Intimacy isn’t discussed until unit 12, but I received this question via email today. Others of you might have this same question, so I wanted to post it.
Question: I just wondered if you still relive all of the past every time you are feeling intimate. I have found that to be something that I can't escape...I don't feel like I struggle with the situation anymore, just the fact that I can't erase the memories.
My response: I am so sorry that you are dealing with that. It is certainly not the way God intended for marital intimacy.
Having memories or difficulty being intimate is not uncommon for survivors, but it is one reaction that I have been blessed to not have had to deal with very much. There are a few behaviors or word phrases that trigger memories, but not a great deal. When I experience something that triggers a memory, I always tell my husband and he immediately stops whatever it is. Not only does he stop, but he is also compassionate, understanding and even apologetic. While he does not mean to scare or upset me, I always appreciate that he understands and does whatever is needed to comfort me. But I had to TELL him about the feelings in order for him to know.
Here is a story directly out of Shelter From The Storm that might help...
One husband and wife came to the counseling office because the wife did not want to have sexual intercourse with her husband. She was in denial as a result of the abuse, and he was very angry because she refused to have sex with him. To his dismay, the counselor suggested abstinence from sex for a period of time so the wife could begin to deal with the past sexual issues. He agreed only because, as he said, "That's what's happening anyway - so it couldn't be any worse." Fortunately, in spite of his initial reluctance, the husband was able to reach deep inside himself to help his wife. God was able to touch their lives, although inside during the early part of the wife's recovery, she simply was not functioning. This story ended in a great victory for both husband and wife.
She said, "For the first time, sex is good. I never knew or understood the intimacy that God intended for me through sex. How distorted it was for me in the past, but now the most beautiful part is how tenderly my husband sees me. I want to say it is a miracle, but I realize this is really just how God meant it to be."
This husband chose to support, accept and understand. He and his wife certainly had good days and bad days in the process of recovery, but they chose to forgive and try again to continue on their long journey through the storm.
A question that goes along with what you've asked is, "How do I get the memories to go away?" I'm going to take a stab at answering that, but I think it's just about as mysterious as explaining prayer... In my journey, I have discovered that as I've processed my story over and over again, I have addressed different parts of it and experienced healing every time. I am going through the Shelter study for the third time right now, and I am learning new things everyday! Recovery is not a one-time thing, unfortunately. While you may be functioning at a very high and healthy level most of the time, it sounds like more healing needs to take place in order for you to experience the joys that God intended in intimacy. Something that has been key in my life is that my old cruddy memories are being drown out by new good ones. Even good memories from the past!
A good analogy is this visual that one of our church pastor's does... Fill a clear glass half-full with water. When we were born, it was clear - pure, innocent, unadulterated. Then someone did something awful to us that changed us (add dark food coloring to change the water color to a muddied, dirty color). The water’s color represents how we feel now - dark, dirty, damaged, impure, etc. How does the water in our cup ever run clear again? The answer - someone (God, our spouse, children, friends, etc.) needs to pour clear water (love, joy, peace, understanding, forgiveness, acceptance, compassion, concern, protection, provision, etc) into our cup. The new clear water will begin to dilute the dark-colored water... and with enough clear water, the muddied waters are almost completely gone. That is how other people are able to make such an impact on our lives - through what they pour into us.
Another vital piece would be to specifically pray that God would minimize the bad memories and direct your steps so that you can enjoy sex. Ask Him if there are things you can do to help prepare your mind for intimacy. I have one friend that sometimes prays during sex. That might sound a little awkward, but I'd certainly prefer to invite God into the bedroom before my abuser!
Thank you for trusting me with this question. I am here to talk anytime, friend.
If you have experienced this and have anything to add to the conversation, please feel free to comment.