How Abuse and Healing Impacted My Marriage


Key ideas:

[00:00] – Introduction

[00:44] – Don’s reaction to disclosing my abuse

[04:05] – How abuse invaded our marriage on our wedding night

[07:23] – My fear of abandonment comes out in a startling way

[09:23] – Uncovering the fear under my expressions of anger

[12:54] – Our sexual intimacy was interrupted by flashbacks

[14:49] – What was actually under the sexual aggression

[16:30] – Pushing “pause” on our sexual relationship

[17:36] – How our relationship became stronger from not having sex

[22:20] – Mistaking Don for an abuser and starting to find my voice

[26:10] – Don’s reaction to me finding my voice

[29:56] – My fear and insecurity comes out in another way

[34:30] – What almost broke us up in spite of how far we’d come

[37:10] – Why it was vital for Don to face his issues if we were going to survive as a couple

[37:30] – The Husband’s Support Group that Don leads

[42:25] – Why the well being of the individual is more important than the well being of the marriage

[44:03] – How I learned to ask Don for the specific support I needed from him

[49:20] – How Don equipped himself to be a better support

[50:09] – How the effects of the healing process strengthened our marriage

[51:50] – Invitation to my annual masterclass on Healing From Childhood Sexual Abuse



“I was sexually aggressive. And I thought the thing is, like I was aggressive, but I thought I love sex. And just like my anger was a cover up for fear, the aggression was too. It was just a role that I played. And I didn’t realize how threatened I felt by sex. But I covered up that fear by controlling it. So I wasn’t the victim. You know, I thought I could stay in this safer position that way if I were the aggressor. But that really then created this falseness in our relationship. You know, there was this mask that I wore that prevented us from having true emotional intimacy. And so sex was just about bodies. You know, I could be disassociated. I didn’t have to really be there.”

“I felt like my body had been on sex duty, you know, for as early as I could remember. And it really needed to know that it could say no. And that no is vital. You have to have a no. If you don’t have a no when it comes to sex or anything else, then you don’t have a yes either. You just have this default or this survival state of allowing. And that’s not a yes.”

“I really couldn’t accept your love or believe that you loved me because, you know, the abuse told me that I wasn’t lovable and so you could have expressed it perfectly, and I still wouldn’t have received it. So part of my healing was to work through that belief and that allowed me to finally receive the love that you had to give me because you loved me big.”


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Episode transcript: 

Welcome to the Overcoming Sexual Abuse Podcast, where you get the tools and inspiration to help you overcome childhood sexual abuse. I’m your host, Christina Enevoldsen, certified coach, author, and incest survivor, and I’m here to help you heal and live your very best life.

The effects of abuse are particularly felt in an intimate relationship. I’m joined by my husband Don Enevoldsen and we share the specific ways abuse affected our marriage and the healing process and then the insights we gained as we navigated through to create stability and true partnership.

Christina: Well Don, you had no idea what you were getting into when you married me.

Don: Well, that’s putting it mildly. I mean I do remember the time when you told me before we were right after we got engaged actually that you had been abused by your father and you I remember the tentative tone in your voice was more like you know I’m gonna tell you this now so if you want to get out now you can and save face. I mean I was kind of the tone that came across but of course first of all I didn’t want to get out. That was never really even a consideration for me but I didn’t really know what to do with that. I just kind of filed her way and said okay well we’ll deal with that I guess but I had no idea what it would lead to and it was actually quite a long time before it led to anything so I mean it’s amazing how it just kind of got buried for years before it really came up again.

Christina: Yeah we really didn’t know what the effects of abuse really were. As far as I knew I already dealt with it. Actually, the tentative tone was partly you know how you were going to respond but it’s also if you didn’t believe me because you knew my dad and I was afraid that you were going to say, “Oh I know Fred would never do that” and so I wanted to give myself a chance to get out too.

Don: Yeah and it’s that brings up an interesting point because when you told me, I actually wasn’t surprised. As well as I knew your dad it’s it kind of speaks to this this idea that abusers are right in our midst and unless you know what you’re looking for you don’t pay any attention to it. And I didn’t know what I was looking for, but I knew there was just something off enough that something was out of alignment or out of sync. I could never really tell what it was. And that just kind of said, oh, that’s what it is. That’s what I’ve been picking up on. So it wasn’t a question of believing you. I could actually kind of tell. So I wasn’t really surprised.

Christina: Well, anyway, you passed the test.

Don: Oh, I’m glad I did.

Christina: So abuse leaked into our marriage, though, in a lot of ways. And even from the first day, the first day we were married, we’d have these ridiculous fights over nothing. And well, I wouldn’t say fights, maybe because you didn’t really engage in them. You just seemed bewildered as I was yelling at you and accusing you of things and sometimes even throwing things at you.

Don: Yeah, that was an interesting experience. I grew up in a very quiet, non -demonstrative home. So to be faced with that kind of demonstration of anger, especially when I didn’t know where the anger was coming from.
I mean, I remember the day that you threw burrito against the wall. It wasn’t directly at me, but it had fallen out of the package as you were trying to put it in the microwave and you just blew up. But there were other times when you would be, you throw pillows at me on things. I will say, and I could tell you weren’t trying to actually kill me because you always threw soft things. But still, they were thrown in great anger and it made no sense to me at all for a long time. I just was bewildered as a good word for it.

Christina: Yeah, it must have been really confusing. I can understand that.

Don: It certainly was.

Christina: The first time something like that happened was actually on our wedding night and we had this great idea of this morning wedding. And the plan was for me to pick you up so we could drive together to the venue. But we got our wires crossed about when and where I was supposed to pick you up. And that wouldn’t have been so bad, but you left your phone with me the night before, so I couldn’t call you.

Don: I know. And I didn’t have any other phone and no way to get a hold of you. I was just like, what do I do? I have no idea.

Christina: So we were running late and it was raining. And so we’d planned to get married on this outdoor patio. But when we got to the venue, all the chairs were being moved inside. Thankfully, we didn’t have to get married in the rain.

Don: It was at a restaurant, so people can kind of picture. This this beautiful setting, but but everything was going wrong.

Christina: And the wedding and reception were actually magical. It was something that was an event to remember. And the food was amazing. Mm hmm. Unfortunately, we didn’t get any of it.

Don: Yeah, we had top flight chefs that were cooking the food. And and then each other said this restaurant had just opened and I knew one of the owners. And so they were thinking, boy, if we could develop our business for doing weddings, it’d be great, you know, so they were going all out trying to make this thing really great. So they got one of the they had one of the best chefs in the city. Mm hmm. But then three times as many people showed up as we’re invited. So. Yeah, word got around. So the food disappeared really fast.

Christina: Yeah. And we were busy making our rounds, talking to everyone and having a fabulous time. And the food ran out. Yeah. So after this long reception and we had the blues band and then we had karaoke afterwards,
which was great. We’d only had cake all day. And remember, this was a morning wedding. And so by what, mid-afternoon, we hadn’t had anything to eat except cake.

Don: Yeah, because we were running late. We missed breakfast.

Christina: So we, on the way to our hotel, we went through a fast food drive -through and picked up some burgers. So we got to our hotel room and we weren’t in the best, I guess, condition physically and the trouble came when I discovered that you didn’t want to have sex.

Don: Yeah, I remember having a severe headache by that time, probably from not eating all day, but I mean usually it’s the wife that says she has a headache, so this was all backwards. But I had a splitting headache and I think we had some aspirin, but it really wasn’t helping, so it was kind of a disaster.

Christina: Oh my gosh, I didn’t, I don’t know if I knew you had a headache, but either way it was horrible that I was absolutely outraged and I threw my shoes at you, those pointy heels.

Don: Yeah, thank God you missed on that one.

Christina: And surprisingly, that didn’t put you in the mood either. Yeah, it was really interesting. And I didn’t know it at the time, but I thought that sex was the only reason that you would want to be with me. And so when you didn’t want to have sex with me, that meant, uh -oh, like I was afraid of losing you. There was nothing to hold us together, really, you know, nothing to make us make you stay or, you know, what was going to happen to our marriage now, what was going to happen to you. So, you know, the abuse taught me that that’s all I was good for and that’s the only good thing about me. So, you know, I’ve got this one trick that I can do and if you don’t want that one, you know, there was nothing, it was just terrifying.

Don: Yeah, and that says a lot about these abuse dynamics that, or any marriage for that matter, because you’re coming in with a completely different set of backgrounds and values and, And I’d been married before, but I’d been single for 20 years. And so I remember thinking to myself, I made a lot of mistakes the first time and I will probably make mistakes the second time. I just want to make sure I don’t make the same mistakes. And so I’d spent a lot of time trying to kind of reevaluate things. And so for me, sex was just one thing that there was, you know, I wanted to marry somebody that I liked, somebody that I could talk to, somebody I could sit in the room and not talk to and be perfectly content, somebody that would fit into what I had in mind for my life goals, you know, I was in the ministry. So the things that I saw as where I wanted to go in life, I wanted somebody that could fit into that and not get lost in it. You know, I mean, I wanted you to have your own thing too. So there’s a lot went into it other than that. It’s just interesting to me looking back and I didn’t realize at the time that you would have had such a narrow view of why I married you. Exactly. Yeah. It was baffling to me really.

Christina: Yeah. My value was reduced to just one thing, which was sex. And so that was really scary when you didn’t want sex. And I didn’t express it as fear though. I expressed it as anger and all the fights that we had were really about fear and mostly the fear of abandonment. And that’s an important thing to point out because anger is a secondary emotion. So that means that under anger, there’s those more vulnerable emotions like fear or pain or sadness or embarrassment and that kind of thing. But something softer and it can feel really threatening though to express those things. And so you cover that up that vulnerability and it’s common to lead with that harder, tougher emotion of anger. And you might not even be in touch with what’s under that anger. You might not know that there is anything, especially because anger feels so powerful. But whenever you feel anger, there’s always a softer emotion under that anger.

Don: And I remember too, I’m thinking back on it now, that I’d had 20 years to make adjustments in my own thinking, and you had a few months. Right. And so I’d already worked through a lot of those kinds of issues, and I was more content with myself. You were just starting to get free of the abuse and work through some of those things. So we had no idea at the time,
though. I mean, that’s looking back, you know, hindsight 2020, but we had no idea what was going on at the time.

Christina: Yeah, I was fresh out of that abuse of relationship. So the thing to keep in mind about anger is that it’s a repelling emotion, and it’s meant to protect you so that the energy of anger is like, get away, keep out.

Don: And that’s… And it works.

Christina: And the thing is, though, if you want to build your relationship and create connection, then leading with anger might not be the best response.

Don: Yeah, well, that’s… Yeah, that is a little different approach. It’s to be sure.

Christina: So if you want to draw someone closer, you need to take the risk of leading with softer emotions and to get under there and, you know, where’s the sadness and the fear? And to be able to share that. And when you express that, that invites the other person in. You know, it doesn’t mean that they’ll respond to the invitation, but it’s a more welcoming energy. It’s come closer energy. And it’s a risk, for sure. Yeah. You know, there’s no guarantee how they’ll respond, but that’s why it’s such a wonderful feeling when you open up to someone and they do draw closer. And, you know, as they say, the bigger the risk, the bigger the reward. So if you want a better relationship, you have to take risks.

Don: Yeah, absolutely. And I can remember, I mean, I hated to share anything because I always felt like people just, first of all, didn’t care and wouldn’t like me if they knew what was going on inside of me. And, you know, and I think we’ll talk some more about emotions, but being able to actually say something honestly and not worry about being rejected entirely, that’s really liberating, you know, when you get to that point. And we had to work to get to that point.

Christina: We did. Well, our wedding night wasn’t the only time sex was an issue in our marriage. Which I started to have emotional flashbacks early on, before I really knew that I had healing to do. And there were times when we were having sex that I would burst out crying.

Don: And then – Which, of course, would make me go, what, am I that bad?

Christina: Not the response you were looking for.

Don: Not exactly, no.

Christina: And then when I started healing, then I had these visual and auditory flashbacks. Like, an abuser would appear to me and I would hear words. And it felt like we could never be alone because there was all these abusers invading this intimate time that we just wanted to spend together.

Don: Yeah, and it felt, I mean, from my perspective, like, there was just this pressure all the time to get it exactly right, because I didn’t get it exactly right. There would be some emotional reaction that made no sense to me.
And I didn’t even have any idea how to navigate that. Really, not a clue, because I couldn’t figure what was wrong. And for me, if I can understand what’s going on and examine it, analyze it, then I can figure out how to deal with it. But nothing made any sense here. So I was just in this constant state of, what do I do now?

Christina: Yeah, you really like to figure things out. And when you can’t, then it feels kind of insecure.

Don: Yeah. And I didn’t, honestly, didn’t have a lot of sexual experience anyway leading up to that. So I had no frame of reference for a lot of this. It was not promiscuous in my earlier life at all. And so I had nothing, no experience that I could tap into to go, oh, that’s why this is going on. It just, none of it made sense. I had no idea.

Christina: Yeah. Aw. And I was a monster. 

Don: You were.

Christina: Well, I was sexually aggressive. And I thought the thing is, like I was aggressive, but I thought I love sex. And just like my anger was a cover up for fear, the aggression was too. It was just a role that I played. And I didn’t realize how threatened I felt by sex. But I covered up that fear by controlling it. So I wasn’t the victim. You know, I thought I could stay in this safer position that way if I were the aggressor. But that really then created this falseness in our relationship. You know, there was this mask that I wore that prevented us from having true emotional intimacy. And so sex was just about bodies. You know, I could be disassociated. I didn’t have to really be there. And I wasn’t.

Don: And the thing that I had always missed in my life most, again, growing up in a non-demonstrative family was close emotional connection. I wouldn’t have known what to call it at the time. But But I mean, a lot of ways we were kind of backwards from a lot of couples. But, you know, I wasn’t getting what I thought I needed out of all this either. But I didn’t know what I needed. So it was really hard to nail that down. I just didn’t understand it enough to even articulate the problem. So we just suffered.

Christina: Yeah, it was a mess. In some time in my healing process, then you told me about someone you knew who had a female relative who was being abused. And I was absolutely disgusted. And I said, I never want to see another penis again. And then we didn’t have sex for a long time. And before I’d felt like if I can’t have sex, then there’s no reason to live. And yet, at that point, it was just so freeing. I had the idea one day of just telling my body, you know what, you never have to have sex again if you don’t want to. And I felt this huge relief inside me. I felt like my body had been on sex duty, you know, for as early as I could remember. And it really needed to know that it could say no. And that no is vital. You have to have a no. If you don’t have a no when it comes to sex or anything else, then you don’t have a yes either. You just have this default or this survival state of allowing.
And that’s not a yes. That break gave us the opportunity to focus on the less physical parts of our relationship and to grow in our emotional intimacy because, you know, as long as we were just bodies, and I was so disassociated, then we didn’t really lean into that emotion part. And we both needed to actually relearn what sex is because of how we defined it. We didn’t have a healthy really idea of what any of that was.

Don: No, no idea at all. I mean, really. If all you can do to analyze your sexual behavior is what you see on television, you’re probably in big trouble because that doesn’t really, that doesn’t portray anything very realistically, usually. So, it took a while. It’s interesting because these are kind of things that we probably kind of knew, realized subconsciously, but we learned that sex is not just a moment in time, it’s really a whole experience. And that experience takes in all the emotional aspects of connection and talking can be as much a part of sex as the act of sex itself. It’s about the connection, it’s about the just getting to know each other. And which I think is part of why, you know, you see studies that show that married couples generally are more satisfied with their sex life than single people because it’s because they get to know each other. And over time, that has a lot to do with how satisfying our relationship is, not just sex, but all the way around. And we started doing a thing that was actually recommended to us in a class that we were in called the Sensate Hour, where we would just, it was just an hour we set aside to just be together. And there was no expectation of anything. We would just sit and talk for an hour a lot of times, and that’s all it was. It was just the connection. And I guess I never realized, I knew I wanted that, but I never really realized how important it was or how much you are even driven by it. I remember one time we had a chance to go to San Francisco from Los Angeles for a three day getaway at a timeshare. And I remember driving up, you’d never been to San Francisco and I had. So I was all I could think about was all these great things I wanted to show you in the places we could go. And your first questions were things I don’t remember remember exactly where I was, but it was something like, you know, what is it about me that made you fall in love with me? And I thought, what an odd question. We’re going to this place you’ve never been. Don’t you want to think about the things we’re going to? But you were more interested in the connection. And it honestly didn’t matter where we went or where we were or what we were, what was going around us. That connection was what really was becoming so important to you. And I started to realize it was really important to me too. But again, it took a while for us to even understand what was going on and be able to get into that. And those times where we just would sit and talk and do nothing except sit and talk were incredibly important and made a huge difference along the way.

Christina: Yeah. Well, the actual assignment for the Sensate Hour was to stimulate our senses, so to think about the scent that you want in the room and the sounds, you know, if you want music. And I think it involves nudity, but we decided that we could make it our own. Like, what do we want? How do we want to connect? And so that was really good because we had to talk about what we wanted. 

Don: Yeah, there weren’t really any rules other than just you got to be focused on your spouse for that hour and nothing else. And when you decide to do that, and first of all, you set a specific period of time, it’s a lot easier to keep your mind from wandering. You can really focus. And then you kind of get in the habit of it after a while and it gets to be second nature. And then that’s when it really starts to pay off in terms of emotional intimacy and the value in the relationship overall.

Christina: Yeah. And then as we actually confessed our fears and our insecurities to each other, okay, well, what about sex scares you? Well, this. What about sex scares you? Well, this. And it helped us to understand each other and to be able to trust trust that we could be authentic and real with each other and still be safe.

Don: Yes, absolutely.

Christina: Well, sex wasn’t the only way that abuse invaded our marriage. There was a lot of other ways. One of the early fights that we had was because I thought you were trying to bully me.

Don: Which again, communication back to the falling apart here because I thought exactly the opposite.

Christina: Well, it’s understandable. What happened?

Don: Well, I started to realize that we were getting into arguments because you would want me to make a decision for you or kind of tell you what to do. And I thought, well, why would I make that decision for you? You can think. My reaction would be, well, no, I’m not going to tell you what to do. I mean, that’s dangerous ground if you ask me because, you know, you’re responsible for your own thoughts even though we’re married. I’m not God to you. I’m just another person here. And you had a completely different reaction to that than what I expected.

Christina: Oh, I was so mad at you. I thought you didn’t care about me if you didn’t tell me what to do because I had no paradigm for freedom. Both my dad and my ex-husband, they always told me what to do. And in fact, they insisted. And if I didn’t listen, then, well, they’d shame me when things didn’t go well saying, see, you should have listened or telling me I was being stubborn. And so I thought that if you didn’t tell me what to do, you were setting me up to with some kind of harassment after that. And I just assumed that you were going to harass me for not listening to you. And I couldn’t listen to you. I couldn’t obey you if you didn’t tell me what to do. And so I got mad and I stormed out of the room and I slammed the door behind me and I really thought I was standing up for myself.

Don: And again, I was baffled. I don’t get it. Yeah. But there was an enlightening moment actually, even before we were married, it started to seep into my consciousness and then, and then looking back on it, this was an interesting experience because we were driving somewhere that I was going to be speaking and we had some boxes of books that I was going to put out on the book table of some of my work and we had stopped for something to eat and you’d had a salad with salad dressing and there was this accident where accidentally the salad dressing got poured into one of the boxes and ruined a few books. And I just remember thinking, okay, well, I think really there’s about three of them. We’re going to have to throw away and then half a dozen that we can actually trim the bad part off the top and nobody will notice. But you were terrified of how I would react. I mean, it was just, I didn’t understand that at the time, looking back, I didn’t see what was going on. But I mean, you were terrified of the reaction because you had messed up.

Christina: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Mistakes were deadly.

Don: And which, again, made no sense to me at all. It’s like, why would I get mad over that? It was an accident. But for me to, well, it was years before I began to understand the dynamics of how abuse affects these things and how much impact that can have on a relationship when you’ve got this completely different frame of reference. Yeah. It was like, I didn’t know, I didn’t have any paradigm for freedom. What? That was really disturbing to me. I don’t know what’s going on. You didn’t know what was going on. I didn’t know what was going on.

Christina: Yeah. And so we would just react and it got ugly at times. Yeah. Well, that incident where I thought you were bullying me was the beginning of you actually really helping me to find my voice. And I was trying to stand up for myself, but I was coming at it from this framework of abuse and control, like making the most of a bad situation. And you sort of blew up that framework. It didn’t exist in our relationship.

Don: Well, yeah, I often tell the joke. I tell people that one of the things I’m most proud of as a husband in this relationship is that in the relationship,
I helped you find your voice. And one of the most irritating things in our relationship over the years is that you found your voice. Yeah. And trying to get that across to other husbands, you know, we’re going through this, it’s like, you know, you kind of can’t have it both ways. You know, she either says what she thinks, which you’re not going to like sometimes, or she doesn’t say what she thinks, and you have an unhealthy dynamic. There’s really no other options here. So you got to kind of live with it.

Christina: Well, knowing that it irritates you sometimes, I actually love that because I never wanted to do anything that inconvenienced anyone, you know, or, you know, cause anybody trouble. And so, but I love that it’s inconvenient for you that I found my voice and I’m really okay with that. I’m not apologizing and I’m not going to try to squish myself.

Don: Yeah, I don’t regret it. I mean, it’s, yeah, I do remember that turning point. It was sitting at my desk doing something on the computer and you walked up to me and I looked up to see what you had to say and you said, “I am so angry with you right now!”  And I said, “About what?” And you just said, “I don’t know.” And you turn around and walked away. It was like, what just happened? It was huge.

Christina: And I know that might be hard to understand that when my anger was coming up, I’d find something to blame you for, you know, to justify my anger and anything and everything annoyed me. So it wasn’t hard to find something to make you wrong about. And so when I said, I didn’t know why I was mad at you. I was saying my anger wasn’t because you had done anything. And I was starting to take ownership of my anger. And now I know when you don’t direct anger in the right place, it doesn’t go away. It never dissipates. And I was mad at all the people who had abused me and betrayed me, and that had to be validated. You know, I had to say, yeah, that was awful. And then part of processing that is to determine like,
how am I gonna protect myself now? And who do I need to protect myself from? Because all I saw when I looked at you, I saw my abusers and betrayers. And part of that process was, oh, see you to be present here and now, not in the past. And until then, I just saw threats everywhere.

Don: What I discovered was that, first of all, it was okay for you to be angry. That was pretty natural, given things that happened to you and been done to you in the past, that the anger itself was not the issue. It was getting to the root of why the anger was there, and that couldn’t be done if we were just screaming at each other.

Christina: Or if I was blaming you because that never got us anywhere.

Don: Right. And if I didn’t react to that with anger myself, then we could get into a discussion. But having that moment where you said, I don’t know why I’m angry, acknowledge the anger, didn’t judge it, didn’t say that it was bad in itself. It was a natural result of something, but it didn’t have to affect how we communicated after that. It actually opened the door up to have some very productive conversations.

Christina: Yeah. Yeah. Another kind of conflict that we had was that I was really insecure, and I constantly asked you if you loved me. And I do it several times a day sometimes, and I was even annoyed by hearing myself ask so frequently. What was your experience of that?

Don: Well, I was kind of insecure too. So for me, that just said, am I not good enough that you need to be this constant reassurance? What am I doing wrong? you know? And, and well, that gets into some of my own insecurities, which, you know, we’ll need to talk about a little bit too here. But I, again, didn’t really know how to react. And it was, it was a matter of trying to figure out why does she need to ask this so much. And I did a lot of reading on differences between men and women. And I started to realize that for women, you know, words are very important. For men, it’s more about actions. So for me, it was like, well, I’m still here. I’m still, you know, working. I’m still around you. I’m still having a left. Doesn’t that tell you I love you? Why do you need to keep hearing it? But she needed to keep hearing it over and over. And I think most wives do, even, even those that haven’t gone through abuse, probably need to hear that a lot. So that was just, that’s just a natural part of a good relationship dynamic, I think, is to be expressive about it.

Christina: You have to use words.

Don: You have to use words. You know, there’s an old joke in a, told by a counselor that the, you know, for the wife, she’ll say, do you like the dinner I cooked? And the husband will respond to me eating it, aren’t I? Which is, of course, one of the stupidest things you could say. But in a man’s mind, the fact that I’m eating it means I like it. If I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t eat it.
But that’s not going to go over because that’s not how women process things, generally speaking. So I had to learn to use words a lot more. I was not that expressive.

Christina: There was that meme of, said the Norwegian farmer loved his wife so much that he considered telling her. You’re not Norwegian, but you are Danish, and I think that’s you.

Don: I am Scandinavian, yeah, and that is a trait that we have. So that’s still true. But one of the, one of the things we started, that I started doing was that, really, not important, that was that for birthday, Christmas, Mother’s Day, I always get a card. You don’t get cards for me the same way because it just, it’s not as important to me, but I, I have to get a card because that’s just part of saying I was thinking about you and it’s, again, words, I have to write something in it, you know, and even if it’s short, I need to write something just to express that I do love you and I am thinking about you. And so, seems like a silly little thing, but it’s incredibly important and it’s become a part of our dynamic of why we’re closer together, I think.

Christina: And just to clarify, it’s not like a rule, or…

Don: No, it’s not something you ever demanded. No, it’s… I mean, you just expressed how much you liked it and I thought, “Oh, well, she likes it that much, maybe I should just keep doing that.”

Christina; So you came up with that idea all on your own, right?

Don: I did, yeah. I did.

Christina: And to be fair, I really couldn’t accept your love or believe that you loved me because, you know, the abuse told me that I wasn’t lovable and so you could have expressed it perfectly, and I still wouldn’t have received it. So part of my healing was to work through that belief and that allowed me to finally receive the love that you had to give me because you loved me big.

Don: I did. And you know, and I wasn’t expressing it perfectly, so I had some things to learn there, too.

Christina: Yeah, well, we both had a lot to learn. But even before getting to that root, you know, of that unlovable belief, I started to ask myself, “What was I looking for when I asked you if you loved me?” And when I really thought about it, what I wanted was to feel that connection. And so instead of asking you if you loved me, I started saying, “I don’t feel connected right now.” And that was me taking responsibility for my feelings. And it was also asking for connection. So I was taking responsibility for my needs too. And that was a lot more productive. And it didn’t come across as an accusation that you’re not showing me that you love me. We had one issue that almost broke us up. And you’d been writing about our former pastors and their abuse of practices. And then when they asked you to stop and you refused, they essentially had you canceled. That was many years ago before people were canceled, but you were canceled. And then our income started drying up all of the writing jobs that you had before.
People didn’t want to work with you because of these other pastors.

Don: Yep. Yeah, it was a pretty serious time.

Christina: And so I wanted to downsize. I saw the writing on the wall and I wanted to trim expenses. And when I talked to you about it, instead of doing anything, you just shut down. And we lost pretty much everything that we owned. And we had to move in with friends. And I was so angry. Why didn’t you just listen to me? I just wanted you to do something to prevent that. And I blamed you for everything. Well, I made plans to separate as soon as we could get back on our feet. So the only thing keeping us together was I couldn’t afford to leave you. And in one last effort, we talked with some friends. And I shared my feelings. And then you shared yours. And I had just assumed that I just thought you were just this cold person and nothing mattered to you. So I didn’t have any problem with that. But I was really surprised to discover that I wasn’t the only one who was hurting.

Don: Yeah. And it was exposing a lot of my fears that I’d never dealt with either. My biggest fear most of my life has been failure. And so, you know, every time we discussed financial problems, all I heard was, I’m a failure. I’m a failure. I’m not enough. You know? And I kind of went into a freeze response to a large extent.

Christina: Yeah, absolutely. That’s why you didn’t do anything.

Don: Yeah. I mean, I did what I knew to do, but I couldn’t think clearly enough to think beyond what I was trying to do, and I’m sure there were other things I could have done, but I had no idea what they were, and I just couldn’t get there.

Christina: Yeah. And your lack of response in that situation then triggered my biggest fear, which was abandonment. And when you didn’t respond to me, all I heard was, “You’re all alone in this. You have to figure it out on your own.” And so, both of us felt like the other wasn’t for us and with us, and then we stopped working as partners, and we didn’t even do anything. So, we certainly didn’t work together, but we didn’t work really individually to work on the problem either.

Don: Yeah. And that’s one of the key things that I think gets left behind in talking about healing from abuse, is that you can’t have just one person heal and the other one not, because everybody has things to work on. I’ve coined the phrase, “compatible dysfunctions”, and I meet every week with several of the husbands of women that you are working with in healing.

Christina: Part of the new part of the Flourish Healing Program, that’s the one -year healing program that I do. The thing that we just started this past year, about a year ago, almost, was the Husband Support Group, and Don leads that, and that’s to really help them understand what’s going on to support them in the difficulty and to give them some of the same tools that the women and flourish are getting so that they can be on the same page.
So Don leads that.

Don: Yeah. And then the first thing we had to start with was to understand that part of what a big part of what attracts us to our spouse in the first place is what I’m calling compatible dysfunctions. And that means that whatever is flawed in me, it kind of works with whatever’s flawed in my spouse. And we find this sort of an equilibrium and I mean, it’s a crude analogy perhaps and a little too simplistic, but like every sadist needs a masochist, you know, because they get along just fine. They feed each other’s dysfunctions, but it’s not a healthy relationship in any sense of the word. And ultimately, it’s not a very fulfilling relationship. But if the sadist or if the masochist decides to start healing and get out of that lifestyle, well, what does that do with the sadist? If the sadist doesn’t heal too, then it throws that equilibrium all out of whack. And that’s what’s happening when some of these women are starting to go through the healing process is that they change, they find their voice, they start to stand up for themselves, they start to put up boundaries. They start to do things that are good for them and helping them to get back to where a more normal kind of a functioning in life. If that husband doesn’t know what’s going on and doesn’t stop and realize that he’s got some issues too, that he’s going to have to grow and heal at the same time, there’s going to be some serious problems. And so that’s one of the first things we talk about is, you know, husbands, you’re going to have to do some work here too, because this isn’t just your wife.

Christina: Yeah, don’t put the finger at her. The fact that you married her means there’s some dysfunction there.

Don: Yeah, because you were attracted to what was wrong with her as much as what’s right. And because it was compatible with what’s wrong with you. And so I had fear of failure. So being attracted to a strong, old woman who would be successful on her own was kind of a balance to that. But that’s not healthy and that dynamic at all. I had very shriveled up emotions and never expressed them. So being attracted to somebody who didn’t demand much emotional expression, that was pretty good. It could maintain a balance. And if I didn’t work on those things myself, as Christina started to go through healing, when you started healing, that’s where a lot of the problems came out because it started to expose what I hadn’t worked on as well. And so a big part of this healing is having a support group around you. The first part of your support group is your spouse. And if your spouse isn’t growing as well, there’s going to be some trouble. You just can’t avoid it. So I had to start looking at things in my own life and reframe an awful lot of stuff. I had to start looking at things I was doing that actually were successes and realize that I had accomplished a lot just that in my fear of failure, I didn’t notice it. I just ignored things that were successes. I ignored my own strengths a lot of times. And part of our conversations, actually, I will say that one of the benefits of being able to start openly discussing your issues was that it allowed me to openly express my own. And just the expression of them kind of brought it out in the open where I could start to deal with a lot of it. And again, it’s an ongoing thing. I mean, I don’t think either one of us are finished working on any of these things. We still have a lot of growing to do. 

Christina: Yeah.

Don: I think that just goes on your whole life, doesn’t it?

Christina: I think so, yeah. The growth period. Yeah. You grow and then you stop growing and die.

Don: Pretty much. Yeah.

Christina: I prefer the growth.

Don: Yeah. I’m considering the alternatives.

Christina: Well, one of the things that we learned that I thought was very freeing because we’ve seen a lot of, and we do some marriage counseling ourselves, but some things we’ve seen some very unhealthy marriage advice. And we heard something early on that was really helpful for us.
Did you want to talk about that?

Don: Yeah, this was, we had gone to a marriage retreat intensive, and it was basically five couples and two counselors for a week. It was definitely intense, but before we even started the first session, we’re talking with one of the guys who had started this thing, and he made this comment, “The well -being of the individual always takes precedence over the well -being of the marriage.” And that was an incredibly profound thing, because that seems to be the opposite of what happens an awful lot of times in the way people give counsel about problems in marriage is that you need to just suck it up and submit, and for the good of the marriage, you need to do whatever. But the problem is, you can’t give anything to the marriage you don’t already have, and if you’re not healthy as an individual, the marriage will never be healthy. You have to have two healthy individuals to have a healthy marriage, just plain and simple. And so that was a really profound thing that we just grabbed onto and went, okay, we both need to grow, and we both need to be healthy if we want to have a healthy marriage. And the more that we’ve grown individually, the healthier our marriage has become.

Christina: Yeah, and that means that if it’s best for an individual not to be in the marriage, then that’s the priority.

Don: And sometimes that happens. And not all marriages are salvageable because, well, big part of it is because you don’t always find both partners willing to grow, and that’s just never going to work very well. Down the road, it’s going to create enough problems that you may not ever be able to sustain that. It’s a very important aspect of that, for sure.

Christina: Well, you mentioned your shriveled up emotions, wrinkly pruny. When we started out, you were so not in touch with your emotions, and yet it was funny because during my healing process, I would sometimes wake up crying, and on some days you’d wake up before me, and you could sometimes often tell before I even woke up that it was going to be a rough day. You got so in tune with me, and yet, and yet, that didn’t necessarily translate into communicating on an emotional level. I know one of the frustrations initially during the healing process was when I wanted to share something intensely emotional with you, and you would sometimes just stare at me, and I know you knew the rule, don’t try to fix. I think that was the only thing in your toolbox, and then beyond that, you didn’t know what to do.

Don: Yeah, it was a very small toolbox.

Christina: I’ve heard a lot of, especially women, complain about that, and what I learned to do is that I had to tell you the response I was looking for, like, I believe you, or I’m sorry that happened to you, or your parents were awful, I loved hearing that, or you went through a lot, or you didn’t deserve that.

Don: Well, I remember I was in a series of classes with Henry Cloud and John Townsend, and I remember John Townsend talking about, he had learned this, that he wasn’t good at reading people’s minds. So, if somebody would call him and say, you know, I need to talk to you, he would say, all right, but before you even start, you need to tell me what you’re looking for here. here. I mean, do you want me to just listen? Do you need some advice? Do you want me to just, you know, pat you on the back and say, you’re okay? What is it you’re expecting from me? Because that way I can give it to you effectively without having to guess. So before we even start the conversation, you tell me what it is you want. That was pretty good advice. And especially since, you know, women being so much more intuitive, pick up on things a lot better than men usually. And they kind of assume that their husbands can read their minds and we really can’t. We get better at it as time goes on, but we still need to be told what is it you actually want? Because I’m happy to give it to you. I just need to know what it is, you know.

Christina: Yeah. And some people say, well, that’s not sincere or I just want them to know, but how unreasonable is that? Because there were times when I would feel terrible and I just wanted to be held. But there were other times when I didn’t want them to touch me. It’s like, get back. And how is he supposed to know if I changed my mind so much? And sometimes I didn’t even know. And so part of me telling you then was taking responsibility for my own needs. I had to go inside myself and check with myself. Okay. Okay. What would feel good right now? And that was so healthy because I had been so detached from myself and, you know, there were so many years of, what do you want? Well, I don’t know. What do you want? Yeah. And so that was a really good practice for me to need to ask and tell you what I wanted.

Don: Yeah. And then you bring up another point too that sometimes neither one of us really know what we want. But just to be able to say that, I don’t know what I want. But I need something. Well, at least that gives us a starting point. Yeah. We can look toward it. But that’s honest, genuine communication. That’s not guesswork or mind reading.

Christina: Yeah. This isn’t about some performance. This is a relationship. So you can try something, you know, you can say, well, would it feel good if I said this? I do that. I do that with clients and I do that with family members and I do that with you. That sometimes I just like, okay, I just have a gut feeling it’s this, but that’s not even better than mind, maybe a tad bit better than mind reading, but not much. It’s not hard science.

Don: There’s an art to it, to be sure.

Christina: So what was the hardest part in the whole, with the abuse stuff coming up and the healing, what was the hardest part for you?

Don: Just not knowing what was going on or what to expect or how to navigate it because I didn’t understand what was going on. It’s like being in a wilderness and you’ve got choose, go left or go right, but either one could kill you, but you have no idea. So I don’t know what to do. So that just not understanding anything going on was the hardest part. The more I understood, the easier I got to deal with it.

Christina: And one thing you did to understand better was you read a lot of the same books that I was reading. 

Don: I did. I read a lot just because you were reading. I don’t want to know what was going on.

Christina: That really helped you. You had, I don’t know, helped you to empathize a little more and then also to be able to respond a little better. And it gave you this foundation for, oh, okay, well, this is what to expect. It’s not that you felt like I was in abnormal, but you didn’t know what was next. You had no stability in this. It was like an earthquake.

Don: Yeah, hard to be stable during an earthquake. That’s a tough one.

Christina: How would you say that healing has impacted our marriage? Healing?

Christina: Yeah.

Don: Well, we don’t fight as much. In fact, we hardly fight at all anymore.

Christina: There’s nothing to fight about.

Don: No, because when you can just sit down and have an honest discussion, like, “This is what I feel like and it’s okay to feel whatever,” well,
then we can just talk about it. So, there’s not much left to fight about, usually. So, it’s very rarely that we have a fight anymore, which I like stability, so that’s some good with that. We do get more emotional support for each other and support in our individual interests, you know, like you pursuing your dreams that are not things that I necessarily want to be too involved in. A lot of what you’re doing and helping women who have been abused, I mean, that’s okay. I fully support that and I can be involved to some degree, like doing this podcast or working with husbands, for example, but I don’t have to be that involved to be really supportive. I can really encourage you to do that and you do the same with me. So, to be able to have that cheerleader with you all the time makes a big difference. I don’t have to tiptoe around anymore, worried about whether I’m going to trigger some explosion or something. So, life is much more peaceful and because it’s more peaceful, it’s a lot more productive and a lot more satisfying and a whole lot more contentment now than there was before.
So, the healing is produced in such a completely different environment in our home that it’s just much more pleasant, much easier to live in. Those are the biggest things, I think.

Christina: Yeah. As we’ve grown and healed both of us, then we’ve become much stronger partners and better friends.

Don: Absolutely.

Christina: Well, thanks for joining us today. If you want to take your healing to a deeper level, I have something great for you and it’s my annual free virtual event for sexual abuse survivors called Healing from Sexual Abuse and it’s absolutely perfect for you if you want to know the exact steps you need for your complete healing process.

Some of the things that previous attendees have said “Oh my god I cried through the whole thing. It was so good and it feels very practical of why I am the way I am.”

Another person has said, “Just this free training has helped me to begin the process, pain of the past. I knew I had unresolved past hurts and I didn’t have the tools to explore them.”

So if you want similar results go to register now because it starts this week.
Go to and do it right away because it’s coming up soon and it only happens once a year, you don’t want to miss it. It’s epic.

How Abuse and Healing Impacted My Marriage

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