“We need to talk.” I look at him. I don’t want to talk. Talking makes us fight and I am absolutely tired of fighting. “My dad says we should have done pre-marital counseling. So they’ve arranged for us to have some counseling with Brother Cleaver.” I don’t think any type of counseling is going to solve our problem, but I agree. The conclusion after three counseling sessions was we didn’t know how to communicate with one another (You think?). We were given a homework assignment: read His Needs, Her Needs by Willard Harley Jr. I love to read and can get through a book quickly; the husband cannot. So we decided I would read out loud and then we could discuss the chapter together. Some of the things we read made sense and we talked about putting them into practice. But a good majority of the book didn’t make sense. It was if we had our roles reversed. We…or more accurately I…didn’t fit the stereotypes. Reading the book left me feeling not only inadequate as a wife but a complete failure as a woman.
The husband must have mentioned something privately to the counselor about sex because I was assigned to read The Act of Marriage by Tim LaHaye. When asked if we felt there were issues we needed to discuss in this area, I emphatically said no. Reading the book helped give me some insight into my husband’s brain but it did not get into mine. I was firmly in denial that this part of our marriage was broken; this was the one thing I thought I was doing right…I was so, so wrong.
Because of my denial and my husband’s intense need to be private we quit counseling. It did open the door for communication between us. We attended a Family Life Marriage Counseling conference in Hawaii and that brought some healing to some of the wounds we’d caused in the first few years of marriage. But while on the trip he began to talk about his past and I couldn’t handle it and I returned home in tears. One day I’d had enough and found myself in my father-in-laws office crying about how unfair it was that I was trying my best and it wasn’t working. He was a man known for his bluntness and didn’t disappoint me this time – he simply looked at me and said, “Don’t you think it’s time to grow up?” He was probably the only person who could say that to me and get away with it. He told me we needed to get professional counseling and I left with the name of a family and marriage therapist. Convincing the husband we needed to go was not that simple.
The therapist was not a good fit. We each had an individual session with him before we had a couple session. We were giving the floor to air our grievances against one another. The husband went first and he was pretty specific. When I was given the the opportunity to respond I simply whimpered “He’s right.” When it was my time for the floor I became silent. I simply said, “He’s a good husband. I’m just screwed up.” I refused to say anything bad about him. We were assigned to complete a marriage compatibility quiz. The conclusion? We were not compatible. That was the end of our marriage counseling. If we were so incompatible, why even bother?
Calvin was born and I became angry and paranoid. After two months the husband, exhausted by his demanding job and his wife, told his dad he wanted out. Once again we were back in Brother Cleaver’s living room trying to fix what was wrong. The conclusion this time was I had postpartum depression. And although it was true, it didn’t solve what was wrong with us. We survived the early years of parenting long enough to have two more children. Parenting took so much energy that it was easy to quit worrying about our marriage. Until he hired the snake and I realized that our marriage was going to end if things didn’t change. Unfortunately I had succumbed to my depression and anxiety that I was too weak to really fight hard enough.
I started therapy in Fall 2002 and by the end of the year I was on antidepressants. My psychiatrist specialized in postpartum depression and we were both convinced that once the depression was taken care of our marriage issues would fix themselves. It took her about six months to get me to talk about my past. But I wouldn’t go past talking about it. She’d push me talk about my father and I’d change the subject. She’d discuss the effects of abuse on a child’s development and I would tell her that it wasn’t affecting me. I’d cry about not feeling loved by my husband but declined to say what it was that made me feel unloved. She discussed having him and I in the same session and I refused. She didn’t know that he didn’t know the things I was telling her and that I was absolutely afraid of him finding them out.
I spent 10 years with her. The husband thinks she did nothing to help me, and in some ways I agree. But I think she did help me — she made a wide enough crack, that when the time was right, Abba could reach me.
My father’s arrest put further strain on our marriage. When the husband made an entirely insensitive comment and I shred him to pieces with my words we both realized we needed help. So once again we sought a Christian marriage counselor. This time he was a good fit. When it came time to speak about what was bothering me I spoke up. And I was specific. But they were surface issues and didn’t really address what was wrong. Every week we spent an hour with the counselor and then we went to lunch. And talked. For hours. And then we quit. The husband says he doesn’t know why we quit, but I do. It was inconvenient for him to take 3 hours from work to focus on me. He expressed his frustration one day and that was the end of my willingness to go to counseling. If I wasn’t worth 3 hours of his time, I wasn’t worth it at all.
Every couple struggles with communication, money, sex, work or parenting issues…but not every marriage has an underlying demon of sexual abuse. Sure the counselors could help us learn to fight fair, budget our money, parent effectively but they could not solve what was wrong with our marriage. They couldn’t heal the deep sexual wound that permeated our relationship. When he husband said that I was jealous he was absolutely correct. But he didn’t understand that my jealousy had nothing to do with owning him or protecting what was mine. I was jealous because I felt so worthless and dirty. When he spoke about his desire that I take care of myself, I couldn’t explain that I didn’t simply because I didn’t want to be alive.
All the marriage books told me that my husband needed me to respect him, take care of his children, make his home a place of refuge and love him with my body. They told the husband that if he’d just love me enough I’d be content enough to be his wife, the mother of his children and his lover in the bedroom. And try as I did, I just could never do those things. (Well, except taking care of our kids. Even with my limitation I’ve been a good mom).
Because I had very limited education about human sexuality, I had no idea how my body or his worked, let alone how they were supposed to function together. I had been taught that sex was a necessary evil—something to placate the lower nature of the man who lied next to me every night. I had never learned how to trust another person to meet my needs so I assumed as if they would never be met. The husband did his best to love me, but I wouldn’t be loved. The toxic combination of sexual abuse, bad theology and over-zealous legalistic upbringing had created a ticking time bomb in me. Marriage Counseling couldn’t work—I needed divine intervention.