Having a Happy Marriage After Abuse
I always wondered if it was possible to have a happy marriage after abuse. I feared that I’d never be able to create a healthy relationship! But I am going on three years in a very happy and healthy marriage, and wanted to share more about that with you in case there are those of you out there who hold these same fears.
This is an exciting post, because I am actually interviewing my husband!
Jason agreed to come and share his outlook on our relationship and marriage and how it has been affected by my experiences with abuse.
How We Met
Kim: Thanks for joining us, Jason. Let’s jump right into the first question. Can you tell us a little bit about how we met?
Jason: As I recall, we met on a Sunday when we were attending our church meetings. In this particular meeting we had a chance to go up and share what we believe. Our relationship began on two “T”‘s – yours began on truth, mine began on toilets. I factored in a way to talk about toilets while expressing my beliefs about the gospel of Jesus Christ, and you talked about truth that you’d found. I thought that was a fun way to get us to interact more, and led to us meeting later that evening and doing the whole, awkward, shaking-hands experience, and then we went down the deja-vu path when we realized we’d shared a class before. That kind of spurred the conversation forward and brought us to here we are now.
Kim: That’s true, and ya know, the toilet comment totally worked, I thought it was hilarious.
Jason: Toilet humor still works with the ladies.
What did each of us think about each other over the course of our meeting/courtship/engagement?
Kim: I guess I should preface this by saying that between meeting and getting engaged was about 5 weeks, and between engagement and getting married there were about 6 weeks (because you didn’t want to elope). So what was that like, what did we think of each other?
Jason: I think we definitely liked each other, but we can both agree that the whole love-at-first sight didn’t happen. After our first date we were still just getting to know each other and seeing how we could develop as friends. We continued to hang out more, and hanging out ended up progressing a lot quicker than we thought it would. I don’t think either of us expected that to happen, but as we just went down the path of finding each other to be trustworthy individuals, we were able to really open up and focus on the inward appearance, and were spurred to move forward in our relationship.
Kim: Yeah, I agree. I think there was definitely recognition-at-first sight, we realized that we’d seen each other before because we shared that class.
Jason: And I think that helped dispel some of the awkwardness, since we had that backstory. We were both new to the area and didn’t know many people, so having that connection helped to spur the conversation forward.
Kim: Yeah, and I was still in that awkward post-mission phase, just getting back from a year and a half in Russia, I was still adjusting to the culture shock and was just out of a different relationship, so I think honestly with you – I knew you were really nice – but I thought it would just be good practice dating since I hadn’t done much dating before. But then I became more than practice!
Why do you think we felt so confident moving our relationship forward so quickly?
Jason: Well, on reason was because we wanted to get married before I stared school again, haha.
Kim: We hit that sweet spot in time, haha.
Jason: As I reflect on it, I guess it really goes back to thinking inwardly, wondering if I could really open myself up to this person, which I think is a difficult decision to make because you often times can feel vulnerable in doing that, and really we just took a chance. I was at a stage in life where I wanted to get married and I wanted to progress into a relationship, so I thought it was worth the chance. It ended up being a great thing to do because it opened up deeper conversations, rather than just the superficial stuff that doesn’t get down to the meaning of who a person is and their beliefs. I think as you get down to those core details it opens up the possibility for relationships to progress if you both feel the same way. And we did.
Kim: Mm-hmm. So I think sometimes, when people talk about relationships, and talk about finding the right person, they boil it down to finding someone with similar interests. But I personally don’t think a strong relationship can be built on just common hobbies. I think for us, what we had in common wasn’t necessarily all of the same things, but experiences in life that helped us to understand each other on a much deeper level.
Jason: I think that’s a great point. We obviously have things in common. We love hiking, and going to art festivals, and eating good food. But in order to make it less superficial, we used those outing and experiences to get to know each other better, which propelled our relationship forward and grew our love for each other to where we weren’t focused on the activity, but on each other. With that type of a mindset, it doesn’t matter what you’re really doing, you’re going to be there to support each other and you’re going to have a good time no matter what.
Trust After Trauma. Finding Our Footing For Happy Marriage After Abuse.
Kim: I think that brings us to a good segway. One of the topics someone requested we talk about is trust after trauma. Keeping in mind that this podcast is meant for victims and survivors of sexual abuse, I know that being through that myself I didn’t know if I could trust anyone enough to open up in a relationship that would be romantic and intimate and personal and forever. That’s a lot. And as somebody who has to work really hard to trust anybody, it was scary for me going into this and feeling it progress and thinking, oh, this could be for real. So, how do you think we cultivated trust?
Jason: On one particular night, we had a date that I think really defined out relationship, and I had been going through my head thinking that if I was really going to take this risk and move forward in this relationship, I would need to be open and honest. That can be a controversial topic for some people, there’s a saying that you shouldn’t reveal too much too early on, but we definitely revealed everything early on, but just in those few interactions I’d had with you, I found you to be trustworthy enough to share things with you because I knew I wanted us to progress more. It was an opening up of who we were. Our beliefs initially set us up to that point, but what really allowed us to cultivate that trust was taking the risk of being totally honest and open and seeing what the other person’s reaction is.
Kim: I’m trying to think back now, but I think leading up to that date, based on the few interactions we’d had, I knew you were super cute, and funny, and really nice. I also knew some of the other girls at church really liked you, and I think I told you about this later on, but I did ask around and do a a little due diligence to see who had been on dates with you and what they thought of you, if they thought you were just playing the field or if you could really be serious. It was a big step for me to say, okay, how much do I want to tell this guy – because this was a point where I really hadn’t told many people about the abuse, so it was a big deal for me to share that. But I also knew that if I wanted to have a real relationship, I had to put that on the table, because it came with a lot of baggage. I was at a point in my life where I was trying to figure a lot of things out still. It was one of my darker times when I was having panic attacks really regularly, while also trying to date you, which was a minefield in and of itself. But I took the risk and decided to see what would happen, thinking that if worst came to worst I’d never talk to you again.
As I think about that night, and sharing with you that, you know what – my family has some issues, I’ve been sexually abused, which has led to a lot if things for me, you were able to also share your own experiences that helped me to know that you understood things that nobody else understood. That’s why it was really difficult for me to have relationships with other people, because they just didn’t get it. So, do you want to talk about that and what made us click so much?
What Made Us Click
Jason: Yeah, so in terms of my backstory, during my high school years, I actually developed a very debilitating and severe chronic pain condition. The ailment caused constant, incessant pain that disrupted my lifestyle. So while I don’t always understand everything that you or anyone else goes through who have endured these treacherous life experiences, I do have an idea of what it feels like to be misunderstood, or to feel like you don’t have any value, that you can’t function. And that there is hope, and these things can be overcome.
Kim: I guess the next thing to talk about would be actually getting married. At that point, we had a foundation of trust and mutual understanding, and we just knew that if we wanted to do it and get married, a lot of things had lined up to make it possible for us to even meet, so we decided to get married, and to get married fairly quickly, because we wanted to. There was just no reason to wait once we knew. That conversation happened in June, we got married in August, and it was at that point we had to really learn to navigate each others issues. It’s not like they just went away after we talked about them. I was still dealing with my panic attacks, I was still in a depression. It was perhaps a crazy time to make such a big life decision, but it all worked out.
So what was it like for you when you finally saw what it was like to live with me?
Jason: It was definitely a learning experience. You talked about your concerns, and I obviously had my own. There was the chance that I could relapse into my condition and the pain would come back, and that I wouldn’t be able to be a good provider or a good husband, but with those concerns, I had to just suck it up. Going back to our conversation about trust, I had to trust that you would be there for me just as you were trusting me to be there for you. It wasn’t easy initially, and communication also wasn’t easy initially, noting that when your panic attacks would occur, it disrupted your ability to communicate effectively the way you wanted to. I was in a state where I just had to watch it happen, watch you go through that, knowing that there wasn’t a lot I could do other than just make my physical presence known. It was really something you just had to tackle and allow time to play itself out. It did lead to frustration initially. Frustration on my end, feeling that I wasn’t doing enough, both in terms of what to do when it occurs, but then how to prevent it, or understanding your triggers. There was a growing apprehension on my side – what do I do? What do I not do? What I’m glad about is that we were still able to find moments when we could communicate, and talk about things that weren’t possible to talk about before marriage, because they had no way of coming up, and there wasn’t a way to explain them without going through them. And we had to have the right mindset, addressing it as a couple, because it was no longer just Kim, or just Jason, it was Kim and Jason and it was something we had to work through together.
Kim: So I think, as you’re expressing, it was impossible for me to communicate in the moment, during a panic attack which is something I touched on in our last post, which is the effect trauma has on the brain and how it turns into PTSD. I hadn’t done much research at that point, so it wasn’t something I could explain eloquently then.
I remember you coming to me and wanting to find solutions and to find ways to prevent and be preemptive about triggers, and that just seemed so overwhelming to me, and like so much on top of what I was already going through. But I knew that you had trained yourself to think that way through your own therapies, so I to take that and recognize that you were doing better, and I had to figure out what I could do because I wanted our marriage to work.
How Has My Experience With Abuse Affected Our Marriage?
Kim: One thing to keep in mind with this question, is that because my trauma was sexual trauma, that was a big scary thing for me. Being intimate and being sexual had such negative connotations for me, so going into this type of relationship, I guess what I found with you was that we had that trust and that natural chemistry, that it really became a non-issue. Which I didn’t expect. I think I built it up to be a lot bigger of a deal than it turned out to be, because we built that trust before getting married.
Jason: And to add on to that, I think to answer your question directly, it led to greater love between us. You went through a very difficult traumatic event, but rather than it being a challenge, because of that trust and by being open and explaining everything the best we could at the time prior to being married, it led to opportunities to show love in different ways.
Did Finding Out About the Abuse Make You See Me Differently?
Jason: It did not. During the earlier portions of our relationship, I was actually given the opportunity to view the official police documentation and reports if I wanted to, which I declined. That’s because I wanted to hear your experience from you first, and solely, before turning to documentation to learn about the incident. I wanted to respect the sensitivity of the situation and put my trust in you. And honestly I was much more focused on you at that time – you right now – versus what had happened in the past, which again was very unfortunate. I also wanted to avoid any negative perceptions about what had occurred, and it just wasn’t something I felt I needed to review in order to make my decision about whether or not I wanted to progress with you, I had already made that decision and nothing was going to change that.
Kim: I guess my question then would be, because not just me, but a lot of people out there who are victims of sexual abuse, we feel like if we talk about it, if we share it, then people will only see us as a victim, and only see us for what happened, instead of who we are. But I guess you’d say that you didn’t think that way?
Jason: That’s correct. And again, maybe this is a result of not having viewed the documentation, I had those blinders on out of respect of your situation. Again, I didn’t want to have my thoughts misconstrued or to see you differently, the way you’ve been outlined in a report versus how you want to be seen. Your opinion on the matter is more important to me, and the way you feel is more important than what I may have gathered by reading the reports.
Kim: I think something I’ve learned, being married to you, and then just opening up to everyone, is that the fear that we have about being seen for just our trauma, is more of a fear than a reality. People don’t chalk you up to just your experiences, they do see you as a person, even if you share something sensitive like this. Not in every case, but I think by-and-large, people are very understanding and compassionate. So if you are out there listening and feeling stuck and not knowing if you’ll be able to open up and have a relationship, just know that people’s perception of you won’t change just because of something that happened.
Dealing With Triggers? Is it better to do alone or together?
Kim: We’ve touched on this a little bit, but we can elaborate. I think initially, it was just a matter of understanding, okay, there are triggers, there are panic attacks, and we went through a period where you would try to be there, it would sometimes be really hard so you would let me go through it on my own, and since we were still figuring out our communication, that would leave me feeling worse, it would leave you feeling worse, but as you’ve mentioned, as were were able to communicate better what was going on in those moments, the next time it was easier to understand each others actions and we made a game plan so we weren’t stuck trying to make a decision in the moment. So what would you say we do now? They are farther and fewer between now which is great, but what is our mode of operation now when I get triggered?
Jason: I think the important part still is what you need to do to get through it, and rather than me trying to be Mr.Fix-It, to analyze and address it, it’s me taking a step back and acknowledging it. It’s there, it’s happening. And there are still moments where I give you an opportunity to be on your own. But in our communication we’ve established that my stepping away isn’t a form of abandonment, because I know that’s a key thing for you that can exacerbate the situation. But I’m still by no means perfect, and sometimes that initial part of a panic attack is difficult for me.
So it really becomes a situation where we make sure you are in a comfortable state to work through that initial stage, and then I can come back in to be there and support you with that physical presence. It’s easier for me to support you in that latter stage of the attack, because crying is a trigger for myself and my condition. It causes me to shut down. And it’s terrible to think of that happening, that in your moment of excruciating need, that I turn off. It’s something that I’m still to this day trying to work through so I can be there for you, but in our past experiences I turned off. It helped me get through the pain and suck it up.
Kim: So just to explain for everyone, when I have a panic attack, there will be a trigger, then it will turn into the initial stages of paralysis. There is a lot of crying, shaking, sobbing, to a point where I am curled in a ball unable to move expect for my muscles shaking. I can’t speak, and its just really terrible. So I understand that it would be really hard for someone to be there for it. Even though that is the time where you want that comfort, I think we’ve established it’s better for us to let that pass, so that its not so hard on you.
If you’re out there having the same situation, I think as much as its nice to think you could have someone who is there for you always, sometimes being there for you isn’t sitting there with you through all of it, because that’s a big ask, and you have to have that give and take in a healthy relationship.
Jason: Yeah, and it’s difficult to accept that. I’m still trying to work myself to be in a position where I can be more of a participant, but it requires a lot of training on my end, again just based on what I’ve gone through, to let it happen rather than trying to escape that kind of an atmosphere and to get away from it because of the triggers it brings up for me.
Kim: And I guess that’s maybe the interesting thing about our relationship, is that it’s not a one sided trauma, we’ve both been through serious trauma that has left our bodies with different triggers, and we have to respect that for each other. It’s not just one of us needing something for the other, we’re continually having to figure out how we can help each other because we both have issues.
And I think everybody does have issues, so in your marriage if you’re thinking it’s one-sided you’re probably wrong.
How Have We Worked Through Our Challenges?
Kim: I think we’ve established that my sexual trauma has had an effect on our marriage, which I think is to be expected. But as we wrap up here, how would you say we have worked through our challenges and stayed married?
Jason: I think the number one way we’ve been able to work through these challenges is sex. But hold on, and let me elaborate because sex is an acronym: SECKS.
Those are five key attributes that we’ve had to learn, to grow in, and to mature in, in order to best help support one another, in those moments when we are trying to be there all of the time, which is what we want to be. But we’re still trying to respect our individual circumstances. So yes, I’d say SECKS has played a big role in what we’ve been able to accomplish and achieve in our marriage, and where we will be able to process to as well.
Kim: Absolutely. And I think that will be a great thing to elaborate on in the future, but probably a good stopping point for now. So thank you so much for joining us and sharing your thoughts.
To You : Any Questions About Having a Happy Marriage After Abuse?
If you reading this have any questions for us based on this interview, we would love to hear them and address them in another post. Send them my way here on the blog, or over on social media, and we can start a conversation.