When Couples Struggle With the Deep, Dark Secret of Past Abortions
Let sleeping dogs lie? Or reveal it so the marriage will be based on truth? A Catholic post-abortion counselor offers advice.
In the sacrament of marriage, couples promise to love one another “for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish ...”
“For better or for worse” would seem to include the ugliness of our sins.
In making this commitment, we are free to be our true selves and to learn and grow in the love of God, trusting that the other person will always be there for us — even when, in our human weakness, we fail.
There are varied opinions as to whether a person needs to disclose a prior abortion to their future spouse before marriage. Some feel that if one does not, the marriage is not based on truth; while others advise, “Let sleeping dogs lie.”
But the problem is: Most often, an abortion experience is not sleeping but wide awake, impacting many different aspects of the relationship.
For the past 20 years, I’ve engaged in post-abortion ministry, both as director of Lumina, a post-abortion program of Good Counsel Homes, and as co-developer of the Entering Canaan post-abortion ministry. I have often heard anxiety expressed by post-abortive people who live in the fear of being “found out.” They are terrified that some day their spouses will learn of their abortions and stop loving them. This fear keeps them from being fully open and giving themselves completely, and this fear manifests itself by impacting intimacy in the relationship, both sexually and emotionally.
One husband who learned about his wife’s abortion wrote:
It was not until we had been married a little over two years that I discovered that little secret that remained hidden. … I remember being a little shocked; well, maybe more than a little. I replied, “It doesn’t matter.” How wrong I was! Because, you see, I never realized how much it would matter. I just pushed it into the back of my mind. …You may say, “This is all well and good, but what does this have to do with you, a husband who took no part in her abortion?” Well, my answer to that question is: everything. … This “thing called abortion” that occurred before we even met has had more of an affect on our marriage relationship than anything else.
Worth the Risk?
Telling a potential spouse about an abortion is frightening, and the fear of withdrawal of love often causes people to keep their secret hidden. The disclosure of a past abortion can rightfully trigger many feelings and behaviors in the relationship. Those divulging an abortion should be certain to prayerfully discern and have resources available so that as a couple, they can participate in post abortion counseling, spiritual direction and/or attend a post abortion couples retreat where they can work through the healing process and resolve any issues that may arise so that a fully healthy relationship can be acquired.
Is taking the risk worth it? An abortion is something that leaves imprints, such as fear of abandonment and fear of intimacy, lack of trust in relationships, an inability to forgive, and, even at times, the physical consequence of being unable to have other children.
Perhaps one of the most difficult calls I have received in our ministry was from a man who was about to be married. He was frantic: His future wife had just told him about an abortion she had in her past. He did not feel that he was now able to marry her. Although she had been forgiven in the sacrament of reconciliation and had amended her life, he was having trouble getting past the fact that she had taken the life of her child. He felt betrayed, angry and filled with disbelief — all normal responses that take time to process. He just was not sure he would be able to get past it.
We spoke on the phone for over an hour. I asked him what it was that made him feel he was now unable to marry her. I reminded him that she was the same person he loved yesterday. I pointed out that she obviously trusted in his love enough to feel she could share this heavy burden on her heart and that there were resources available to them to help them work through any issues that had now arisen. While he loved her, he said he was just not sure he would be able to get beyond his human feelings and love her unconditionally.
My heart broke for this couple who obviously truly loved one another. She desired a marriage based on truth and love enough to place her trust in God by sharing her abortion experience. He had a right to know and a right to his feelings, and wanted to be sure he was now able to love her as he was meant to. I do not know what happened, but, to this day, I think about that call — and hold them in prayer.
On the flip side, I have seen many women and men joined in truth after the abortion was revealed. I have watched them as they work through the issues. I have seen the beauty of spouses attending our retreats and spiritually adopting the aborted child as their own. I have watched as loved ones strive to learn about abortion’s dynamics so that they can help the person they love heal. Mostly, I have been blessed to watch them grow in the love of God.
‘If God Forgave You, So Can I’
Perhaps the simplest and most beautiful example was a recent call I received from one of the women in our Entering Canaan ministry. She was still struggling with connecting her head and heart to God’s forgiveness. Sharing with her husband after a recent retreat, he then prayed she could accept fully God’s mercy. He also shared his immediate reaction: “I was thinking of not marrying you, but then I thought, God has forgiven you, so why wouldn’t I?”
As beautiful as that sentiment is, the abortion has definitely impacted their marriage if for no other reason then it has impacted her. However, they continue to work through it together, supporting one another and allowing it to bring them closer together. What a beautiful witness of the commitment of marriage: to promise to be with the person in this journey of life that leads to God no matter what. To love and not count the cost, knowing we are all sinners in need of his mercy. And to watch as abortion, a source of separation for so many, instead becomes the very vehicle God uses to bring these couples closer together, teaching them about his unconditional love and leading them to himself.
Theresa Bonopartis is director of Lumina/Hope & Healing After Abortion
and co-developer of Entering Canaan post-abortion ministry.
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