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Helping Your Husband Overcome Childhood Sexual Abuse (Part 2 of 2)

Air Date 05/20/2015

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Authors Cecil Murphey and Gary Roe explain how they found emotional healing from childhood sexual abuse and how a wife can come alongside her husband who's experienced similar trauma to offer him love and support. (Part 2 of 2)

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Episode Transcript


John Fuller: On today's Focus program we're addressing a sensitive topic and it's not suitable for younger listeners. Now, with that said, let's go ahead and hear from Cecil Murphey. He was on our program last time talking about God's presence even in the midst of a painful childhood.

Cecil Murphey: I serve a God of presence and not a God of protection. By that I meant that God was with me during that whole time obviously, but never promises that we won't go through difficult places. But what I also know is that God takes us [through] awful, terrible, painful, horrendous experiences and if we're following Him, turns 'em around for our good.


John: Well, that statement will grab you, won't it? And, uh, that's a very candid admission from Cec Murphey. He and Gary Roe are back with us today on "Focus on the Family" with Jim Daly. I'm John Fuller and we're talking about something that cuts right to the heart and affects so many marriages probably, Jim, far more individuals and couples than we'll ever, ever know.

Jim Daly: It's true, John and I think it's one of the reasons somebody might be felling like this isn't something Focus should be talking about. I would say, you know what? Bear with us. This is exactly the kind of thing that we need to be talking about. We need to crack open these wounds, so that people can move closer to Christ. That's the goal of it. You don't want to live a life [so] that perpetrator gets the victory over your heart and over your relationship with God. And by talking about these things in an open manner, it gives a person the ability to begin to deal with that pain. And this is horrific. I mean, there are two areas that human beings really suffer in. How to manage money and then sex—

Cec: Sure.

Jim: --and what happens and how it gets so gnarled in our culture particularly. And so, we do want to hit the subject. It is a sensitive topic. You want to keep younger folks occupied elsewhere so that we can brave enough and courageous enough to talk about it.

You might not have been impacted by this directly, but you're gonna come across somebody, maybe a family member or a friend, who will need wisdom. And what we want to give you today is wisdom to deal with this situation for yourself or for someone you love.

John: And Jim, our counseling team tells us that one of the top reasons that people call and ask for help when they dial Focus on the Family is because of childhood sexual abuse and all the aftermath.

Jim: Well, again, it always ranks at the top one, two or three things. And that's again, why we want to talk about it. And I think the easiest thing to say, is welcome back to both of you. Cec and Gary, it's good to have you back.

Cec: Thank you.

Gary Roe: Thank you. Good to be here.

Jim: We left off last time talking about your background. Let's move to really the core of the book which is how do you help a wife better understand if her husband has had childhood, a background with childhood abuse. Sexual abuse particularly. What happened in your marriages when you first got married? What was that like? Were you trying to stuff these things down?

Cec: Well, see if you're unconscious you're not trying to stuff it; it just gets stuffed. Here's my story. We were married for, I think it was about the sixth year of our marriage. It was a good marriage. Sexually we were very compatible.

And then one night, I came home from a business trip and it was like 11 o'clock, maybe 12 o'clock. And my wife was asleep. I turned the lights out, got in bed and she reached over and touched me. And I jumped. That's the hyper-vigilance. I jumped. I knocked her arm out of the way and jumped out of the bed.

And she started crying. "What's wrong? What did I do?" And I had no explanations. But you always come up with one.

Jim: So that was a trigger.

Cec: Yeah and I just said, "Oh, I guess I'm just tired." And so, I lay there for a long time thinking, "What is wrong with me?" And I could hear her softly crying. And later on she said she was asking what was wrong with her. And that's so typical of what happens with this. So, hyper-vigilance for me was when somebody touched me unexpectedly. I jumped. I mean, I really jumped.

Jim: Gary?

Gary: You know, listening to Cec talk, I immediately thought of Psalm 23. God walks with us through deep, dark, dangerous valleys, be they the valley of the shadow of death or be they the valley of, you know, sexual abuse. He doesn't rescue us out of that valley. He walks with us through that valley.

So, I would view the wife's main job to love her husband and just walk with him through this valley. If she herself has not been sexually abused I would even delete the idea of her being able to understand. I don't think it's possible. I don't think it's possible for her to get there.

Yeah, you could sort of imagine what that's like, but she can't imagine and if she has been sexually abused, that will help her to some degree understand. But she is not a man. And just as he can't understand totally what it means for her as a woman, she won't be able to understand that for him as a man. But she can just be with him in the valley, walk with him through it and be accepting of who he is and all the emotions involved. And as Cec often says, you know, the best friends are the ones that have no plans for your improvement.

Jim: Huh.

Gary: You know, you just …

Jim: Yeah, I hear you completely. It does …

Gary: Accept him where he is.

Jim: Yeah.

Gary: And walk with him in it.

Jim: Some people will grow weary of that.

Gary: Yes.

Jim: Many of the people that I know that suffered child sexual abuse, they struggle in that first marriage. It seems like they learn the things to do, the things not to do. I don't know the statistic on the divorce rate for those couples. I don't even know if people gather that data. But it seems to me, anecdotally, to be rather high. Talk about that. Why are marriages going 10, 20 years, that have this in one of their spouses or both of the spouses' past and it just seems to explode?

Gary: I think it's complicated. I think for instance, if the husband comes to grips with what happened to him and begins to walk down the road of healing that will mean, over time, he will grow and he will change. That means the marriage will change. That means the way they've related will change.

If for instance, the wife has been sexually abused in the past, but is unaware of that, then the husband's healing process is going to trigger her and her past. If she hasn't been sexually abused in the past, but he has and he goes through healing, there can be this gap that comes between them.

If she is not walking that road of healing with him as best [as she] can, and that's a tall order, because it's draining. It's dark. It's complex. It's painful. It's very hard if the man is really healing. There's gonna be some pretty powerful emotions involved.

Jim: Sure. Let me ask you this question because it seems that as I've talked to people that have fought their way through this there's that unconscious thing that you talked about, Cec, where you're kind of coping with life. These feelings are distant. They're buried. You may have trigger points where you react unusually to certain situations.

But you said something that is so common, that at some point in the 30s, in the 40s, or 50s, you begin to have these moments where you're remembering. It's bringin' about trauma. And so often it's described as the beginning of healing, which I find really fascinating, because you're talking about embracing that pain in the hope, I would assume, in the hope that God will be there. Meet you there and walk through it.

And this is typically where these marriages are breaking up. It seems ironic to me that at the point where that person is getting the healing, it's like the marriage is at its most brittle point. Why is that?

Cec: Well, I think marriages are kind of a delicate balance anyway to begin with. And if somebody goes one way or the other and gets off balance, particularly if dealt with, if they've lived together 20 years, they've learned to tolerate and put up with the other's inconsistencies and so on.

And then, one of them starts to change and you mentioned earlier about growing weary in this process. Maybe a year or two after I started the healing I sensed, I mean, I thought maybe Shirley was getting tired of it. And I said something to her. I said, "Look, I don't know who I'm gonna be when this is all over. And we're still gonna be married when it's all over. But if you're not with me every step of the way, you won't know me."

Well, she started crying. She said, "Why wouldn't I go with you?" Which is, of course, the right answer. I think I probably needed that assurance. But you know, when you get used to relating to a person one way and then they shift and change, the whole balance is upset.

Jim: Did she stay with you?

Cec: Of course, she did. Yeah and all the way. And a great marriage. In fact, one of the things that was so wonderful is, maybe a couple years into this, maybe I guess, maybe four years, I overheard her say to one of my friends, "You know, I used to know Cec. I used to understand everything about him." She said, "But he's different. I don't understand him now, but I'm learning to know who he is now."

Jim: Ah.

Cec: And it was so encouraging.

Jim: And that's deeper intimacy--

Cec: Yeah.

Jim –is what you're saying.

Cec: Yeah and you know, if these guys have lived in unconsciousness, of anybody who's been abused. And you do all these strange kinds of things, but you don't know what they are, and now you start dealing with them, it upsets the marriage.

Jim: Hm.

John: Well, if you're going through any sort of traumatic change in your marriage, if you're specifically dealing with this matter of childhood sexual abuse, particularly in a husband, that's causing a lot of difficulties or if you just need to talk to somebody we have caring Christian counselors here at Focus on the Family.

And when you call 800-A-FAMILY, just ask for our counseling team and get these books that we're talking about today with our guests, Cec Murphey and Gary Roe. They wrote one together called Not Quite Healed and then Cec has one, When a Man You Love Was Abused. And I'd also encourage you to get the CD or download of this entire two-part conversation, either for review or to pass along to someone else.

Jim: A very important aspect of your healing was the ability to forgive. Many people, and I tend to put myself in this camp, how could you forgive that? Because we don't understand and yet, it is the very nature and character of Christ. But this is such a deep wound that many people go, "How can you possibly forgive?" And Cec, you mentioned your mom and dad. You mentioned that they later came to Christ. I mean, seeing that end of the story, oh, my goodness, that you all three have eternity together. Talk about how you were able to forgive.

Cec: When I really got in touch with all this I was angry, really angry. And one day there was a small park with a lake around it. And I just kept walking around that lake and I just told both my parents, it was vile thing that I could think of. They were both dead by then. But every awful thing, I just …

Jim: So, you opened up with the anger.

Cec: Oh, yeah. And then it hit me. I realized neither of my parents felt they were intentionally hurting me. I think they acted out of their own pain and their own problems. And I realized that when we do these crazy things, we don't feel good about it. We feel guilty and awful about it. And I thought, yeah, I bet they do, too. And somehow, just to bring that healing element in it. And I was able to look at them and say, you know, I don't think they intentionally did all these evil things. I think it was an addiction for both of them.

My father was addicted to alcohol and part of the response of that is he'd beat me. That's part of his survival, I'd say. And that really helped me a great deal. And by the way, I've also talked with a few perpetrators, a board that I've worked with and they all tell me how remorseful, evil, ugly and so on, they felt afterward. And you know, that's given me a lot of realization, is that if we only make them evil people, we'll keep hating them. But if we realize that they've gotta be hurting people, too.

Gary: It took me years to develop any kind of compassion for my perpetrators.

Jim: Yeah.

Gary: But one of the things that helped tremendously in the process, and it was actually sort of dream that I had, where I am 3-, to 6-years old and my perpetrators are in front of me in the dream, sitting in chairs. And in front of me is this huge bucket of stuff that is just the most foul, yucky, smelling stuff.

And what I knew in the dream was, I knew that that bucket represented what they had done to me and the things they had placed upon me. Jesus was in this dream. I never see Him, but I can feel His presence next to me.

And He says, "Okay, return to them what's theirs." And I pick up the bucket, walk across the room, put it down in front of them and say, "This does not belong to me. It's never belonged to me. This is yours and I return it to you. I forgive you. I release you." And that was it.

And the next day, you know, you have those jumps in freedom that you have in your life, you know, where you're pushin', pushin', pushin' or you're caught and you're struggling. And then there's the watershed event of some kind and there's a jump. This was one of those jumps. The relief was immense—

Jim: Yeah.

Gary: --because up until that time, I had forgiven, I believe, [to] the best of my ability, I'd forgiven my perpetrators. But it's not just that. It's forgiving them for all the results in my life, of what they did. That is a whole 'nother ballgame and that is really what that dream represented. There has to come a point, I believe, where we as victims and survivors, return to the perpetrators what is theirs. It was never ours, but we might have owned it for a while and say, "I don't want this anymore. This is not mine." And for me, that was a big part of the forgiveness piece.

Jim: For the wife who maybe has suspicions that there's a background of abuse, because she's hearing the affirmation of this. This is how he behaves. And maybe he was abused. How do you recommend she even raise the question with her spouse? So, you've got this question. What does she do?

Gary: I would say she just pray about it.

Jim: Not to be too …

Cec: To tread softly.

Gary: Tread very softly. I mean, in my situation I'll tell you, it helped tremendously on the backside that no one intimated to me beforehand that this might've been the case for me.

Jim: Ah.

Gary: So, that when I began having flashbacks, I knew something real was happening here. I wasn't makin' this up. [The] counselor told me, "Gary, if you were gonna make somethin' up, it wouldn't be this."

Jim: Hm.

Gary: You've spent your whole life makin' up that it was better than it was. So he said, "Absolutely this is the case." He never intimated anything. No one else did. And so when it did come to light, I knew No. 1, it was real, that I wasn't crazy. And I knew the Lord had revealed it in His own good time and so that, somehow, He was in charge of this healing process.

Jim: Hm.

John: So a wife has to know that she can't push, but she starts with prayer.

Cec: Yeah, because it begins to feel like prying and remember we said, protect his privacy, you know. If you try to force him to open up, you're violating him and that's been his problem all along. He was violated. He had no sense of self and no sense of privacy. Nothing belonged to him. So, he's getting right back into that again.

Gary: Uh-hm.

Jim: Let me pull it back to the spouse, to the wife that is hearing this going, "Oh, my gosh. Now I know more about my husband today. I've heard this." Let me just go through a few of the things that you mentioned in your book and you can pick out any one if you want to drill into this as to what she can begin to do to help her relationship with her abused husband.

You mentioned: Know that you're not responsible for his healing. You've touched on that. Listen, listen, listen. That can be hard to do, 'cause everybody wants to fix the other person. You also wrote, accept him and believe in him. Men, even men that didn't experience childhood sexual abuse, want to be believed in, don't they?

Gary: Sure.

Jim: That's a deep heart need for a man. Talk about that one. Why do we, as men, have that? And how does it get distorted in this kind of environment?

Gary: As you talk about that, the word that comes to my mind is, "respect." The drive to be respected, the need to be respected, to be recognized and seen for who we are.

Jim: I would assume that echo in that guy's mind is, "I'm not worth respecting"--

Gary: Okay.

Cec: That's the word.

Jim: --and it's constantly going through your head and so, how does a wife overcome such a high negative tidal wave?

Gary: She can't.

Jim: Okay.

Gary: (Chuckling) She--

Jim: Tell me.

Gary: --she can't overcome that tidal wave. It has …

Jim: She just has to keep affirming.

Gary: She just has to keep affirming, being as much herself as she can possibly be. That is really her husband and the Lord workin' that through and workin' that out.

Cec: The other thing right along with that is I'd like to tell women, "Please don't tell your friends without his permission."

Jim: And that's hard, because women are social and they want to talk. That could be, I could see that being a very difficult thing.

Cec: Yeah, because if he can't trust her—

Jim: Yeah.

Cec: --it just goes back to, "See, nobody loves me. I'm worthless," you know. But if she could assure him that she will never tell anybody without his permission and I would honestly tell you, my wife was very good about that. She finally told somebody, but only after she asked me if she could. And see, I think we all need a sense that we make it. That we have a purpose in life or make some kind of a difference. And that's, I think, just to really love somebody and affirm them, that enables them to feel.

Jim: Sure.

Cec: Yeah. We love because He first loved us. And we find love because some human being gave it to us, to point us to what real love is.

Jim: Well, and it touches. You've hit on a couple of the others. Respect his privacy, which that, you mentioned. One that seems counter intuitive there though, you said, if he struggles with addiction of any kind, remind him he's using that as medication to hide his pain. So, that's a bit confrontational. That's not simply, well, some might hear that as not simply loving him. You are loving him when you point that out I would say, right?

Cec: Yeah and I think it's how you do it. You just simply say something pretty simple like, "I understand why you're drinking as you do and sometimes that works for you. I don't like it, but I understand why you're doing it." Just I understand. That sounds so simplistic, but there's something powerful about that, because we weren't understood.

Jim: Right. How does a spouse, how does a wife battle through that? A lot of women who have married a man that's gone through that, that he's medicating in that way by the use of pornography, she'll be offended, rightfully so. She'll say, "Whoa, whoa, whoa. What's happening here?"

Cec: Yeah, and any of those kinds of things, there is no fix to the problem. And you know, I think everybody wants a one-, two-, three-step thing and then he's healed. Here's one of my sayings. My role is not to heal you. My role is to be with you while you heal yourself.

Jim: Well, and I'm trying to point out the depth of patience a woman—

Cec: Right.

Jim: --is gonna need for that. I'm saying this is warfare. This is spiritual warfare. A lot of women, Cec, will choose to give up on the marriage considering that adultery. And they'll leave. So, I guess I'm asking you, where does she find that strength to say, "I'm gonna plow through this with you, even though you're doing something that is horrible and is wrong in every way and it's against God's will," how does she find the courage to say, "I'm gonna stick with you. You're not gonna push me away by doing this."

Cec: I think that's where God really has to come into the picture. It's, God give me the strength to do it. I think one of the things we would forget is womens (sic) often, and men must, too, think they're listening. They're not really listening. They're just kinda looking at him, trying to fix him, what they're gonna do next.

And one of the things I try to say to people is if you're really going to listen to him, look in his eyes. There's something about looking at a person's face. They know you're listening. I suppose it could be a technique, but I just know that when I really communicate with somebody we're making eye contact and I'm not dusting the furniture or cooking or something like that. I'm really listening.

The one thing we did that I think, looking back, was one of the smartest things – my wife got home from work. I was a full-time writer. And so, when she came in, I had a pot of tea ready for us and we sat and we just opened our hearts to each other for half an hour, 45 minutes and just talked about our issues. I realize all couples can't do that, but I do know that the more a wife'll truly, truly listen, the more open he will become.

Jim: And do you feel the reward was worth the pain?

Cec: Oh, yes.

Jim: So, the encouragement there for that wife is to stick with it and to help her man.

Cec: If she can, you know. The reality is, everybody can't and I think we have to realize that sometimes people just can't stay in it. And you know, God loves them, too.

Jim: Hm. Those are tough words--

Cec: I know.

Jim: --because you know, I'm sure the Lord would want them to fight through this and to try to get there. But you're right. That is the reality. Gary, any perspective?

Gary: It is the reality. The thing I keep coming back to is that the real responsibility for any of us in any relationship is to have the closest, most intimate, walk with Jesus Christ possible. That is the most loving thing that we can do for anybody around us.

And so, for the wife who has the husband that is medicating and struggling with pornography or anything else, I would say first and foremost, focus on your relationship with the Lord. Get as intimate with Jesus Christ as you know how to be. Trust Him to give you what you need. He has what you need. He is what you need. And so, the real thing here is, He knows how to love your husband through this.

And so, what about the prayer being, instead of, "Lord, help me help him," how about the prayer is, "Lord, You live in me; I need You to live through me toward my husband. I need You to do it. You're the only one who can and I will trust You in the process, because this is going to be a very bumpy ride with lots of speed bumps, curves and potholes."

Jim: Well …

Cec: May I add one thing? I think also she has to be able to say, "I'm committed to him, even if he never changes."

Jim: Hm.

Cec: That's—

Jim: And that's …

Cec:--that's the real test.

Jim: That's big and perhaps that's a good place to leave that challenge. And John, I'm reminded that we have something, The National Institute of Marriage, Focus on the Family's National Institute of Marriage, which is for those couples who are at the end of their rope. Maybe they don't know what the next step is. It might be divorce, because one of them is tired. They've given up. They've closed down.

And it's not just for those who have been sexually abused, but for marriages that are struggling for whatever reason. And we would like you, if you're in that spot, to go. Or if you have friends or family members, we want you to go, because we as Christians particularly, need to be a good witness in this culture to show how human beings can make it and can survive. They've got a[n] almost 85 percent success rate in turning these marriages that are headed for divorce around. And I think it's worth your time and your resources to try. And you can contact us here at Focus on the Family for more information.

John: Yeah, the number would be 800-A-FAMILY. Or you can find some beginning steps at

Jim: Cec Murphey, author of the book, When a Man You Love Was Abused and Gary Roe, his co-writer on another book called Not Quite Healed, thank you for sharing. Thank you for reaching back and telling us these stories. I know it's not easy to do, but you do it with the hope that somebody will be helped. Thanks for bein' with us.

Cec: Thank you.

Gary: Thank you very much.


John: Well our guests experienced horrendous trauma in their youth but you can hear God has been instrumental in leading them to places of great healing. And I hope you've been moved by their stories to begin your own journey of dealing with the past.

We're here to help in that. We have caring Christian counselors who can get you on the road to recovery and then refer you to somebody in your local area that you can have an ongoing counseling relationship with. Our number here to talk to one of our Christian counselors is 800, the letter "A" and the word, FAMILY. 800-232.6459.

Let me ask you to support the ongoing work here at Focus on the Family, to provide resources like our counselors to the many folks who desperately need some assistance in life. They're stuck. They're in a really hard place. I think I mentioned this yesterday, whenever we talk about a topic like this we hear from people who share very deeply from their hearts about the challenges they've had in life, and the help they receive just by listening to a radio program. Help us make this program more widely available and support the ministry of putting tools into the hands of those who are hurting. All to point people to a closer walk with Jesus Christ. Make a generous contribution today, please. And as our way of saying thank you for your gift of any amount we'll send a copy of the book, When a Man You Love Was Abused, by Cec Murphey or Not Quite Healed, which Cec wrote with Gary Roe. Just indicate which one you'd like when you call 800-232-6459. You can also find details and donate at

Our program was provided by Focus on the Family. And made possible by generous listeners like you. On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, I'm John Fuller inviting you back next time. Tomorrow we'll look at ways you can keep family members connected in this high-tech, rather disconnected, world. We'll have blogger Erin Davis with us providing encouragement to help your family thrive.

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Cecil Murphey

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Cecil Murphey is the bestselling author of more than 135 books including the hit title 90 Minutes in Heaven (with Don Piper). Cecil's books have sold millions of copies and have been translated into more than 40 languages. He has also written hundreds of articles that have appeared in a variety of publications and travels extensively to speak on topics such as spiritual growth, caregiving, significant living, recovery and male sexual abuse. Learn more about Cecil by visiting his website:


Gary Roe

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Gary Roe is a writer, a public speaker and the chaplain at Hospice Brazos Valley located in central Texas. He's written more than 250 articles, and he has authored four books including Heartbroken and Surviving the Holidays Without You. Gary and his wife, Jen, have seven children, including three daughters the couple adopted from Columbia. Learn more about Gary by visiting his website: