Not all survivors talk about their childhood sexual abuse. But some do. Among those who do, some share the dark experiences and feelings of their trauma over and over. So as the husband of a survivor, what do you do when your wife shares her trauma with you?
A husband’s mind can easily wander off to sports, work, and to-do lists when his wife shares her trauma’s dark feelings and experiences. I want to help you discover a better pattern of thought and response.
A husband’s mind can easily wander off to sports, work, and to-do lists when his wife shares her trauma’s dark feelings and experiences.
In this blog, I share five recommendations for developing an empathic response when your wife shares her traumatic past.
1. Do not condemn yourself that her story is hard to hear.
Some husbands feel guilty when they find listening to their wife’s story and painful feelings difficult. They wonder if they are uncaring.
Only you know if you care about and love your wife. Not wanting to listen might mean that you don’t care. But finding it difficult to hear the pain does not automatically mean you don’t care.
. . . finding it difficult to hear the pain does not automatically mean you don’t care.
Consider this. You are listening to the tragic outcomes of a perpetrator’s actions that originate in the pit of hell. It’s no wonder it isn’t easy to hear!
But consider this too. As you absorb the painful account from your wife, consider how hellish the experience was for her and how painful it is for her to hear herself tell her story out loud.
. . . consider how hellish the experience was for her and how painful it is for her to hear herself tell her story out loud.
This brings us to my second recommendation.
2. Do not make it about yourself when she shares her story.
It is easy to make our wife’s story about us. Believe me. I’ve done it. I invite you to learn from my mistakes.
Our verbal response to our wives reveals where our focus is. For example, a husband might say, “This is so hard for me to hear.” That statement makes it about the husband thinking the story is too difficult for him to hear.
Rather than saying, “This is so hard for me to hear,” it would be better to think and say, “That had to be so horrifying for you to experience.”
3. Accept her sharing as an intimate moment.
This statement is confusing for those who equate intimacy with sex. Intimacy is much broader and deeper.
Intimacy is knowing and being known; nothing is hidden.
Your wife is making herself known to you in a very vulnerable way. She is sharing with you her story at a depth she does not share with others, except possibly her therapist. Your wife is singling you out for making herself known.
She is singling you out for making herself known.
In making herself known, she trusts you with the most revolting part of her life imposed on her by her perpetrator. The trust she is placing in you is significant given how, in most cases, a person she trusted violated her.
Given the trust she is placing in you, your response must be respectful to her and compassionate towards her.
4. Accept her sharing as a healing moment.
Some survivors minimize their abuse. Minimizing includes statements such as,
“It only happened once.”
“He/She only touched me. There was no penetration.”
It is horrific for survivors to accept that their abuse really happened. That’s why some minimize their abuse.
When survivors tell their stories, especially when they repeat them, it is their way of eventually accepting the reality of the abuse. They are doing what is necessary for healing.
When survivors tell their stories, especially when they repeat them. . . they are doing what is necessary for healing.
It is not our role to talk a survivor out of their feelings. It is our role to allow them to talk out their feelings.
5. Acknowledge her and her words.
Too often, the survivor’s disclosure of their abuse is not heard. Many have a history of not being heard or believed and even being blamed for the abuse. When we fail to listen and acknowledge what we’ve heard, we repeat the injurious responses and non-responses they’ve endured for years.
- Don’t fiddle with your phone.
- Make eye contact.
- Don’t change the subject.
- Resist any urge to offer your solution.
- Listen, and when you are tired of listening, listen some more.
Acknowledging is about listening attentively and responding graciously. She is not asking you to fix anything.
Understanding what it is like to be in our wife’s shoes clues us into responses that can be helpful. This knowledge can potentially change us.