One in six boys will be sexually abused before age 18. Apply this statistic to marriage, and you’ll quickly see that almost 20% of husbands have been sexually abused as children. How can a wife help her husband if she suspects (or knows) he was sexually abused?
First, let go of these false beliefs:
- “If I love him enough, I can fix him.”
- “I can make everything okay if I can find just the right words to say.”
- “I need to get him to admit he was sexually abused.”
He doesn’t need you to “fix” him. There is no perfect combination of words which magically erase the negative effects of childhood abuse, and pushing a man to admit he was sexually abused (before he is ready to face this) may humiliate, panic, or enrage him. Remember, abuse victims were manipulated and coerced as children—the last thing they need as adults is someone forcing them to open up.
Second, educate yourself. While boys and girls react in many similar ways to abusive sexual experiences, there are gender differences. For example, female survivors often struggle with feeling like “damaged goods,” while male survivors struggle with feeling like they aren’t “a real man.” Most sexual abuse is perpetrated by males (although females can be perpetrators too). Thus, a girl is being assaulted by someone of the opposite sex while a boy is being assaulted by someone of the same sex. This creates in male survivors many fears about being gay or being targeted because the perpetrator “saw something gay” in him. Two excellent resources to educate yourself are:
- One in Six, www.1in6.org. Online resource with helpful, up-to-date information for survivors, family and friends, and counselors. Offers movie and book recommendations, and even a lending library.
- When a Man You Love Was Abused: A Woman’s Guide to Helping Him Overcome Childhood Sexual Molestation by Cecil Murphey, 2010. This beautifully written book is for Christian wives and girlfriends of men who were sexually abused as children. In the first part, “Who He Is,” Murphey writes about his own experiences of abuse and healing, as well as the experiences of other men. The second part, “How You Can Help Him,” provides practical, compassionate advice on over 20 topics, including “Believe Him and Help Him Believe,” “Help Him Honor His Body,” “Accept His Shame,” and “Let Him Move at His Own Pace.” The author has also created an online site where hurting men can connect with other sexual abuse survivors: http://menshatteringthesilence.blogspot.com
Third, don’t become his therapist. He has much pain to work through, and this is best done in the context of group or individual counseling. While you should listen to him, if you are his sole source of support for a long time, you may find this straining your marriage. Encourage him to join a support group such as Celebrate Recovery http://www.celebraterecovery.com or Christians in Recovery (an online support group, http://christians-in-recovery.org) and to seek individual counseling as well. Let him know he is worth the time, money, and energy required to heal.
Fourth, be patient and keep your expectations realistic. Recovery takes a long time and often is “two steps forward and one step back.” He may get closer to you emotionally and then create distance unexpectedly for a short time. This is what recovery looks like. This process can be hard on wives, which leads to the final suggestion below.
Fifth, take care of yourself. You, his wife, are the other victim. He was molested and now you’ve been affected by the fallout from his abuse. You will need extra support because his recovery from sexual abuse will be a marathon, not a sprint. Get counseling for yourself and practice good self-care (get 7-8 hours of sleep, eat healthy food, exercise regularly, have fun with friends, feed yourself spiritually).
What suggestions do you have for helping a husband who has been sexually abused?