Editor’s note: the following column discusses sexual abuse and may be difficult to read for some people.

TRIGGER WARNING: Sexual Abuse

Dear John,

How do I support my husband’s needs being the husband of a woman who was sexually abused by her father?

How can I better understand his experience and not get overwhelmed with the feeling of guilt that it is my fault & that if he weren’t married to me he wouldn’t have to deal with this…feeling like it’s my fault and if I removed myself from the equation, then my husband would be better off…

How do I talk about it with him and not take on his feelings & being triggered?

Continued from last week…

Dear Survivor,

If all else fails and you find yourself in a position of conversation, triggered and flooded, have an exit strategy for moments of crisis. Talk about this ahead of time. Make a sign, have a safe word, agree to take a break, but figure out what you both need in a time of crisis to remember: you are seen, supported, and loved. When the triggering event occurs, it can be hard to orient yourself and find stable ground. Making a plan is effectively tethering yourself to a safety line so you know how to find safety when you need it. A plan will not stop the bodily sensations, flooding, or danger reflex, but it can be a light in a dark tunnel when it’s difficult to find or choose a direction to safety. Remember, Noah built the ark before the storm.

Relationships can be an incredible catalyst to growth. Quoting Jim Hollis from his book Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life: How to Finally, Really Grow Up, “what we don’t know about ourselves is a burden to others.” I think this perfectly encapsulates your dilemma. You are not a burden to your husband and you cannot know if he would be better off without you unless he has shared such with you. If you want to show up for your husband in the best way possible, continue to focus on your healing journey. Seek out the information you don’t know about yourself, i.e. your triggers, your trauma, your experience, and do the necessary work to integrate those into your whole self. Perhaps you are feeling like a burden because there is still much to discover in your history and your traumatic experiences, but it sounds like you are courageously pursuing your truth and your integration with self-compassion and intent. Honor that! The quality of your marriage will only be as strong as your inner relationship – the inner marriage.

I would encourage you to avoid narrating your husband’s story. You do not know that he would be better off without you or if he never married you, unless he has said that to you directly. If that happens to be the case, choose yourself and your safety. If not, know that he is on his own life journey and it clearly has involved meeting, befriending, dating, and inevitably marrying you. He is choosing to be with you, just as you are choosing to be with him. You have chosen him to reveal yourself and your most sacred vulnerabilities. There are three people in every relationship: me, them, and us. Together, you have consciously ventured into relationship and embarked on a courageous path of healing, both individually and collectively. Your partnership is acting as a catalyst to mature your relationship so you can hold a healthy “us”. Being in a relationship is not always easy, but the challenges offer opportunities to reflect on our choices, deepen our empathy, and understand how we are connected to ourselves and others.

To be continued…check back next week for part 5 of this 6 part series.

With love and light,

John Moos, Md

For More Resources: RAINN – Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse by Ellen Bass and Laura Davis. The Courage to Heal Workbook: A Guide for Women and Men Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse by Laura Davis. The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk, M.D.