We all want amazing lives filled with joy and passion and wholeness.
Who wouldn’t want that? But too often that is not what people experience.
I’ve been sitting in my yellow chair trying to write the final post for our “digging yourself out of the pit” series, and whatever I wrote I didn’t like. So I went on Facebook, and found something my good friend Sarah McDugal from Wilderness to WILD wrote, and I decided to take a whole different approach to this morning’s post!
Sarah is addressing abuse survivors here, talking about making the choice to grow after trauma. Please listen to her, and then I want to talk about how this can apply to us even if we’re not abuse victims:
I have noticed a growing trend toward crying “victim-blame” at any suggestion that trauma survivors might benefit from self-assessment at some point in the healing process.
While NO abused person is responsible for *causing* their own abusive relational dynamic, that doesn’t mean that survivors should be considered exempt from reaching a place of intentional consideration of their own coping habits, thought patterns, and belief systems, in order to grow.
If we act as though victims of trauma have no need to self-reflect, no arena in which to improve, no expectation of post-traumatic growth — we are devaluing victims’ ability to overcome, to learn new tools of discernment, and to prevent harmful things from happening beforehand next time.
There are various profiles of victims — some fit neatly into a “self-value deficiency” paradigm (similar to what my friend Andrew J. Bauman recently has discussed) while others may have a strong sense of self-worth but were strongly conditioned by their teachings or belief systems to accept subpar treatment in the name of being a “good wife”. Others possess a very strong sense of self/identity, yet are trapped in the cognitive dissonance of the alternating charm/harm of the abuser, plus they are highly loyal and conscientious individuals who have an inner drive to stick to their own vows regardless of the behavior of the abuser, as a matter of internal principle.
Of course we all agree that no abuse is the fault of the victim.
ALL abuse is the result of the abuser choosing to mistreat another person and to misuse their power and influence for harm.
That being said, it is ALSO an important part of post-trauma growth to take the time to discover more about oneself in relationship to surviving abuse. (This cannot be done during a season when a victim needs safety, it must wait until they have achieved stability and are in a place of strength.)
Regardless of which profile a person fits into, it is crucial to take time to gently self-assess, to self-reflect, and to thoughtfully identify what aspects played a role in their abusive experience.
(ETA: This does not necessarily refer to the victim’s actions. Answers to self assessment on this could include:
- my church’s teachings
- my family’s expectations
- my age and innocence
- my isolation from options
- my conscientious desire to do right
- my lack of tools/resources
- my social conditioning/belief systems
- etc etc etc
These are not placing blame on the victim, but it is eye-opening to assess the overall contributing factors AFTER reaching a safe, stable, strong position on the other side.)
In doing this, we learn more about ourselves, we learn more about our ability to read and rely on others, we learn more about the subconscious belief systems that may have increased our vulnerability.
Learning these things about ourselves and our environmental conditioning is essential to breaking the cycles, to internal healing, to lasting wholeness that is not laced with bitterness or imbalance.
Sarah is saying that it’s important to see how dynamcis in our own lives may have contributed to the problems that we face, so that we open up the possibility for change in the future.
I think she’s so right, and that’s what I want to say today also to people who feel as if they’re in a pit, and their spouse won’t change, and so they’re stuck in this pit.
Last week we talked about how we need to take responsibility for our own stuff that dug that pit deeper. But what if your spouse won’t take responsibility? What if your spouse seems content to sit in the pit?
Your wholeness does not rest on your spouse’s shoulders.
This is a hard one to understand or internally feel, because our spouses affect us so deeply. This is the person you love most in the world; you want them to love you too. You want them to care that they are hurting you. You want them to show that they value you.
And that’s what I see in the heart-wrenching comments over and over again in the blog, by people who are hurt by spouse’s inactions.
Now, if that hurt is due to a spouse’s abuse, due to marital coercion, due to porn use–please, please see a licensed counselor, call a domestic abuse hotline, draw boundaries. You do not have to submit yourself to abuse, or to betrayal, or to assault. Please. For people in dangerous, emotionally destructive marriages we recommend reading Gretchen Baskerville’s The Lifesaving Divorce.
But let’s assume that it’s more that your spouse has no libido and won’t address it. That they hate sex and won’t talk about why. That they have cut themselves off emotionally.
That hurts. That feels insurmountable.
But you still have choices.
I want to talk for the rest of this post to people who are choosing to stay, because that’s the majority on this blog. Their spouse is doing something that hurts them, but they don’t want to blow up the marriage. They want the spouse to fix it!
Now, obviously some may just choose to leave, because the hurt is too great. I understand.
But assuming you did not choose to leave ,then what?
Well, first, realize that staying is also a choice.
The Choice to Leave
At its most basic, you can leave. So why don’t you leave? Because you are making a choice that something else is better.
Maybe you think, I don’t want my kids to split up their lives between two homes, and so I am staying because I’m going to give my kids the best life possible.
Or, I enjoy the life that we’ve built with our church and our community and our house, and I wish sex were better, but I’m not willing to lose all of those other things.
The Choice to Cut Yourself Off Emotionally From Your Spouse
Your spouse may be hurting you by cutting you off sexually, and you coud, of course, retreat emotionally. But maybe you decide not to.
Maybe you realize: I am choosing to remain emotionally connected to my spouse, as much as I am able, because even though I want a better sex life, I still love my spouse and I don’t want to lose the relationship I do have.
Or you realize: I know that my spouse is so wounded because of how he or she grew up, and aversion to sex is not a conscious choice. And so I will act as Jesus to my spouse and I will love them regardless, because I am choosing to do that.
Or you say: I know that much of my spouse’s dislike of sex is due to how I treated my spouse for the first fifteen years of our marriage. I made sex all about me, and now she has a really hard time even imagining sex could be good. And that is on me. And so even though I want something different, I am going to choose to love my spouse because it’s the right thing to do.
When you realize you have choices, bitterness can be eased.
Your spouse is not the one keeping you trapped; you have chosen to continue with this relationship because there are things that you value more than punishing your spouse for not giving you a good sex life.
And that mental shift can also ease some burdens and pressure on your spouse, which can actually change the dynamic so that more healing is possible on both sides.
But then, when you feel trapped again, you can take a deep breath, and say, “Today, I am choosing this because I love the life I have with my kids, or I love other aspects of my marriage I’m not willing to give up or I’m privileged that God is using me to show my spouse unconditional love.”
Does it make everything better? Nope.
It really doesn’t.
But it’s also the only route to change.
When you realize that you are choosing something now, it opens up the possibilities for more choices in the future.
Instead of going through life thinking of all the ways your spouse is trapping you, you can learn about boundaries and choices and pursuing growth and joy on your own. That can be contagious. But even it’s not, it helps you get in a better place so that, in the end, you won’t feel so trapped.
I wanted to write a post on how you can magically get your spouse to change.
But there is no magic. There is no magic formula, and there are no magic words. Not even God forces people to change or makes people change! Everyone has free will.
So the question is: What are we going to choose? If we focus on that question–on growth, rather than feeling trapped–then bitterness goes away and life opens up.
I know this is a really hard ask. But I’d encourage all of you today who feel stuck, to ask, “Why am I deciding to stay? Why am I deciding to love anyway?” And you may just realize that you actually are making a choice because there are other things you value, too. Your life is not just your sex life, and those other things that you value matter too.
I hope that may help you have a mind shift. I hope this helps you pursue change and growth rather than feeling stuck. I know it’s a big ask. I know it’s hard. But it’s also the only route through that I can see.
What do you think? Is this too big an ask? Have you found concentrating on choices to be empowering or not? Let’s talk in the comments!
The Sexual Recovery Series--Digging Yourself out of the Pit
- A 4 -Point Plan to Sexual Recovery
- Redefining Sex: Seeing Sex as an Expression of your Relationship, Not an Individual Need
- What Sexual Recovery Looks Like
- Safety and Intimacy: You'll Never Have an Intimate Sex Life without Feeling Safe First
- When Sex Has Become One-Sided, Leaving Her Feeling Used
- 8 Step Plan to Regain Sexual Autonomy
- Why You Need to Deal with Your Own Sexual Stuff
- When Your Spouse Won't Change
Marital Rape Posts:
- 2 Kinds of Marital Rape
- How to Recover from Marital Rape (if it's possible)
- Why Christians Often Don't Understand Consent
- 5 Next Steps if You Realize You've Coerced Your Wife into Sex
- Does 1 Corinthians 7 Mean that She Has No Sexual Autonomy?
- How Do I Get My Husband to Understand He's Been Coercing Me into Sex?
- PODCAST: A Path forward Addressing Sexual Shame (with Jay Stringer)
- PODCAST: The Myth of the Magic Penis (and a call for integrated sex)
- PODCAST: Learned Helplessness and Sex