Speaking OUT to end clergy sexual misconduct.

Posts tagged ‘clergy abuse harms marriage’

Becoming the Best Versions of Ourselves

Five years ago, inspired by my friend T, I conducted a year-end review of my life. What had I learned in 2010? What had I accomplished? How had I spent my time? The lessons I learned that year were dark: people are irrationally loyal to institutions, friends will desert you in a heartbeat, and the church doesn’t care two cents about its victims. But my accomplishments were huge and full of light: I reported an abusive minister, committed to a course of treatment for anorexia and PTSD, joined a healthy new church, and began to learn to trust again. Seeing my progress on the printed page, I was so encouraged that I decided to make it an annual tradition.

In 2011’s review, I created a special “healing” category to track my steps toward wholeness. That year, I attended a survivors’ workshop by The Hope of Survivors, reached a settlement with my former church, and began connecting with nationwide leaders on this issue. I traced my steps toward healing in 2012 (told my former minister’s new bishop about his record of abuse), 2013 (started this blog), and 2014 (stood up to a threat from my former bishop).

This year, I decided to drop the “healing” category from my review. Although I will never be the person I was before the abuse, I feel I’ve grown fully into my new self. And this year, clergy sexual abuse was not the biggest hole in the fabric of my universe. In February, I wrote about separating from my husband. This year, most of my energy went into the questions “How can I save my marriage?”, “Can I save my marriage?,” and finally “How can I end it in a way that gives as little pain to my family as possible?”

My husband and I are now in the process of divorce.

But here’s the good news: we’re getting along better than we have in years. We’re working in harmony as we divide our assets. We’re making the needs of our children (two grown, one teen) our top priority. As much as we can, we’re protecting our family traditions: I’m posting these words from the mountain cabin where we’ve gathered to celebrate Christmas. Both of us are developing stronger relationships with our children, with our own families and with each other’s. In short — paradoxically — divorce seems to be pulling our family together.

Is the failure of my marriage connected with the church abuse? Of course, but I can’t say one thing caused the other. The rifts in my marriage made me vulnerable to ministerial abuse. The resulting trauma may have been the straw that broke the marriage’s back.

I would never willingly repeat the experience of being exploited, silenced, and shunned, but I couldn’t be more grateful for what I learned. If I’d had this kind of clarity, courage, and strength twenty years ago, I might have addressed the holes in my marriage before it was too late. But it’s never too late to put hard-earned lessons to use. With my newfound wisdom — and in cooperation with my husband who is doing his own learning — I am building a good divorce.

What does this mean for my work as a survivor/advocate? I believe God called me to this work, but I now feel that God is calling me to give my whole heart and soul to the task of restructuring my family. It’s my most important job, and it calls for my utmost commitment and effort. Readers may have noticed that this blog has already taken a backseat, but I remain committed to the work. I know this blog is an important resource; new readers find it every day.

To end this post on a note of hope: healing happens. We don’t hurt forever. Pain eventually turns into strength, compassion, and clarity. If we commit with whole hearts to our healing, we can become the best versions of ourselves. As we move into the new year, I lift a prayer that this happens for all survivors.

Update, April 2016. Two months ago, I asked my husband if we could put the divorce on hold. He agreed, I’m back home, and we are deciding whether we can repair our marriage. This happened a few weeks after “Pastor Kevin” (aka Scott Richardson) was defrocked following complaints by three women at his new church, and after Bishop Mathes finally disclosed my complaint to my former church at a congregational meeting. Friends have asked me, did these steps toward justice not only bring healing to me, but to my marriage? It’s possible. If so, it’s one more example of the profound, deep harm the church does when they enable pastoral misconduct and cover up the truth — and of the profound, deep healing that truth and justice can bring.

Clergy Sexual Abuse and Your Marriage

Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

Which came first, the seductions of a predatory minister or the victim’s fractured marriage?

My husband and I separated last month. We’re still married, we’re getting along, we’re not seeing other people, we’re parenting cooperatively and we’re supporting each other as well as we can. We have family dinner once a week. We touch base every day, even if it’s only about logistics. For a separated couple, we’re on very good terms. But we are not together, and it’s not clear whether we’ll ever be together again. We’re giving it a year before we make any decisions.

What role did clergy sexual abuse play in this breach?

“Pastor Kevin” didn’t cause the tension in my marriage, but he definitely noticed it. How could he miss the pretty-ish woman sitting alone in the second pew and wiping tears during every Sunday service? I felt invisible in that big congregation; now I understand that my distress made me very visible and interesting to my pastor. I kept my distance out of sheer respect — he was the powerful leader of one of my city’s most important congregations — but eventually (and unwittingly), I gave him an opening when I confided my spiritual struggles after a Sunday service. At his invitation, we began to meet. A year and a dozen “pastoral counseling” sessions later, during a particularly stressful time in my marriage, I ran into my pastor outside the church office. He looked at my face and knew something was wrong. He asked me, “What’s the trouble?”

I started to answer, then stopped. Did I really want to tell another man about my troubled marriage? It didn’t feel right to me — but he pushed right past that boundary. As I hesitated, he prompted me for an answer: “File under…”

“Marriage,” I finally responded.

“Aaaah,” he sighed. “I’ve seen that coming. Why don’t you make an appointment to see me.”

Thus began the escalation. At our next meeting, Pastor Kevin encouraged me to talk about the pain and fear and loneliness I felt at home. With a predatory clergyman, there was only one way this road could go.

So which came first? Did the tensions in my marriage make me more interesting to my pastor? Yes.

Did my pastor’s attentions make more tension in my marriage? Most definitely yes.

My husband has always been leery of organized religion. Twelve years into our relationship, when I returned to my Christian faith, I set off a storm whose waves have never really settled. By the time I met Pastor Kevin, “religion” was well-established as a conversational minefield between us. Unlike me, my husband never trusted Kevin. From the first time they met, my husband saw him as a self-centered opportunist. Later, when Kevin was actively grooming me toward seduction, my husband was at his wits’ end. But what could he say? He felt if he tried to warn me against my pastor, I would hear it as an attack on my faith — and he may have been right. All he could do was watch the train wreck happen, and once it happened he was suddenly living with a traumatized woman. He had no idea how to deal with my frantic grief and fear, or my eating disorder spinning out of control, or the new shape of my body once I started treatment. In short: while I was still trying to recover from the train wreck at church, I now had a wreck at home too. Our marriage never really recovered from those awful months. We got back on our feet as a couple, but trust had been shattered.

And now we are living apart.

If I had never met Pastor Kevin, would I still be living with my husband? Or were our problems so deeply entrenched that the church crisis was only the last straw? I will never know.

I want to be clear: I am not saying that my pastor ruined my marriage. He didn’t do us any favors, but I was aware of being unhappy long before I met him. So why am I talking about my marriage on these pages? Because I know I’m not the only survivor with whose marriage has been affected by clergy sexual abuse. Some survivor couples use the pain to build stronger marriages, but I suspect that most of us don’t. Most of us (and I’m including our spouses) don’t know how. By the time we understand our own pain, we’ve caused too much pain for our partners.

When I write a story of pain, I try to include a note of hope. If there’s hope in this story, it’s this: survivors know how to get through hard times. Compared to the multiple traumas of my pastor’s abuse of power, the church’s attempt to silence me, and the total loss of community through ostracism, marital separation is a cakewalk. I’m not saying it’s easy, only that it’s easier than what I’ve already been through. And that I know how to live with sadness and uncertainty while my husband and I walk through this year, waiting and hoping for the right answer to emerge.

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