Abused husband needs help
My husband was sexually abused by his grandfather throughout most of his childhood and early adolescence. He never told anyone because as the eldest son, he wanted to keep the peace in his house and keep his family together. By sacrificing himself, he felt that he could spare his younger siblings from his grandfather (which he did). He is a remarkable man by any score, but especially so considering what he's gone through. He is amazingly open and loving and nurturing and wonderful. I wish everyone could have the kind of relationship we do. Six years into our marriage and we are still each other's best friends and have a wonderful sex life. I tell you all this not to brag, but because I want you to know that for the most part, he's doing really well. He's brilliant, has a great and healthy marriage, and has a lot of wonderful friends. But he's also got a core of self-hatred that rises up at unpredictable moments and can sabotage him. So far it has only affected his work, and only intermittently - he's smart and charming enough to repair whatever damage he does - but I worry that it might spread to other areas of his life.
About a year and a half ago his parents, who had been married for 30 years, got divorced, and my husband has not dealt with it well. He has fits of extreme anger and hatred, and his relationship with his parents has suffered immensely, especially his relationship with his father whom he used to idolize and be very close with. But now he is very angry with his father and can't deal with. I think it's because he sacrificed so much of himself as a child in order to keep the family together and now that they've split, he wonders what it was all for.
The first part of the anger is directed at his parents - for not being able to keep it together. The second part, the really hard part, is directed at himself: if they don't stay together then all the sacrifices he made weren't worth anything, so why did he allow the abuse to continue? I think he hates himself for that (Even though, of course, he was just a child, and not responsible. He knows that on an intellectual level, he still *feels* guilty, still *feels* implicit in his abuse.).
He won't seek counseling - believe me, I've tried - even though he knows that most of the problems in his life stem from this trauma. Of course, so do a lot of the strengths he's developed and I think he's too proud to turn to anyone else lest they somehow get taken away or overshadowed by the negative. His father is getting older and is not in good shape. My husband and I are going to start having children in the next few years. I worry that if he doesn't deal with this stuff then it will continue to control him in all its shadowy, insidious ways, rather than allow him to control it. The way I see it, we can continue on as is, and maybe things will be OK; he'll repair things with his father and mother over time and when we have children, he'll be able to give them the kind of love and health he gives me. Or, we're both ignoring a big red flag that says ATTEND TO THIS NOW! before there are children involved and before his parents are gone.
My question is: Do I allow him to heal in his own time, in his own way, and just trust that he will do what needs to be done? After all, he's done very well on his own so far. Or, am I shirking my duties as his loving partner, and shirking my responsibilities to my future children, by not being more forceful about getting him into therapy of some kind?
Yours is a very difficult problem. It seems clear to me that you, your husband, your relationship and your future children would all benefit from your husband resolving some of the issues resulting not only from his abuse by his grandfather but also from some of the decisions that he made at the time. Those decisions and the rationales that prompted them clearly affect many of his relationships today. That includes his self-relationship. From what you say, it seems to me that the self-relationship is the one that troubles him the most and which, at the moment, he is trying to externalize by focusing on the breakdown of his parents relationship.
"He won't seek counseling - believe me, I've tried." Notice the wording of your statement. He "won't - I've tried." You can't enter into that self-relationship. It's his. No matter how hard you may try, you will not be successful in becoming part of that relationship. No one will. Your husband has to struggle with that on his own because it's internal to his psyche. What you can do is focus on your relationship with him. Whether you realize it or not, his internal conflict and his unresolved issues are affecting your relationship. If you can become more aware of that and if you can bring it to him as the beginnings of a problem in your relationship, he may be willing to work on that in therapy. I think that you are right when you say that he will not seek outside help in dealing with his self-relationship problem. One of those decisions he seems to have made a long time ago is that he would handle such things on his own.
I also think that you have correctly diagnosed the core problem: self-hatred. And, I think you are right to worry about how this might impact your children. If you are strong enough, it is possible (possible, not probable) that your husband will be able to change his self-image based on the positive reflections he gets from you. If you are not strong enough he will eventually get you to reflect a confirmation of his negative self-image. If your husband continues to resist seeking help, then I suggest that you enter therapy with a view to finding support for yourself as you deal with the fallout from his internal struggle.
I hope this will help you clarify things and I wish you good luck!
Jerry Button, L.M.H.C.
This question was answered by Jerry Button. Jerry is a psychotherapist, personal development trainer, workshop presenter and relationship coach practicing in Delray Beach, Florida. He believes that the key to quality of life lies in relationships. His approach to interpersonal and emotional problems is relational and psychodynamic. Jerry is experienced working with individuals, children and families and welcomes challenging opportunities.For more information visit: http://www.dynamicrelationships.net/