One of the biggest obstacles that Joe and I have faced in our marriage was understanding the effects of childhood trauma and abuse on our marriage. Maybe it was for the best that Joe and I didn’t realize in the beginning what a big obstacle it would be. (If you haven’t heard his story, he shares what he experienced in this podcast. Check it out and be encouraged!) However, the Lord has used those obstacles to draw us closer to Him and dig deeper in our own marriage, and the journey has been more than worth it!
The biggest reason that it hasn’t destroyed us though was not keeping it in the dark. Joe was open about his past and childhood wounds with me from the beginning and did not want to hide anything from me. (Later I learned this was partly his way of trying to scare me away because he thought I deserved better than him, his plan didn’t work, but that’s another story.)
Part of a God-honoring relationship is living in the light- not hiding, not deceiving, not living in shame, but being able to be fully ourselves with each other. We cannot experience true intimacy in marriage if we are hiding parts of ourselves or our story. Being able to openly communicate about the abuse he has suffered was the very first step to overcoming those traumas together.
One of the biggest part of this journey for me as his wife, was being willing to learn.
Not only did I seek outside resources for help in understanding survivors- but I had to learn to lean in to Joe’s story and understand it in away no one else would. Instead of feeling discouraged and overwhelmed I could choose to look at it a privilege to get to know him in a way no one else could.
Any person takes a lifetime to get to know no matter what you’ve been through. The more I study my husband, the better I can love him. I’ve learned when he’s quiet for a reason and quiet for no reason. When he wants to talk about it, or when he doesn’t want to talk about it just needs to watch a movie with me sitting next to him.
He does see the world though a different pair of eyes. He does process emotions differently. He may respond to events differently. When I bring humility to our relationship, I can let him be him.
I’ve shared before that I can talk too much. When it comes to understanding my husband’s trauma, I had to be willing to listen. Which can be hard because sometimes he has nothing to say. Ugh, nothing more frustrating than a man who is feeling something but not saying anything!
But listening isn’t just a state of my mouth but a position of the heart. What is he really saying? For the times when he does need to “talk about it”, I can’t over-analyze and over-fix it. I can offer the gift- that just listening really is. The less pressure I apply, the easier it is for him to share what’s on his heart. The more I demonstrate an open, compassionate heart, the easier it is for my spouse to be vulnerable. Listening without judgment, shock, or anger. Listening with love.
Be okay if there is no answer.
As much as I want to ta-da! The Answer to his pain, we both have to be okay with a no answer on this side of heaven. Why is this tough? Why does this hurt? Why can’t I run from this memory?
Why did God let this happen? Why did He not stop the worst of it?
The only Answer that brings us peace is not just God’s sovereignty- that we can trust Him- but His love. Nothing that man can do to us negates the love that the Father has for us. Nothing that happens on earth changes the hope we have in Jesus and His sacrifice for us. He will make things right in the end. His justice is way better than anything we can come up with. That’s not always easy to believe or understand but it is still true. This life is not all there is but we are part of a much larger plan that He is orchestrating in our lives. The more we can believe that the more peace we have. He is our peace, who has broken down every wall.
Joe and I both have so much more learning to do about each other, and our stories, and what God is teaching us. When you truly listen to your spouse, what do you learn?
Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. 3 If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important. Galatians 6:2-3
Note: If you love someone who has survived abuse or trauma and is not processing it in healthy ways, please seek extra help. People who have experienced abuse or trauma often (but certainly not always) abuse others and form addictions to try to alleviate their pain. If this describes someone you love, seek professional help in placing appropriate boundaries in your relationship.