Q: My wife and I have recently discussed our past relationship histories with one another and I have found some of her confessions uncomfortable and, some of them, difficult to believe. I believe this is because male/ female experiences in love and sex can be very different. She revealed that she had been sexually abused by her first boyfriend at a very young age (13) and that he was also verbally and emotionally abusive. She was with him for 3-4 years. She then entered into a six year relationship with a guy that she also describes as emotionally abusive and, rarely, verbally as well. He also got her pregnant more than once, forcing her to have an abortion each time, and refused to wear protection. Following that, she was with another man for 1 year that appears to have been a exercise in very low standards and he cared nothing for her. She says that all of them cheated on her.
My history is that I grew up Christian and with the understanding that sex should wait until marriage. I tried to make this my life’s goal. However, I did fail and had sex twice before I met my wife (years before). My relationships prior to her were always good and caring. I have no ill feeling towards anyone I dated and would consider them healthy relationships.
As might be imagined, I have struggled simply with the idea of her being with other men and can be haunted by very unpleasant mental images. I have tried various techniques to get rid of them without success. Perhaps more troubling, though, are the things she tells me about her experiences because I struggle to believe her and think she’s lying to me. She has told me that she never enjoyed being with them in any form (physical, mental, emotional) and did not even get any physical pleasure from it. She says there was never any kissing or touching but that it was one thing, very quick, and over. She says that she would “space out” during and doesn’t have any memories of these experiences, though she does appear to recall details surrounding the experiences (where, how often). She says that she never wanted to be with them that way and that she never felt “comfortable.” She says she only did it because that is what they wanted and that would keep them from leaving.
My questions are: can a woman have sex and not enjoy it at all, including no pleasurable physical sensations, simply because she does not feel “comfortable” with her partner? Can this experience possibly have occurred every time and with different partners? Is is likely that she is minimizing these experiences to make them seem less painful/ uncomfortable for me? And, would being in an abusive relationship early in life have led to some of these behaviors and relationships?
A: It is not at all uncommon for a person in an abusive situation to split off from the self in order to survive it emotionally. It’s also not uncommon for people who have been abused to start to think that they aren’t worth much and that they deserve the abuse. They therefore get into one abusive relationship after another.
Your wife has done a very brave thing in sharing her story with you. She’s is showing you all of herself, probably wanting your relationship to be based on honesty. It may also mean that she has taken major steps in her own healing. She has come quite a long way in that she now loves herself enough to find a loving relationship and she is letting herself be vulnerable to you. She has taken a measure of your character and has decided you can be trusted and that you are true to your values of Christian love. I hope she is right. I hope you can focus on the present and embrace your wife’s courage and love for you.
I wish you well.
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 20 Nov 2008
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2008). We Have No Secrets. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 11, 2013, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2008/11/20/we-have-no-secrets/