When we talk about sexual abuse, we differentiate between intra-familial (from within the family) and extra-familial (from outside the family).

When from within, it teaches the target of abuse to not trust people who are closest to them. When from outside the family, it teaches the target of abuse to not trust those around them, but who aren’t family.

Who do you trust when you have been sexually abused by those within your family and those outside of your family? Once an adult, how do those childhood experiences play out in one’s life? Where or when does one feel safe? If one has a child, how does one not worry about the safety of the child? How does that play out in parenting?

She was already separated and they had a daughter. She and her husband were seeking to either reconcile or determine how to co-parent. They came for counseling.

I asked her and her husband many questions about their individual, marital and family background. I asked if either person had ever been touched in a way that made them feel uncomfortable. She said she had been abused. When she was about 5 it was an uncle. When she was older it was a family friend.

Not withstanding the issues of sexual abuse, she was reasonably angry about some of the choices and behavior of her husband. Those issues took precedence in the first meeting.

In the second meeting with some of the issues originating with the husband addressed, her issues came more to the fore. We discussed the impact of sexual abuse and how that also played out in the marriage. We discussed how she would always be mindful of him with their daughter and how that created tension between them both and how that trickled down to affect a more distant father-daughter relationship.

While there was no real issue with regard the father and daughter in terms of a sexual concern, he none-the-less felt his wife’s ever watchful eye and felt her concern, concern that caused him distress for her distrust, without knowing why or feeling it deserving. She had never considered the origin of her distrust. She had never considered how her distrust had been misplaced upon her husband. We talked about this and other aspect of sexual abuse.

The third meeting was very different. When asked if either had thought about our previous meeting, she asked to speak. She opened with an apology.

She apologized for her misplaced distrust and the impact of that misplaced distrust upon the marriage as well as her husband’s relationship with their daughter. It was unequivocal. She was taking full responsibility for this, her contribution to marital distress. She did not speak as to his issues and the impact of his issues upon the marriage. She did not deflect, although she could have. She kept it about her and her issues. She got it.

He was totally disarmed and accepted the apology graciously. He did not blame, shame or get angry. He was empathetic and appreciative at the same time. He got it too.

I wiped the tears from my eyes.

We went on to settle interim child support and parenting time issues. They plan to go on a date. She plans to look into volunteer work with other survivors of childhood sexual abuse.

I will see them again in a month’s time.

I am Gary Direnfeld and I am a social worker. Check out all my services and then call me if you need help with a personal issue, mental health concern, child behavior or relationship issue. I am available in person and by Skype.

Author's Bio: 

Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert in social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations and custody and access matters. Gary is the host of the TV reality show, Newlywed, Nearly Dead, parenting columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and author of Marriage Rescue: Overcoming the ten deadly sins in failing relationships. Gary maintains a private practice in Dundas and Georgina Ontario, providing a range of services for people in distress. He speaks at conferences and workshops throughout North America.