Imagine for a minute that you are the husband. You have no idea the secrets your wife holds. You think your life is going a certain way and although you’d change some things, you are pretty content with your life. You don’t know what it is you don’t know and you don’t fear what it is you are about to fear. You think that perhaps if you pray enough, strive enough, hang on long enough your wife will grow up and you can finally have the peace you long for. Until the secrets come exploding out and you are left wondering what the hell happened and how can you fix it and where do you go from here.
In 2012 I made an emergency trip to be with my sister-in-law. My brother was struggling with some memories and we were concerned for his well-being. During that week I learned things I can’t unlearn. It triggered memories of things I forced myself to forget. By the time my husband arrived on the weekend, I was a mess. I was faced with telling my husband the truth or continue lying (really choosing to protect him). We went for a walk and I told him that my father’s crimes were more vast than he knew. I was terrified, but I finally told him something bad had happened. His response was a mixture of anger and bewilderment. I was taken back to realize his anger…was directed AT ME.
Because I was on my way toward not really caring what people think, we fought about what I could and could not share on my blog. I had the responsibility to protect him and our kids from the harsh realities of why my father was in jail. I had my siblings and nieces and nephews and momma to protect from being identified. I had to deal with the questions and accusations and pain of his family. I carried the weight on my shoulders and the person who should be there for me the most, was ANGRY at me.
One day we stood face-to-face in our bedroom. He had made one insensitive comment and I was going to let him have it. After I yelled for a few minutes he looked at me. “You don’t care about what I feel.” I responded with a snappy, “Why don’t you try to tell me how you feel?” In retrospect, we should have taken a time out and tried to have the conversation with a therapist.
“I’m angry. With you. Because you lied to me. You lied about who you were, what happened in your family. You didn’t tell me that your father was a pedophile. The worst thing, YOU put our kids in danger. You didn’t even give me the choice to decide whether he would be around them or not.”
I blocked most of the rest of the conversation out. The pain was unbearable. I couldn’t breathe. It’s one thing to say I lied. It’s one thing to be angry at the situation. But to tell me that I put my kids in danger…the one thing I was desperately trying to avoid…it was too much to deal with.
Recently we talked about this memory. He said “I remember that day. That was a point where I didn’t really understand what was happening. What it was all about. Why you would even choose to not tell me that. I just did not understand what I didn’t know.”
The memories of that day…still hurt. But I’ve forgiven and we’ve moved on. The husband recognizes he’s said many things that hurt my ability to heal. These are the things we want to share. These are the things a husband should not say to his wife (or any survivor of abuse for that matter.)
“It wasn’t that bad.”
When I finally told him what happened, this was his response. “I thought you were going to tell me you’d been brutally raped or something horrific.” Most people, when they don’t know what to say, use this type of phrase. I even say it. “What happened to me was not rape.” But it doesn’t matter. It still shattered me. I still have scars. And honestly, being forced to perform oral sex at 7 years of age is still a form of rape.
“Are you sure it happened?”
This is the disbelief response. Shock. The man that sat across from him and talked about the Bible and how much he loved me, did this horrible thing to me. A thing that was wreaking havoc on our marriage. And he still couldn’t believe it happened. Or at least not the way I thought. It took a police report and my dad’s own words and a few survivor’s memoirs for me to believe I was remembering correctly. When I came to the realization I was indeed telling the truth, it devastated both of us.
“Can’t you just get over it?”
I’m not sure why it is that people like to say this. As if I don’t want to get over it. It’s just not that easy. This comes from a complete misunderstanding of what abuse is and what it does to the victim. With our focus on “overcoming” and “perfection” in the Body the husband and I both struggled with my inability to “get over it”. I wanted desperately to just make the thing go away and not put him through the recovery and healing process.
“Why didn’t you just say no?”
This is probably the most devastating thing you can say to an abuse victim. This was said in response to a conversation about the boy who harassed me in the school. I was 17…why didn’t I just say no? It’s only recently that we are actually learning why I couldn’t/didn’t say no. It’s not an easy conversation, but eventually we will get through it and hopefully be able to share some of the wisdom we gain from it.
“Why didn’t you say anything before this?”
This is the heart of our issue. Why didn’t I tell him. Although some people use it to dismiss claims this is not why he asked this question. This is not, “If it happened, you would have said something.” type of a question. This was, “Please, tell me why you didn’t say anything to me, so I understand.” It can be a hurtful question unless it is handled properly. It can bring healing or it can cause pain. It’s not to be said lightly.
There are other things he said that were hurtful, but were said in jest and ignorance. We are trying to learn from the mistakes of the past and move forward. It is our prayer and hope that sharing the raw truth of our experiences will help other couples in the future.
I hope this was helpful. I do ask that you not think bad of my husband. He’s not a jerk. He didn’t know how to deal with this. He didn’t know what to say. And he didn’t expect this. It is always helpful to give the partner of an abuse victim grace and mercy. Unless they have been abused themselves, they are not going to know what to do without education.
Next time we will share what a husband can say that helps the healing process and what exactly my husband has done to help in the healing process.