Q: How can I be set free from the pain of the sexual abuse I experienced as a child? It happened a long time ago, and I've made every effort to forgive the people who violated me. But after 12 years of marriage, I still can't enjoy sex with my husband without feeling guilty.
Jim: I'm very sorry to learn of the abuse you suffered, and of the pain it continues to cause you so many years later. You're not alone. Research shows that one in four girls and one in six boys are sexually assaulted by the age of 18. The negative effects can last for years. But there is hope.
It's critical to realize that the abuse you endured was not your fault. You may have told yourself this many times, but do you believe it? It's common for victims to blame themselves for offenses perpetrated against them, whether consciously or subconsciously. Remind yourself daily that you are precious in the sight of God -- regardless of what happened to you at the hands of others.
There are several good resources to help you through this process. Consider these books: "Core Healing from Sexual Abuse" by Marti Wibbels, and "Intimate Issues" by Linda Dillow and Lorraine Pintus.
Finally, seek the help of a trained therapist. When children are violated, their sense of trust is damaged. As a result, restoration can only take place within the context of healthy relationships. Your marriage can be an important part of this, especially if your husband is loving and patient. But the task is too big for him to tackle alone. This is a job for a skilled professional. For help locating a counselor in your area, contact Focus on the Family. May God be with you as you seek healing!
Q: My 18-year-old daughter is dating a young man that treats her disrespectfully. It seems that any advice my husband and I give her on the topic is not welcomed and turns into an argument. What are some things we can do to help her see that this young man is not the right one for her and that she deserves to be respected?
Juli: Generally, there are two reasons why your daughter may be hanging onto a guy who doesn't treat her with respect.
First, she may believe that she can't get a quality guy. Perhaps she doesn't think that she deserves better. You see all of your daughter's strengths, beauty and potential. She may have difficulty seeing what you see. It could be that she has experiences in her past (that you may not even know about) that reinforce the belief that she's "damaged" or has to "settle."
Second, your daughter may be staying with this guy in an attempt to gain some independence. If your parenting style tends to be controlling, even if your motive is love and concern, this relationship may be her way of telling you, "I can date whoever I want to! Give me space!"
Unfortunately, I've seen many women wounded by men for both of these reasons. You can make a difference, but you have to change your strategy.
Stop making statements and start asking questions. Spend time with your daughter, asking her about what she's thinking and wishing for her future. Dad, it is time for you to step up. Invest both in your daughter and in the young man she likes. Instead of rejecting him, make efforts to get to know him. Be willing to point out positive traits about him when you see them. Don't make this relationship about how you think or feel, but about how your daughter is growing and learning. It is certainly appropriate to express your concerns, but she won't be willing to hear them until you rebuild trust by listening to her.
Dr. Juli Slattery is a licensed psychologist, co-host of Focus on the Family, author of several books, and a wife and mother of three.)
(Submit your questions to: ask@FocusOnTheFamily.com)