Helping Your Husband if He's a Sexual Abuse Survivor

Helping Your Husband if He's a Sexual Abuse SurvivorToday’s post is a guest post from Jennifer Degler, psychologist, speaker, and life coach. She operates the website CWives, which gives women dares every month to keep their marriages sizzling! I asked her to write a post on something that I don’t feel equipped to handle: helping your husband if he’s an abuse survivor. She graciously agreed to do so:

One in six boys will be sexually abused before age 18. Apply this statistic to marriage, and you’ll quickly see that almost 20% of husbands have been sexually abused as children. How can a wife help her husband if she suspects (or knows) he was sexually abused?

First, let go of these false beliefs:

  • “If I love him enough, I can fix him.”
  • “I can make everything okay if I can find just the right words to say.”
  • “I need to get him to admit he was sexually abused.”

He doesn’t need you to “fix” him. There is no perfect combination of words which magically erase the negative effects of childhood abuse, and pushing a man to admit he was sexually abused (before he is ready to face this) may humiliate, panic, or enrage him. Remember, abuse victims were manipulated and coerced as children—the last thing they need as adults is someone forcing them to open up.

Second, educate yourself. While boys and girls react in many similar ways to abusive sexual experiences, there are gender differences. For example, female survivors often struggle with feeling like “damaged goods,” while male survivors struggle with feeling like they aren’t “a real man.” Most sexual abuse is perpetrated by males (although females can be perpetrators too). Thus, a girl is being assaulted by someone of the opposite sex while a boy is being assaulted by someone of the same sex. This creates in male survivors many fears about being gay or being targeted because the perpetrator “saw something gay” in him. Two excellent resources to educate yourself are:

  • One in Sixwww.1in6.org. Online resource with helpful, up-to-date information for survivors, family and friends, and counselors. Offers movie and book recommendations, and even a lending library.
  • When a Man You Love Was Abused: A Woman’s Guide to Helping Him Overcome Childhood Sexual Molestation by Cecil Murphey, 2010. This beautifully written book is for Christian wives and girlfriends of men who were sexually abused as children. In the first part, “Who He Is,” Murphey writes about his own experiences of abuse and healing, as well as the experiences of other men. The second part, “How You Can Help Him,” provides practical, compassionate advice on over 20 topics, including “Believe Him and Help Him Believe,” “Help Him Honor His Body,” “Accept His Shame,” and “Let Him Move at His Own Pace.” The author has also created an online site where hurting men can connect with other sexual abuse survivors: http://menshatteringthesilence.blogspot.com

Third, don’t become his therapist. He has much pain to work through, and this is best done in the context of group or individual counseling. While you should listen to him, if you are his sole source of support for a long time, you may find this straining your marriage. Encourage him to join a support group such as Celebrate Recoveryhttp://www.celebraterecovery.com or Christians in Recovery (an online support group,http://christians-in-recovery.org) and to seek individual counseling as well. Let him know he is worth the time, money, and energy required to heal.

Fourth, be patient and keep your expectations realistic. Recovery takes a long time and often is “two steps forward and one step back.” He may get closer to you emotionally and then create distance unexpectedly for a short time. This is what recovery looks like. This process can be hard on wives, which leads to the final suggestion below.

Fifth, take care of yourself. You, his wife, are the other victim. He was molested and now you’ve been affected by the fallout from his abuse. You will need extra support because his recovery from sexual abuse will be a marathon, not a sprint. Get counseling for yourself and practice good self-care (get 7-8 hours of sleep, eat healthy food, exercise regularly, have fun with friends, feed yourself spiritually).

What suggestions do you have for helping a husband who has been sexually abused?

Jennifer Degler, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist, life coach, and co-author of No More Christian Nice Girl: When Just Being Nice—Instead of Good—Hurts You, Your Family, and Your Friends. A frequent speaker at women’s events and marriage retreats, she also
maintains a counseling practice in central Kentucky. She is a member of the American Association of Christian Counselors and the founder of CWIVES, an organization devoted to helping Christian wives enhance their sexuality (www.cwives.com). She has been interviewed by Women’s Day.Com, Moody Radio, and numerous other media outlets. Jennifer and her husband, Jeff, live in Lexington, Kentucky, with their two teenage children. Visit her Web site at www.jenniferdegler.com.


Comments

  1. Thank you so much for this post! I really, really appreciate it.

    (Really quick, I want to apologize for my emotional comments a few weeks ago – I was still very unstable. I shouldn’t have even been allowed to say anything to anyone about anything, other than my therapist!)

    Men often take a long time to admit the abuse they experienced, and even longer to come to the point where they deal with it, because, as you said, they feel like less of a man, they feel ashamed, they feel like it was their fault. There is unfortunately a big stigma associated with men who were sexually abused as children, and it makes it even more difficult for men to come to a place of healing. And they often do have struggles with sexuality later on, with homosexual feelings. And sometimes through their depression and their PTSD and their substance abuse (because substance abuse is very common), they may exhibit a lot of anger and sometimes lash out at those who are closest to them. It is a very difficult road, and takes a lot of prayer and a lot of perseverance, but it is worth it, because our husbands are worth it.

    22 years after three years of sexual abuse and rape, my husband finally opened up about everything that had happened to him. It was heartbreaking to hear, and I am so proud of him for having the courage to do that. As said in this post, you can’t force your husband to open up, and you can’t force him into healing – he has to come to it in his own time. After he finally got it off his chest, he very soon came to the point where he forgave the boys (because they were teenage boys) who abused him for three years. He says that he knows they experienced horrible things as children to get them to that point. He actually feels compassion for them! Only GOD can heal someone like that. I praise our Lord so much for His merciful healing love.

    I want to thank you, Sheila, for praying so much for my husband and me. We have needed it, and I am so thankful. Again I am sorry for the past month that I have been so rollercoaster-ish. I’m so thankful for my husband through this time, whom God has gotten to the point that he had compassion for me as well and loved me through it all.
    Jenny recently posted…we are blessings to one another after allMy Profile

  2. What are some warning signs that a man may have been sexually abused?

    • One thing is that he may have a much lower sex drive than most men. He may get upset about sex, he may think that you’re using him for sex if you initiate, even though that’s the furthest thing from the truth. On the other side, some men go to the opposite extreme and try to prove that they’re a man by having sex a lot with a woman/multiple women.

      Another thing is substance abuse. Although many men who were NOT sexually abused are alcoholics, it’s very common amongst those who have been.

      Depression and inappropriate anger are two other signs. Again, many men who were not sexually abused are depressed and so on, but those things are pretty much universal in men who were.

      He may have nightmares.

      There are more, but I’m running 45 minutes late so I need to go!!!
      Jenny recently posted…we are blessings to one another after allMy Profile

  3. Wow! Pushing 50 and I just started dealing with this a few years ago. I was abused when I was young. I told my parents and they punished me for lying. There were more instances that I am only now starting to remember. In recovery for alcohol and depression I am learning how to cope and manage stress and anger. I abused drugs and alcohol and tried to prove through countless women that I really was a man. I tried to talk to a therapist, then another, and now have found one that is able to hear me. I destroyed my life, including my marriage. Learning the difference between an event and a way of living has been a really long struggle. Thank you for this post and for how it may speak to others like me.

  4. Thank you, Sheila for having Jenny share this very important post. I pray for all who are suffering from the fallout of this secret sexual pollution.
    Pearl recently posted…Battle BeautyMy Profile

  5. The second point doesn’t really apply to our situation…he was assaulted by his step mother as a young teen. Not by a man. No one in the family knows and he still has to see her every time his father visits. She’s a horrible person. No one can understand why we only allow them to visit once every 2or3 years.

    He had pretty much all of the red flags that you listed in response to the above post: low sex drive, drug addict, porn addict, depression, vivid nightmares.
    At one point while high on drugs and seeking porn of a more taboo nature he stumbled into viewing child porn and decided to seek out more of it!
    Thats when everything fell apart, rock bottom.

    I had him arrested, forced into rehab. With the threat of loosing his wife and children, as well as the threat of serious jail time, he finally managed to decide to seek help. Intense individual therapy, marriage counseling and many many months later we are just now starting to heal.

  6. I don’t always read the article links on Twitter (or I’d never get any work done!), but I did click on the link today and read this very good resource. Shared the link on my Facebook page, if you don’t mind. I’m not a sexual abuse victim, and neither is my husband, but the one in six statistic stung me like a slap in the face. How we even as parents need to pray a prayer covering over our children every day, and to be observant over behavioral changes. We also need to be trustworthy spouses to where our mate would never have to fear transparency. Of all the people in the world, our kids and our spouse should feel that we are there for them unconditionally. Praying today for the one in six…and for the countless girls who have weathered this secret shame as well. How we need God!

  7. I received three emails with follow-up posts today, yet they didn’t appear on this page. I wonder if I’ve missed all the follow-ups since mine since mine shows up as the last. Sorry for being off-topic here.

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