***TRIGGER WARNING: This blog discusses sexual abuse***

In the early days of my marriage, we moved to a different state every year for five years because that’s what my husband wanted. In Iowa the second time, I spent most of my time cooking, baking, and cleaning for Tom’s brothers and their friends.

I went along with Tom’s constant sexual demands because I couldn’t handle the abuse and hostility I would have gotten had I said no. At this point, he didn’t hit or assault me. He didn’t need to. The abuse came from his mind and his tongue. The constant put-downs and insults combined with my absolute financial dependence and isolation were enough to keep me quiet.

I felt violated at such a deep and intimate level, I lacked the capacity to even discuss this. I was afraid that if I told the truth about how much I hated our sex life, the world would explode. Or more accurately, Tom would explode. An implicit threat of violence loomed over me and I feared retaliation if I spoke up or sought help. Nobody knew better than I did about the short distance between verbal and physical abuse. Tom didn’t start to hit me until a couple of years after Iowa 2, but I knew the danger signs.

I lacked the ability to talk about it. How could I discuss this thing that made me feel so disgusting and unsafe? It took me decades to be able to use the name rape for what was happening to me. Like other forms of domestic violence, marital rape is about exerting power and control over your partner. And it is also about sex. It was about Tom being so horny that he couldn’t control his behavior and about me being repelled by those behaviors.

“Approximately 10-14% of married women are raped by their husbands in the United States. Approximately one-third of women report having ‘unwanted sex’ with their partner. Historically, most rape statutes read that rape was forced sexual intercourse with a woman, not your wife, thus granting husbands a license to rape. Marital rape was first declared illegal in Nebraska in 1975 but did not become fully illegal in the United States nationwide until 1993 when it was finally declared illegal in Oklahoma and North Carolina. On July 5, 1993, marital rape became a crime in all 50 states, under at least one section of the sexual offense codes.” (Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault. https://mncasa.org/ Accessed February 25, 2023.)

The push for sex comprised the total attention I got from Tom. I finally became so distressed that I called the minister who had married us.

“Madelon, it is good to hear from you,” said the Pastor. I was surprised that he remembered me. He probably remembered the shell-shocked, very young girl who was folded into the family and didn’t really want her. “How are things going?”

“Not well, Pastor. Not well at all. We are renting a horrible old house out in the country. I don’t have any friends. I don’t have anywhere to go, much less the means to travel. I don’t have anything to do but housework. We came back here because Tom’s parents made us, and I just don’t understand it. I feel like second fiddle to Tom’s family. Tom is always with them doing whatever they want him to do. It’s like I don’t exist. Tom’s brothers and their friends are here all the time. They treat me like a servant.”

I didn’t have the words

I did not tell the pastor about the sexual situation. I just couldn’t. I was so ashamed, I didn’t have the words.

The pastor called Tom and requested that he come to his office to speak, and Tom complied. He told me about it when he got home.

“Well, what did the pastor have to say?”

“He said this,” answered Tom: “Now, Tom, remember, you married Madelon. You did not marry your brothers. Or your mother. Or your father. You promised to put your wife above all others. That is what marriage is about.”

“Well, what do you think about the pastor’s advice?”

“I think he’s right. I did make those promises to you.”Tom agreed (Such an agreeable young man!), but none of his behavior ever changed. This would be the first time that Tom lied to a therapist I was seeing. He could be very convincing.

Nothing changed. It was the army of young men and I was in the background.


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