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There’s one thing I’ve learned from experience – sex in abusive relationships is generally abusive.
Abusers seek to control and punish their victims, preventing them from living as healthy, functioning people. So sex (unsurprisingly) is a potent weapon in an abuser’s arsenal, enabling them to exploit an all-consuming human need for intimacy and connectedness.
In my case, while we had two daughters, our sex life was barren at worst and inconsistent at best. My ex-wife avoided physical intimacy with me, using five masterful excuses, each of which became its own mind game, promising physical intimacy, so long as I became a better person.
If I felt loved, then I’d be more receptive
It was my ex-wife’s favourite excuse for withholding affection and in response, I’d tear myself inside out to become that better person: I’d do more housework, I’d get home from work early to support her with the kids and spend time with her, I’d identify her stresses and strains and work to alleviate them.
Nothing was ever too much trouble. I read self-help books, I attended counselling sessions, I’d try anything to find that magic answer. But after years of searching, I had to admit it: I wasn’t capable of making her feel loved. Our physical life was barren for years, but always with the promise of improvements if I made her feel loved.
I don’t like your body: You’re too muscly
All those hours spent in the gym at university, building biceps, triceps, pecs and a ripped six-pack: what an utter waste of time because when she first saw my body, she said it made her feel sick. So I stopped working out, but then she said I was too skinny and that I needed to fatten up because I didn’t look healthy.
Throughout our relationship, my body not being quite right was a common theme as was my ongoing efforts to hone my body shape to her liking in order to win affection/sex at some point in the future.
You don’t take the initiative: Real men do
But taking the initiative (sexually speaking) with someone who you’re scared of is not easy at all. I’d never know how she’d respond to my advances, whether I’d caught her at the wrong moment, or whether my approach was too hesitant or too pushy (both of which caused uproar).
Add to that, the near certainty that I’d be rejected each time: it felt easier to go quietly to bed, hoping nothing would happen.
In spite of my turmoil, I continued to try: massage oil, lighting, music, nice meal, kids sorted early; but none of it worked. I either misread the situation and got my approach wrong, or I was criticised for not taking the initiative – and once she started criticising me, she’d generally progress to an all-out attack and the declaration of World War 3!
I’ve never had an orgasm
Well, it’s not exactly what a man wants to hear after years of marriage, nor is it what he wants his wife to share at a drunken dinner party with several couples present … ouch! This became a familiar theme and in public, she said it to humiliate me.
Whatever I did or didn’t do: things didn’t improve. I genuinely believed that I was a disaster in bed: it ruined my confidence and made me paranoid that she’d be seeking sexual adventures elsewhere (I later found out that my paranoia was well grounded). It was years after my divorce before I truly rebuilt my confidence.
I’m too tired
In a healthy relationship, its obviously normal to feel too tired from time to time due to stresses at work, being ill or sleep deprived due to the kids, but in my abusive relationship: ‘I’m too tired’ meant, ‘I’m being too stretched. You need to take more of the load off my shoulders if you want me to be more affectionate with you.’
So I worked myself even harder: the kids, the chores, the business and making enough money so she didn’t have to work, and the less she did, the more she said she was too tired and stressed, so I drove myself harder in the vain hope that if I did everything, then maybe she wouldn’t be ‘too tired’ and would be finally be affectionate towards me.
On the few occasions when sex did happen, it was awkward, and far from being a source of joy and intimacy, it was the source of frustration and pain. Frankly, I never felt good enough: I never felt safe, I never felt truly loved by her and I always believed that the lack of sex was my fault.
If you’re caught in abuse and recognise these patterns, I have five things to say to you:
- It’s not your fault: It’s just part of the abuse.
- You’re an awesome lover regardless of what your abuser says, because under the right circumstances, human beings are awesome lovers. What prevents you from being that awesome lover at the moment is that you’re in an abusive relationship and while you remain in it, your sex life will continue to feed your self-doubt and bring you pain.
- You can tear yourself inside-out to become that better person who deserves pure love and warm affection, but it doesn’t matter what you do, in an abusive relationship, you will never measure up or satisfy your abuser … and your abuser will always punish you for it.
- It is possible to heal. It takes time, but in the right relationship, you can experience the purest and most beautiful love that exists.
- Whatever you’ve suffered, not all people are bad. In every country, culture and city, there are good people who will be healthy for you and destructive people who will drain you. Learn from your mistakes: build your intimate relationships with healthy people.
Andrew Pain is a high-performance coach, TEDx speaker, productivity expert, domestic abuse campaigner and survivor of a long-term abusive marriage.
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