Sexual Abuse by a Spouse

“Perpetrators of intimate partner sexual assault violate their victims physically and emotionally. Per-petrators are individuals with whom victims share their lives, homes, and possibly children. In addition to the violation of their bodies, victims are faced with a betrayal of trust and intimacy. Further, because of the relationship between the defendant and the victim, there may be a tendency for victims to blame themselves, [and] there may also be complex feelings involved since they may love the offender but hate the offense. As a result, intimate partner sexual assault victims often suffer long-lasting physical and psychological injuries as severe—or more severe—than stranger rape victims.” ~Jennifer Gentile LongProsecuting Intimate Partner Sexual Assault

By Robin Mullins Senger

“You’re my wife… you can’t withhold yourself from me.”

Unfortunately I have much experience with spousal sexual abuse, and I suspect you might have some too. It has taken a long time for me to understand that I never had to submit to my husband’s aberrant sexual demands, and he had no right to consider me his “property.”

As I was informed soon after the wedding: “You’re my wife and the Bible says you can’t withhold yourself from me. I expect you to be available when I want it.” His expectation was every day and extra on Sunday “because that’s what I want and that’s my right.” My feelings didn’t matter and it wasn’t up for discussion. I did submit my body, but grew to hate it. Occasionally I would test the waters and verbally decline, but he would act amused like I was an errant foolish child or make me feel guilty until I reluctantly acquiesced. Since it was all about him, I found it boring and a source of much personal unhappiness. I felt like I had to perform a duty - not something I had signed up for!

The sexual abuse made me feel demeaned and like a piece of meat. I shut myself off inside, and was unable to connect with him on a deep intimate level that should have been shared between us. He would complain that I never really seemed into it, but turn a deaf ear whenever I tried to explain my own needs. I soon realized it was a hopeless situation.

I tolerated the sexual abuse to keep family and home intact.

Along with wrongly believing that God expected me to submit to it, I also thought I owed it to him because I did not provide any income, but was a full-time mother and homemaker. I came to understand sex as my contribution for having a home and being able to raise my own children full-time. I became what is known as a “passive prostitute,” and how much I hated it! How twisted things can get in toxic relationships!

One day towards the end of our relationship, my husband walked into the house and told me he wanted sex and to get on the bed. I quietly said “No,” that if I lay down all I wanted to do was go to sleep and never wake up again. I was reaching the end of my rope with Brian. Thoughts of the comfort of death came often, even though I knew I couldn’t and wouldn’t ever leave my children. I still felt very depressed and hopeless. This was rare for me to protest.

Brian looked at me surprised and then pushed my shoulder toward the bed with no comment. I tiredly said “No Brian, I really don’t want to. I’m very depressed and want to die.” Brian gave me a “are you crazy?” look, shoved me onto the bed and proceeded to have his way. When he was done he walked off without another word.

My feelings told me I would never be happy again.

Did I violently resist him, yell at him, or anything else that would be expected of someone being raped? No. I took it quietly and dealt with it. But that didn’t make it any less rape. I felt unloved, violated, used, and well… raped. I lay there afterwards and cried from the heartache of that event, and the culmination of years of demanded sex. It felt like I would never be happy again.

Later, I embarrassingly told the Director of a shelter about it, thinking she might tell me that men had their needs and it was my duty to meet them. I was shocked when she explained to me that I had been raped, and that Brian’s daily demand of sex over the years was wrong. It was long-term sexual abuse and rape plain and simple. She didn’t minimize it or my feelings.

After talking to her about it, I felt an incredible sense of relief and my load seemed so much lighter. She helped me through so many things, but this one validation of my feelings about the sexual abuse was the most needed and meaningful to me. It gave me the courage to pursue freedom from all the abuse.

Though I was dealing with several other forms of abuse at the same time, it was the sexual abuse and rape that ate at me the most, and over which I felt most powerless. I felt so relieved and validated when the Director acknowledged my pain.

She warned me that Brian may bring home an STD to me, and knowing that I couldn’t get out of sex at that point, encouraged me to see if I could at least get Brian to use condoms. I did try, but Brian scoffed at it of course. I lived with a feeling of dread for the next couple of months before I managed to flee.

Can you relate to my feelings?

Though I have never been “stranger raped,” I have experienced acquaintance and spousal sexual assault. This is how I felt – perhaps you can identify with it:

  • I felt stupid and over-reactive for feeling bad since sex was not violent and I was suppose to have it anyway. I felt selfish for thinking about myself instead of him.

  • When I truly was raped, I felt bad for “feeling” raped, since it was not the culturally accepted stranger in a dark alley brutal rape. Since it was “less than” that, it must not be truly “that.” It never occurred to me that there are different types of rape – but they are all rape.

  • I still felt love for my husband and a desire to work things out, in order to have a good marriage. In my mind, that meant that my feelings of rape and forced daily sex were insignificant.

  • I felt alone.

Sexual abuse and assault is deeply painful, and when we are betrayed by people we know, love and trust, the pain is deep indeed. It is easy to blame ourselves and minimize it for a myriad of reasons. I have been through this a few times, and because I believed I was the one with the problem and that I brought it on myself, I didn’t say anything to anyone else. I thought I just needed to “deal with it.”

I couldn’t hide my feelings from God and He had a different plan.

Even though for a long time I didn’t feel I could talk to anyone else about the sexual abuse, I took tremendous comfort in knowing that I couldn’t hide my feelings from God. He knew my pain, confusion and heartache, and felt compassion and tenderness toward me.

I clung tightly to my relationship with Him to get me through. I talked to Him about it, because I knew I couldn’t say anything that would surprise Him. Even though I was confused about His expectations of me, I still knew on a deeper level that He did not want it to be the way it was.

I credit Him for being there to listen to me many nights sobbing into my pillow. I could sense His pain and sorrow over it, and His reaching out to me to comfort me. Over time, He helped me to get free. I believe it would have happened sooner had I felt I could talk to someone like at a women’s crisis center, but it was my choice not to do so. Yet He stood by me until I was ready.

Over time He has helped me to heal and not be jaded by the sexual abuse and assaults. God’s plans for us are only for good. We can turn to Him at any time for help and know that He will be there for us.

Just because you marry does NOT give your husband “ownership” of you! That is twisting the meaning of the Bible to something God did not intend! I talk more about what I learned about God’s real expectation of sex in an abusive relationship in my book God Hates Abuse: Abuse and the Doctrine of Headship and Submission.