Ask Andrew – My wife was sexually abused by her brother.
We met young, 16 her, 18 me. She had an abusive Mom who made life miserable for the entire family, and an older brother who sexually abused her… none of the kids could get out of the house fast enough. We dated exclusively for 4 years and have now been married for 29. I was her first and only real love. Last December her Mom died. Three months later in March, I heard the ILYBINILWY speech. Says she feels no sexual passion for me, claims she never truly did, and sees no way she ever will. Feels she has wasted 30 years of her life and now it’s almost over. She exercises vigorously every day, and longs for what I now know is considered Limerance. She wants out of the marriage so she can find this passion with somebody new. Also has an identity crises, and wants to live independent to discover who she is.
Since the day following her speech in March, I have been following materials that have guided me to be understanding and loving, not pursue her and drive her farther away, and to build a happy life for myself independent of our relationship. I also have avoided initiating Big Relationship Talks on the premise that it will cause her to reaffirm her beliefs that our relationship is doomed, and only push her out the door quicker. This has helped, as she no longer seems to be in a dire panic to leave, and the new interests and activities I have taken up are making it easier for me to cope with being rejected by my lifelong lover. Even so, after 4 months of this, I found out last night that her opinion on the missing and irretrievable passion has not changed one bit. We talk every day, (but not often about the relationship) and generally get along well, but we don’t sleep together and there is no physical contact. She considers us good friends or siblings. Sometimes she seems depressed.
I just started reading your book, ILYB, and it seems that your advice that some couples don’t argue enough may be spot on for us. I always tried to keep the peace, especially since her Mom passed last year.
Should I let my feelings fly about how I feel regarding her recent ILYBINILWY decision? How do I respond to “I’m certain I NEVER felt anything for you”? Thanks greatly for your help.
It sounds like you have going through a living hell. It’s horrible to hear ‘I love you but’ and even worse that ‘I have never loved you’. So I want to congratulate you on all the work you have done on yourself, especially to have kept so calm while she is being so cold.
Next let me try and explain what I think is going on. Her mother’s death has brought up lots of complex feelings. Lots of people who were abused start to talk about it after their parents death, because they do not want to upset them while alive. If your abuser was a sibling, you are forced to meet them again at the funeral because you can not find a reason not to attend. Not surprisingly, this can bring up the buried feelings too. So your wife is not only dealing with these feelings but the loss of her mother (who she will have both loved and hated) plus the reminder that we are no immortal (hence the desire to solve everything immediately and the mini mid life crisis).
Back to the abuse, I don’t know if you’ve heard of the abuse triangle. It explains the dynamics in situations like your wife’s. She is at one corner as the victim, her brother is an another as the abuser and at 18 (when you met) you were at the third corner, her rescuer (who took her away from her family and kissed and made it better). Unfortunately, these triangles are never stable and its easy for everyone to switch round. This is partly because abusers do not respect boundaries and thereby mess them up for their victims. So you have become the abuser and a mystery new partner is her rescuer. In another sense, she has also become the abuser and telling you horrible and unnecessary things like ‘I never loved you’ and you’ve become the victim. (If you would like to read more about the abuse triangle, I explain it in full in Make Love Like a Prairie Vole.)
It goes without saying that your wife is hurting and dealing with the reawakening of the most extraordinary pain. When we are in pain, we just want it to go away and the magic of limerence seems the answer. Obviously, this is an illusion because the abuse triangle keeps spinning. The only way forward, for lasting happiness, is to break the triangle and help her move from victim to survivor. She will need professional help to do this.
I hope this helps you understand but it doesn’t explain where to go from here. When you are getting on well and she is reasonably calm, can you express sympathy for the childhood abuse, discuss whether it has come back up following her mother’s death and ask if now is the time to sort it out. Whatever she decides, she will make a better relationship if this is not hanging over her.
In the meantime, you can try and improve your communication. Although it is important to argue, I don’t think it is helpful to let rip with your anger. It will be too much of a shock and confirm that ‘we are not right for each other’ but you can learn to become assertive. I cover this in ‘Resolve your differences’ and ‘Help your partner say yes’. I would also read ‘My wife doesn’t love me anymore’ which will be out soon.
Finally, when she says ‘I never felt anything for you’ there is no point arguing. I would say ‘I have feelings for you and that’s why I want to help and support you through this difficult time. We’ll sort out our relationship when you’ve recovered from the grief and the upset of the last few months.’ I can’t pretend it’s going to be easy but I hope my reply will help you keep your sanity.
All my very best