Hidden wound in marriage can heal
Next to the protection of life itself, the protection of marriage, as made by God, is one of the key concerns of Christians today. The attacks on marriage are manifest, and intensifying. But not all the factors that threaten and weaken marriage are immediately evident.
Among such threats is the impact that a past abortion has on a couple’s relationship. If either the man or the woman has been involved in an abortion in the past — either with one another or with others — the wounds of that act impact their relationship. And that impact can be mitigated to the extent that they discuss it openly with one another during marriage preparation and seek the help that is available.
Abortion creates a relational and spiritual wound. As our Priests for Life pastoral associates Dr. Theresa and Kevin Burke (cofounders of Rachel’s Vineyard) write,
“A healthy marital relationship is marked by a deep bonding between husband and wife with a foundational trust that leads to vibrant and satisfying emotional, spiritual, and physical intimacy. Abortion is a traumatic death experience that is closely associated to relational/sexual intimacy creating a profound fracture of trust striking at the heart of the marital foundation (this holds true whether the event preceded a marriage, or was experienced by only one spouse). Partners experience unresolved, unspoken grief and shame as they struggle with depression, anxiety, and other painnumbing symptoms of trauma that can negatively impact marriage and family life. Extramarital affairs are not uncommon for persons with abortion in their history.”
Women who have had abortions frequently settle for relationships that do not meet their needs for love and nurturing, and in varying degrees are abusive and violent. In our healing programs, women report staying in abusive relationships as a form of self-punishment. They feel on some level, “this is what I deserve for what I did to my baby.”
Couples having marital problems may not understand that those problems are rooted in a previous abortion as they struggle with intimacy, trust, communication, sexuality and parenting issues. One who has participated in an abortion can struggle to feel worthy of the love of another person. Without healing, couples can experience serious dysfunction, and even divorce. The past abortion is like a ticking time bomb in the marriage relationship.
These wounds, furthermore, affect the living children they have. Dysfunctional marriages can lead children to seek love and attention outside the home. They may seek this attention and consolation in ways that are self-destructive.
The good news is that healing is possible. It requires, first of all, breaking the silence. There is no such thing as a “private abortion.” This is made clear in a new book by Legatus member Janet Morana, executive director of Priests for Life and co-founder of Silent No More. Called Shockwaves: Abortion’s Wider Circle of Victims, this book traces the multifaceted relational wounds of abortion on a person’s family and beyond (see www.ShockwavesTheBook.com).
Marriage preparation programs need to open the door to talking about past abortions, and resources like Rachel’s Vineyard (a ministry of Priests for Life) are ready to lead couples through the healing needed to strengthen their marriage. In short, a key to strengthening marriage is promoting awareness of the wounds of abortion and the healing that can follow.
FR. FRANK PAVONE is National Director for Priests for Life – the largest ministry in the Catholic Church focused exclusively on ending abortion. Learn more at www.ProLifeCentral.com.