I Let My Husband Rape Me, and Here’s Why… — by Amber Barnhill

I let him abuse me to keep him from abusing me.

The problem with fundamentalist Christian culture isn’t that it doesn’t teach rape is wrong, but that it doesn’t know what rape actually is.

Fundamentalist Christian culture taught me that if it wasn’t violent or you didn’t cry for help, that wasn’t rape, that was fornication. If it was violent and you did cry out, it was still only rape if you didn’t happen to belong to your assailant (Deut. 22:23-24). Rape was a one-time thing, a life and death situation, not something that happens with people who love you, and certainly not from your own husband. Marital rape? No such thing!

How can we blame victims for not recognizing abuse when our entire society can’t recognize it? Domestic violence is far more complex than just battery and bruises, and victims aren’t all shriveled-up, wimpy house wives. We had a family photo shoot scheduled the day after my ex called my son a faggot and ‘spanked’ him so much that he hallucinated about it three times that week. This is what victims of domestic violence look like. Almost no one I turned to for help in all this took me seriously. I was the bad guy for complaining.

Our culture is a breeding ground for domestic violence. It has been since its inception and still is today.

You can’t ask a woman to choose between protecting herself or protecting her children and then blame her for choosing the latter. 

The hard truth is, once children are in the picture, leaving the abuser doesn’t end anything, it merely changes the dynamic.

We live in a society that systemically values the traditional family unit over the safety and well-being of victims.

There’s nothing I can do to stop him from using the family court system to harass us with. He has the legal right to do so, he’s a good actor, and as long as that’s the only power he has over me, he’s never going to stop. In the court system, just like any other aspect of commercialized society, you get what you pay for.

Why do girls fall for guys like that in the first place?

I didn’t know he was “like that” when I married him. And judging by the number of close friends and family who were shocked and in disbelief when he almost killed us all, it’s safe to say no one else knew he was “like that” either.

So stop blaming women for getting into those situations in the first place!

Yes, I made plenty of bad choices. But no, it was not my fault for not knowing what I didn’t know, or for trying to do the right thing when I did know. I’ve learned so much since then, but I still don’t have it all figured out. No one does.

If I knew then what I know now…

Well, aside from not knowing how to use birth control, I didn’t know what rape was and I didn’t know that just putting up with it would have the long term effects on me that it has.

Rape isn’t just forced sex: it’s any sex without consent, it’s sex when you can’t consent, coerced sex, manipulated or blackmailed sex, sex with threats, or sex when you don’t have a choice.

Domestic violence isn’t a personal problem, it’s a social problem. Nothing is going to change until we stop focusing on the victims and start focusing on the perpetrators, the culture that creates them, and the systems that keep it in place…


Many thanks to Amber Barnhill for giving us permission to reblog some of her post which was originally published at Patheos.com. In accordance with Patheos stipulations we are only providing a précis of the original post. The entire post can be found here.

If you want to read more posts about sexual abuse within marriage, click here: What about sexual abuse in marriage?

32 thoughts on “I Let My Husband Rape Me, and Here’s Why… — by Amber Barnhill”

  1. Hence the important of understanding what coercive control is, training police and counsellors and lawyers and judges what it looks like and getting tougher laws on the books in North America like the UK now has.

  2. I am most thankful that she had the courage to speak. Our stories are identical except for my sons are all like him….abusers. Haven’t spoken [to] or seen them in 10 years.
    To this day he terrorizes me. I moved 2 states away and changed my name. And I am finding out what [Who?] God really is.

  3. This article broke my heart when I first read it in Patheos. I am a survivor of marital rape. I did not even have the words to frame what happened one week into our marriage. In fact, I had a trauma reaction that prevented me from even remembering until about 27 years later. Also, I now realize that my young husband immediately tried to convince me that what he did wasn’t actually what he did. This pattern of re-shaping my reality left me a badly damaged woman when I left the marriage after 31 years. The emotional and verbal abuse was insidious and devastating.

    When I asked him in counseling near the end, “Why did you rape me?” he replied, “I was just really, really angry.” Oh, I understand. We all get mad sometimes. No problem…Phil Munroe has a helpful blog about rape in which he quotes research about how anger usually shuts down sexual desire. It is not normal to be able to rape your wife when angry. And rape has to be practiced mentally many times before perpetrating. Shout-out to the impact of porn yet again.

    The pastor declared my decision to divorce “unbiblical” and he and the Elders supported my ex fully. This is in spite of the pastor knowing about the various abuses of me and the children, the porn, etc. The ex has now convinced people that no abuse occurred and that I am just an “absolutely crazy woman.” Too bad I have written letters by him admitting to the abuses and many notes from counseling sessions. But no one cares about truth or facts. He is a master manipulator.

    You can’t believe it until you experience it and even then it is unbelievable. Like the Andy Savage saga. But I am free and found great help from a Christian psychologist skilled in trauma and abuse issues. She saw what was happening when we came for couple’s therapy. She required the husband to get another individual therapist just as protocol requires in abuse. (I’m talking to you pastors and others trying to do counseling in situations way beyond your training and skill set. Communication training and prayer does not heal an abusive marriage. And being “more available” and sexy doesn’t stop a man from using porn.)

    Off to see the psychologist again today and then on a 2 week mission trip. The Lord is faithful and good and there is life on the other side of marital abuse. If your story includes marital rape, go to a skilled trauma counselor please. You need support and care done right. My heart aches for all the women trying to process the nightmare of their marriages while caring for children and keeping daily life going on. For whom a counselor is not feasible due to finances or location. I drove 3 hours each way to see mine weekly. Lord, please help your daughters who read this article and need support and help!

    1. I’m talking to you pastors….beyond your training skill set.

      If pastors, etc. did not receive training in identification of traumas and true abuse sets, they should not dabble in these complex situations. Psychologists do not seek jobs of preaching on Sundays, so why do pastor, etc. convince themselves they can sit in the seat of a professional with a doctorate and take responsibility for lives of victims.

      Thanks for the important reminder, Deborah.

    2. Deborah, thank you for sharing your story. I got shivers up and down my spine, trying to imagine what you’ve been through. I am so glad you’ve gotten help and are continuing to be helped. I’m so sorry for all the people who let you down.

    3. I can identify, Deborah. The details of the abuse are different. But divorcing an abusive husband after 30-plus years of marriage – and the aftermath, in which the master manipulator convinces people that the abuse never happened – that I’m living right now.

      1. It is mind bending, isn’t it? I hope you have support as you walk through the “fun house” with all the distorting mirrors. One friend who can look you in the eye and lovingly say, “I know what it true and you are not crazy.”

  4. Naïveté may be a little safe in a dream world, where the authority promises and keeps its word to protect for the rest of one’s life. Of course there is no such world.

    Reading Amber’s account speaks volumes to the authoritative world of where many women grew up. It is the religious, fall-in-line, obey first-think later, brainwashing of the conservative ‘C’hristian cult. We were trained, brainwashed, then dumped to navigate life on our own. Authorities withheld the footnotes that told us to beware of the smoothest talking, most impressive men. They didn’t tell us that men in charge would belittle us, condemn us, malign us if we tried to step away from rape, other abuses. Something was very, very wrong if leaders are able to instill a belief system that being treated as Amber was from the beginning seems safe, natural.

    There are far too many women who are trying to support and protect themselves and their children. Their small religious communities that they try to stay connected to are looking at them with critical opinionated views, judging their moves.

    We women were not trained to listen to our common sense, to stand up for ourselves, to believe in ourselves, to be all that God designed us to be. We were told that women who practiced this way of living were sinful, rebellious, questionable types that we should stay away from.

    1. I’m with you, Seeing Clearly. What women and girls get trained, brainwashed, and indoctrinated into believing is if they just obeyed / ‘respected’ / ‘submitted’ / tried / served / etc. enough, in the right way, at the right time, then things wouldn’t be as bad as they are. And besides, it could be worse…..why aren’t the pastors, church-related school teachers, church Elders talking to young girls and even women of all ages and saying, ‘if these things are happening to you, it is criminal……it is wrong……God wants you to protect yourself…..it is evil and your ‘husband’ / ‘boyfriend’ is not a child of God, nor doing what is God’s will……

      I’m glad this was linked as I read her full account and the reality is, I’m sickened beyond belief. A lot of it hits way too close to home and brings so much back. The forced ‘sex’, the sacrificial ‘sex’, and the reality is, these guys don’t want anything mutual, consensual, or healthy and respectful……raping is the whole point. Coercion, force, fear, threat, the whole spiel is about IMPOSING on you and rape is rape is rape is rape.

      In the U.S., college guys were surveyed about 10 or so years ago, maybe 20 years back by now and asked, point blank, if they knew they could get away with it, would they rape? Something like 1 / 3 said yes, they’d very much be rapists and that’s with the term ‘rape’ being used. Another study, more recently done, had something like 2 / 3 of the college men saying they’d be raping rapists if they knew they could get away with it. Again, that’s using the words ‘rape’ and all.

      Given my horrible experiences, I find it very difficult not to see pretty much every man as a walking rapist, wife-beating, power-tripping, woman-abuser. Nobody knew about me, either. I was so good at hiding it, re-writing it in my mind to be anything but what it actually was — criminal, evil, sadistic, etc. — and I wonder just how many other women are hiding, masking, and pretty-ing up their sad, horrible, victimized lives.

      I take offense at the “shriveled-up, wimpy housewives” line, but she was not being beaten unconscious or anything so she has no idea just how those “shriveled-up, wimpy housewives” get to be that way.

  5. Amber, thank you for sharing your story. I’m so sorry for what you went through. You were spot on in so many ways, but above all:

    Domestic violence isn’t a personal problem, it’s a social problem.

    It’s not just something that happens behind closed doors and it’s “their business.” It affects all of us, because we all share the same planet. And within the body of Christ, if one of us suffers, we all suffer.

    I am starting to wake up to the extent of marital rape. I don’t think my mind could fully understand how a husband could treat his wife in such unspeakable ways. I understood that it happened; never was in denial about that—but I had no idea who widespread it was. And how it’s so easily dismissed, because it happened under the guise of marriage, so therefore it wasn’t that bad?

    If we don’t know what evil looks like, then how are we supposed to call it out, and fight it?

    Do we even want to know what evil looks like? Are we even interested in fighting it? Or is it too easy to just blame the victim and let the abusers go on hurting and manipulating others, than change our attitudes and our behaviors?

  6. I read Amber’s whole story on Patheos, and I hurt for her. Then, I saw that her post and others like it appear in the “Non-religious” section of Patheos, so I clicked over to the Evangelical section, and I hurt even more. It was like seeing a snapshot of our broader evangelical culture. In the picture, we’re all dressed in our Sunday best and look rather pleased with ourselves. There may be a nod toward acknowledging that domestic abuse exists, but no hint of awareness that the situation Amber describes is epidemic in the church. I see little, if any, room there for the gut-level honesty that Amber summoned, but instead rebuke and silencing for anyone who would try. It’s really distressing. Except for ACFJ and a few other lights in the darkness, it can often seem (even online) that abused women have to look outside Christianity to find a hearing, compassion and help.

    1. Previous to my divorce, when I was trying to figure out that my ex was abusive, all advice and counsel (which was plentiful) from religious sources, denied it was abuse. When I contacted a county women’s DV phone line, they gave specific info as to how to navigate an exit from my specific situation. When I was prepping for out-patient surgery and was asked the now-required question, “Am I in an abusive situation”, and [I] replied ‘yes’, I was protected immediately and safely delivered home from the center. The medical community believed me and the religious community did not (for years).

      When I told my long term religious psychiatrist who prescribed psychotropic drugs for years and spent long appt [appointment] times with me just to write Rx [prescriptions / scripts], he advised a separation instead of divorce. He claimed that attorneys advise divorce because they make more money with a divorce.

      He never heard / believed me! I was married to clergy, which meant I was my own problem. [About one decade] past the marriage, I no longer require these meds, except for anxiety.

      We don’t require religious mechanics, dentists, surgeons, building contractors, but we are told we need religious people to navigate our marriages, so inconsistent and unsafe.

      1. Hear, hear, Seeing Clearly! I have tried a few different counselors and the only one who truly got it is the non-Christian.

        One Christian male counselor even suggested that I was the only one who knew the situation so well and knew my husband well enough to be able to reach him for Christ. And so much drivel about forgiveness from people who clearly don’t know what they are talking about.

  7. Abuse is also NO sex, with YEARS of rejection- and then blaming the rejected spouse for the fact that there was never any sex. And then using that as an excuse to have an affair. And then saying the rejected spouse was never loved. The amount of mental anguish that produces, the shame, walking around for years believing you were rejected because something is wrong with you- cuz he didn’t have any problems accepting another woman….. Pure hell.

    1. Hi, thanks very much for your comment and welcome to the blog. 🙂

      Next week we will be starting a series about the work of Don Hennessy. One of the posts in that series will resonate with you a lot… Don talks about how sexual abuse can be by neglect as well as by taking / having sex without obtaining the full and free consent of the other person.

      We like to encourage new readers to check out our New Users’ Info page as it gives tips for how to guard your safety while commenting on the blog.

      And after reading the New Users’ Info page, I suggest you look at our FAQ page.

      As a precaution I changed your screen name to Rejected&NeglectedWife. It looked like you had used part of your email address as the screen name, and that’s not usually safe on a blog of this type. If you want us to change it to something else, just email TWBTC (The Woman Behind The Curtain) —twbtc.acfj@gmail.com — she will be happy to assist. 🙂

    2. Very true. Being physically stronger than my ex-wife I was never raped by her (so I can’t even imagine how horrifying that must be although I do know how scary it is to be physically attacked and how it’s hard to ever relax after that even though I could always escape because I was stronger). Anyway, she found endless ways to punish me, including withholding sex. As a man I just felt like I died a little every time she rejected me over weeks or months.
      Or, even worse, asking for sex and cuddles then nullifying the (apparently false) sense of loving intimacy I felt we had by immediately saying the cruelest, heartless things (like asking for a divorce). Makes one feel like such an idiot for having been played by such deceit. A callous heart can find myriad ways by which to wound a sensitive soul.

      Thankfully it is well over a decade ago that marriage ended. Happily remarried now. God can redeem a broken life but only if we do the work required for healthy growth and change.

      1. Hi, MLBG, welcome to the blog and thanks for sharing.

        We like to encourage new readers to check out our New Users’ Info page as it gives tips for how to guard your safety while commenting on the blog.

        And after reading the New Users’ Info page, you might like look at our FAQ page. We have a link there for male victims of domestic abuse.

  8. Wow. I just realized I suffered a form of marital rape, after an argument. My ex husband pushed me down on the couch and initiated a foreplay session while he very pointedly channel surfed with the remote in one hand. He did with an entire demeanor of boredom. I got that the whole point was to demean me as if to say I wasn`t worthy of his entire attention, as well as to establish his dominance. I was shocked and felt grossed out, but had a very hard time really grasping the entire meaning of it. It’s like ‘this can’t be what it looks like. No, no way, my husband wouldn’t do a thing like that on purpose.’

    He had told me once that he had gotten drunk at someone’s house in his late teens, and had woken up to a woman helping herself to him. He had never had intercourse before and he felt overpowered and robbed. I think he was acting out his anger and revenge on me. He would also do little things that hurt me. Like stroke the side of my face way too hard, pulling hard on the gland under my ear and causing me pain, or pulling too hard on a sensitive body part. I would say something to him like please don’t do that and he would act responsive ‘Oh, okay I am a sorry’. But the next time he would do it again just as if I had not said anything and say he forgot.

    The thing is, much of it was all so subtle and understated, just under the radar type of stuff; stuff that could easily be explained as an accident and would be hard to prove otherwise. So many people who know him see him as such a gentle nice guy and of course I am the crazy lady with the bad background.

    1. KOA — let me offer you some ((cyberhugs)). You are not alone. Many many many women have been sexually abused and raped by their husbands and not recognised it as ‘rape’.

      I think you will enjoy the series on Don Hennessy that is starting next week. It will validate your experiecnce a lot.

  9. Thank you for this post and the many thoughtful comments.
    I often felt raped and have also known the abuse of rejection.
    I still feel the sting of being raped each time others want to “know how I am” and then belittle me for still feeling raped. 😦 I wish they wouldn’t ask if they really don’t want the truth.

  10. Thank you for posting this. I went to the blog and read her whole story. I felt like I could have written it.

    I wish I could have certain people read it, who accuse me of “overstating” the situation by calling it rape. I was literally raped thousands of times, because the option of saying “no” was taken away by the threat of harm to myself, my children, or my property. When there is no possibility of saying “no” then there is no possibility of saying “yes.” Consent is impossible.

    And yet they can’t understand the lingering PTSD. Some things do indeed scar you for life.

  11. Discernment is the most lacking of Christ’s character in the ‘church.’ It cannot discern evil, therefore it cannot discern evildoers. As someone else suggested, it fairly refuses to acknowledge that evil even exists, much less within its own walls.

    My personal perspective on this phenomenon is that God has allowed this blindness within Christendom to take place, for His own plans and purposes; much like His allowance of a 40-year, 11-mile desert wandering of the Israelites. For those who are His, called according to His purpose, He will bring triumph. For the rest, they are ash, but do not yet know it.

    1. Yes, CeeKay, I think discernment is so critical. So, so, sooooo critical. Wasn’t it Martin Luther King Jr who said something like, ‘all that evil needs is for good to look the other way’? And if the abuser succeeds in misdirection, people look the other way. Also, it is just easier to engage in a fantasy life of thinking that evil is somewhere over there, not here, in another state or another denomination, not ours. Pretending away the presence of evil never helped, but my, is it sure tempting to go into that cocoon-land of pretending it all away.

      There’s also the whole ‘tolerance’ / ‘love them to Jesus’ baloney being preached at so many.

      It’s really, really hard to confront and truly deal with evil.

      Isn’t discernment a gift of the Holy Spirit? Or is it something we consciously develop in ourselves through practice and hard-won, wisdom, derived from painful experiences at the hands of evildoers?

      1. Isn’t discernment a gift of the Holy Spirit? Or is it something we consciously develop in ourselves through practice and hard-won, wisdom, derived from painful experiences at the hands of evildoers?

        I think it’s both.

  12. Seeing the Light wrote,

    One Christian male counselor even suggested that I was the only one who knew the situation so well and knew my husband well enough to be able to reach him for Christ.

    What a foolish and faithless thing for that counselor to say. Is God really so helpless? I was saved while watching a Billy Graham outreach on TV. Billy Graham never even knew that I existed, much less knowing me “well enough to be able to reach” me. Telling a woman to tolerate abuse because she’s her husband’s only hope of salvation is manipulative, untrue, and heretical.

    1. Absolutely. You are not God so are not responsible for your husband’s salvation, or lack of it. Surely God can use another method to bring him to repentance – as AG wisely pointed out.

      I am now a biblical counselor (please withhold judging me in the light of the sins of other Christian counselors, Elders, or pastors) who once faced the same foolish judgments from many evangelicals – that I should take her back (she’d been gone a year and had a few boyfriends during that time) regardless of 1) what she’d been doing while away, 2) whether she was sorry for what she had done or not (she wasn’t).

      By then I had figured out that these Christians were setting ‘marriage’ up as a god that must endure regardless of anything else. No, I worship God not marriage. Plus none of these people has taken the time to ever study the whole divorce / remarriage situation and the whole counsel of scripture on the matter. They speak from ignorance even if well-intentioned.

      Now I am a biblical counselor, I have never given advice like that and never would. I have counseled some married and engaged couples and find it such hard work. It’s a huge need in the church but I don’t have confidence in it. I’m moving more towards coaching divorced Christian men coming out of similar experiences to my own.

      One has to be so very discerning with couples because if one of the spouses is an emotionally abusive manipulator the counseling just becomes another form of abuse! Can be hard to detect (for a couple of sessions anyway) because these abusers are very slick at what they have spent a lifetime honing into a super sick art. Not for the faint-hearted.

      Anyway, my first marriage failed so I don’t really feel like I am the one to counsel struggling couples given we NEVER once solved a single issue in our marriage and it wasn’t because I didn’t try hard enough. Try as hard as you want for as long as you want you really can’t make a horse drink even if you manage to get them in the water.

    2. Anonymous Grandma, thank you. Those remarks from that counselor set me back considerably as, even though I didn’t really think I could “reach him”, I kept feeling that I had to keep trying with conversations that flew in the face of Proverbs 9:7-8:

      Whoever corrects a mocker invites insults; whoever rebukes the wicked incurs abuse. Do not rebuke mockers or they will hate you; rebuke the wise and they will love you.

      My attempts to speak truth, however gentle, received the insults, the abuse, and the hate these verses speak of.

  13. (Airbrushing…)

    From the original post:

    Rape isn’t just forced sex: it’s any sex without consent, it’s sex when you can’t consent, coerced sex, manipulated or blackmailed sex, sex with threats, or sex when you don’t have a choice.

    I have read this definition in many different places.

    I went to Patheos and read the full story. I can understand Amber’s reasoning and grieve her multiple abuses. A system allied with her “husband” at every opportunity. How many others does she unknowingly represent?

    Sadly, there is a time I would not have understood. I had only heard of marital sexual abuse in the context of someone I personally knew shooting her husband, then trying to shoot herself. And she only reached this point when he started to abuse her children. The brutal treatment she received came out during the court trial. (I was horrified by the details, pleased she was found not guilty.)

    In my own circumstances, I feel…..numb.

    While many (most?) sexual encounters I had would have fallen under the definition of rape, I still feel…..numb.

    There was no violence. There were no bruises. There was no force. So many “There was no…”

    I have one advantage over the previous commenters…..the opportunity of following through the Don Hennessy series.

    I can understand why I feel numb. And I suppose it would have classified as rape.

    I never had the opportunity to develop an emotional boundary for security. I never knew when the boundary was crossed.

    I don’t know if that means it was rape.

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