‘Were you ever sexually abused as a child?’ I asked Rhys one day. He and I had been dating for a few months when I asked him this question. We were falling in love, talking seriously about marriage and I was committed to do my due diligence before saying ‘I do’.
‘No’ he responded calmly so I dropped the topic.
It was six years after our wedding that Rhys finally told me the truth. It took six years for him to feel safe enough to reveal the horrible secret he had borne alone for over forty years. If his cousin hadn’t broken the ice by revealing that she too had been raped, Rhys may’ve never dared tell me at all.
As sobs wracked his body, he told me how the young aunt who was entrusted with his care when he was a little child, had repeatedly stripped him naked, forced him onto the bed and raped him. Time after time after time. ‘I’ll kill you if you tell anyone’, she told him every time.
He was only four years old.
No one could blame Rhys for not being forthcoming about the abuse while we were dating. It wasn’t safe to tell me. It wasn’t safe to tell anyone.
Now in retrospect I ask myself if there were clues I missed. Hints? Anything!?
Yes. Actually, there were but they didn’t appear until a few years after we were married. Oh, nothing obvious. Just small moments that struck me as odd at the time. But I never imagined Rhys’ reactions may’ve been due to sexual abuse. Now, knowing the truth, I shudder to think that I inadvertently triggered him.
There was the moment when, in an unfiltered flow-of consciousness monologue, I said, ‘I don’t think females can rape males’.
Easy-going Rhys snapped at me. Vehemently he responded ‘Oh yes. They can’ and fell silent. At the time, there seemed to be no rhyme or reason to his outburst. That should’ve been my clue. But Ladies, correct me if I’m wrong, we’ve been so brainwashed to see men as predators that we don’t readily assume our man has been victimised by a female…or a male for that matter. It really reveals the misandry so rampant in our culture.
There were other clues too. Once, in a flirty moment when I reached for his genitals, Rhys jumped back. Recoiled from my touch.
In retrospect, I now realise the past abuse affected our current intimacy. He doesn’t like girl-on-top positions. That’s what his aunt did to him. He also suffers from performance anxiety. Although we’ve been intimate for many years now, he hates the word ‘sex’ and approaches it with great anxiety.
Naturally, it’s easier for him to turn to porn. When he was first forthright with me about his porn use, I was devastated. Like most wives, I felt terribly wounded and betrayed, assuming that my charms weren’t enough for him. That I’d lost his love already. That he preferred the surgically enhance performers on the screen to me, his warm, loving, real-life wife with plenty of figure flaws. That I wasn’t woman enough for him.
But it wasn’t that at all. In a former blog post I explained it like this.
For Rhys, porn is his happy place. It was his only pleasure growing up in a very abusive home. Sexual expression through porn was safe after being raped.
It had nothing to do with me as a woman, as a wife, as a sexual partner. Nothing to do with my performance in bed. Nothing to do with my body.
When Rhys is unhappy, when things aren’t going well, when life overwhelms him, he turns voyeur. ‘It resets my brain,’ he told me. ‘Viewing others doing the deed is extreme. It’s shocking. It clears my mind of all stressors.’ …
How many men use pornography for that reason but are unable to articulate it to their wife or girlfriend? How many relationships have splintered because the women simply did not understand? How many marriages have faltered because we, as women, naturally take our man’s pornography use personally?
There are times when, to my shame, I resent that Rhys wasn’t honest with me when I asked him directly if he’d ever been sexually abused. It rankles, just a little. I asked a direct question and received a direct lie.
But on the other hand, I don’t blame him at all. The secret was hidden so deeply, it would’ve been impossible to talk about it then. If it hadn’t been for his cousin revealing her past rape, Rhys may’ve never told me for fear it would jeopardise our relationship. Now I see his trust in revealing that horrible secret as a great compliment to me. For the first time in almost half a century, he felt safe enough and loved enough to talk freely.
In the years that have passed since the day Rhys sobbed, I’ve seen an extraordinary change in him. He talks about the abuse frequently. Openly. It’s no longer a deep, dark secret. The more he talks about it, the less it wields its dark power over him.
But, as Rhys told me just the other day, ‘It never goes away’.
Ladies, if your dear man is pulling away from you, if he seems to prefer porn to making love with you, consider for one moment: Perhaps he was sexually abused and is afraid to tell you…or anyone. Maybe all that’s needed to mend your relationship is to lovingly make it safe for him to tell you about the worst thing that ever happened to him. Maybe you need to break the ice. Give him the words to help him break his silence.
Rhys’ and my marriage and intimacy have improved a hundredfold since he told me the truth. The same can happen for you.