When Better Becomes Worse

When I showed a friend Haunted Marriage: Overcoming the Ghosts of Your Spouse's Childhood Abuse, he perused the book jacket and laughed, saying, "I guess everybody really is a victim." It was an insensitive comment, but one that is understandable, given our warped popular culture. It can be tiresome distinguishing which new categories of abuse and their associated healing strategies represent legitimate advancements, and which ones were crafted by the hacks behind Jerry Springer and Ricky Lake. But read Haunted Marriage and there is no doubt into which category this important book falls.

Authors Clark Barshinger, Lojan LaRowe, and Andres Tapia raise the specter of "spouses of sexual abuse survivors." Using Tapia's own marriage as a book-length case study, Barshinger and LaRowe—a husband-wife team of psychotherapists with 25 years of counseling experience—make the case that the abuse-surviving spouse isn't the only spouse in need of attention and healing.

In particular, Haunted Marriage makes clear that the abuse survivor's crisis often triggers a crisis for the spouse. Four years into their marriage, Tapia's wife Lori uncovered repressed memories of being sexually abused as a child. Hers was a painful and dark path of recovery. But not long after Lori began her process of recovery, Andres discovered great needs of his own:

In the same way that Lori projected onto me her unresolved feelings about her abuser, I was projecting onto her my unresolved feelings about my parents....As Lori and I tried to find each other in the haze of her healing process—and my growing realization of the process I needed to embark on for myself—we kept bumping into relational ghosts from our past.

In a chapter titled "Finding the Support You Need," Tapia relates how he found help in a small group comprised of men whose wives were also abuse survivors in recovery. The strength of this chapter, and the entire book, lies in Tapia's willingness to get personal. "Some people have told me," Tapia says, "that the book so vividly and accurately captures what they have experienced that they feel someone has been in their bedroom." The personal revelations throughout the book are followed by practical guidelines from Barshinger and LaRowe. In the "Finding the Support" chapter, Tapia's story is followed by practical steps on how to conduct a support group and choose a therapist.

Two other chapters stand out. In "Shadowboxing," Tapia writes, "Living with an abuse survivor is like being trapped in a hall of mirrors. Attacks seem to come from all sides." The chapter is loaded with tips on interpreting your spouse's behavior and developing response strategies. In "How to Survive Without Leaving," the authors combine the Tapias' painful consideration of whether or not to divorce with a practical and sensitive explication of Jesus' strident position against divorce.

Until now the primary attention has been paid to the abuse survivor. Tapia, Barshinger, and LaRowe show the spouse needs attention as well, and offer an accessible starter resource.

But don't just take my word for it. Reader contact with Tapia speaks to the timeliness of this book. One twentysomething woman about to break her engagement read Haunted Marriage and gained new hope that she and her fiance could overcome the devastating effects of her childhood abuse. A missionary couple in Africa writes that the book helps them deal with what seemed to be intractable issues in their more than 40 years of married life. Expect many more stories like these.

Haunted Marriage: Overcoming the Ghosts of Your Spouse's Childhood Abuse. By Clark E. Barshinger, Lojan E. LaRowe, and Andres T. Tapia. Intervarsity Press, 1995.

RODOLPHO CARRASCO is associate director of the Harambee Christian Family Center in Pasadena, California.

Have Something to Say?

Add or Read Comments on
"When Better Becomes Worse"
Launch Comments
By commenting here, I agree to abide by the Sojourners Comment Community Covenant guidelines