Is it Rape When Your Husband Does It?

A cyber friend from the other side of the world sent me a link last night about partner rape. I’ve added it to my list of “Related Websites.” Little did she know the storm she would set off for me.

This is a subject I’ve known I need to write about, but have persistently procrastinated. There are so many other things in the world to talk about. I can talk forever without ever mentioning this subject, surely. Right?

First, I opened her e-mail with the link. I got tense, but added the link to my site; responded to her e-mail. Whew. Made it through OK. Then there was another e-mail from her with an attachment. I opened the attachment. It was an excerpt from the site. Oh, darn. Only one page. OK. I made it through the page. By the end of the page I was physically ill. I almost had to leave the room. I sat back and concentrated on deep breathing and not throwing up.

I got up, unplugged my computer and brought it outside to the patio where I am now, and my stomach is back where it belongs. I guess I really do have to write about this. Because I know I’m not the only one. There are others reading this who know exactly what I’m talking about, don’t you?

It happens in Christian marriages. Sometimes it is forcible violent rape. Mine wasn’t. In some ways I wish it was. Just like I used to wish he would hit me. If he would just hit me I could call the police and everyone would finally believe me. If I just had some visible bruises everyone else would know I wasn’t lying.

After our daughter was born, in one of his screaming rages, Gary swore he would never come near me in an intimate way again. And he proceeded to denigrate me so horribly that I could certainly not initiate anything and retain a shred of self respect. I remained calm, as I had learned to do, and asked him if he realized what he was saying. He affirmed that he did and didn’t care. He meant it. And he did. He stayed away.

Throughout the next couple years I regularly let him know he was welcome back when he changed his mind. He didn’t change his mind. Then I was diagnosed with cancer. Once we had the details of the type of cancer I had and knew the cancer was highly hormone receptor positive, and I opted for a reconstructive surgery that permanently re-routed my Rectus abdominis muscles (those “6-pack” ab muscles) which support the uterus during pregnancy, we knew getting pregnant could kill me and would be at best, extremely difficult. We discussed this many times, and I told him repeatedly after that, he was welcome back when he changed his mind AND bought condoms. When he didn’t buy them, I finally did because the risk was just too great for a spur of the moment decision to cost me my life.

Digressing slightly, one of the many side-effects of chemo and the steroids that go with it, is insomnia. Like everyone else who takes chemo, I was prescribed a sleep aid. I attempted to go off it a few months after completing chemo, but my body wasn’t ready yet and I had to go back on the medication. It was a very big deal that everyone in the family was aware of because of the dramatic effects of the attempt. (There’s a reason for that little digression. 😉 ) I was finally able to go off the sleep aid about a year after completing chemo.

Meanwhile, however, the last summer we were together, about one year after starting chemo, there were three times when I woke in the night to find Gary having his way with me. Due to the medication I was unable to remain awake (I was in and out of wakefulness throughout), participate deliberately, tell him to stop, or refuse to do anything he told me to do as long as it didn’t require any coordinated action on my part. One time he did something I had repeatedly asked him not to do throughout our marriage, but he had done a few times anyway. One time he “forgot” to use a condom. And once he did something I had always refused to let him do because I felt it was derogatory within the nature of our relationship. He crowed about it for days afterwards and I felt completely ashamed.

And I could say nothing. I was very confused. On one hand, I had told him he was welcome back anytime he changed his mind. But I didn’t mean in the middle of the night when I didn’t know about it. Did he somehow think that was OK? Or did he think because I was in and out and didn’t stop him, I was agreeing to it?

But I knew if I said anything about any of these events three things would happen. One, he would fly into a rage. He was already doing that on an almost daily basis. Two, he would immediately call his parents (he tattled to his parents about everything constantly) and tell them I was “again” denying him sex, which was one of his favorite (unfounded) complaints. Three, he would use this as another mark against me with all his friends and our pastors – another favorite thing to do.

For the next 8 months I had terroristic nightmares every single night, even after I left him, which was 2 months after the last time it happened. I was afraid to go to sleep at night because I didn’t know what would happen. Every night I dreamed he was either trying to rape me, kill me, or had lost our daughter and blamed me (because that sort of thing actually happened). Frequently I woke up sobbing out loud or shaking so hard the whole bed rattled. Three or four days a week I woke up with a screaming migraine.

I will always believe that at least subconsciously he wanted to kill me when he “forgot” to use a condom. How do you “forget” to use a condom when it’s been two and a half years and you know it can kill your wife if she gets pregnant? And you’re sneaking it in when she’s asleep? I also know that when I first told him the doctor told me the biopsy was positive for cancer his response was, “Now I’ll have to find a new wife.” He wanted out of our marriage but his code of ethics wouldn’t let him admit it to himself much less be the one to actually pull the plug.

The only way I eventually got relief was with the help of a psychologist. And I don’t know why it helped. But it did. [NOTE: After I originally wrote this I remembered why this helped; but it’s not relevant; and much too detailed for this venue, so we will draw a curtain here. If anyone really needs to know, e-mail me.]

There were a whole pile of last straws in our relationship. The escalating aggression. Realizing that the verbal and emotional abuse were just as deadly as the physical violence. Realizing that I was just as worth saving as my children were. Getting cancer – I believe from the stress of living in the abuse. Realizing I was setting an example for my daughter to marry an abuser. Seeing him start to treat our daughter the way he had started with the boys when they were her age.

But this was definitely another of the “last straws.” And it was one of the hardest ones. It was one of the ones I “felt” the strongest about, but could least express. I told my attorney about it and I told my pastors. But it was certainly not something I could bring up in court. They would have made mincemeat out of me, and at that point I was definitely not strong enough emotionally to bear it. Gary could completely deny any evil intention. And he would have been absolutely believable. I would have looked like a raving lunatic out to destroy an innocent man.

But inside I was destroyed. At the time, I was sure I could never marry again. I was convinced there was no way a man was ever getting anywhere close to me in this lifetime. Three years later, I think I’ve gained enough distance that it won’t be an impossible hurdle.

At the same time, with the way the church deals with abuse, I am quite sure in the normal way of things, if a wife were to take a situation like this to her pastors she would get no consideration at all. And that would be profoundly wrong, because what happened to me was a gross violation. I don’t really know what to call it. Do you call it rape? I don’t know. It was certainly sexual assault. I wasn’t a willing participant. It was “taken” without my consent, and cruelly at that – without leaving a mark on me. Just because he was my husband did not give him that right.

7 Responses

  1. I have seen scripture used as an excuse for this as well. I remember going to a faith board one day, and reading this awful story along these lines. A couple of ladies came back with the scripture about how our bodies are no longer our own, and there is no such thing as marital rape or sexual assault.

    I have wonder about people like that. Do they just see the words in the bible, and NOT see the spirit of the man named Jesus? What he stood for? What he did and WHY he did this? YEP I separated them a bit to make a point. If a person that doesn’t have faith reads the bible they could see what this character in this book represented. How much clearer should he be to others that claim to follow him?

    Do they seriously think Jesus would use that scripture to justify this action? I mean would that be the FIRST thing that came to mind? Disrespecting the whole message – or his purpose on this earth and this gift he left us for so that we can have life after death? Is that loving the wife as Christ loved the church? To TAKE something while your wife is sick and asleep? To NOT take measures to make sure her safety was assured? To me that is not the Christian spirit of what I feel Jesus would wish us to be.

    Danni people make excuses it seems when they hear stories that make their anxiety levels go up. They can’t imagine this happening, and don’t want to think about it. If it happened outside the marriage bed people would think so much different. The marriage is suppose to be very special, and shouldn’t be handed all these exempt clauses that others wish to give out. That is NOT the intention of the spirit of the word.

    YES it was sexual assualt! YES it was rape! NO he is NOT entitled to TAKE what he wishes because he is the husband. Jesus would never be okay with that. In the all famous chapter in which people love to quote the ‘I hate divorce’ speaks of treating your spouse and family with contempt. God tells those men that he will not listen to their prayers because they are playing ‘nice sunday school going guys’ on the sabbath, and yet act almost like the devil himself at everywhere else. He told those men they are not entitled to this, and they need to stop this entitlement and go and act as the men of God he wishes them to be.

    Anyone that would tell you different does NOT know the spirit behind the words in the bible. If they can’t pick up on the loving , caring, and God fearing way of life he asks us to live – they need to go back and read it again! It more than words – there is a spirit there they missed.

  2. Oh, it was definitely sexual assault. Since it was without my willing participation, included activities he knew I would never have consented to and one which could have killed me – definitely sexual assault. But legally rape – I think a defense attorney would eat me alive. Although, now I’m strong enough I’d at least eat a very large steak tartar for lunch on a reciprocal basis.

    As for what people do with the Word, they are very selective. Yes, they love the verse that says our bodies are no longer our own. And they like to ignore the ones that say husbands are supposed to love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave up His life for her. Then there’s the verse that says we are to take care of our bodies because they are the temple of the Lord. So, if my body is the temple of the Lord, and my husband is supposed to give up his life for me, how can he abuse me and my body? And if I am a gody helpmeet to him, how can I enable him to do this sin?

    That sounds to me like good straight-forward Bible teaching. That ought to get some goose-flesh-raisin’ down-south amens.

    Bet it wouldn’t though. 😉

    — Danni

  3. Hmm… it sounds like rape to me. And I would stand with you on that one. 😉

    As to the verse referenced in the above comments, do they not read the whole passage? It is not about wives giving their husbands anything they want. It is about wives AND husbands treating each other with respect and not using sex as a manipulation tool. Sheesh! (1 Corithians 7 is the passage) 😀

  4. Oh Danni!
    I had no idea you would be so affected by the link I sent you! I think you are stupendously brave to work your way through reading the material and then, so soon, to write about it.
    I believe what your husband did was rape. I’m not a lawyer, but when I was reading up on sexual abuse years ago to try to understand my own sexual abuse as a child, I read that rape, as legally defined in Australia, is the penetration of any orifice, by any body part or object, without that person’s consent or in a situation where that person cannot reasonably be expected to grant consent.
    That declared that I had experienced rape when, asleep as a 9 year old, I was digitally penetrated. I found this declaration enormously relieving: at last the experience was named. It gave some validation to my ongoing terror, grief, avoidance behaviors, and hyper-vigilance. It explained why my life had ended up such a mess.
    Sorry for those who might be reading this post and finding it very confronting, but I believe that since God is a God of truth, we deal with these things by being honest about them.

    On 1 Cor 7:4 “The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. And likewise the husband does not have authority over his body, but the wife does”. This verse can only be twisted to justify abuse if you focus on part A and ignore part B.
    Most scriptural doctrines consist of two opposing truths held in tension against each other. This verse is an excellent example. One logical implication of this verse is that if the wife has authority over her husband’s body, HER body may tell HIS body to do (or not do) certain things. Of course, HIS body may tell HER body to do or not do certain things, but because her authority over his body is equal to his authority over her body, the scripture prohibits any sexual behavior that is coercive, criminal, ignores the “NO” of the other partner, or is done without the other partner’s consent.

    By the way Danni, I also believe that your husband’s conduct was also criminal in that it was “conduct endangering life” (because of the risk of you dying from another pregnancy).
    Heavy stuff!

  5. Barbara,

    No worries! I just figured it was time to write it. Ironically, the same thing came up within an hour in an entirely different arena and I needed to write about it to someone else. So I was already primed. 😉

    I am a very open person. I believe secrets kill and the power of sharing has the ability to help bring freedom because other people who are still in chains can then see others walking free. I’m willing to “gut” my way past my own triggers to get there. Triggers are everywhere. I protect myself from the ones I can and just deal with the rest of them. I sure wouldn’t have this blog if I was going to hide from them! LOL!

    I’ll go one further on the power of sharing – this is literally Jesus’ way in action. Oh dear, I feel a post coming on, so I’m going to elipses here and put this on the front page

    — Danni

  6. My ex-husband who is still a highly respected clergyman in “good standing” also began having sex with me while I was asleep. I woke and gently asked him what was going on, since the evening before, he had ignored my request for sexual intimacy and refused to speak to me, causing me to cry myself to sleep while he lay stone cold next to me. He didn’t reply, but continued becoming intimate. I said, “Could you please just LOOK at me?” He got out of the bed and walked out of the bedroom slamming the door.

    On another occasion, we were preparing to go to a job interview for him. He interrupted my dressing and drying my hair by pushing me onto the bed and beginning to orally stimulate me. I asked him to stop–the main reason being that I knew he would fly into a rage and make the journey to the job interview a living nightmare if I were not ready to go in time. He just put his whole weight over me, pinning my arms down above my head, and continued… although I told him again and again I wanted him to stop. He laughed at me while he was doing this, saying “You know you like it! You know you want it!” I was so deeply humiliated that I vowed to myself to pretend I had consented to it, and I even eventually began to participate a little in order to convince myself that it was okay. But I never forgot it. My spirit began to die that day.

    Similar incidents happened later. Once he woke up with a miserable snotty cold and demanded that I have sex with him. As we were expecting a relative from out of town to arrive the next day and I had a heavy load of housework to complete, I tried to reason with him and say that I could not afford to catch his cold. He became enraged and, although he didn’t persist, this became an accusation long afterward, that I had denied sex to him, which he considered his right.

    When I was ill and in terrible pain with fibromyalgia and severe migraines, he told me I was “half a person” and he didn’t intend to be married to someone who couldn’t be “a proper wife”.

    On another occasion, after I had refused to sleep with him because of his continual verbal abuse, threats of violence and sleep deprivation while he ranted and raged at me and interrogated me non-stop demanding a yes or no answer to questions that could not be answered with a simple yes or no, he came into my bedroom one morning saying he wanted to apologise for his horrible behaviour. He asked me if I would forgive him. I said “yes.” He immediately said, “Now, I want you to masturbate me.” I explained that I could not feel good about doing that, as I felt that there were sexual issues between us that needed to be discussed and I was not ready to be intimate until I could feel close to him emotionally and trusting toward him. He immediately began ranting and demanding that I masturbate him. This continued for over an hour, with him physically in my face shouting and being violent with physical objects in the room. I eventually gave in, even though I had a sense that in doing so, I was actually causing my husband to sin. I was in the process of masturbating him, as he had demanded, when he violently pushed me off him, shouting at me, “You don’t even WANT to do this!” and other accusations that implied I should come to him in love and with a spirit of willingness, even when he had demanded that I do it in a spirit of anger. Afterward, I wrote on a piece of paper, “Today, I died.”

    Later in our marriage, after I had resolutely refused to share a bed with him, despite a Christian counsellor advising me to show him more affection, and refusing to discuss the sexual and other abuse in our counselling sessions, he would regularly interrupt my prayer sessions, even coming into the little chapel we had made in the attic of our house to rant and rage at me and demand that I agree to sleep with him. He would even shout at me that if I didn’t give him what he believed were his rights, he would seek the services of a prostitute. This happened in a room which contained consecrated communion wafers, a crucifix, and several Bibles, and where I had gone to pray about our marriage and ask God’s guidance about how to behave toward him. I would quietly ask him to leave, telling him that I was praying, and he would loudly refuse to do so, saying it was his house and he could go where he liked in it.

    He said to me more than once, “You pray too much.” On another occasion, he demanded that I tell him I would obey him and do whatever he wanted even if he stopped serving and following God. I said that the Bible tells us to honour God above all things, and he became enraged, sobbing, getting violent, shouting at me and calling me names.

    On one occasion when he came into the chapel while I was praying, he demanded sex and said that I was disobeying God by sleeping in a separate bed. He said I was not really a Christian because I had done this. After enduring over an hour of his ranting and raging on this subject, I quietly asked him to go and pray sincerely, as I was doing, asking God what His will is for our marriage. He shouted at me, “So, if I do that, will you obey what God tells me?” I thought about it, and felt backed into a corner. I was exhausted and desperate. I silently prayed to God to show him the truth. I said, “If you pray sincerely, I will obey God.” He left the room at last, saying he was going away to pray. He returned to the room half an hour later, telling me that God told him he should come back into the marital bed. When I quietly refused to do that without further discussion about the sexual abuse and other abuse that had occurred in the past, he raged at me even more and eventually I had to leave home because I was afraid he would kill me.

    I told some of these things to several clergy persons, and to the bishop in charge of pastoral care over my husband. They continually asked me what I had done to provoke him, and would find no long-term place for me to stay. They continued to encourage me to return to the marriage, even though he had threatened to kill me. Even the police were deferential toward him sometimes when I called them. No member of clergy, professional counsellor or therapist, neither our family medical doctor who treated me for ulcers and for severe depression and other stress-induced illnesses, nor the psychiatrist who treated him, nor anyone in the police department, referred me to a service for victims of domestic violence, although I clearly had told them of his abuse and threats. None of these people (There were dozens to whom I went and expressed my fear and desperation and asked for help and a safe place to stay for more than a few days or a week at a time) informed me that there was a women’s refuge in our town, or that there is a national helpline and network of refuges I could contact to be housed. I was in a foreign country with no family nearby, and I was unaware what help there might be. I even phoned a hotline several times which is manned by well-trained volunteers. When I asked them if there was a place I could go, they told me only that “The shelters are all full.” I now believe that this happened because I had revealed to him that my husband was a clergyman.

    After being urged again and again by clergy and counsellors to “meet him halfway” or make some kind of good will gesture to show my love to him (I was constantly trying to be affectionate and kind and loving, and patient in every way, but he would tell them that I did nothing for him whatsoever, that I was completely selfish) I agreed to have sex with him after a particularly hopeful period of about one week during which he had not been overtly violent and abusive. I asked only that I be allowed to return to my own bed afterward to sleep. I said I felt that I needed to resume intimate contact with him gradually. The next day, he began abusing me all over again, and part of his abuse was the accusation that I had not initiated sexual play enough with him the previous night and had returned to my own bed to sleep. He said I might as well not have had sex with him at all, even though I had been emotionally connected and loving toward him at the time. Within 24 hours, he had become so violent, that I had to leave home again and flee for safety.

    Danni, what happened to you was rape. What happened to me was rape. These men are intelligent and emotionally and intellectually savvy enough to understand the difference between consensual, loving, equal partnership and domination and denigration of their partner. Being treated like an piece of meat with orifices into which they can insert their sexual equipment is not in any way glorifying God. If they were to be confronted, honestly, with any other example of such gross and indecent abuse by someone else, they would say so. It is only when they, themselves do it, that they believe it is okay. That is because they have an attitude of entitlement and have made gods of themselves, wanting to be worshipped in place of the true God.

    Thank you so very much for what you have written and for your unfailing insight and honesty. It helps so much!

    It was years before I could feel sexually normal again, after the demoralising effect of all of this. I have not had another relationship since I left him, but I now think maybe one day I may be able to.

  7. I am a liscenced minister. My wife and I have been married for 17 wonderful years. We have 3 kids and God has blessed us in many ways. For the last 6 years we have done online ministry to primarily women in similar situations that have been outlined here.

    A couple of things I want to address if I may…

    On the topic of witholding sex from a partner, this is almost never wise thing to do for a man or a woman (and we’ve seen it in our ministry go both ways over the years). The verse from Paul about your body not being your own means just that. It’s not a sexual “blank check” to use and abuse with, but it most certainly is clear instruction from God to not move in selfishness and to deny a partner sexual access because you dont want to give it. It is simply retaliation and a fruit of underlying unforgiveness for the man or the woman.

    Men (as a rule) are just as deep emotionally as women are, they just don’t reveal their emotions nearly as easily as women (generally). A man’s emotions are usually locked behind a bank vault of life experiences enforced by a society that drills into them from the time they are old enough to walk that they should not show emotions outwardly.

    My wife has taught me by her unselfish examples over the years how to not only enjoy sexual things from my body, but also from my soul. I believe men must be taught how to do this for the reasons I stated above.

    If a man has never known anything but being centered around his own body’s release, it should be no big shock that will be what his goal is. The thought of being kind, gentle and tender to a woman sexually rarely even enters into the head of most men. As a woman, you have to show him just how erotic and emotionally enjoyable that can be, because he’s not going to learn it from your words alone.

    The husband is the spiritual head of the house, however, the wife is the emotional head and just as the husband’s heart before the Lord sets the overall tone for the entire family, so the wife’s heart for her husband sets the emotional tone for everyone else.

    Now, having said all of that, certainly the two stories that have been shared here are indeed non-concentual and I would never condone the actions of the men written about here. At the same time, I applaud the ladies who have posted here and are taking practical steps away from being the victim and toward becoming an overcomer in Christ where Jesus truly can make all things new! (Rev 21:5)

    God Bless You All!


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