[content note: sexual violence, emotional abuse]
I’m doing something different with Real Marriage than how I reviewed Fascinating Womanhood and Captivating; with the last two books, I’ve read the entire thing before I started and then did one chapter at a time, trying to keep the message of the whole book in mind. After reading the first few chapters of this book, I realized I couldn’t handle that– not spiritually, not emotionally, not psychologically. So, for this review, what you’ll be reading from me will lean in the direction of gut reaction and instinct, since I don’t know where Mark and Grace are taking this.
The first chapter is Mark and Grace telling their story, starting from before they met each other, through dating, engagement, and what seems to be the bulk of their marriage. This chapter is mostly written from Mark’s perspective, as he wrote 46 paragraphs and Grace wrote 11. What I found the most disturbing, however, is what Grace says about her side of the story. It is … well, it reminded me of this:
Most of Mark’s paragraphs are him patting himself on the back for living such a good, moral life even though he was surrounded by “brazen prostitutes” and “manipulative women”– he even left his own fraternity, guys, because of the drinking! Wow, isn’t he just great? But Grace’s sections are full of self-flagellation; her teenage and young adult years are summed up by her as “living a lie,” and the few things she says about her marriage are full of “oh, how much I sinned against my husband! I did not feel that I was worthy of his love!”
And this is where I get incredibly fuzzy on the details, as both Mark and Grace are deliberately vague: apparently during the early days of their dating relationship, Grace “sexually sinned” with another man. There is no distinct timeline given, and I’m left wondering things like if they’d both verbally committed to a monogamous relationship at the time, or if their perspective on dating relationships now is coloring their dating relationship then, and what the “sexual sin” was; but what has me the most concerned is that they mention several times that Grace was sexually assaulted, and her assault caused some significant trauma for her. I can’t tell whether or not this “sexual sin” was actually being assaulted, especially because of things like this:
I felt God had conned me by telling me to marry Grace, and allowed Grace to rule over me since she was controlling our sex life. (10)
When I discovered her sin against me and that she had punished me with resulting years of sexual and emotional denial . . . (13)
Then, after more than a decade of marriage, a root issue was finally revealed. Grace’s problem was that she was an assault victim who had never told me or anyone else of the physical, spiritual, emotional, and sexual abuse she had suffered … In forgiving and walking with Grace . . . (16)
And if you have unconfessed sin and/or a past of sexual sin, including pornography, fornication, sexual abuse, bitterness, and the like, we pray this book leads to the healing of your soul and your marriage. (18)
There’s a pattern through this entire chapter, and it is victim blaming. Both acknowledge that Grace was sexually abused, and that this abuse affected their sex life. She experienced pain and discomfort during intercourse, and Mark describes her as “checked out”– this is known as disassociation, and is common with sexual violence survivors.
However, all of that is framed as Grace’s fault. She “punished” him because she was traumatized– her needs as a sexual violence survivor was her “ruling over him.” He had to “forgive her.” In the last paragraph of the chapter, being sexually abused is listed as a form of “unconfessed sexual sin.” So, even if the “sexual sin” that they’re talking about back when they were dating was consensual, it’s clear that even if she’d been assaulted, Mark’s reaction would have been exactly the same: it’s a sin, her trauma and pain was her “punishing him,” and he needed to forgive her for her “sexual past” of being sexually abused.
What is just as horrifying to me is how Mark and Grace describe at least the first decade of their marriage: Mark says his actions were “overbearing and boorish, so angry and harsh, that I had not been the kind of husband who she could trust and confide in with the most painful and shameful parts of her past.” He said he used his words to “tear her down,” that he “condemned” her, and he links this with Grace “shutting down.” Grace describes it– in the scant few paragraphs where she’s allowed a voice– as him being “angry” and “harsh.” She describes her own reaction as “distant” and that she reacted to his diatribes and “harsh words” with silence.
I do not know Mark and Grace personally. I have never met them, and I did not observe them during this time. However, what they’ve spent fifteen pages describing sounds an awful lot like Mark being an emotional and verbal abuser. Apparently finding out that Grace had been sexually abused caused Mark to do some heavy re-thinking, but that just breaks my heart even more.
My partner and I had been dating for a couple months when we initiated any sort of physical romance, and it took me a long time to finally open up to him about what I’d been through. Before that, all he knew was that my last boyfriend had been a “jerk.” He didn’t push me, he didn’t question me. He waited for me to talk about it when I was ready, and was willing for that to be never. However, he didn’t need to know that I’d been raped in order for him to pay attention to my boundaries and to not just respect but love my physical needs.
He was so incredibly careful and gentle about making sure I was ok with anything we were doing. When I mentioned one day how much I loved his way with me– that he was respectful and loving– he looked at me like he didn’t know what I was talking about. For him, it was of course he would respect what I wanted, what I needed. Of course he wouldn’t cross my boundaries. Of course he thought of my enjoyment, my fun, my laughter and pleasure as paramount. This is normal, he told me, and it took me a very long time before I believed him.
American culture accepts violence against women as normal. Of course a penis will tear a vagina the first time they have penetrative sex. Of course men are sex-fueled robots. Of course women should expect reactions and behavior like Mark Driscoll’s. He had every right to feel bitter and tormented and angry because he’d had the bad luck to marry a traumatized sexual violence survivor who displays some symptoms of PTSD and couldn’t be his own personal porn star in bed.
That Mark Driscoll needed to know that his wife is a survivor in order to respect her needs during sex tells me everything I need to know about him.
Update 9/16/14 12:57a: for readers who have engaged in the comment section, please read my new comment here. My deepest apologies for letting that go on so long. I should never have let it begin.