Today we have Ashley on the podcast. Ashley went down a path that she now realizes was not the best path, and I want her to talk about her experience. So Ashley, I’m going to let you introduce the topic for today and talk about what you did and how it affected you.
I discovered my husband’s addiction shortly after we were married, and I was obviously devastated and completely traumatized. He had withheld things from me and lied to me, and that created distrust in our relationship and caused me to question everything that he had ever told me that I had ever experienced with him. And so I just from the beginning, could not stop looking through his computer and through his phone and really any device or anything that I could verify or find information on, I would search into the late hours of the night and into the morning. That was just a response to my trauma, and I’ve learned since then that it’s not useful, it has not helped me, and it really only harmed me and caused me further pain.
Safety-Seeking Behaviors Can Be Helpful OR Harmful
I want to contrast your story with the story of many women that I’ve spoken with who have said I had this impression that I needed to check his phone, and I checked it and I realized he was having an affair, or I had this impression that I needed to look at his computer and I looked at the computer and I saw this. In some cases, women really benefit from a safety seeking behavior, and in some cases it starts driving them crazy and really keeps them in the abuse cycle. So today we’re going to focus on when it is unhealthy.
Safety-Seeking vs. Codependent Behaviors
I also want to cover why we call this safety seeking behaviors as opposed to codependent behaviors. We use the trauma model, meaning once you’ve experienced trauma, you are trying to create safety in your life again, and we do not believe in the codependent model. Some people are codependent and they’ve been codependent for a long time. They were codependent with their friends in junior high. They’re codependent with their family members. But if you’re not codependent with anyone else and you’ve never acted codependent before, and then you found out about your husband’s addiction, and suddenly someone’s telling you you’re codependent, no, you are doing safety seeking behaviors, trying to establish safety in your life again, and the purpose of BTR is to actually help women establish safety. A lot of the time when women are obsessively checking their husband’s computers or phones, that’s not helping them actually establish safety, even though that’s their goal. Would you say that that’s what you were looking for at the time?
Yes. For me, it was the only tool I had at the time. I didn’t have any recovery resources and I was just trying my hardest to, like you were saying, establish safety with the little amount of knowledge that I had, and that was the only thing I knew how to do.
“Those behaviors didn’t get you to safety”
And yet those behaviors didn’t get you safety.
No, that’s correct. Yes. They did not provide me with the safety that I was desperately seeking.
So in your case, Ashley, you’re telling me it drove you crazy. So what were the three reasons why this was an unhealthy thing for you to do?
3 Reasons Safety-Seeking Behaviors Were Not Helpful to Ashley
For me, the three reasons that searching my husband’s computer was not helpful. Number one, it doesn’t solve the problem. Number two, it made me feel absolutely crazy and I lost trust in my own intuition and my own self, and number three, it kept the focus on him and prevented me from creating and establishing safety for myself.
So let’s talk about that first reason for you. Why did it not solve the problem?
Searching Didn’t Solve the Problem
It did not solve the problem because even if I found evidence of something and confronted him about it, he would deny it and gaslight me. That was not motivation for him to change. It would just be me showing him these things or I couldn’t find anything. And then because I wasn’t listening to my own intuition, I was looking for the cold hard evidence and trying to convince him and trying to explain to him and show him the reasons why he needs to get help and to change. Instead of looking to myself and saying, what do I need to feel safe?
I can see why this wouldn’t solve the problem, because it’s kind of like talking to a two year old,
Presenting him with evidence didn’t result in healthy behaviors
Okay, please don’t throw the food on the floor, and they do not say to you, oh, you are right. I was throwing the food on the floor. That is inappropriate. I am so sorry. I will never do that again. Exactly. Three year olds don’t say that the way that they react is not in a reasonable mature fashion. Even when you presented him with evidence, it’s not like he said, oh, wow, here’s the evidence. So facts are facts, and now I will stop lying. Right?
It’s not logical. You can’t reason with addict mode
Because of that. That probably is exactly why you have the second reason, which is you started to feel crazy. Yes.
“It was a very confusing and crazy feeling”
For a year and a half, I searched my husband’s phone and computer and I tracked him on his devices trying to find something because my gut kept telling me something is off. I just continually had this feeling of something is not right. He’s not telling you the full truth about something. I could not shake this feeling, and so I would confront him and say, Hey, I had this feeling that something is off and you’re withholding information from me, and he would say, no, everything’s fine. I would just think, okay, but why am I having this feeling? So instead of trusting myself and making boundaries for safety, I would search everything. 99% of the time I found nothing that just made me feel crazy because I had this conflicting feeling with the evidence that I was, or the lack of evidence I should say, that I was not finding on the computer or on whatever device. It was a very confusing and crazy feeling to look for something that you feel like should be there, and it’s not.
At the time, I assume that his behaviors were emotionally unsafe.
Correct. They were.
So were you thinking, okay, there’s got to be a reason for why his behaviors are emotionally unsafe? Did you even have words for that at the time? Looking back now, hindsight is always 2020. Can you see? They were unhealthy?
“Did you know you were being emotionally abused at the time?”
Those were little flags that were popping up in my mind saying like, okay, someone who’s working recovery actively, I don’t feel like they should be doing this or saying this or acting this way or treating me this way. I would have these flags come up. That’s when I would confront him. The evidence that I was ignoring at the time was the emotional abuse and the irresponsible behaviors.
Did you know you were being emotionally abused at the time?
I don’t think I would have at the time labeled it as emotional abuse because I was so early in my recovery and in my healing process that I was just barely learning about boundaries. I knew it was not right, but I just made excuses and I bargained and tried to rationalize it and make sense of it. But yes, it was emotional abuse that I’m not sure I was completely aware of at the time.
Emotional abuse is difficult to identify
A lot of people don’t understand that when you’re being emotionally abused, you don’t know it. So many people say, why doesn’t she get out or whatever, and you’re like, because I didn’t know, which takes us to your reason. Three, that searching his computer and searching his phone kept you focused on him and didn’t allow you to establish emotional safety in your life.
When I was obsessed with looking through his history and his computer and trying to find evidence, I spent so much emotional energy on that that I was neglecting myself and not doing self-care and not creating boundaries and doing the things that would provide real lasting safety for myself. As I started to learn about boundaries and what that really meant and what a healthy boundary was, I just played around with it a little bit. I was still learning. I didn’t know how to implement a healthy boundary completely, so I would try and I had this little glimpse of feeling safe and empowered. I felt like, oh, maybe this is what safety is, and maybe I don’t need these behaviors. I don’t need to search these things.
“I can just create healthy boundaries.”
I can just create boundaries, and so I would start to make some boundaries and I would break my own boundaries, and I didn’t know how to make a healthy boundary, so I’d make a controlling statement. Over time, as I began to create healthy boundaries consistently, I began to experience real safety. I could feel the difference, and when I look back, I don’t know how I made it through that time of chaos and dysfunction. The moment when I created firm healthy boundaries and I felt that peace and that assurance and that safety, it was just a turning point for me and for my recovery.
For example, me, I told mine that if he looked at porn, I would divorce him before we got married, so I set a boundary before I even knew he was a porn addict, and then when I found out that he looked at porn, it was like, wait a minute. I don’t want to just immediately file for divorce. Whoa, wait, how do I do this? Right. I was so confused. Many women say, one of my boundaries is that I have to have access to his computer. Then they say that’s one of their boundaries and that I get to check his cookies and that I get to check his phone and that’s my boundary. Can you share with me the boundary that you set where you actually started to feel safe? Because we know that that boundary of I have to be able to check his phone is not really what we’re talking about here.
Ashley’s First Healthy Boundary
Right? That will not provide safety. The first boundary I remember setting and holding that provided safety for me was actually not sleeping in the bed with him because I did not feel safe. Not because he was looking at porn. I could prove it, but just because he was not emotionally safe for me, and that was enough for me to say, I’m not going to sleep in the bed with you. Eventually, that led to me creating a boundary that in my home I needed to feel safe. Part of that for me was having a husband who would be completely honest with me and would be actively working recovery, and when I made that boundary, I was ready to hold it. I had said that many times, and then just two weeks after I did find out that he had lied to me about something. I knew at that moment that I needed to and I wanted to hold the boundary, and I did, and I asked him to move out, and that created the most safety that I had felt during our marriage, was asking him to move out and having my home be a safe haven for me.
At the time, I can say with confidence that it was not doing it in order to manipulate him into doing certain things. I could feel the difference between the control and the
Anne’s First Real Safety Boundary
When I started doing that, I could feel it too. Yeah. For me, I never set a boundary before the judge set the boundary for me and the police. It was a God-given boundary of no contact when he was arrested, and the judge said, you have a no contact boundary, and I could have broken it, but I was like, whoa, this is what I need to do, and I felt safe for the first time. It was amazing just that peace that came that I could go home and I could breathe. Having that safe space, the key to setting boundaries is safety. How can I feel safe? You don’t always have to tell the person what that is, and you don’t always have to decide what it is beforehand because you cannot decide a boundary for every single thing that happens. You might not know that he’s going to throw a shoe at you, for example, so you couldn’t beforehand say, okay, if anyone throws shoes at me, this will be my boundary. It would be at the time thinking, I feel very unsafe. This is what I will do in order to feel safe again. I’m going to call the police or whatever it is that you decide. I
Didn’t even understand the concept of boundaries for so long that I needed someone to guide me and to show me what a healthy boundary looked like, because there’s no way I would’ve learned to do that on my own. I mean, I was lost completely in the beginning, so I needed to see examples of boundaries. I needed to see examples of women making and holding boundaries. I needed someone to listen to me talk through boundaries and allow me to contemplate on whether or not they were healthy boundaries that provided safety or if they were manipulative statements to control.
It’s OKAY to flounder a bit as you try to establish safety
In this case, the control was all motivated by a desire for safety. Absolutely not, because you’re just like a controlling
Person. No, no. I was trying to control my environment so that I could feel safe and secure.
Exactly. Which trauma survivors do, and that is okay, and it’s totally natural, so I don’t ever want any of our listeners to feel guilty about these things, but just how can we move toward actual safety rather than spinning our wheels trying to get safety, but not getting anywhere. Right. Ashley, for our listeners who are right now obsessively checking their husband’s phones and computers, what advice would you have for them?
You deserve safety & stability
In my experience, those behaviors of searching through my husband’s devices and tracking where he is and constantly being on alert never brought me real safety and stabilization in my life. The only thing that created stability for me was making and holding healthy boundaries and learning about boundaries from the beginning, educating myself about what boundaries are and what they look like and what they don’t look like, and then interacting with other women who are in similar situations, but maybe are a few steps ahead of me. That really helped me to begin creating safety for myself instead of seeking it out by controlling my environment or by searching continually through my husband’s computer.