Arts & Entertaiment
When you think of sexual abuse you think of two central characters; the abused and the abuser. There is a 3rd party who is never mentioned. The partner of the abused. We are rarely mentioned nor asked for. Yet we exist and our roles are diminished by all but the people we support. It is not my intention to draw attention away from the most important person in any abuse case who is the victim of the abuse. Theirs is a hell which none of us can imagine and we should be thankful each waking minute that we don’t have to. The only reason I have for penning this article is that the next time when you are asking after the well being of an abuse victim that you merely ask how their partner is?
My own story began over ten years ago, and though improving has no end in sight. And that is my biggest obstacle for there is no end for an abuse victim, and I work every day in my head to get myself to remove the target line. My wife was raped and sexually abused over twenty five years ago, and the abuse only came to light 3 years ago. The details of which I shall not discuss for that is my wife’s story to tell, not mine.
I met my wife over 12 years ago and we hit it off straight away. I found her very sexy, and great company. When we got married ten years ago my wife was depressed. We had our first child months previously and it was diagnosed as post natal depression. I was frightened as I hadn’t encountered depression before. I’m a jolly, happy optimist. There is always a silver lining. Always. I was told not the worry as it would pass with time and all would be back to normal. It didn’t and hasn’t and I’ve learned to live with the new version of normal many times. My wife’s depression gradually got worse and worse and my reactions were getting more desperate.
In my confusion and ignorance to deal with someone who is depressed, I threw everything at the situation to try and help my wife “get cured” of depression. I now know that depression is a disease for which there is no cure. Some people manage it better than others, but it is a lifetime affliction. I laugh when I read newspapers and magazines who cover alcoholism and drug addiction with a considered approach, but yet have no idea of how to tackle the depression epidemic that is blighting our country, especially among our young adults. But I digress. My attempts to “heal” were fruitless, and indeed stupid. What did I know? I wasn’t depressed and had no idea of what my wife was feeling. My wife was on edge, and up tight. And to be frank she may as well have gotten no support from me for what I was offering was useless to her. I wanted her to “get better”, my wife simply wanted peace. When you add in that I also craved intimacy, my wife was under pressure from all sides.
Do I blame my wife? Even in a small way? Not at all. My wife didn’t know what had happened prior to us getting together. I’m sure she got down and wondered why, ending up blaming the woes of life. My wife isn’t to blame in any way shape or form. The perverted life form that did what did carries the can 100%. My wife is a brave woman to have an even somewhat normal life that she does. She loves her husband in her own way, and she adores her kids. She’s a hero to womankind.
Did I know what was facing me when we got together? No. Did I know when we got married? Yes, I had a sneaky feeling of what my wife went through decades ago. I wasn’t stupid, there was something at play which was a stronger force that what was diagnosed. But I married my wife because I loved her and wanted to marry her. I still love her and would marry her again today. Attraction fades and personalities take over. Yes, there are aspects of my wife’s personality that I find annoying as I know there are times when I drive my wife insane! But I love and adore my wife, and the whole package outweighs the negatives tenfold. When we got married, I wasn’t on a crusade to “save” my wife or “mad to settle down” as people have suggested of me. I simply wanted to marry my wife.
The situation gradually got worse over the years. It is very difficult to get up in the morning and not know what kind of day you are going to face. We all face problems on a daily basis be they work or domestic problems but work provides distraction from domestic issues and vice versa. But to go home each evening wondering what I would face was draining. And even in saying that I feel guilty as it wasn’t bad each and every day. But the negative is always more prominent than the positive when recalling that time. Guilt was a big issue for me. I felt guilty that I wasn’t providing the support necessary to my wife, and I felt guilty for asking for physical interaction when I knew it was the last thing on my wife’s mind. But I kept persisting and became upset at the constant rejection. Every time I laid hands on my wife for either cuddles or with the intention of asking for physical interaction, I could sense my wife’s disgust. Many times my wife would recoil in horror at my touch however innocuous. I was hugely confused and hurt by this. I desired my wife as much as ever, and I wished she would feel the same. When the inevitable rejection came, I felt huge guilt for asking and upset at the rejection. Having to roll to your own side of the bed because your partner doesn’t desire your or even consider you attractive because another man raped her is a lonely place to be.
We went to see a sex therapist to help us overcome our issues in the bedroom. At that time, we weren’t aware that my wife had been raped, and so we didn’t have the full story, and nor did the therapist. We were given various “tasks” to complete and we were gaining momentum when the therapist pulled the plug. At the time I felt the therapist gave up on us, now I wonder did the therapist sense what the underlying problem was and decided that she couldn’t help us. I certainly was beginning to sense that our marriage was in dangerous water after this period as we slipped back into no interaction territory. We decided to have another child around this time and I was delighted. I loved my child and was anxious for another. Plus I would get some bedroom action as we tried. That was the limit of my desperation at the time.
After our second child was conceived, my wife’s mood darkened. Again I was clueless as what to do. And I dithered along aimlessly. I convinced myself that I was doing all I could to help my wife, when I wasn’t. I was being a burden to my wife, and a useless one at that. We managed to get back to some level of intimacy over the years, and we had our third child a few years back. All happy times were followed by bad times and it was hard to remember a time when the good times were more numerous that the bad times. Then around 3 years ago my wife had a flashback to what happened two and a half decades ago and the truth manifested itself. I remember the evening clearly. It was a Sunday evening and my wife returned from a group therapy weekend, and she was relaying the news to me. She had apologised to all of her family and my heart jumped for joy that we had turned a corner. But my heart sank to the new depths when no apology was forthcoming to me. I still remember the feeling of waiting and nothing came. I look back now and I see my selfishness. I didn’t warrant an apology because it didn’t happen to me.
Our marriage is a struggle but it has improved. We engage in more physical interaction that before because both parties have prioritised it higher than before. Instead of a daily struggle, it is now a two sometimes three day struggle. And hence my guilt returns. Would my wife marry me again today? Hard one to call. Does my wife associate me with the toughest period of her life? She must do. How can my wife look at the previous ten years and say I helped? Or that things would have been easier for her if I wasn’t there to pester her? This is one of the repercussions of my wife’s abuse. My self confidence is shattered and my sense of self worth is nil. I try to absorb myself in other activities to take my mind off matters or to build up self confidence. To be good at something. But it never works. My wife has a relapse and I’m back into support mode. 90% of the time I put my wife first and I get on with things. Old fashioned Ireland will never die. “What can you do but put the head down and get on with it”.
It is hard to speak about the situation an abuse victims partner finds themselves in because people still won’t speak about abuse in this country. Abuse is spoken of in hushed tones and victims are ushered aside. “That poor person and what they had to go through”. And the use of “interfered with” to describe abuse is appalling. Victims weren’t “interfered with”; they were abused. No ambiguity or categorization of abuse. Abuse is abuse. No tiers of it, because all abuse has victims. Once we can understand the extent of abuse and its horrendous consequences can we begin to deal with it? With the exception of a few family members and one or two close friends, no-one has spoken to me about my wife’s abuse. When I spoke to my GP about the situation, my GP asked how I was. I cried because no-one had asked me before then or since. No-one. If you saw someone with a broken leg, would you ask after them? Of course. Why is abuse ignored? And why are the partners invisible?
As the partner of a victim of abuse I suffer from low self confidence, zero self esteem and loneliness as there is no-one to speak to or with. I get nervous each and every time I ask my wife for physical interaction. Each and every time. On the majority of occasions that we decide to be intimate, I work on trying to relax my wife and get her “in the mood”. And sometimes I resent it. I’d like to be the focus of attention some times. Not all the time, that’s not my style. I’m a background kind if guy. But every now and again I’d like to be able to relax at the thought of having sex with my wife, and not be fearful of a rejection. My single biggest wish in the world is for my wife to be able to show desire for me. It has happened once in the past year. Imagine living with a situation where you physically desire someone and the desire can’t be returned. I care for my wife and children and attempt to normalize life for them. I try to shield my children from my wife’s lows. Trying to tell a six year old that Mammy’s mood isn’t their fault is a conversation that should never have to take place. Five people are suffering for one person’s perversion.
All I ask is when you see an abuse situation, try to look beyond the main characters. Look to see who’s sitting in the partners’ chair. They may seem surrounded by people, but I’m willing to bet they are the loneliest of all. A simple “how are you coping” would mean the world to them. They live in a world they neither created nor deserved. Yet they are paying the price for another’s horrific actions.