Right before marriage, my husband told me about an incestuous relationship he had with his elder sister who had seduced him as a teenager. He has broken ties with his sister and his mother who was in the know of things but never stopped it. As a bride-to-be, I looked at it as the most amazing act of honesty with the most difficult confession that could have aborted the wedding plans from my side. We got married and we had a lovely time at the honeymoon. But now I am getting angry with my husband who is a very kind, loving and giving man, and I have repeatedly taunted him about the sister and him. I know it’s mean on my part, as he could very well have hidden it from me. I also know my words hurt him a lot as he had come clean before marriage and given me the option to back out then. I don’t know how to process this disclosure now as it really does bother me. He does not want to talk about it and cries when I insist that he talk. How do we proceed and get past his past? Please help.
Ans: Happy marriages are based on trust, sensitivity, communication and respect. Your husband’s confession was an act of just these attributes. No relationship is perfect but all relationships are constant investments towards the pursuit of balance and happiness. He respected the fact that a new relationship should be based on a free-exchange of information and ideas and he trusted you with information about a dark past that he was unhappy with.
The price of honesty can be steep if the guilt that follows runs deep. Every time you taunt your husband, is it possible that apart from feeling humiliated, he also feels terribly guilty about his incestuous past? If you continue to batter him verbally, you run the risk of breaking his spirit over time. Your husband is no longer in touch with his mother and sister probably due to the guilt, trauma and anger he feels towards them. This is as indicative of his internal struggle as it is of his external struggle with his own reality.
This makes you a significant figure in his life. It’s quite likely that he also has expectations from you (just as you surely have expectations from him). What are his expectations. Based on his past, it’s quite likely that he expects you to not add to his humiliation, guilt and also not let him down or break his heart – given the sensitive, highly stigmatised and incendiary nature of what he went through. On one hand you call his honesty amazing and on the other, you may be unconsciously trying to punish him (by making him pay the price for his past).
You need to fully empathize with how excruciating it may have been for your husband to share something this private, confusing, humiliating and stigmatised with you prior to your marriage. While your husband deserves credit for the courage he showed in telling you about his incestuous past, it would seem that you have unprocessed emotions about this information that may be causing all this anger in you as well.
Anger usually hides a sense of ‘mourning, humiliation and grief’ since anger is definitely a more potent and powerful emotion. It is possible that you may have imagined ‘the man of your dreams’ as someone with a ‘spotless’ record or ‘less complicated past’.
Everyone deserves a fresh start – even to an old adventure. Your husband’s crying (when you ask him to speak) is evidence of the continued humiliation he may feel he has to suffer with you rubbing salt on old wounds by reminding him about something he’s trying to ‘move beyond’ and ‘heal from’. If your husband’s disillusionment or frustration with your mean demeanour goes past the point of no return (due to repeated verbal attacks by you) – you may find that you may no longer be able to reconcile or fix this relationship.
That would be a shame considering that you seem to have married someone who is transparent and honest with you and who is also very sensitive to your needs. You need to take stock of the situation you are in and take remedial measures if you wish to continue and stay functional in this relationship.
It would be unfortunate if you permanently ended up alienating your husband whom you describe to be a kind, loving and giving man. I would recommend that you strongly consider looking at how you communicate and express yourself with him and in life – in general.
In relationships, partners must learn to win or lose as a team instead of trying to ‘one-up’ each other. When one partner largely bullies another into a shaky state of compliance, it leads to further resentment and distrust.
Guilt is a hard emotion to process. Would you say you are guilty for behaving in a sharp manner with your husband? Would you say he still feels guilty for his past where he was in an incestuous relationship? You must seek out the help of a marriage counsellor to clean up how you both communicate with each other.
Communication needs to be ‘solution oriented’. When partners in significant relationships resort to with vicious finger pointing blame games or take comfort in bitter verbal sparring, the issue cannot be put at rest without ‘collateral damage’ to the relationship and the head space of the people involved in nurturing it. A visit to a marriage counsellor may be helpful for you all.