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How Sexual Trauma Impacts Intimacy in Marriage

Some of us have experienced a sexual encounter that violated us. Maybe it was an unwanted touch or gesture. Maybe it was a physical or psychological violation. Regardless of the type of offense, sexual violence is a devastating encounter that can leave us traumatized. The range of difficult emotions that can surface as a result of the encounter can oftentimes seem too difficult to deal with. This is why it is tempting for us to try to bury the memory of what happened in the back of our minds, never to speak of it again. Yet, as Bessel van der Kolk described in his book, "The Body Keeps the Score," our bodies remember what happened.

Consequently, suppressing what happened is like putting a band-aid over a hemorrhaging wound. It doesn’t heal the wound; it only serves as a temporary cover-up that will eventually be exposed through our behaviors, thoughts, and bodies. Sadly, sexual trauma can also have a significant effect on our ability to experience intimacy within a marriage.

A couple who may need Christian counselling in 60637 to overcome sexual trauma in marriage

When sexual trauma is left unaddressed, it can erect invisible barriers of fear and mistrust that can isolate individuals from their spouses, making the act of physical closeness laden with anxiety instead of affection. Emotionally, the scars of such experiences can alter how one perceives love, safety, and vulnerability, potentially skewing their interpretation of a partner’s actions as threatening or harmful despite benign intentions.

Psychologically, unresolved sexual trauma can manifest in myriad disruptive ways, from avoidance of physical contact to profound anxiety during intimacy. The trauma, locked deep in the psyche, can create a persistent state of hyper-vigilance or numbness, making genuine intimate encounters challenging. When not addressed, the issues not only diminish the quality of a couple’s sexual life but can erode the overall emotional bond. This blog explores how past sexual trauma continues to influence intimacy long after the events have passed and discusses strategies for couples to foster healing and reclaim their closeness.

Healing from Sexual Trauma

Open Communication

The journey of healing within a marriage starts with open, honest communication. For the partner affected by trauma, being able to vocalize their experiences and emotions is not just therapeutic; it's a critical step in making their internal struggles visible and understandable to their spouse. This act of sharing goes beyond mere transparency; it fosters empathy and compassion, allowing the listening partner to grasp the weight and impact of the trauma truly. As these sensitive issues are brought into the light, it equips both partners to handle sensitive situations with greater care and understanding, thus preventing inadvertent re-traumatization and deepening the bonds of trust.

Understanding Emotional Triggers

Partners must work together to identify and understand the origins of emotional triggers, which are emotional cues that activate past wounds or conditioned responses, often stemming from past experiences or vulnerabilities. Delving deeply into each partner’s past experiences and vulnerabilities can illuminate the root causes of these triggers, which are often entwined with painful memories or conditioned responses. When both partners recognize and respect these sensitive areas, they can more effectively navigate their interactions to avoid unintended harm. This mutual understanding is not just about avoiding negative outcomes; it is about building a foundation of empathy and support that facilitates deeper healing and a stronger, more resilient bond in the marriage.

By acknowledging and honoring each other's sensitivities, they can navigate their interactions with greater care, minimizing inadvertent harm. This shared understanding fosters empathy and solidarity, fostering not only avoidance of negative outcomes but also deepening healing and fortifying the marital bond.

Self-Reflection and Inquiry

A couple who may need Christian counselling in 60637 to overcome sexual trauma in marriage

Survivors of sexual violence often carry profound emotional wounds that require dedicated attention and self-care. While it's true that triggers can't always be avoided, survivors can empower themselves by proactively addressing their emotional baggage. This process entails cultivating a heightened level of self-awareness, which involves delving into their emotions, tuning into bodily sensations, and developing techniques to ground themselves in the present moment. 

Introspection helps individuals understand their current emotional state and link it to past experiences. Questions like "What am I feeling right now?", "When have I felt this way before?" and "What did I need back then?" can help articulate current needs and strategies to meet them, facilitating a healthier emotional state. This reflective practice is not just about tracing the origins of feelings but also about actively engaging in the emotional recalibration necessary for healing.

Seek Professional Help

Engaging in Christian counseling is an essential step in the healing journey for couples grappling with the effects of past sexual trauma. These counselors offer specialized strategies and tailored support, uniquely attuned to addressing the complexities of trauma within the context of faith. With a deep respect for the couple's spiritual beliefs and personal boundaries, Christian counselors provide a safe and nurturing environment for exploring painful experiences and navigating the path toward recovery. Their guidance equips couples with valuable tools and insights, empowering them to heal wounds, rebuild trust, and reclaim intimacy within their marriage.

Take Steps toward Healing

Each person's healing journey is unique. Recognizing this, couples should honor and support each individual's pace without imposing unrealistic expectations or timelines. Healing from trauma does not follow a linear path or a fixed schedule. It unfolds in deeply personal ways, often in fits and starts, influenced by emotional resilience, personal history, and the nature of the trauma itself. Partners must cultivate a nurturing environment where patience and understanding are paramount, allowing each person the space and time needed to navigate their healing process. This supportive approach helps ensure that healing progresses in a healthy, sustainable manner, truly attuned to the needs of the individual.


The path to recovering intimacy in a marriage affected by sexual trauma is neither simple nor straightforward. It requires courage, commitment, and compassion from both partners. By engaging in open communication, understanding each other’s triggers, and seeking professional guidance, couples can navigate this challenging journey together. As they work through these struggles, they can gradually rebuild trust and intimacy, emerging stronger as a couple.

If you and your partner are navigating the effects of past sexual trauma, consider seeking support from a Christian counselor. Skilled in addressing these delicate issues within the framework of faith, they can guide you toward healing and reclaiming the intimate connection you both deserve. Visit to connect with a counselor and start your journey to healing today.

To learn more about navigating the effects of sexual trauma on intimacy in marriage, join us for an insightful podcast conversation with Shannon Ethridge.

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