by Patsy Rae Dawson
I received an email from a woman, I’ll call Ann, who asked for advice regarding her daughter, I’ll call Olivia, who is living with an extremely emotionally, physically, and financially abusive man.
After several emails, I wrote Ann, “This is a difficult, personal question. Is there any verbal abuse or narcissism in your marriage? Is love withheld? If so, that would explain why your daughter seems to know the relationship is harmful but appears emotionally paralyzed to extract herself from the situation.”
Ann replied, “Yes, there was verbal, emotional abuse for a ten year period. Love has been withheld. There has been one affair that I know of and many attractions. Olivia told me once that I was her bad example.”
I asked, “Did you and your husband grow up in narcissistic homes?”
“Yes, my mother was bipolar. My husband’s father had major problems with intimacy, workaholism, and sexual addictions. You do perceive the pattern correctly.”
Ann continued, “I feel like I am revealing dirty laundry and it feels so shameful. Lord, help me to feel clean and whole...to be healed from all this shame.”
I expected this answer from Ann as I’m seeing this often in older marriages. Olivia is the third generation that we know who is suffering from one spouse’s sin of not loving the other. Ann’s family poignantly illustrates that everyone in the household is damaged by unloving, sexless marriages.
Some family members, especially the children, suffer much worse than others. Here are 3 common ways unloving, sexless homes can harm children:
1. A Child May Mask Into an Enabler
Our personalities and talents are 60% genetics and 40% nurturing. But the nurturing can be so unloving that it totally overwhelms the genetics. When children mask to emotionally survive a toxic home, they may eventually lose touch with their authentic self. Often they don’t know who they really are.
Two-year-old toddlers instinctively resort to enabling to protect themselves from an unloving out-of-control parent. In my “How to Fight Fair” and “Face Anger” classes in Challenges in Marriage, I tell about such a young boy.
The family was traveling on a trip with the mother and daughter riding in the back seat. The father drove while the toddler sat in a car seat on the passenger side. It was a pleasant day and the car windows were down.
All of a sudden a bee flew in through the father’s window across in front of the child. The boy screamed and waved his arms, “Bee! Bee! Bee! Bee!”
The father, who was an intimacy anorexic, instantly raged at his wife, “Why can’t you control these children while I’m driving!” He reared back his fist and slammed it down on the dash knocking the rear-view mirror off the windshield on his way to cracking the dash with the force of the blow.
The father was startled by his own destruction, and the toddler, now more afraid of his father than the bee, began to tearfully console his father, “Daddy! Daddy! It’s okay! It’s okay!”
While the father continued to rage at his wife, she kept calm, saying over and over, “Lonnie, pull the car over to the side of the road. Lonnie, pull the car over to the side of the road.” After some minutes, the father stopped the car. The couple got out of the car to give the father a chance to gain control.
In the classes I continue the story to show how the wife faced her husband’s anger. The thing to notice here is that children as young as 2-years-old are affected by unloving sexless marriages.
Some of the children who grow up in this kind of home, grow into expert enablers as this toddler was starting to become. Obviously, they mask their fear to keep from setting off an unloving parent. Not so obvious is that the children often turn into non-genetic perfectionists with dull personalities without much of a sense of humor. And most are painfully shy.
As a CLASS certified advanced personality trainer, I’ve learned that extreme shyness is seldom an innate personality characteristic. Instead, it’s a visible symptom of being emotionally dominated or neglected. We talk about people being either an extrovert or an introvert. True introverts don’t exhibit this type of painful, awkward shyness.
When adults deal with the lack of love in their home of origin, many throw away their mask of shyness. They often delightfully discover that genetically they are outgoing, cheerful people lovers. And instead of walking laboriously or cringing in front of others, their whole body lightens up and gives them a spring in their step.
2. A Child May Mask As a Narcissist
However, some children go to the opposite extreme and imitate the unloving parent’s narcissistic self-absorption. Two-year-old male toddlers have been observed going through the house trying to punch holes in the wall when they get mad at their mother—like they’ve seen their father do.
When I went through training at the YWCA Support Shelter in Tacoma, Washington, a leader in domestic violence awareness and the second largest in the USA at the time, we learned that boys 12-year-old and older would not be allowed to live there with their mother. The reason? By age 12, many of them have absorbed intimidating skills from watching their father and pose a safety risk for other women.
These children manifest a sense of entitlement and disrespect for their mother and siblings. Grandiose entitlement is a characteristic of both men and women who withhold intellectual, emotional, and sexual love from their mate. And we find that as many women are narcissists as men.
One 4-year-old girl was already bullying her much older brother. She told lies on him to get him in trouble. At that age the adults easily saw through her. But eventually she will grow into a skillful pathological liar.
Narcissistic children also mask as they observe and imitate the parent who withholds love from the family. Instead of retreating into shyness, many become cruel bullies. They also suffer from low self-images and lose touch with their own human potential to be a loving individual.
In an unloving family with several children we often see both enablers and narcissists. Unless the adult children put in valiant effort to undo the harm of growing up in a loveless, sexless home, the narcissistic bullying and controlling through enabling can continue throughout the life spans of the siblings and future generations.
3. The Child Often Marries an Enabler or Narcissist
Children thrive in a home where their parents love each other intellectually, emotionally, and sexually. As we’ve seen, if one parent doesn’t fully love the other, the unloving environment often breeds children who grow up to be either narcissistic or codependent.
Neither the child who is an enabler or a narcissist has observed a healthy affectionate relationship between their parents. They don’t know what true love looks, smells, tastes, feels, sounds, or acts like. All they’ve known their entire lives is that one parent tried to appease an unloving intimacy anorexic to the detriment of themselves and their children.
Consequently, they usually marry someone who is the opposite of what they’ve become. If they’re codependent and love starved, they marry an unloving person who will continue to reject them and even take pleasure in withholding love. If they morphed into a narcissist, they look for a codependent who will submit to their inability to truly love another human being.
And so the parents pass their defective love lives on to their children, who marry, and produce grandchildren who are handicapped by being either an enabler or a narcissist.
What Can Loving Parents Do?
Many Christians choose to stay in a sexless marriage for their children. They falsely think they can love their children enough to make up for the lack of emotional love from the other parent. But the results of producing children who are either enablers or narcissists demonstrate otherwise.
As an adult, we can make our own choice to stay or leave an unloving marriage. But our children don’t enjoy a similar option when they are born into a toxic home. They are totally dependent on us, their parents, to provide a safe, loving environment in which they can grow and mature in loving individuals. So what can we do as parents?
1. Step Out of Your Pain Into Your Children’s Pain
It takes tremendous emotional energy to survive a sexless marriage and the attack on one’s self-image. Too many parents don’t have much left for their children. But you can’t make healthy decisions for yourself and your children until you open your eyes and truly evaluate the environment in which you and your children are trying to survive.
Begin by looking into your children’s eyes. You can often spot abuse in families by observing the sadness and shyness in the eyes of the children who walk on eggshells.
I’ve observed many times that in loving marriages, the mate and children can do some things that in strict analysis are annoying or somewhat improper—but the spouse doesn’t even notice. In abusive, unloving marriages the children’s and mate’s eyes dart to the unloving, controlling spouse when they accidentally make a minor infraction to see if they are going to be punished. When the family is no longer in a public place a monster often rages.
I’ve observed the fear of an unloving, uncompromising parent in the eyes of many children that society labels “well-behaved.” These young children and teenagers are shy, stiff, and void of cheerful humor.
Often, as Christians, we are very naive about recognizing outward signs of inner pain in our children. Stop and look at your children’s eyes. If you need to, get out old pictures, and see if you can recognize when the pain began.
If you do not protect your children from your unloving spouse, when your children are grown, they will blame you. And they may move far away and have infrequent contact with you. You are the adult—the parent. You must step out of your pain and do what is best for your children.
Ann and Olivia’s case that we saw earlier was so damaging that I recommended joint counseling for mother and daughter. Ann emailed that Olivia was agreeable. I said, “I’m thrilled Olivia is open to co-counseling. You need to make it clear that you’re going to get whole regardless of what she decides. You’re the mother; you have to set the example.”
I added, “False shame keeps us trapped in supporting the sins of others. Coming to the light and opening our eyes is so much better. I will be very surprised if you and Olivia laugh out loud with joy. Releasing the shame brings laughter to your soul.”
I shared with Ann a brief overview of “Stacey’s Story,” in The Song of Solomon Love Triangle and how she had to teach her husband how to fight fair before they could solve the intimacy problem in their marriage.
Ann gave me permission to share her story to help others. Then she emailed back, “I do want to laugh more easily and more often. Olivia is also very serious. You certainly have a gift of discernment.”
Sometimes it’s hard to recognize these love-starved children. But many times their emotional pain is quite evident in their eyes, on their faces, and in their posture. As a CLASS certified advanced personality trainer, I specialize in personality masking.
2. Spend Quality Alone Time With Each Child
I don’t care how much you love your unloving spouse and how much you trust him or her with your children, don’t take anything for granted. Any spouse who doesn’t know how to love the mate, doesn’t know how to love the children. Different degrees of child abuse and neglect go on in these marriages in secret.
It was only after one mother divorced her husband after decades of a sexless marriage that her children felt safe enough to tell her what went on while she was at work thinking her husband and children were spending good bonding time together. To discipline them, she learned he threatened them with a gun. He even told their teenage daughter, “I would gladly go to jail for killing you.”
The daughter so feared for her life, she ran away to another state where relatives lived. The mother talked to her husband about keeping the door of communication open for a future relationship with their daughter. The husband agreed and they invited her home to spend Christmas with the family. When the mother wasn’t home, her husband told the daughter, “Nothing has changed. I would still gladly go to jail for killing you.”
You and I know what that mother would have done if her children had felt free to tell her what was going on while she was at work. The mother asked her daughter why she never told her. The daughter said, “Because I thought you knew. It wasn’t until you divorced dad that I learned you didn’t approve of the kind of person he was.”
Space doesn’t permit me to share other true stories. Here’s the point:
Make private quality time for each child. Take them out to dinner as often as you can—just you and one child at a time. Assure them of your love and that they can talk to you about anything—about anything! Ask them how they’re getting along with mom or dad. Ask them how they they’re getting along with you. Ask about their siblings. Talk to them about building a truly loving bond with their brothers and sisters.
Look into each child’s eyes and listen. Ask them if they feel loved. Assure them of your love and ask them what you can do to help them feel more loved. Your children have little power and even less knowledge on how to navigate growing up in a loveless home where one parent doesn’t love the other. They need you to step out of your pain and into theirs.
3. Don’t Surrender in the Fight for Love in Your Home
In my new book The Song of Solomon Love Triangle: God’s Soulmating and Lovemaking Guide, I devote a lot of space to sharing new research on the hormones of love that bless husbands and wives throughout their marriage. God designed our wonderful bodies to crave physical union with our mate. He also created a multitude of hormones to be released that help us be a more loving person during the day. The clustered-love-sins problem is very rare in emotionally and sexually loving unions.
The love hormones make both the husband and wife more tolerant of life’s annoyances and disappointments. It’s like getting a side-effect-free anti-depressant, high-energy nerve-tonic drink, and health-boosting elixir all rolled into one romp in the bedroom. These hormones turn parents into better mothers and fathers.
I’m a home-remodeling-program junkie. When I need a mental break, I enjoy watching a program, partly to study the inner action of the couples getting a new home and the remodeling couples. I especially enjoy watching Fixer Upper staring Chip and Joanna Gaines out of Waco, Texas.
As they accept each new remodeling challenge, we get to see their amazing daytime chemistry. They are both hard workers with long hours and their own areas of expertise. Chip gives the “comic relief” to the program as he loves to tease and pull macho stunts and brag. Joanna laughs at his antics and teases right back. You hear Chip calling her babe and Jo-Jo. They look at each other with love glowing in their eyes and touch each other fondly. We don’t see Chip and Joanna’s kind of love and respect for each other in sexless marriages.
One of the highlights of each program is when they bring their four children into the project, or just take time off to spend as a family. Chip and Joanna show us in every program how a father and mother intellectually, emotionally, and sexually loving each other envelops their children in genuine nurturing affection. You don’t see stiff, little robotic children trying to stay out of trouble like we often find in unloving homes.
The world should see this kind of glowing love among every Christian couple and family. But it’s rare to find Christians, who are supposed to be the light of the world, loving each other even half as much as Chip and Joanna do.
For the sake of your children, don’t give up the fight for a loving home. Start opening your eyes to what goes on in the daytime, both when you’re there and when you’re absent. It’s past time to start dealing with clustered love sins.
This is article #3 in the series on sexless marriages. At least three more are to follow. May God be with us as we work to bring true love into our homes to bless our children. To God be the glory forever and ever.
Are you suffering in a sexless marriage?
If you are, I highly recommend you read my newest book The Song of Solomon Love Triangle. It will break your heart, but it will open your eyes further and help you make healthy decisions for yourself and your children. God preserved the example of King Solomon and all his sexual depravities for us to learn from. The book will help you make healthy decisions and start to deal with the clustered love sins in your home.
Stacey's Story of how she dealt with her sexless marriage will give you ideas on how to deal with yours.
If the discussions about sex are heated, blame you, or get off topic, then at some point you are going to need my Challenges in Marriage: What to Do When Sin Inhibits Love MP3 classes to teach your spouse how to fight fair. That is what Stacey did with her husband. After they began to fight fair, they started to solve their problems.
Stacey's husband Joe eventually agreed to read God's People Make the Best Lovers with her. They were both shocked at how much they learned. Stacey said, "Neither one of us had a loving home modeled for us growing up." Years later they still enjoy a loving marriage and their children are thriving.
God's People Make the Best Lovers is FREE with the purchase of The Song of Solomon Love Triangle and Challenges in Marriage while quantities last. Click on any of the three covers for the special.