My Love, My Cross, My Joy: Marriage following Abuse

This evening, I’m very honored to welcome my dear friend Faith Hakesley to MIHI’s blog. Faith, a survivor of sexual abuse, wrote for the National Catholic Register about her experiences several months ago and this evening Faith will address a very sensitive topic for survivors: Marriage Following Abuse.

As the founder and president of MIHI, I would like to sincerely thank Faith for her candor, courage and perseverance. Her faith, and choice to see beauty, despite her suffering is extraordinary. The things that most people complain about are unparalleled to what this woman has overcome, through the grace of God.

This is a repost from Jan. 2011 due to the emails MIHI has been receiving.

By Faith Hakesley

Following months of sexual abuse by a Catholic priest when I was fifteen, marriage and children were gifts I felt totally undeserving of. “Why would anyone want to marry me now?” were the words frequently haunting my traumatized mind. In our society, women who have been abused or raped are often seen as “damaged goods” and it takes a rare and special man to be willing to “deal with” and share the repercussions a survivor experiences. God blessed me with one of those rare and special men, however, and, even though it is not easy by any stretch, we have built a strong relationship of incredible love and unity.

“You are my love, you are my cross, you are my joy.” These were the words spoken by the officiant at my husband’s (Alex) and my wedding three and a half years ago. The priest held up a crucifix as he spoke these powerful words. Some people might just shrug these words off. To my husband and I, however, these are the words that we have learned to live by in our marriage. My crosses have become his crosses, my joys his joys, and my love his love (and vice versa).

The road is difficult and different for each family but it is possible to overcome trauma. I was fortunate enough to have come to terms with and gotten help for the traumas I had experienced before marrying. When Alex’s and my long-time friendship blossomed into something more, I was at a point in my own recovery that I was able to help him understand what I was going through, and he was able to support me in my recovery. With the help of therapy and the loving support of my family, Alex and I developed our own boundaries so that I could continue to heal without him feeling as though he could somehow fix it all. We have worked hard, both individually and as a couple, to create a relationship of honesty, communication, and complete faith and trust in God.

A male survivor of clergy sexual abuse gave my husband some great advice several years ago. “If she’s having a bad day, don’t assume that it’s because of memories of the abuse. She still has feelings and, if you want to help her, validate that she can feel human again and it’s okay for her to be upset about other things.” The abuse is a big part of my history & has certainly made me who I am today, but it’s not all I am. Guys can have a hard time reading women and (let’s face it) we can be mind-boggling puzzles sometimes!

I have learned to be open and honest with my husband about my feelings. I’ll say “I’m having bad memories today” referring to the sexual abuse or “I’m having a Matt day” if I’m missing my brother who passed away ten years ago. Sometimes it’s just, “I feel angry today but I don’t know why.” When I struggle with thoughts of, “I’m such a burden…,” Alex laughs, rolls his eyes and says, “Faith, I married you…I love you and I will always be here for you so get over it!”

My husband has created a safe place for me although he has had to embark on his own journey in order to better understand me and my experiences. He has attended some therapy with me in the past, done his own research on trauma, and has learned to ask questions. If he is ever struggling with a question or concern, he will discuss the issue with me but, if I just don’t have the emotional energy to talk about something, he will go to my parents. He has cried with me, screamed with me, thrown stuffed animals with me, and prayed with me. Alex carries me when I need to be carried but also pushes me when I need to be pushed. He is my “lion” and stands up for me when necessary. He even has stood up to me when I have criticized myself!

As someone who has struggled with an eating disorder in the past, I have a very skewed perception of my body. Although naturally frustrating for him at times, he is there to reassure me that I am beautiful. He supports me in prayer and during times when I don’t “feel” my faith. It takes a very special man being graced by God to be able to put his own emotions and needs aside in the moment and put you first! Yet, even if I experience a flashback in the midst of an intimate moment, Alex will hold me and say, “Faith, it’s okay…nothing can hurt you…I’m here with you and you’re safe. Come back to the present. Come back to me.” He has grown to be especially sensitive to my fears of intimacy and, in the past, has sometimes been hesitant to touch me for fear of upsetting me.

Alex has gone through his own struggles to accept the rape. I will never forget the conversation we had some years ago during which I told him all the details of the abuse. It was a difficult conversation, allowing myself to be vulnerable to a man once again but it was an important step in rebuilding the trust that I had lost when the abuse took place. Alex has never blamed me, but he did spend a lot of time being angry about “why” it happened. He went through many of the same struggles as I did – he blamed God, he blamed other people, and he looked for answers that just didn’t exist. Over time, I was able to help him as were my parents, my therapist, and the good God above I believe gave him the graces to move forward. We have both experienced resentment of having to “deal” with everything that has come our way, but we choose to let that anger make us stronger.

Our son, Matthew, (born last year) puts life into perspective for us both. I am fortunate enough to be a stay-at-home mom and sometimes long hours alone with an active and precocious toddler can play havoc on the mind. However, I work hard to prevent any negativity on my part to affect him. Over time, I’ve learned to put my thoughts into words through prayer, writing, exercise, or music and I call on these wonderful things everyday. For a long time, I was surviving for me, then for my husband and I, but now I survive for our son too!

If you have ever experienced abuse, don’t look for someone who’s going to carry you all the time. Rather, look for someone who can both carry you when you need carrying and who can push you when you need pushing! Choose someone who is willing to become a part of your journey and someone who is willing to take on a part of your burden. My husband chose to be a part of my life and that includes my past, present, and future experiences no matter how negative they may be. In the end, a strong relationship is based on hard work – the harder you work, the stronger you will both be! Our marriage is far from perfect, but as long as you both pursue healing and strive to move forward, God will be present amidst your joys and love and, when there are crosses, He will carry you both.

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