Sexual Abuse in Marriage–and Who’s Fault is That?

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For years, I showed all the signs and symptoms of sexual abuse. Pull up the list, check them off twice. Over time, I came to believe I must have been abused as a child and just couldn’t remember. It never, ever occurred to me that a man could sexually abuse his wife.  In fact, I would’ve said it wasn’t possible. After all– two adults, man and woman, way beyond the age of consent.

This morning,  a new comment came in over on the post, Sex in an Abusive Marriage, Part 1. Not surprising, that series gets plenty of traffic. The nice lady who left a comment used the one key word that set the wheels to grinding. Below is a portion of her comment and my response:

Comment

“Oh my word! I’m reading my life, at least part of it. To know I’m not the only one is immense! This needs to be discussed in the church.”

Response

I’ve got a few thoughts on the subject–Abuse occurs when there’s an imbalance of power. For instance, an adult cannot have sex with an underage child because the child cannot really say no. The adult holds all the authority and power. Professor and student. Preacher and church member. Boss and employee. The one in the subservient position feels coerced. Its why we have laws on the books and the reason people are fired even when the victim is an adult.

In marriage, people say you cannot be sexually abused. Why? Because you have two adults who can both say no, right?

Wrong.

The *church* is saying that the wife cannot refuse and invoking the authority of scripture and using God’s name to back them up. The church is causing the imbalance of power by teaching a false doctrine of submission. The church creates an atmosphere where sexual abuse can occur and thrive where none should exist in the first place. All that to say, I doubt they’ll be discussing this in churches anytime soon. Instead, they simply deny the reality that women are being sexually abused by their husbands.

The Floor is Open

Goes without saying that this does not apply to every church on the planet. It does, however, apply to many if not most conservative, fundamentalist, and  patriarchal variations thereof. Many of us here swallowed these teachings and  doctrines whole and suffered accordingly.

So let’s discuss.

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16 responses »

  1. 1Cor 7 is often used to insist that the wife can’t refuse her husband. But the Scripture teaches that itbis a two way street. If the husband loves her, he will acknowledge that his own body is not his own and thus subject to her rights to not be abused or forced. Too often the church just doesn’t want to pay the price of effecting justice for an oppressed person. So they adjust their interpretation of Scripture accordingly. “Lady, shut up and give him what is his.”

    • Adjusting scripture seems to be the order of the day. That and proof texting, pulling stuff out of context, puppy-dogging a pet doctrine while ignoring the heart of the gospel which is to love the Lord with all our heart and our neighbor as ourselves.

      What bothers me is the rotten fruit we’re seeing now that’s come from this unbalanced teaching. Back when those first awful books about wives submitting to their husbands promised that *all* our marital difficulties would vanish in a puff of gentle, quiet meekness, it sounded pretty good. But a generation has past and we’re seeing horrendous devastation.

      Normals didn’t need to change all that much– they were doing pretty good already. But the abusive types took full advantage.

  2. I was fortunate to escape the sexual abuse. My ex was buried in pornography and left me alone for a month at a time at least — and I recognize how fortunate I was. I just want you to know that I care and I love you, I am very entwined in your journey now, just from reading your blog. Whenever I read these doctrines about marriage in the church. I start getting those panicky feelings that rise up to choke me… and the only way to beat them back is to remind myself that I am free. God bless it — He lets me do whatever I want and I have no master but Him. Hallelujah Amen Pass the cookies!

    • LOL! I’ll take a handful, thanks much 🙂

      And yes, those feelings just about choke me sometimes. It’s such a difficult topic anyway and add the spiritual abuse of those who twist the scriptures to keep others in bondage and you’ve got a real mess to wade through.

  3. Yep, the coercion. I was never hit, or even threatened. But I was definitely coerced. It was always his way or there was hell to pay. I remember trying my best to be the good wife an initiate sex only to be turned down by him and wondering why – when he always seemed to want it when I didn’t. Turns out the reason why is that I’d been set up. If I hadn’t initiated it, he’d have expected it from me.

    • To an abusive man, hell-bent on having his way or else, these teachings on the subservient place of a wife who must always bend to the will of her husband are so much ammunition.

      Big difference between submission in love, one to another and coercion. One comes about naturally through love and mutual respect, the other is forcing another to your will through whatever means necessary.

      I’ve got this crazy idea– lets focus solely on the husband’s job of loving his wife sacrificially with no promise of anything in return– ever– and see how that goes over.

      • I highlighted and copied your “I’ve got this crazy idea…” line! Brilliant! And so not happening in the double standard world of abusers, eh?

  4. I agree Katy…about being entwined in Ida Mae’s story. It feels like a circle of women connected by our stories. I went to a domestic abuse support group for a time, after the separation. We sat in a circle…for safety, I think. Or maybe empathy.

    Someone told me I should go to a support group for domestic abuse, even though I had no bruises to show. I’m glad I did. I had always thought domestic abuse was physical, but the mediator assured me that was not the case the majority of the time. It was psychological, emotional, verbal and most commonly–sexual. The sexual abuse was described as being anything sexual in which you felt trapped or coerced or threatened into. The descriptions woke me up. My ex, also, was deeply addicted to porn (still is), and I would have months of neglect or rejection…but never peace…when he would realize I was enjoying any time of peace, he’d begin to demand degrading sexual behaviors that I was expected to enjoy.

    It got worse as time went on.

    But the church! Oh dear…Jesus weeps.
    When I was married and pregnant with my fifth child, my husband got caught accessing porn at his job. He worked for a Christian college.
    We were going to a very well-known church in Southern California at the time, with a prolific pastor who espouses the patriarch model. We lived in an apartment surrounded by church-goers, seminary students, and college students affiliated with this pastors “empire”. His thinking and preaching was everywhere. (I have since thrown away every book, tape or piece of paper with his name on it).

    What happened to my then-husband?
    He was forced to go into Christian counseling. But I…I was “asked” to go with him as a sign of submission. And when I refused (I still had some brain cells of my own at the time) I was blamed by the men for my husband’s fall…and the wives either looked at me with pity every time I saw them, or avoided me altogether. It wasn’t outright shunning…the Bible said they couldn’t do that to me…I had to be restored, though I’d done nothing wrong. But everything changed.
    I was blamed. I lost friendships. I could feel the eyes on me when I left our apartment. I was certain I could hear people whispering. It wasn’t paranoia. It was knowledge. When I looked in their eyes I could tell they’d just been talking about me. It was more than humiliation…it was hopelessness.
    My husband “repented”, so he was forgiven. They left him alone after six weeks of required counseling to keep his job. And boy…did I get an earful every time he came home from a session.
    It was at this point that the sexual abuse really got up and running. And the church TOLD him to. I was supposed to “help” him from now on so he wouldn’t be tempted again.

    Ten years later, when I finally understood I needed to leave him…a different church in a different state with a different pastor did the same thing to me. The pastor counseled us both together, something I learned should never be done if there is an accusation of domestic abuse…which I did let the pastor know about.
    That pastor listened to my husband spew vile things at me, told him never to talk to his wife like that…then he turned to me and said: “God will not bless you if you separate.”

    I proved him wrong.

    Ida Mae…you are precious. Thank you for sharing your life, your pain, your words. I’ve had a few years to work on healing, but it will be a struggle for a long, long time.
    Maybe until the end…who knows. All I know is I am grateful I’m not alone. That has always been the worst of it.

    Julia

  5. “My husband “repented”, so he was forgiven. They left him alone after six weeks of required counseling to keep his job. And boy…did I get an earful every time he came home from a session.
    It was at this point that the sexual abuse really got up and running. And the church TOLD him to. I was supposed to “help” him from now on so he wouldn’t be tempted again.”

    Oh. My. This–right here, This is what’s wrong with the church’s attitude toward women. In a nutshell, this is how they see women– worthless objects who have no right to feelings, no right to feel pain, and no right of refusal. Period. Made only to service men, with no expectation of having their own needs met. I think I just may throw up.

    Got to ask– did he ever give up the porn?

    • Absolutely not, Ida Mae.
      I began the separation when I found out my older sons had been accessing porn on my laptop…with his full knowledge.

      He has always been addicted to porn in some manner…but it wasn’t until we began attending this particular church in California that strange illnesses and injuries began to plague us all.
      There was at least three ER visits every six months. And it wasn’t for cough-due-to-cold.

      My fourth son was born healthy, yet twenty-four hours later he had a heart attack.
      God intervened through the miracles of medicine and determined doctors who could never tell me why a healthy baby almost died. He was in a special unit for two months and they thought he’d be brain-damaged…he wasn’t. He is now a healthy 16 year old.
      My third son’s throat closed from a virulent form of the croup and he passed out. I called 911 and he was in the hospital for three days on a respirator (this was four months after I finally got my sick baby home from the hospital).
      We had three cases of appendicitis in two months…I was one of them…six weeks after my seventh c-section. The doctors didn’t believe me when I told them. I still don’t believe the words as I write them.
      I had pancreatitis so severe, the doctors told me if I hadn’t called an ambulance when I did, I’d be dead. My husband refused to call for help.
      As I said, the list goes on. But the kicker was after a really bad round, I’d find out my husband had been all-in on the porn during EACH of those incidences. He’d get caught. Lay off for awhile. Then the moment he started again…I’d find myself at the ER repeatedly.
      And I just chalked it up to sickly genes…that or the book of Job.

      I didn’t really make a connection until we moved out of state and we were all healthy for about five months until internet got hooked up. Same thing: one son wound up in the ER with mono and a severe stomach virus and the doctors kept asking what school he attended since they hadn’t seen any cases like his. He was homeschooled!
      We were still going to church, still getting the same kind of preaching and counseling that the previous church had given. And things were worsening. I believe the ex even affected his own brother who was ten years older and never hospitalized…suddenly come down with appendicitis after we moved near him. But I could never voice my suspicions…who would believe me?

      It wasn’t until he moved out, and I slept through the night for the first time in two years, that I understood the effect his presence had. But I fully realized after three years of no visits to the ER that it was something much more. We had been living with an evil that had grown to monstrous size and almost killed us… quite literally…and the church was entirely complicit.

      None of us have been hospitalized since the separation…almost five years ago.
      No freak accidents, illness or tragedy since he left.
      I’m still not sure what it was. Demonic attacks? Spiritual oppression manifested in physical illness? An invitation for supernatural harm by my ex? Did he open the portal to hell in our house or what?!
      I mean, it sounds crazy. But this church wouldn’t even let me use the word “dysfunctional” when I was counseled because it wasn’t “biblical”. Yeah..I want to throw up too when I remember that word being thrown at me every time I tried to get help.
      I still believe my ex is mentally ill in some way, but the church would not acknowledge mental illness because…that’s right…it wasn’t “biblical”. The pastor even wrote one of his many, many books about “biblical counseling” and how modern psychology is evil because it’s “unbibilical”.
      I don’t think I can ever take any Christian seriously who uses that word. It’s gone from my Christian lexicon for good now…that and “submission”.

      Good grief…I didn’t mean to take up so much space reliving these things, Ida Mae. I read over it and was tempted to delete…I just can’t help but think there are women who need to know how and why this happens. It’s real. It’s not “just me”. And the church needs a serious wake-up call.
      A friend once asked me how I could believe in Jesus after what the church did to me. There are quite a lot of women (and men) who have turned away from all that reminds them of the Lord due to spiritual abuses from the church.
      I told her it must be because I met Him before I met the church. That’s all I can figure for now. I still hope one day I can go back to church and feel…safe.
      Yes. Keep the conversation going. It’s important.

      Praying for a good Christmas for you, Sister in Christ. You need it and should have it. I pray the ex has no say in it for both of us…and that your heart finds some rest during this time. The battles will be there for awhile, but for now…we need the peace and joy that is our inheritance. 🙂

      Julia

      • I believe you–

        There’s an element of this in what happened to my family also and I haven’t been able to talk about it with others because no one seems to understand. I’m going to contact you via email to discuss further if that’s okay?

        “A friend once asked me how I could believe in Jesus after what the church did to me. There are quite a lot of women (and men) who have turned away from all that reminds them of the Lord due to spiritual abuses from the church.
        I told her it must be because I met Him before I met the church. That’s all I can figure for now. I still hope one day I can go back to church and feel…safe.”

        Love your answer. But what a silly question! Shouldn’t the question be , “How can you believe in *church* anymore after what the church did to you?”

        I wasn’t converted by the church, I was saved by Jesus. He showed up at my house when I was just a little thing and then I *went to church* because I wanted to know Him better. And when I learned through twenty-five years of repetitive spiritual abuse that something in organized religion was fundamentally flawed, I left Church World. Why in the universe would I leave the only One who loves me unconditionally, cleanses my mind and heart through His living word, measured out daily like mana and heals these horrible wounds?

        (Duh!)

      • Hi Julia,
        I could have written this… if I had the courage. You are telling my story. I too believe you. Suffered loss of children, pregnancies, strange illnesses. I lived with evil and knew it not. Till I left. And slept through the night. And noticed that ‘strange smell’ was gone. Pornography is very evil, I am yet to be convinced that it does not open the portals of a home to demons. I lived with it and saw the difference after I left. I rejoice with you in your freedom. Stay Free Sister!

  6. I would welcome a private discussion with you. 🙂 Anytime.

    You’re absolutely right…Jesus saved me, not the church. But, I’ve read many accounts of people who leave their faith because they were so deceived, and so very damaged by the church. They just gave up putting their faith in anything. That breaks something inside me when I hear that.
    But there are also many people like me who want to fellowship, but recognize that the organization and authority structure of the church has become something akin to a Venus flytrap.
    We are lured in…then trapped and dissolved.

    Church World. *grin*

    Julia

  7. Ida Mae your blog has absolutely soothed my spirit. I have just left my husband after 6 years of turmoil and pain and i can only imagine how awful it would be to have stayed decades longer. I was abused as a child and like you, always thought that my issues were sexual problems from my childhood rather than to do with the man i was married to and hated. He had a disgusting fettish that i was forced to partake in, guilt tripped when i didnt, and told that he would never give it up for me. We had two babies and i was neglected, abused and treated like an animals throughout, and only now can i look back and see where the damage was done. For me, even when sex was not about his fettish, i was doing it to make him leave me alone and because my church said i couldnt refuse, i was never attracted to him, he repulsed me. i felt guilty for those emotions too. I felt like i had been raped even though it was consensual, i would sit in a scalding shower scrubbing myself raw each time it ended, sobbing because i felt unclean. I have heard nothing but condemnation from the church until he finally had an emotional affair, now i have the right to go, yet it feels like the least of all my issues with this marriage, i was forced to stay by a church who are frightened of the D word! I wish i had left before my babies were affected by the split, i wish i had gone as soon as i realised what he was, that was before the wedding. I think the church has a lot to answer for, I dont see Jesus in their treatment of wives of bad marriages, Jesus loved, where is the love? I also found that revelation moment of “but he never hit me.” I had blocked it out, but he has. it may have been about something stupid, it was the back of my head so it didnt show, it was quick and i could almost imagine it hadnt happened, but he did it and i cant believe i didnt just leave, why did i stay?!?!

    Anyway, Ida, i salute you. Thank you for being so honest and bringing these taboo isssues to light for many still shut in the darkness.
    x

  8. I’m so glad I found your blog. I too was in a sexually abusive marriage for 27 years, and my husband was a preacher and we were missionaries. Leaving meant giving up ministry, friends, home, car, insurance, everything! The mission agency sent a counselor to try to get me to go back to my husband. I then shared the truth about the marriage and refused to return. That was the end of the offer for counseling from the mission agency. No worries about my pain or healing.
    God is good though as always, and I found healing-and a wonderful man who is loving, gentle and kind.
    I also have a blog about this topic and invite you to take a look.

  9. I read all these stories with pain and tears and sit hear examining myself to see if as a Pastor for almost 40 years had I done these things to any of the women in my churches, and I remember one, only one for which I am ashamed, I councilled many of these marriages and have told the men if they laid a hand on their wives they would have me to deal wit, but invariably it come down to the money issue and the children, I’ve told out ladies to run as fast as they can, find a corner cry to God tell him how sorry you are that you made such a terrible mistake, find a place of peace, then get up from your knees and go straight to your lawyer and divorce the guy, we the church will help to restore you in your relationship with God, he loves you he really dies and so do we the church, come home and stay 😔

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