Sexual Abuse In Marriage, Part 2 [Guest Post]

Morning friends,

I just returned from our family vacation from Hawaii. We cruised all of the islands. My favorites were Maui and Kauai. We took a bicycle ride down the mountain in Maui which was quite fun and saw some beautiful beaches and attended a Luau. But I think my favorite thing was watching my granddaughters enjoy the new experiences. This was their first airplane ride and cruise and they had a blast.

This is part 2 of Darby Strickland’s blog on sexual abuse in marriage, called The Power of Confusion

Over the years, I have had hundreds of conversations with women who are being sexually abused by their husbands but do not realize it. They know something is wrong but do not know what it is. In fact, most of these women come to me seeking help for something else, usually anxiety, depression, or even a desire to foster a richer marital relationship.

As I sit with them and learn more about their marriage, it’s often plain to me that they are being grossly mistreated. But they are confused, and often struggle to call the things they endure abusive or sinful—let alone evil. They worry they are exaggerating, believe they are responsible for what is happening, and doubt their own memory when recounting an abusive episode.

These women need us to help them understand the reality of their situation, but the fact that they do not perceive or portray it accurately can be a barrier to that.

If you follow their lead, you will miss the larger abuses that might be taking place and focus on the personal problems they present. It is important that we work to cut through their confusion and see what lies behind it. If you suspect that abuse is occurring, continue to ask questions. If you discover sexual abuse, then great care must be taken to explain how these violations go against God’s design for marriage.

This task is challenging but important. Proverbs 25:26 cautions us, “Like a muddied spring or a polluted fountain is a righteous man who gives way before the wicked.”

We need to speak clearly about the things the Lord hates, lest we, too, muddy the waters leaving room for abuses to perpetuate and the wicked to prosper. Our goal needs to be bringing victims the pure and refreshing living water from Scripture—lifting misplaced guilt and bringing clarity. God’s healing words will tend to their wounds.

To help you see past the confusion in these situations, let’s turn now to a discussion of the pressures that bring it about. There are two main sources to the confusion experienced by women who are victims of marital sexual abuse. Together, they create a powerful dynamic that can make it difficult for them to understand what is happening in their marriage.

The first is the pervasiveness of bad and unbiblical teaching about sex in marriage. These teachings have placed the responsibility for a man’s purity on his wife’s ability to provide unlimited sex. But it is not a wife’s job to keep her husband from sin—each person is responsible for his or her own sin (Luke 6:45). Yet, women have been told:

Men need sex,

Withholding sex is always a sin, and

Your spouse has rights to your body any time and in any way. Imagine how these teachings play out in the mind of a wife who is sexually abused by her husband. God’s call to a healthy, willing mutuality is ignored and sex-on-demand is made to sound like God’s will. This produces false guilt, and wrongly portrays a God who is not just indifferent to her suffering but sanctions it. This creates a wedge in a wife’s relationship with God when she needs him the most.

Sex is not simply an act or a need; God created sex to be an expression of relational and spiritual intimacy. When abuse pollutes that relationship, the physical expression of intimacy is also corrupted. We, as counselors, need to be clear on God’s design for sex so we do not add to the chaos that is already occurring in a victim’s heart and mind.

The second contributor to a wife’s confusion is the manipulative tactics employed by her husband. These men want their wives to be off balance and disoriented.

If wives believe they are responsible for the distress in the marriage and feel sorry for their husbands, they are easier to dominate. We need to be on the look-out for these tactics and be ready to intervene with counsel and care to counteract them.

Here are four common ways sexually abusive husbands manipulate their spouses.

First, after an abusive incident, there is often a period where an abuser appears calm or even expresses remorse. He might use gifts or affection in an attempt to repair the relationship. It is important to understand that these seemingly remorse-filled actions are usually not true acts of lasting repentance grounded in godly sorrow.1

Instead, they are attempts to reset the power and control dynamic. The abuser’s focus remains on what he wants—his world back to the way it was with him in control. If an abuser was truly horrified at his actions, he would seek help to stop being oppressive. The counselor’s goal here should be to help victims discern the difference between godly sorrow and manipulative apologies and actions. Teach them how to refuse these counterfeits.

Second, abuse is not always constant. On quieter days, an oppressor will be helpful and even kind. This is very confusing and disorienting. In these lighter moments, the wife often feels badly for not having loving thoughts towards her husband. She may wonder if she is exaggerating things and making a big deal out of nothing. In periods of peace, a wife might have a hard time recalling the darker memories and not understand why she now feels cold towards her husband. During these times, she might even desire physical intimacy or enjoy sex with him. She may wonder, “How can I be abused if I desire or enjoy sex?”

Though it is natural that she will still feel hurt by what happened in the past, her newer, more positive memories make the situation even harder to understand. To help a woman combat this, have her keep a journal of abusive incidents. This can help her overcome these disorientations, lifting guilt and confusion.

A third way that an abuser generates confusion is by using coercion to get his wife to consent to his demands.2For example, if a husband asks for sex repeatedly and his wife knows that if she does not comply that he will lecture her for hours and be frighteningly harsh with her children, she might give in to the demand so as to avoid an escalating punishment.

What is confusing about coercion is that if she acquiesces, she believes: “I agreed to it.” It is then very difficult to have clarity about what happened prior. So, she might feel defiled but thinks that it is unreasonable to feel this way. We need to combat this by helping these women to identify coercive tactics and by making sense of the emotions that they are feeling.

The fourth way that an abuser generates confusion is to make his wife feel sorry for him. Abusers are master blame-shifters and are adept at finding excuses to avoid taking responsibility for their demandingness. They blame alcohol, a stressful job, the temptation of pornography, their jealousy—but especially their spouse. Wives report being told things such as:

“You are a prude; sex is no fun for me. I have to push your limits.”

“You never want to have sex with me. I cannot bear the constant rejection. I have no choice but to force you into it.”

“Since you have let yourself “go,” I am tempted all day by beautiful, put-together women.”

“You could at least watch porn with me to help me get aroused and keep me faithful.”

“You have no idea what is it like for me to married to the only woman on the planet who doesn’t desire me.”

“You just spent all afternoon nagging me. How about showing me that you don’t hate me?”

By claiming to be a tortured sufferer, a sexually abusive husband preys upon his wife’s kind heart, hoping she will feel sorry for him and then do what he wants. If that does not work, he may use threats of adultery, porn use, and even self-harm to gain sympathy.

These men are very convincing.

Keep in mind that they will also work on you, the counselor, pleading their victimhood in an effort to distract you from the ways that they are sexually domineering.

Be wary of this and do not shift your focus off the effect that an abusive husband’s behavior is having on a victim. Untangling his excuses and threats will help free up his wife from believing it is her job to meet all of his sexual demands.

Is it any wonder then that these wives are vulnerable to confusion about their situation? As their helpers, our goal should be to carefully dispel and dismantle the myths that ensnare them. To do this, we refute the bad teaching, expose the manipulation, and reconnect them to a rescuing God who grieves with them and desires their protection.

Godly regret is focused on how sin offends God and produces true repentance (2 Cor 7:10). 2 I discussed coercion in the first blog as well. I repeat it here because it is a key source of confusion for abused wives.

Friends, Darby spoke about 4 common ways an abusive husband manipulates for sexual control. Can you think of any other ways? Also what other unbiblical teaching have you heard that justifies or excuses a man’s attitude of sexual entitlement

26 Comments

  1. Cindy on March 13, 2019 at 11:00 am

    What about men who use pornography and withhold sexual intimacy from their wife. Isn’t that abuse too?

    • April on March 15, 2019 at 12:27 pm

      It is most definitely abuse.

  2. Alicia Kaylee on March 13, 2019 at 1:03 pm

    Cindy, it is my understanding that it definitely can have the exact same emotional outcome for the spouse (victim), so yes, I believe using porn and withholding sexual intimacy can be just as abusive.

  3. JoAnn on March 13, 2019 at 1:24 pm

    Cindy, Matthew 5:28 tells us clearly that porn is adultery, but it also causes the person who uses it to withdraw emotionally and sexually from the spouse. It is a very evil and vile thing that objectifies women and disrupts the marriage covenant. One of Leslie’s previous blog posts addresses this, but you’ll have to go to the archives to find it. You might find it helpful.

    • Autumn on March 13, 2019 at 1:37 pm

      I don’t think porn users are withholdings sex from their wives, rather, their wives no longer arouse them. The pleasure of the image is sensationalized, graphic and without attachment. A wife can’t offer full objectification like a porn star can.

      Those who use porn, advance to harder and more violent graphic images to get their next “high”. The brain wants more. In time S and M and violence is needed for a thrill to arousal. Just ask Ted Bundy, he describes the journey. James Dobson did an eye opening interview with him.

      • Connie on March 13, 2019 at 3:33 pm

        Many por n users have ED, and also IA, intimacy anorexia, where they withhold intimacy of all kinds, or anything the wife needs Or wants, including money, just because he can. For example, they like to read the love languages book to find hers, and then use the others on her. An S.A. controls everything about his love life including her responses, so he needs to control everything else in his life as well. There is a lot of violence in p so passive violence can substitute for active violence.

        • Barbara B on March 13, 2019 at 9:46 pm

          The material on love languages can also be used to justify entitlement to sex because “physical touch” is one of the languages.

          • Natalie on April 4, 2019 at 12:06 am

            My ex manipulated this way all the time, going so far as to say it was his only love language and that not having regular sex equaled me not loving him



          • Jane on April 4, 2019 at 8:01 am

            Funny thing, whatever book, they find a way to manipulate and twist what is said to make them the victim or to control and manipulate u.



  4. Happy on March 13, 2019 at 4:42 pm

    This was so clearifying and yet scary to realize the truth.

  5. Nancy on March 13, 2019 at 7:32 pm

    Leslie,
    What a blessing you and your h are to your family. Your granddaughters would have had a lovely time making memories with you both and with one another, but I’m also guessing that since you didn’t mention your kids, they got a refreshing break from active parenting. That’s a win all around!

  6. Jane on March 13, 2019 at 10:38 pm

    does the shame and disgust ever go away? Thank-you to all the brave women that shared their stories.

    There should be a prelude to the five love languages book, NOT for abusive marriages! That book was hurled at my head one day and I was told to read it, his love tank was on empty. He then used it to tell me one of my love languages was physical touch! NOPE, I really don’t like being touched in general, I wonder why.

    • Bonnie on March 14, 2019 at 10:40 am

      Interesting. My love language actually IS physical touch and he made fun of me for it and said I must have forced those answers.

    • JoAnn on March 15, 2019 at 6:05 pm

      Jane, my heart goes out to you regarding the “shame and disgust” you mentioned. I encourage you to work with a therapist about this, especially focusing on releasing these feelings to the Lord.

  7. Bonnie on March 14, 2019 at 10:38 am

    “As long as both husband and wife are okay with (fill in the blank) then it is acceptable. As long as it doesn’t include other people.”

    I cannot tell you how many pastors have said this to me concerning anal “sex”. This phrase empowered my ex-husband to blame it on me and accuse me of being like a “log” (boring in bed) even though I never turned him down for every other type of sex or position and actually encouraged and loved healthy sex. He would tell me I was a wonderful lover at other times so I was very confused.

    How is it that men/women both have those same parts but it’s wrong for a man/man to do the same thing? I don’t think God is gender-specific in that area. It’s sodomy either way.

    I absolutely HATED my ex-husband every time I gave in because of his pestering. Even after I told him I hated him when he did it. He didn’t care. That was his obsession. The word you used above was “defiled.” Yes, that is how I felt.

    Thoughts?

    • JoAnn on March 16, 2019 at 3:50 pm

      Bonnie, In God’s plan for marriage, marital intercourse is supposed to be a very loving expression of the oneness and intimacy that are part of a loving relationship, which we call “making love.” Abusive sex is not the same as “making love.” When one partner forces something on the other that is unpleasant or unwelcome, that is not loving.

  8. Ruth on March 14, 2019 at 1:18 pm

    Darby’s article this was very good. To answer the question about other ways husbands manipulate wives, here are some I have experienced.
    1. If I had a sickness or headache that meant ‘sorry, no sex for you’, then he might question whether I was faking or would be obviously miffed. [Blatant disregard for my feelings even though he would say he was the most unselfish person in the house.] This is crushing to be lowered to this level.
    2. Spiritual Abuse also affects the sexual part of a marriage. Marriages where the husband has a very Patriarchal Mindset and he tells the wife that she’s a Jezebel, sometimes over legitimate mistakes like spending too much money but many other times it’s simply for subjects where she should be able to voice her opinion like how to discipline their children. There are better ways to resolve martial conflict than name-calling, spiritual abuse, and control, but the abuser goes for the tools he’s most comfortable with. Patrick Doyle called Religious Denial “Denial on Steroids”!! That is a funny description of my husbands denial. My husband believes I am a rebellious wife and a Jezebel and a I AM THE BAD ONE almost assuredly as he believes the Bible is true and Jesus is God’s son. I say this for 3 reasons: (1) A pastor or Counselor who wants to win over and actually CHANGE an abuser who thinks GOD IS ON HIS SIDE – Good Luck! 😉 You’re gonna need it. LOL.
    (2) Secondly, as a wife, after you’ve been spiritually abused (being called a rebellious b*tch for asking him to stop yelling at your son for example) well, would that make you feel sexually available? Then when the wife does not want sex bc of the earlier spiritual abuse he gets MAD AGAIN. Unless she pretends bc she can’t take anymore of his screaming or lecturing. 😢
    (3) The next time their teenage son smarts off, the H is gonna say, “he learned this rebellious behavior from his mother. It’s not my fault.” Lovely. 🤢 H just found a way to be absolved from bad all parenting; it’s the bad wife patriarchal Get Out of Jail Free Card. 🙄 It’s never his responsibility or even the half-grown teenager’s – it’s the WIFE.

  9. Ruth on March 14, 2019 at 3:07 pm

    2 Corinthians 10
    3 For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. 4 For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. 5 We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, 6 being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.

    It is negligence when people use these verses to say that all our problems are spiritually based. Yes, the abuser is sinning and that is a spiritual problem but it is hurting his victim emotionally and sometimes spiritually bc it can fill her with doubt and condemnation.
    As far as handling the problem, prayer is good but to say it’s the ONLY WAY to handle the problem bc of these verses is to take these verses out of context. Paul was getting ready to visit the Corinthian church. He is concerned that he is going to have to deal with sin issues and false doctrine ideas the people have latched onto. In the two verses preceding this section, he talks about how he is soft-spoken in person, but bold in his letters. That’s what is referencing in these verses. So, that in no way denounces going to a counselor or reading a book for your marriage or joining a support group online or IRL or like I’ve chosen to do for my mental health- take an antidepressant which I hear slammed by fundamentalist Christians.

    • Aly on March 15, 2019 at 8:08 am

      Ruth,
      Do you see your husband as an abusive person who treats you in the opposite ways God would call him to treat his wife?

  10. Free on March 15, 2019 at 7:06 pm

    I always seem to fall back into tolerating destructive behavior when I say to myself, ” in sickness and health.” I have lived and endured “sickness” of mind from my spouse for many years as I clung to that vow. I think now, I finally understand that if a cure is offered and the sick person can’t or won’t take the medicine/ cure, we are not talking about sickness any more. We are talking about a choice to live in a certain manner. Yes, they are sick, but it is of their own making, not of natural circumstances.

    • Jane on March 15, 2019 at 9:16 pm

      Free yes that is exactly the heart wrenching yet liberating truth. Thank you for putting it into words!

    • Aly on March 18, 2019 at 2:35 pm

      Free,
      This is so well said and I think a specific blog topic could be very useful for many who are struggling deferentiating what is a within a person’s choice and the circumstances of those choices.

    • Susan P on March 18, 2019 at 3:13 pm

      I agree, Aly. I woke up to the reality of the challenges in my own marriage a few years ago, and have found Leslie’s work very helpful But I have an ongoing struggle with my husband’s response to our issues … and the impact of the “can’t or won’t” distinction.

      • Free on March 18, 2019 at 3:46 pm

        It’s an old adage, yet I think it applies, You Can’t Change Anyone but Yourself.

        So then you might say, but God can. Yes, he can, but he doesn’t need your help to do it!

        You are free to be you and God will be God. Oh, and we are not our spouse’s holy spirit either. (Wink)

  11. JoAnn on March 18, 2019 at 9:37 pm

    Free, I agree with you. Though I can’t find a scripture to verify this, I have learned that God will not add His hand to ours; if we are holding onto something, (kids, husband marriage) He will wait until we let go before He will act. He doesn’t wrestle with us, even though we often wrestle with Him. “Let go and let God,” as my lovely MIL used to say.

  12. Saved Bygrace on September 23, 2019 at 2:09 pm

    God’s call to a healthy, willing mutuality is ignored and sex-on-demand is made to sound like God’s will. This produces false guilt, and wrongly portrays a God who is not just indifferent to her suffering but sanctions it. This creates a wedge in a wife’s relationship with God when she needs him the most.

    Thank you for saying this! I needed to hear this!

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