Monthly Archives: April 2014

Apr 28

Hanging on by a Thread: Sexual Trauma and Marriages

By E.J. Smith | Help , Sex & Family Planning

9fce6acf-af11-47dc-85c4-2e3769731b14Trigger Warning: If the topic of sexual assault or sexualized violence is one that is deeply troubling to you, please do what you need to take care of yourself in this moment. Some of the material in this article could be triggering to you.


April is Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month. Sexual violence and the trauma it creates isn’t something we talk about a lot in the context of marriages, and yet these experiences can have a devastating impact on the health of our closest relationships.

It’s not something that is openly discussed.  What I’ve learned over the course of my time as an Advocate for survivors, and as a therapist, is that the aftermath of sexual assault — be it that of a spouse or even of another family member can have a devastating impact on the family as a whole.

There are many resources available to survivors (I’ve listed several here), however, I wanted to take a special opportunity to dispel some myths and also offer several simple considerations that readers can do to help their families and loved ones get through these extremely challenging times.

By the Numbers

First and foremost, we need to lay out some facts regarding the prevalence of sexual assault in the US.

Currently,  1 in 6 women, 1 in 10 men, and 1 in 4 college-age women will experience sexual assault in their lifetimes. Of these survivors, approximately 15% were under age 12 at the time of their assault.

Statistically speaking, most of us know a survivor. And assuming for the moment this rate is accurate, that means of the 2,118,000 marriages reported by the CDC (2013), over 350,000 marriages involve a female partner who has experienced sexualized violence.

However, that number is not accurate due to the fact that nearly 60% of sexual assault goes unreported each year (RAINN, 2013). Suffice it to say the numbers alone make it worth discussing.

So How Can You Help?

This topic is admittedly broad.

Factors like how recent the assault was, age at time of assault, if the person was married, whether or not the perpetrator was known to the survivor or not (roughly 85% are, by the way) will largely determine the way your loved one (the survivor) responds.

Every situation is unique. That being said, my intention here is simply to give you some basic tools to support your spouse as you go through this challenging time.

And please let me reiterate that while I’m writing this with the example of the spouse being the survivor, these are generally good guidelines to apply for whenever someone (a friend, colleague, child, or any one else) discloses this to you.

1. Believe Them.

Yes, it really is that simple.

Evidence suggests that if a person is willing to disclose a sexual assault, the odds are (roughly 92-96%) that it was real. Hopefully believing your spouse isn’t a challenge to begin with, but even it is—I would strongly recommend erring on this side of caution.

The #1 fear that keeps survivors silent is not being believed.

2. Accept that there are no easy solutions.

This just isn’t one of those issues where someone can simply identify, address and clean up the problem in 1-2-3.

There are no easy solutions. And while therapy is often a fantastic avenue for healing from trauma, everyone involved needs to understand that sometimes the work that we do makes things seem worse before they get better.

I find this is especially true with people who have kept their stories hidden from their families. Old coping strategies that kept the “secret” contained crumble.

Ultimately, this is a good thing. In the mean time, it’s often quite painful and can really shake things up in the relationship and at home.

3. Get “Ok” with not knowing the full story.

One of the first things I try to do when working with survivors is to aid them in restoring their dignity and autonomy through healthy boundary setting.

This always includes an open invitation to share their story, if they feel comfortable, but not pressing the matter.

There are plenty of people out there whose job it is to ask the really uncomfortable and invasive questions, like the Police for example, or a nurse getting the medical history before a forensic exam.  Leave the “investigating” up to them.  You knowing every gritty detail won’t make the story any better– believe me.

Allowing a survivor to tell his or her story on their own time, and respecting those boundaries is much more important in your loved one’s healing journey than any Q&A.

4. Recognize that Trauma may result in a temporary loss of intimacy.

I’ll never forget the woman who came in devastated that she had “ruined her relationship” because every time she tried to be intimate with her spouse, she would have a flashback to her assault.

The lack of sexual intimacy was taking a toll on their relationship. When her husband asked what had changed and she explained the flashbacks, he (understandably) became hurt over the idea that he would be in any way, shape or form connected to that horrible event in her mind. Of course it wasn’t him. She knew that.

The body and the mind needed time to heal, however.  Healing from this kind of trauma–like any trauma– cannot be forced.

If you can, commit to being a patient, supportive and understanding partner.  Illustrate this commitment by allowing your spouse to set the boundaries, and try to keep an open flow of communication. (Yes, I know– again with the boundaries).

Think of it this way, sexual assualt is (for many) the ultimate violation of one’s personal space and autonomy.  Restoration of that autonomy is of critical importance.

As frustrating, hurtful, and even as lonely as the interim might feel, in the long run, these messages of acceptance and patience will help intimacy to return.

4. Re-educate Yourself and Others

This one is, in my opinion, by far the most important piece.

Something I always include in my presentations is a segment on myths and facts surrounding sexual violence. There is a ton of misinformation out there.

To separate fact from fiction, seek out reliable sources of information, like RAINN. Many, if not all, States have their own organizations as well. TAASA is the State organization for Texas.

You can also look up your local rape crisis center, and ask to speak with a staff person or advocate who can speak with you regarding your particular situation and give you the warmth and support you need to not only survive this nightmare yourself, but also to help you support your loved one—wherever they are in their healing journey.

Please be forewarned: We can read a pamphlets and flyers all day long about how its not what the person was wearing that made them more of a target, but it takes on a whole new context when your loved one is hurting.

These high stress situations expose our personal biases, and deep-seated beliefs. If you learn nothing else, please remember that the only person who is capable to stopping a sexual assault from occurring is the perpetrator.

To help keep the blame game in check, ask yourself: “If the perpetrator hadn’t been there, would this have happened?”

Why is it Relevant?

Let’s say that you are reading this article and thinking, “Yes, I (or my spouse) has experienced sexual violence… but that has nothing to do with what’s wrong in our marriage.”

What can I say? Maybe that’s true. You and your spouse are the experts on your relationship. Nevertheless, I would invite you to consider the fact that as people, we are constantly living, learning and (hopefully) growing by way of our experiences.

If someone you or someone you love has endured the living nightmare that is sexual assault— I’m willing to believe it had an impact. Every survivor story is different, so there isn’t a one-sized conclusion to be found. Many times, however, I do find that we carry our pain forward with us (consciously or otherwise). Either way, I think it’s worth examining.

Who knows, it could save your marriage.


Note: If you need assistance locating your nearest rape crisis center or have questions about sexual assault, please do not hesitate to connect with me via email or in the comments. You can also try looking up your area on the Sexual Assault Legal Services & Assistance (SALSA) website.

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Apr 21

Stuck at a Sexual Crossroads in Your Marriage?

By Julie Sibert | Sex & Family Planning

sexual-crossroadsI didn’t know when I started blogging about sex.

I didn’t know how many people struggle – I mean really struggle – with sex in their marriage.

It all seems ironic now, but when I started writing and speaking about sexual intimacy in marriage, I must have naively underestimated the power of the internet.

And after awhile, as the emails and comments started to pour in from every corner of the world, I started to see some common threads.

Heart-wrenching threads.

Many people, maybe yourself included, are at a sexual crossroads in their marriage.

Sex has been a source of disconnect way more than a source of oneness.  Sometimes for years.  Decades even.

Sure, the specific circumstances may vary, but generally it often comes down to one person valuing and wanting sexual intimacy.  And the other spouse avoiding it at all costs.

I’ve long believed that healthy patterns are intentional.  No one falls into an exercise routine or happens upon some vitamin rich broccoli.  No one haphazardly starts digging into God’s Word on a regular basis. Or drifts into a balanced budget.

Nope. Healthy patterns are intentional.

You have to walk in the direction of health, whether it’s physical, spiritual, emotional, financial – or sexual.

Unhealthy patterns, though, usually sneak up on us much more casually.  They are unintentional.   No one stands at the altar and thinks, “Someday I’m just going to stop having sex with this person to whom I have just pledged my life… my future” or “I can easily see the moment down the road when his touch will mean nothing to me.”

Nope.  Unhealthy patterns are hazy.  We’re in them before we really know it.  And once there, they become our normal.

Regular mutually satisfying sex drifts into occasional token sex.  Babies come. Life gets complicated.  Jobs get demanding.  Lawns need to be mowed. Sexual distance begins to seem less awkward.

Fill in the details however you may, but I see common denominators among many married couples who are rarely having sex.

They never envisioned sex in their marriage would ever look like that.

It just happened.

Thus the crossroads, where one person in the marriage is ready for a healthier normal that includes sex with the person they love — sex as God designed it.   And the other person isn’t quite sure if they are ready to give up the comfortable unhealthy pattern.  (Actually, sometimes they are quite sure they don’t want to give it up).

I don’t know if any of that describes you, but if it does, I encourage you to read this post with your spouse.

Does that take courage?  Without a doubt.  Whether you are the one desiring nurtured intimacy or you are the one who has been refusing it, it takes courage to address such deep woundedness in your relationship.

Sometimes, though, those baby steps in the direction of health – as painful as they may be to take – are the first steps toward something changing for the better.

No, there are no guarantees.

But staying stuck at a crossroads seems equally or more painful as well.  Better to at least try to shed light on the matter. Better to give hope, love and sexual renewal a fighting chance.

Are you stuck at a sexual crossroads in your marriage?

Could you do something to move your marriage in a healthier direction?

When I started blogging, I had no idea how often I would be asking that question.  But now I ask it all the time.

Apr 14

Romantic Foundations That Endure The Struggles Of Life

By Debi Walter | Romance

IMG_0629Tom and I have been through a lot this past month, and it has stretched us in ways we’ve not been stretched in a long time.

On March 20th, our 7th grandchild was born after waiting for two weeks for her to arrive.

This wouldn’t normally be difficult, but we live 7 hours apart. We were called in the beginning of March certain that this was the time. Since this was our daughter’s fourth baby, we felt certain she knew it really was time for her baby to come.We packed up in a couple of hours and drove north.

However, Brielle decided she didn’t want to come just yet. In fact, she waited two weeks, which meant we were at their home waiting for two weeks with them. Tom finally flew home because he had things he had to get done.

You see, at the same time we were waiting for Brielle’s grand entrance into our lives, our son was in the process of moving his family 10 hours away.

He was going from a home 1 mile away from our house in Florida to Tennessee where he was to begin a new job as a copy editor for Dave Ramsey. Our emotions were all over the place, making romance a long lost memory.

We were exhausted, emotional and stretched beyond our ability to think clearly.

Romance. Had. To. Wait.

But I’m happy to say that after 35 years of romancing each other, our relationship is strong enough to wait. We didn’t take the delay personal. Our lives were in a state of transition. We knew we’d both be there for each other when the winds of change settled.

Today, I realized it was time for me to post here for Dustin on the Engaged Marriage blog. Honestly, my stored resources felt distant, but I am compelled by the Lord to share the importance of building romance into the foundation of your marriage.

It sustains us when our feelings wane or when our energy is zapped. We no longer feel the need to express our love in romantic ways for fear of it going away. We know what God has given us.

We know that it is good. And we are confident that when struggles comes our way, we will be ready to handle it, by the grace and kindness of God.

How has difficulty affected your romantic foundation?

Does it feel like your love is built upon a rock or upon sand?

What you choose to do day in and day out will determine the strength of your marriage when times become hard. It matters how you express your love each day. It matters how you communicate when life seems easy. It matters how you defer to one another out of love and respect.

Because hard times will come.

I’m so grateful to God for a husband who knows me well enough to help me through the stressful times without an expectation to be a certain way. I can collapse into his arms knowing I’m safe.

Husbands, I encourage you to be a refuge for your wife. This will do more to promote a healthy, romantic love than anything else.

Wives, I encourage you to listen to your husband when he is sharing his struggles with you. You are a team, and God has given you the privilege of helping him through it.

On the other side of such seasons there is more romance and love waiting that is deeper and sweeter than any you knew of before the struggle occurred. This is the foundation of romantic love and better yet, a lasting love that glorifies God.

I don’t want the month to pass without giving you some ideas for romance this time of year. Check out our Romantic Easter/Spring Ideas For Husbands and For Wives. They are posted separately so you can surprise each other if you would like. 🙂 Happy romancing!

Apr 07

10 Places to Find Free and Nearly Free Stuff

By Kim Hall | Finances & Careers

10 places to find free and nearly free stuffSome folks are just not comfortable with the thought of obtaining previously owned clothing and household items, and that’s fine.

Others, like my husband and I, make our dollars go much further by taking advantage of gently used goods.

What we especially love is finding merchandise in good, usable condition for free or nearly free.

We joke that we have a finely tuned sense of Freedar—that’s like Radar, only different 🙂 —that alerts us to big bargains.

This has been developed over the years due to our desire to get the most Wow! for our money.

Plus, we get a real charge out of discovering deals!

To help get you rolling towards more savings and a debt free marriage, or just for the thrill of the hunt, here is the list:

Ten places to find Free and Nearly Free stuff!

1.  Free pile at work.  More than one previous employer had a designated area, such as a side table in the cafeteria, where employees were welcome to bring in clean, usable items. Books, clothes, holiday decorations, household goods, and more made regular and very short appearances there. If your workplace doesn’t have a free pile, you can always suggest they start one, and you can offer to oversee it.

2.  Church clothing exchange.  Our church hosted these twice a year. In May and then again in October, families would bring in clothes they no longer wanted or needed. The event lasted for about three weeks, which gave plenty of time to donate and “shop.” Whatever was left at the end was donated to a local charitable thrift store.

3.  School clothing swap.  Our daughters attended a private elementary school, where we held a similar twice yearly exchange. This was incredibly helpful financially, as the children wore uniforms. In another local public school, the parents group organized a clothing swap for the families. Kids grow so quickly, so it it’s always helpful to find free clothes!

4.  Rummage sale.  Watch the public bulletin boards in your local grocery store, in the library, and of course, Craigslist, for notices of rummage sales (usually under the garage sale category). Typically, clothing and so much more can be had at very reasonable prices. If you go after noon, though, they tend to offer huge deals so they don’t have to handle leftover donations.

Get to know the dates of the best annual events, and mark them on your calendar for next year. We had a couple of huge ones where I previously lived, and people would line up at least an hour in advance to get first crack at the bargains. Our daughter furnished her first after college apartment almost completely during the late afternoon big bargain time at one of these very inexpensive and fun sales.

5.  Craigslist.  This busy site has a Free section within the For Sale area. Although the pickings are a little slim here, sometimes you can find a real gem. The trick is to just keep checking. In the Yard Sale section, folks will post “Curb Alerts.” These are notices of yard sale leftovers they are leaving for free on their front lawns/curbs, or things they no longer want or need.

Always be courteous, do what you promise, and be safe. If you are new to Craigslist, take the time to read over their FAQ’s, including the information on general help, fraud, and safety.

6.  Freecycle.  The goal of this network is to reduce and recycle goods you no longer want by giving them away to others. They have over seven million members worldwide, and over 5,000 groups. My town of just over 2,000 individuals was even part of a small area group. You sign up for one or more groups in your area. When another member posts an item, you email them to let them know of your interest. Like Craigslist, always be safe and smart about your on and offline transactions.

7.  Family and friends.  Let these folks know you are interested in locating particular items for free or nearly free, and offer to stay similarly on the lookout for them. Putting the power of a larger group to work is a wonderful thing. We always have other folks in mind as we peruse merchandise. If we pick up something and the person no longer needs or wants it, we can just give it away, no harm done.

8.  Town convenience/recycle center. These places may have different names depending on where in the country you live. Many of them provide an area where you can drop off used goods for others. I know of a wealthy town whose area is so well-stocked and wildly popular that the managers have created a two-step ID check-in process to keep out non-residents.

9.  Neighborhood curb shopping.  Most suburban areas have a regular trash pickup day. Find out what day that is, and drive there the night before. If you see something on the curb you’d like beside the trash containers, you can check with the owners before taking it. Let comfort, common sense, and courtesy be your guide! Trent of The Simple Dollar wrote about this practice here. You can certainly do this in your own neighborhood, but some folks are just more comfortable curb shopping where they aren’t approaching friends and neighbors.

10.  College campuses.  At the end of the year, students are focused on final projects, exams, and going home. In their hurry to flee, they often leave lots of useful merchandise at the curb. This is true for dorms as well as off-campus housing.

This list should give you plenty of places to start your search for free and nearly free goodies.

Remember this: Just because someone has discarded an item does not automatically mean it is trash.

It may very well be the treasure you have been seeking!

Question: Where would you recommend searching for free and nearly free stuff?

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