Sleeping With An Abuser

I don't trust you anymore“So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church…”  Ephesians 5:28-29

I recently received an e-mail from one of my contacts requesting feedback regarding intimacy with an abuser.  I tend to shy away from such sensitive matters, but in light of the pertinence of her question, I am certain that others may similarly avoid discussing these things.  I also know that it is in the darkness that fears and injuries fester, and there is an appropriate time to draw them into the light.

So, the question is this:  How can we expect to feel and respond toward our abuser sexually?  This is a multi-faceted question, and I have decided to offer my two cents based on three distinct but inseparable factors:  the draw, the danger, and the dance. 

The Draw

 Every healthy sexual relationship begins with attraction, not only of a physical nature, but also at an emotional and spiritual level.  True enough, sex can be little more than a physical act, but no one will ever convince me that it was intended to be so.  No, God created us as beings with a mind, body and spirit, and healthy sexual relationships encompass each and every aspect aligned in glorious, mutual fulfillment.

A woman who decides she is willing to receive a man wants to know that the one to whom she is giving her mind, heart – and body – is not only attracted to her physically, but appreciates, adores and cares for and about her.  The joy of intimacy can in some ways be measured by the closeness a woman enjoys with her partner long before their bodies ever touch.  A woman is free to love and be loved when she is convinced down to the core of her being that her lover is inherently safe and committed not only to her physical satisfaction but to her emotional and practical well-being.  It is that confident certainty and security that draws her to him and frees her to abandon herself to him in every way.  I am convinced that this is the way it should be.

The Danger

Within the abusive relationship, there is a shift in the dynamic, because the emphasis on mutuality has been perverted.  The abuser wants to enjoy the pleasures of his victim’s body, while caring not a jot whether her heart and mind are healthily involved in the act.  As in every other aspect of the relationship, the abuser adopts an entitlement mentality, and he perceives his physical satisfaction as sufficient.  She can pretend for all he cares.  In fact, in all too many cases, an abuser will demand sex regardless of the emotional connection and may demonstrate little if any empathy in instances when his partner is uncomfortable or in pain.  In fact, many abusers enjoy the sense of dominance that comes from forcing his bride to accommodate him even if their sex life includes acts she finds shameful or immoral.

In instances where the abuser’s wife enjoys intimacy with her mate on a physical level, her heart does not trust him and her mind waffles between guilt for not wanting to be intimate with him and fear because of the emotional damage he has already done – and what he may still do.  She knows that her needs are not even on his radar, and his expectation that she remain vulnerable to him leaves her in a precarious situation.  She longs to feel loved but instead feels used, particularly when his temper flares before his feet touch the floor the morning after.

The Dance

As the abuse victim begins to feel increasingly unsafe, she begins to do the avoidance dance.  She will look for ways to evade him – staying out late, remaining up past bedtime to read or watch television, complaining of being unusually tired or excusing herself for monthly female issues.  The abuser will soon express his displeasure with her unavailability.  He may remind her of the pleasure he gives her, but she does not dare confess the whole truth: any physical satisfaction she derives from their intimacy cannot begin to compensate for the fear, grief and loneliness she carries.  She feels violated in bed, because he violates her in a hundred different ways in their everyday lives.  The dance becomes a constant emotional burden – a weight of guilt derived from her unmet longing for genuine intimacy coupled with the shame of sharing her bed with a man who despises her.

Her other option is to refuse to sleep with him unless and until he demonstrates kindness toward her.  And he might figure out ways to win her over when the need arises.  But he will resent her for it, and she will need to accept that his occasional niceness does not equate to legitimate, heartfelt change.  For him it’s a buy-off, the small price he is willing to pay to get what he wants.  Knowing that his efforts are insincere, she may still have regrets when she gives in to him.  And other times, he will simply not take ‘no’ for an answer.

Sleeping with an abuser is a multiplied tragedy.  I don’t care what any church tells us; sex is not a right, it is a privilege, and it should be a God-honoring reflection of mutual care, respect and love.  There are those who will even ridicule a victim’s quandary.  “It’s only sex,” some will muse.  Others will quote Scripture telling a woman that her body is not her own.  (I Corinthians 7:4)  However, I will gladly protest that flippant interpretation, citing the Apostle Paul’s words only four verses earlier where he states, “For you were bought with a price: therefore, glorify God in your body.”  (I Corinthians 6:20)  God is to be glorified in our bodies, created in the image of God, the temporary housing of our souls.  Our bodies should be honored as the temple they are, particularly by those to whom we should be able to entrust them.

We should never be expected to compartmentalize sex as an act that has no effect on our hearts and minds.  I stand in the certainty that all aspects of our being are inextricably interwoven and cannot be separated – at least not without harm.  We should be able to expect that each and every aspect of our person will be cherished and protected by the one who stood beside us at a sacred altar and vowed to do exactly that.

So, how does one safely sleep with an abuser?

It is a hypothetical question, an oxymoron.  You cannot.  There is no way to keep yourself safe when you are making yourself completely vulnerable to someone who is unequivocally dangerous.  When you agreed to marry or live with that man, it was presumably based on an understanding that he would take care of your mind, heart and body.  If he’s abusing your mind and your heart, why in the world would you give him your body?

The only way to ensure that you won’t be expected to give yourself to him is to get away from him.

And you should.


Cindy Burrell

Copyright 2014

All Rights Reserved

32 thoughts on “Sleeping With An Abuser”

  1. Hello, Marie.

    I am glad that these blogs and stories give you insight and strength.

    I know it is very hard to assess all of the possible outcomes of leaving an abuser. If you have not already done so, I would encourage you to consider a blog I wrote a while back called, “What About the Children?” The link is here: Also, I think it is important to know that, even though your children may have time with their father, they will begin to see the (usually) stark contrast between what you provide them emotionally and what he does. As further insight, you might want to check out “Seven Long Years” or “Waiting at the Window,” stories of my sons’ experiences with their father. The truth is that the further they have moved away from him, the healthier and happier they have become. Just food for thought.

    Let me know how I may be able to help.

    I’ll continue to pray for you.


  2. I hope you will always remember that you are not alone, that healing takes time and a lot of hard work, but oh how sweet it is.

    Hey, I just thought of something else. Wondering if you have read my piece on Bad Juju. I had to give it a different name, because the words weren’t recognizable, but here is a link if you are interested. We all have juju.

    Maybe this will help.

    All the best,


    1. Wow, Cindy! The article about working through bad memories went to the heart. I actually caught myself holding my breath as I read it. As you stated, “…healing takes time and a lot of hard work, but oh how sweet it is. ” Work; no wonder I’m exhausted:-)
      I’m also working through a phase of feeling very physically ugly. I must be since he doesn’t love or seem attracted to me. I want to be free of all the ‘triggers’ and am constantly feeling guilty over my emotions. Having several medical needs being attended to doesn’t help especially when two of the conditions are coming from stress. God is sovereign and I am grateful for you and a few select others that have brought encouragement to me. “Thank you, Lord”.

  3. This post was so affirming, since no one ever talks about this. I was married for 42 years to a pastor/missionary who was violent and emotionally/spiritually/verbally/financially abusive to me and our children.

    He was pulled from his position when 4 of my grown kids made the situation known and he had intense counselling for a couple years followed by 4 years of accountability. That helped for awhile, but he went back to the abuse, as soon as he was pronounced ‘cured’ and there was no longer any accountability. I left him 3 years ago and he immediately got a girlfriend, followed by another one. He divorced me 2 weeks ago telling everyone that I abandoned him.

    He used I Cor. 7 to convince me I had no right to tell him ‘no’ to sex and if I tried to, I wasn’t being submissive, so he would force sex, since he was the ‘head’ and felt it his duty to make me obey. He had been into pornography for years and didn’t care if one of our 7 little ones was bleeding, I wasn’t allowed to leave to tend to them.

    In Australian law, there are 5 factors to determine if sex is consensual and 3 of them are 1) if he uses his position of authority to get it, 2) if he uses intimidation and 3) if he uses force or the threat of force.

    I filed a police report based on the fact that he committed a crime and the case is not me against him, but the Queen against him, upholding the laws of the country and protecting it’s citizens. It’s still pending, but I thought it might validify other abused wives. You KNOW what he’s doing/saying is wrong, but you have I Cor 6 about not going to court held over your head. This is a crime, not a civil case or disagreement between 2 people.

    I’m all for choosing to submit to your husband, even if you’re feeling bad that day and showing your love by pleasing him in every area of life. It’s what normal lovers do. That’s not what I’m talking about. Abuse is not the normal universe the rest of the world lives in. It is unique. Sex is an expression of maintaining control and, for me, was always demanded at the end of his 2-3 hour locked-in-the-same-room, look-me-in-the-eyes-while-I-spill-my-hatred-all-over-you sessions. Most churches dismiss the idea that marital rape even exists,but it is a crime inside or outside the home.

    1. Hello, Joy.

      It truly breaks my heart how many believing women have been subject to the same kind of spiritual abuse and manipulation. How truly perverted it is to twist God’s intent for intimacy into something demeaning and punitive in the name of marriage. Unfortunately, I fear this is far more common than we would like to believe, and the church is inclined to cover it up or consider it somehow normal.

      At the very least, we can shine a light on the sin of abuse within the body – within marriage – and empower women and those within the church to begin to take a stand against what God calls “treachery” in marriage.

      The man who demands that his victim be sexually vulnerable to him after he berates her is no man of God and should be exposed and condemned. I pray you are successful in your legal action against him.

      Thank you for stopping by to share your story and for encouraging others to also take the steps they must to break the cycle.

      I wish you well.


  4. This is what I finally did. It was almost 20 years ago so the only resources I had were the library book “Men Who Hate Women” and the Boundaries course. I prayed and prayed and one day I felt I should read I Peter 3 + 4. More prayer and then I approached my husband of 22 years and said (I’d given him sex at least every other day but he’d never made love to me),”You can have all the sex you want, but you have to choose. There are two kinds of relationship; Christ – Church and Master – Slave. If you want a master-slave relationship, just say when you want it and I’ll comply but don’t expect me to like it or to enjoy it. If you want a Christ – Church relationship, you’ll have to win me back, because I’ve lost all affection at this point.”

    I got the raging,”I’m your husband and you have to obey me and so I COMMAND you to feel affection for me RIGHT NOW!!!!!” I just repeated what I’d said. We slept in the same bed for 3 more years and never had sex again because he couldn’t bring himself to humble himself to win me back, and was smart enough to be to ashamed to admit he wanted a slave. Then I ended up in the psych ward and the doctor told me he wouldn’t let me out until I’d made arrangements to separate. I blubbered for hours when he said that because I knew what would happen and I didn’t want the stigma of ‘breaking up the family’ etc. etc. but it was such a relief!!!! And God took such good care of us!

    He, of course, would tell anyone who would listen, “She hasn’t let me touch her in 3 years!” And probably still uses that as a pity point, but the counselor we went to (Elijah House) said that what I had done was totally reasonable.

    I did a bit of journaling but was afraid it would be found by husband or children. After we’d divorced, he kept hounding me and whining to others that ‘she won’t talk to me, and we need to talk about the children’ (he had my email address) so one day I agreed that he could come over and talk (we’d been apart 8 years and he wanted to meet my fiance to make sure he was safe for the children……sure……). I then recorded an hour of the two hour ‘conversation’ and now have proof of a bit of his abuse. He spent the whole time tearing me down. Hardly a word about the fiance.

  5. I’m now in week 8 of no longer meeting my husbands sexual needs. And I feel so much better about myself…after years of feeling used, and getting nothing in return, I feel free.
    Is this what I wanted for my marriage? No. But this is the way it has to be.
    I read The Emotionally Destructive Marriage by Leslie Vernick and this is what I read that was the changing point in my marriage….
    ” When we tell a woman that no matter how her husband treats her God says she must have sex with him, what we’re saying is that God cares more about the fact that her husband is sexually hungry than the fact that her husband is hurting her and their marriage relationship. And, that’s not biblical.

    We need a new paradigm. Let’s help this wife learn to speak up to her husband lovingly but firmly and say,
    “No, I can’t have sex with you in a godly way because of the way you treat me. I can’t feel affectionate toward you when I feel afraid. When you curse at me, scream at me, and call me horrible names it breaks my heart. I am God’s image bearer, not an object to be used for sex and then discarded when you’re finished. With God’s help, I choose to forgive you, but I can’t reconcile with you in a loving relationship until you begin to see the damage you’re doing to me and to our marriage and change.”

    When I told my husband that, he just looked at me, then turned over and went to sleep.
    I had told him several times in the past that I didn’t enjoy sex, that I felt used…he would say “I’m sorry you feel that way.” Then continue on wanting to have sex and making no effort to fix our relationship..He cared nothing about me and my feelings.
    I know that separation and divorce are looming….but that’s ok. I know God will see me through.
    Thank you for another great article, Cindy. Thank you for speaking the truth.

  6. Thank you so much for this. It is so beautiful written and captures what I felt when I was in my abusive marriage which ended almost 2 years ago. Out of all the abuse the sexual abuse has been the most hurtful and damaging because it is such a vulnerable state. I cried my eyes out as I read this, especially about how the abuser vowed to cherish their wife…so on point. My question for people out there further on in their journey is how do you get past the feelings of being ‘tainted’ or ‘used?’ Is this just something that fades over time? This sort of stuff definitely wounds deeply.
    Thanks 🙂

    1. Hello, Sarah.

      I am glad that you found the website and took the time to write. I am so sorry to learn of what your abuser did to you. Dear woman, you are certainly not alone. I have been shocked to discover the number of verbal and emotional abuse victims who have also been subject to sexual abuse in marriage. In response to your question, I think that all of us at times (particularly in the early stages of recovery) feel tainted and broken. But, the truth is that you have taken a stand for what you know to be right. You have said “no” to the abuse and begun the process of going being being a victim to being a victor. As you work through the emotional wounds that he left on your heart and your body, I pray that you are strengthened and renewed to see that you are not have to feel tainted or used any longer. From this day forward, you get to choose in whom you will invest your time into, and reserve your energies for, those who will respect and and honor who you are. Yes, it takes time to heal and learn to trust your instincts and trust again, but it is possible, and it is a beautiful thing to behold.

      Remember, God never intended for our history to become our identity, but rather our testimony. We must all find a way to learn from our experience without allowing it to define us.

      I wish you well.



  7. Thank you for being brave and writing this article. I wanted to share another site which had helped me tremendously for those who have suffered spousal rape. It is it also has a quick escape button for those still in danger of abuse.

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