Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Abuse, Love, and Marriage

Dan Savage answered a letter from "Truthful Revelation Unmakes Two Happy Spouses" that is relevant to this blog. It comes with a mild TRIGGER WARNING for potential sexual and emotional abuse.

My father left my mother abruptly when I was 14 years old, and he hasn't contacted either of us since. It was a crushing blow for her, and she retreated from the world. She was never bitter about it, but it was devastating. She lost the love of her life for no apparent reason and was left completely alone, except for me. We have both done our best to forget about him. We were extremely close for the next four years and actually slept in the same bed every night.
It is the responsibility of parents to raise children to be independent adults, not to use them as emotional crutches or allow them to be perpetually dependent on the parent. While cuddling is OK at any age, and co-sleeping is OK in certain circumstances, it was probably a bad idea to permanently move in to the same bed at age 14. Unlike what happened with this person, there are 14-year-olds out there who actively want to start something with their mother and wish for it (and, on the other hand, there are kids that age who can't stand their mother at all). But again, it is the responsibility of parents to raise their children to be independent adults.

Eventually, we began doing something that most people would consider evil but neither of us has ever regretted. It was just something that happened. And it wasn't something that just happened once—it went on for two years and ended only when I left to go to university.
"Eventually" is an important word here. What are the ages of consent and majority where the letter writer lived? It doesn't sound like the mother intentionally groomed her child, but this is a big reason why certain boundaries are a good idea until a child is grown, and it was her responsibility to keep those in place.

Mutual affection is not evil. Notice the writer says "we" and not "she."

I haven't thought about this for years, and it is something my mother and I have never discussed. She has since remarried and seems perfectly fine. But even today, we sometimes send each other friendly messages that are vaguely suggestive. The problem is I mentioned it to my wife recently and she went ballistic. She called me and my mother sick and moved into another bedroom and refuses to have sex with me.
The wife doesn't see the letter writer as a victim, but as a willing participant. I could see the wife being upset at her mother-in-law. But otherwise, this is nothing but prejudice. I would have her read this. Also, while I realize it is different with a spouse, she certainly knows other people she respects and admires who have such experiences.

I wish I had never mentioned it, but it was part of a truth-or-dare session we were having.
Coming out is very, very risky.

This has been the situation for the last three months. I have finally lost my patience and I am thinking of leaving. I have never cheated on my wife or hurt her, either physically or emotionally, and I have supported her financially while she studies at university. I have mentioned going to a counselor, but she refuses and claims that she is married to a monster and that no woman would want me.
This is clearly not true. Clearly your mother still wants you. Sorry, I couldn't resist. Seriously, there are women who want a spouse like you. If we look at what happened as abuse, then you're victim. If she's looking at it as sex, that still, in no way, makes you a monster.

We don't have any children—so if I were to leave, I wouldn't be disrupting an innocent's life. Do you have any advice?
It's time to divorce. There is almost no chance this marriage is going to be able to continue, and even that slim chance would only happen with so much effort on the part of both spouses that it's far better to end it now.

Going forward, be much more careful about revealing your past to partners. It's unfortunate we're not in a place in human development where these things can be discussed rationally with more people, but we have to deal with things as they are while we try to make them better. A partner only "needs" to know anything about what happened with your mother if it is impacting your life to the point it is going to impact their life.

Example: Mom and/or Dad sexually abused Jenny from ages 6 to 10. Jenny should tell her partner if: 1) it is impacting Jenny's ability to enjoy sex the way her partner enjoys sex; 2) Jenny's partner is urging Jenny to re-establish contact with her parents; 3) Jenny wants to make it clear that minor children should not be brought around her parents.

Let's see how Savage replied.

Dr. Miletski is a psychotherapist and a sex therapist, and Dr. Kort is a sex and relationship therapist. Both are certified by the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists, and both are authors—Dr. Miletski literally wrote the book on the subject of mother-son incest: Mother-Son Incest: The Unthinkable Broken Taboo Persists.
"There's no wonder his wife is so upset," said Dr. Miletski. "Sexual relations between mother and son are considered the most taboo form of incest."
As I wrote above, there really isn't a rational reason for her to be upset unless she thinks her spouse was abused and is allowing ongoing abuse. Instead, she appears to be jealous.
"In the mental-health field, we have a growing body of work showing that not everyone who is abused is necessarily traumatized," said Dr. Kort. "I have seen countless men who have been sexually abused by their mothers who do not label it as abuse because they were not traumatized. But his mother seduced him, dismissing the sexual and emotional needs of a teenage boy. There is no other way to describe this other than abuse, however consensual he may have perceived it to be at the time."
"Unfortunately, I don't think his wife will ever be able to put this revelation behind her," said Dr. Miletski. "I think his best bet is to leave her, move on, and seek therapy. A therapist will help him deal with the emotional upset of the breakup with his wife, as well as process what happened with his mother."
A good therapist, even if convincing him he was abused, won't cause the letter to feel like a victim if he or she doesn't already. That's hardly going to leave someone better off.

Although Savage didn't say so in his answer, he and other advice columnists probably get countless letters from people who've experienced abuse and also people who've had consensual (to be redundant) sexual relationships with a close relative.

Once again, it is important parents raise their children to be independent adults. If, as adults, those children want to enter into a consanguinamorous relationship with a parent, they should be free to do so. There's no good reason to deny them that right.
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