off-balance):

Man complains about quantity (not having sex often enough), wife ups frequency, man complains about quality of experience.

Wife reads a few books, works at bringing spice to bed, husband gripes about her lack of enthusiasm.

Wife takes a few acting classes, fools husband into thinking he is sexy beast, husband complains about her appearance.

Wife joins Weight Watchers, goes to gym, gets new haircut, collapses from exhaustion from running all over the place, husband complains about frequency.

Wife quits trying. I mean really, if he’s going to be unhappy anyway.

Husband blames her forever.

Another version involved men who maintain a simmering grudge over the wife’s former relationships—maybe she wasn’t a virgin before they married or, in one ironic case, an outwardly pious man angry because his wife allowed *him* to take liberties before their wedding. That one just slays me. The wife in question was not laughing however.

A variation on this is The Affair. Husband mistreats wife, wife has a fling, husband pursues wife like crazy wanting to reconcile and graciously takes her back, then proceeds to  verbally/emotionally beat the crud out of her forever and ever. In these cases, the husbands said they couldn’t trust their wives and  constantly demanded the offending wife prove their fidelity. She made a mistake, they both know it. Only nothing she does will ever be enough to heal his aching soul.

One man I know calls his wife, “that slut”—not to her face mind you. He saves this lovely phrase for his male pals. I’m actually related to that slut and a more faithful woman could not be found under God’s heaven. He’s referring to the well known fact that before she accepted Christ, she lived with a man in a common law marriage. I have yet to understand why someone hasn’t punched this creep right in the chops for talking about his wife this way.

Rock and a Hard Place

In every case, I’m going to say one thing. I don’t think any of these men want the problem fixed. I don’t think they desire healing and restoration. In their twisted world, it’s in their best interest to keep the pain fresh and their wives hurting at all times for a very simple reason.  Ammunition—a way to claim the moral high ground, justifying their abusive ways. This never-ending merry-go-round provides both power and control over the wife. Shame, guilt, blame—all powerful tools to keep the balance of power firmly under the husband’s control.

In my case, I believe my husband did not want to be faithful. Monogamy wasn’t his thing. Having a frigid wife gave him justification for extra-marital affairs and an ongoing affair between his right hand and a computer screen . Sex with me became just one more form of masturbation, one he was more than willing to indulge and another way to vent his anger. Making love would’ve required effort. Keeping me constantly off-guard and hurting gave him a tool to control because I could not deny his unhappiness. Nor could I ever fix things. Only he could say when and if he was finally happy with me in the bedroom and that was never going to happen.

Please note that I’m not trying to negate the sins and mistakes of the victim. I am, however, trying to point out the parallel between the abuser’s treatment of his wife’s weaknesses and/or failings and the very real condemnation the devil himself unleashes against repentant sinners to keep them defeated through ongoing, paralyzing guilt. The husband in these cases becomes the accuser of the brethren. In Christ, there is forgiveness, hope and restoration. A husband that refuses to attend counseling, refuses to accept his wife’s efforts to change, refuses to admit that his own actions may play a role has no desire for a happy ending. There’s a big, big difference between a man who’s working through issues in a marriage and one using those issues as leverage in an ongoing war.

While editing Part One,  I realized that somewhere along the line, I dropped the phrase, The Beast, and called that oaf of a man ‘my husband.’ My counselor would have a field day with that little slip, wouldn’t he? I did not edit those references out because I think it shows something important. In this area, I’m not  free of the pain of being so despised by a man I gave myself to over and over for decades.  I still see myself as that woman crouching in the dark, trying to keep her husband from seeing the naked body he loathed.

Part 3 to come if I don’t change my mind and write about something more pleasant like root canals or weasel wrestling. Also note that in the few stories I found online with male victims, this pattern of sex-as-weapon seemed to hold true. The stories related here are firsthand accounts. If interested check out here and here.

25 responses »

  1. I just wanted to say thank you. Thank you so much for braving writing about this topic. I have felt so alone regarding this. I have blamed myself over and over, thought something was terribly wrong with me, tried to change it and just can’t. My husband constantly complains about the frequency and though I have tried to “fix” it and I have tried to understand what the “hold up” is with me I can’t put it into words. Knowing that there are others out there that have struggled with similar issues is a relief. Maybe it isn’t a problem with me. I have read both part 1 and 2 and have cried through them. Reading these have meant so much to me…

    • Dear reflections2change
      I used to think the sexual problems in my former marriage were all my fault. After I left him because of his abuse, I decided that it wasn’t all my fault because how can you desire a man who is actively hating you and being unkind (and worse than unkind) all the time? But there was still a niggle: was it partly my fault? Am I sexually defective? I’d been sexually abused in childhood, and maybe that HAD made me permanently defective. So maybe I would be better off never to remarry (how could I dump my problem on a man and expect him to put up with them?)
      Then I met and married my lovely new husband. Guess what. I have discovered the sexual problems in my former marriage were not my fault at all. All I needed was a man who would truly love me, and all my difficulties would gradually evaporate in his loving and patient arms.
      See my comment here on Morven’s blog, for my account of how I was gradually healed.

      • Barbara – your reply to my comment made me cry. Every day I wonder what is wrong with me. I have tried so many things to “fix it”. I have tried talking with doctors and none seem to really understand. It wasn’t until I brought it up with my therapist that she put it in similar words. That it was unreasonable to expect me to trust him entirely, be completely vulnerable to him knowing that he doesn’t trust me and that he holds so much against me and still thinks so little of me. Even knowing that, it is always in the back of my mind that there is something off with me. I will be forever grateful to Ida Mae for bringing the topic up. Hearing other women come forward with similar situations is helping me more and more realize that it isn’t something wrong with me. Hearing you talk about your new husband is so touching. To know that there are men out there, patient and accepting…I just can’t imagine a world like that.

      • For those who mightn’t have looked at my comment on Morven’s blog( the link i left above) I’m repeating here the story of how I was healed from sexual abuse,

        I was sexually abused as a child (only once, but believe me once is enough to do massive damage). I also had lots of sexual coercion and thus unwanted sex in my first marriage which was abusive.
        My experience since marrying my new husband is that all the damage done to me in the area of sex has now been undone. How it happened I cannot easily put into words, I don’t think, but it took a long time and involved lots of times of getting triggered in the middle of things and my husband then holding (JUST holding) me gently round my ribs, my chest, my heart, while I wept, shuddered, and let the emotions and memories and images flood me until they subsided. All the time, every time one of these storms hit, I was full on praying silently, while the emotions and memories were flooding me. I knew Jesus was healing all the damaged places. It was my husband’s job just to hold and comfort me, while Jesus did the healing. It took my hubby a bit of a while to cotton on that it was not his fault when those storms hit, and that all he had to do was hold me. I had to reassure him a lot at the beginning. But when he cottoned on, it was wonderful. I knew I could trust him not to react if I got triggered. I knew he would just hold me if I asked him to. Even if I just *started* to have that shudder in my breathing, he would start holding me with his loving reassuring arms, without even having to be asked. That is what a good husband should do.

        Sometimes Jesus showed me some of the things he was doing inwardly in me during those triggered storms. I felt Him reconfiguring my wiring. I’m sure this is not just words: there are nerve pathways. My wires had been all tangled, knotted, crushed and frayed, and He untangled and rewired me. The Bible talks about renewing our mind. It was all my nerve pathways, both brain and body. Sometimes during these sessions I wasn’t much aware of the details of what He did, but I knew He was doing things behind a veil and that the veil was in place to protect my mind. At the end of each episode, when He had finished doing what He was doing, I knew that that episode was over. God is indeed the wonderful counsellor.

  2. I hear you~

    This just isn’t something most women want to talk about (understandable.) And as its such a sensitive issue, it makes for an excellent power play. So many things are tied up in our desire to please our husbands and when we can’t, it feels so personal. But what if it isn’t?

    What if one person in the marriage can’t be pleased? That’s a very real component of the problem and a difficult conclusion to come to as the other will deny this– or the opposite, turn it around and say the ‘victim’ cannot be pleased.

    One day, I sat down and thought about how little it would take to make me genuinely happy. All I really wanted was kindness and my husband’s approval.

    Thank you for your encouragement!

    • You let yourself go? Good grief, what a rat!

      I understand what you’re saying– you gave him ammunition and he’s still pulling out the Gatling gun at every opportunity. I well remember the day I realized that every apology, every time I took the blame, every time I admitted to any wrong, he was just storing it all up in his big Gotcha sack.

      Probably won’t make it any better, but I think even if a spouse doesn’t give them something, the abuser will just manufacture something out of thin air. My ex told people I’m demon possessed and then gives this vague, “I know things about your mother” speech to the children to plant doubts in their mind–like I must be a liar, harboring some big secret.

      I’m so sorry you’re still going through this! Thank you for coming by 🙂

    • Thanks Morven 🙂

      I’m having a ton of trouble writing that third post. If you think of it, please remember me in your prayers. I know it isn’t essential but I think there’s more to say, especially for women who stayed any length of time. But the memories are fresher so its harder to wade through the blur and get to the truth.

  3. my anti husband used to rape & sodomize me while demanding that I repeat the phrase ” you own me”. when he got into an abuser program he admitted in writing that he sexually abused me ( in more wayS than one) to punish me for some perceived wrong. What a horrific nightmare. Thanks for sharing, it makes me want to As well!

    • Kim,

      So many times I *knew* I was being punished and for the life of me, I couldn’t understand what I’d done. Reading your comment felt like I was hearing and seeing the things going on in the background. Similar, but in your case, taken to another level entirely. The things he didn’t say but I could hear in my head.

      Bless you for sharing that. It helps. I think we need to start talking about these issues if attitudes and hearts are ever going to change.

    • Thanks Kim. Sodomy is a big element of all this. Thanks for naming the S word! I’m sure it will help many survivors. I’ve heard from many women that their abuser demanded sodomy often; some insisted that it be the only form of intercourse.
      I weep for the women. We see women every day, walking their dogs, driving cars, taking their kids to school, in the queue at the shops. How many of them are carrying these nightmares?

  4. Kim, when you share in a safe environment, and you speak out loud the shame and sorrow you have carried from the hands of another, you begin to heal. Writing is good.

    You know what it is like when you have the flu, and you need to throw up but hate what is to come? You run to the bathroom and everything shows up again. Through your nose, mouth … there are tears. It’s awful. You flush, blow your nose, brush your teeth, drag yourself back to bed and collapse. Your body shakes, but you feel BETTER. You have gotten rid of the poison in your body.

    When my clients journal, I tell them to “vomit on paper.” Throw it up, get rid of the poison. And then, when you are done, wrap yourself in a warm fleecy blanket, make a cup of tea, and take care of yourself. You are on your way to recovery.

    Go for it. Just make sure you have a safe environment, and good friends for this journey. If your extended family and church community don’t get it, visit your local shelter. They DO. And find a counselor who can help you wade through the mire, and find the truth.

    • Thank you. What a God connection this is. I believe we are not just wounded, but wounded warriors that God has kept for such a time as this. I agree that its time to SHOUT it from the (church) rooftops. The “counsel” I received from my pastor & others was not only wrong & detrimental to me, but the reasoning behind that cousel was aligned with the abuser mentality!! I want to be a part of the change. I’m praying for an army of men with a mandate from God, to rise up & join forces with their mothers, sisters, daughters, friends, cousins, & coworkers to expose & drive back the enemy. This has gone unopposed for too long. I hear the sound of a mighty army……

      • Judges 5 tells us that story of an ordinary lady, Jael, who really got out of her comfort zone and changed the course of a battle. That’s what we (and there are many good men walking along side us) are doing when we shout it. We are making others choose … to continue to live in denial (and, no, it is not a river in Egypt), or get out of their comfort zones and make a difference.

  5. Thank you so much for being brave and saying these things,so many other women out there still believe the lies that they were ‘frigid’, ugly,and the rest,we all need to know that this is a part of the abuse tactics, to keep us down, i know so well being expected to have sex after being called ugly!.

    • Yes indeed– its always about control and entitlement– “You will do what I want, when I want because you owe me and I will not cater to you.”

  6. it started after the honeymoon……and porn was the issue………it took me three agonizing years of therapy will Christian therapists that supposedly specialized in trauma to finally get it. It was Lundy Bancrofts book and the Christain websites such as A Cry for Justice that fed my soul and answered those obsessive questions we all ask “is it me???? what am I doing wrong????why does he treat me like he hates me??

    • I’m so sorry, Lauralee!

      Men steeped in porn seem to hate real women *unless* the woman is as addicted as they are and, even then, they’re probably just mutually masturbating (excuse the language). Maybe it breaks the fantasy. I know my ex hates women and said so, right out front and he also loved porn. Not conclusive evidence but, sure makes you wonder.

      Yes, I learned some very hard truths on the honeymoon as well. Why nobody was willing to call it for what it was will always remain a mystery. So many heartaches could have been avoided if someone would’ve just stood up and told the truth– that man has serious issues and its not safe to be in the same house, much less his bed.

      So thankful for Cry for Justice and Mr. Bancroft!

      • Porn is an abusers gift, it just belittles us, He thinks women must really hate themselves to let something so private and personal to be seen by anyone,and it demeans all of us.We become not thinking feeling human beings to them, just dehumanized,and only exist for them to have sex with….
        Lundy Bancrofts book ‘Why does he do that’ was such a blessing to me too! Also the u.k course, the freedom programe, i did the conference, and one thing that really affected me was watching the film ‘Sleeping with the Enemy’ when Pat Craven said to watch how the Husband started to wind himself up to beat Julia Roberts,to justify his actions..If you want to read some more of my story please read my blog,http;//

  7. I know you’re telling the truth. It turns my stomach. I don’t trust anything that comes into my head or my heart because I’ve come to realize all I know is my own beast’s version. I’m praying to be healed and I’m trying everything I know. Please tell me the fear goes away and someday I might be a “normal” person again. You know, the kind that doesn’t shake when she gets within five feet of a male. The kind of woman that doesn’t apologize for breathing. Someday I’m not going to cry when someone hugs me or says hello because it’s been so long since I’ve had contact with someone who was being nice. Someday I won’t ask permission to do normal things like go to the bathroom or if I can get a glass of water. How long does this take? I feel like it won’t ever happen. It’s always there, waiting to surprise me. Just when I think I’m moving on its like I never left.

    • When I first got out, someone called me sweetie and I grinned for the rest of the day. It had been so long since I’d felt genuine human kindness that, the simple act of offering an endearment went right to my soul.

      Yes, I’m telling you it can get better. That you can live free and without fear. What I refuse to tell you is that it will be easy.

      In my experience, things can actually *feel* worse for awhile once you’re out. Emotions you couldn’t allow yourself to feel will jump up and down, clamoring to get their day in the sunshine. Post traumatic stress is a very real possibility. Depression finally has a chance to come out to play because, for the first time in years, you have the time to drop your guard. But please remember, even though things might feel mighty bad, you are actually better because you are now safe enough to start healing.

      Yes, we can heal but it takes a concerted effort. If we run away, jump into another relationship too quickly, refuse to face the truth and allow ourselves to feel all the shit from all those years of torment and abuse, then it’s possible we’ll simply recycle and repeat.

      I’ve been out four years. The first two were rough but hopeful. I fought all night long, battling demons only I could see and spent about half my time curled up in a ball, wishing I could die. That sounds horrid, I know. But the other half, I was at peace, resting, and free of fear catching little glimpses of what life can be.

      Now here I sit four years later and I *am* free from fear most of the time. I have new friends who like me for some odd reason. I have bad moments. I have bad nights. I had a doozy last night. I still tend to cry spontaneously when certain songs come on the radio. But, the ratio of nuts to glory has shifted way past the halfway mark.

      I am fighting to be free. It’s so worth it.

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