Even if I found evidence of something and then 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. 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 trying to 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?”Ashley, member of the Betrayal Trauma Recovery community
When men betray their partners, or engage in abusive behaviors, women are not safe.
Victims try to find safety in two ways: 1. focusing on their partner and why he is unsafe, and 2. focusing on their own safety through boundaries, abuse and trauma education, and empowering connections with other victims.
Anne Blythe interviews Ashley, a member of the Betrayal Trauma Recovery community on the BTR podcast. Ashley’s painful journey through betrayal, emotional abuse, and the resulting trauma are a testament to the power of women focusing on their own safety, rather than trying to “fix” themselves and/or their abusive partner.
You May Not Find Evidence, But Your Intuition Is Spot On
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.Anne Blythe, founder of Betrayal Trauma Recovery
When women suspect betrayal, they will often seek evidence to justify their “gut-feelings”. Victims’ intuition is almost always spot-on. Victims do not need evidence to prove that they are being betrayed and abused. Their intuition is enough. Your intuition is enough.
Further, seeking evidence obsessively may lead women to find damaging pornographic images that can re-traumatize them.
Finding Evidence of Betrayal and Abuse Rarely Brings About True Safety
Some women may find evidence of their partner’s infidelity, pornography use, and emotional abuse. While this can be validating to victims who have felt “something off”, the result rarely achieves any semblance of safety. Ashley explains how her obsessive checking, even when she did find evidence, resulted in further abuse by her husband:
(Obsessively checking his devices) did not solve the problem because, even if I found evidence of something and then confronted him about it, he would deny it and gaslight me.Ashley, member of the Betrayal Trauma Recovery community
Focusing On “Catching Him” Distracts Victims From Setting Boundaries
Instead of trusting myself and making boundaries for safety, I would search everything. Ninety-nine percent of the time, I found nothing.Ashley, member of the Betrayal Trauma Recovery community
A victim is not safe until she establishes and maintains appropriate boundaries. She is losing precious time that could be spent in setting and maintaining the boundaries when “catching” the abuser becomes the focus of a woman’s mental space and time.
Betrayal Trauma Recovery Focuses on Women’s Safety
Our mission at BTR is to help women find the safety that they need to find health and peace again, after emotional abuse and betrayal.
Many women have found that when they stop focusing on the abuser and his behavior and instead take the time and energy to create and maintain healthy boundaries, they are able to see the situation more clearly, understand what is happening, and get the support they need to begin healing from safe people.
Remember, you are not alone.
Anne: Ashley, I’m going to let you introduce the topic for today and talk about what you did, and how it affected you.
Ashley: I discovered my husband’s addiction shortly after we were married. I was, obviously, devastated and completely traumatized. He had withheld things from me. He had lied to me. That created a distrust in our relationship and caused me to question everything that he had ever told me. Everything that I had ever experienced with him. I just, from the beginning, could not stop looking through his computer and through his phone and, really, any device. 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. It really only harmed me and caused me further pain.
Focus On Your Safety Because You Can’t “Prove” He’s Unfaithful
Anne: 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.”
What Are Safety-Seeking Behaviors?
Anne: In some cases, women really benefit from a safety-seeking behavior. In other cases it starts driving them crazy and really keeps them in the abuse cycle. Today, we’re going to focus on when it is unhealthy.
Ashley: Right. Right.
Anne: I also want to cover why we call these safety-seeking behaviors as opposed to co-dependent behaviors. At Betrayal Trauma Recovery, we use the trauma model. This means once you’ve experienced trauma, you are trying to create safety in your life again. We do not believe in the co-dependent model. Some people are co-dependent, and they’ve been co-dependent for a long time. They were co-dependent with their friends in junior high. They’re co-dependent with their family members.
Focusing On Your Safety Is Not Codependent
If you’re not co-dependent with anyone else, and you’ve never acted co-dependent before, and then you found out about your husband’s addiction and suddenly someone’s telling you you’re co-dependent. No, you are doing safety-seeking behaviors. You are trying to establish safety in your life again. 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?
Why Its Important To Feel Safe
Ashley: 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.
Anne: Yet, those behaviors didn’t get you safety.
Ashley: No. That’s correct, they did not provide me with the safety that I was desperately seeking.
Focusing On His Behavior Instead of Your Safety Can Harm You
Anne: In your case, Ashley, you’re telling me it drove you crazy. What were the three reasons why this was an unhealthy thing for you to do?
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. Number three, it kept the focus on him and prevented me from creating and establishing safety for myself.
Why Safety-Seeking Doesn’t Help In Recovery
Anne: Let’s talk about that first reason for you. Why did it not solve the problem?
Ashley: It did not solve the problem because, even if I found evidence of something and then 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. 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 trying to 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?”
Anne: I can see why this wouldn’t solve the problem. Because it’s kind of like talking to a two-year-old. “Okay, please don’t throw the food on the floor.” They do not say to you, “Oh, you are right, I was showing the food on the floor. That is inappropriate, I am so sorry. I will never do that again.”
Ask Yourself “What Do I Need To Feel Safe?”
Ashley: Right, exactly.
Anne: Two-year-olds don’t say that. The way that they react is not any reasonable mature fashion. Even when you presented him with evidence, it’s not like he said, “Oh, yeah, here’s the evidence. Facts are facts, and now I will stop lying.”
Ashley: Right, it’s not logical. You can’t reason with addict-mode.
Seeking Proof Of Betrayal May Hurt Your Emotional Health
Anne: Because of that, that probably is exactly why you have the second reason, which is you started to feel crazy.
Ashley: Yes. 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 me the full truth about something.” I could not shake this feeling. I would confront him and say, “Hey, I have this feeling that something is off, and you’re withholding information from me.” He would say, “No, everything’s fine.” I would just think, “Okay, but why am I having this feeling.”
Focus On Your Safety By Trusting Yourself
Instead of trusting myself and making boundaries for safety, I would search everything. Ninety-nine percent 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 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.
How Trusting Yourself Increases Safety
Anne: At the time, I assume that his behaviors were emotionally unsafe.
Ashley: Correct, they were.
Anne: 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 20/20, can you see they were unhealthy?
Ashley: 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
Emotional Abuse Indicates Unsafe Behaviors
Anne: Did you know you were being emotionally abused at the time?
Ashley: 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.
Anne: A lot of people don’t understand that when you’re being emotionally abused, you don’t know it.
Establishing Safe Boundaries Is Essential In Healing
Anne: So many people say, “Why doesn’t she get out,” or whatever. 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.
Ashley: When I was obsessed with looking through his history in 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. I wasn’t 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. I had this little glimpse of feeling safe-like 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 boundaries.”
Focus On Your Safety By Setting Boundaries
I would start to make some boundaries. Then I would break my own boundaries. 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. 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.
How Safety-Seeking Behaviors Can Be Self-Sabotaging
Anne: For example, me, I told mine that if he looked at porn, I would divorce him. I told him that before I got married. I set a boundary before I even knew he was a porn addict. 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?” 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. 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.
Use Your Safety Needs To Determine Your Boundaries
Ashley: 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. When I made that boundary, I was ready to hold it. I had said that many times. 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. I did, and I asked him to move out. 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 I was not doing it in order to manipulate him into doing certain things. I could feel the difference between the control—
Anne: And the safety.
Ashley: Yes, yeah.
Safety Starts With Setting Boundaries
Anne: When I started doing that, I could feel it too. For me, I never set a boundary before the judge set the boundary for me, and the police.
Anne: It was a God-given boundary of no-contact when he was arrested, and the judge said, “You have a no-contact boundary.” I could’ve broken it, but I was like, “Whoa, this is what I need to do.” I felt safe for the first time. It was amazing, just that peace that came that I could go home and [inhales] 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. You couldn’t, beforehand, say, “Okay, if anyone throws shoes at me, this will be my boundary.”
Focus On Your Safety To Protect Yourself From Further Harm
Anne: 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. Having a community around you to help set these boundaries is super important, because without having a sponsor or a support person—now, I know Ashley really well, so I know that she works SALifeline 12-step for betrayal trauma and her qualified professional was really helping her decide which boundaries were safe for her. Do you think you could’ve set boundaries as well as you did without your sponsor and your qualified professional?
Feeling Safe Begins With Healthy Boundaries
Ashley: No, definitely not. Absolutely not, no. I’ve gone 20-something years without any boundaries in my life or learning how to set boundaries or what a boundary is. I didn’t even understand that 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 was lost, completely, in the beginning. 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.
Anne: In this case, the control was all motivated by a desire for safety.
Ashley: Absolutely, yes.
Anne: Not just because you’re just a controlling person, right?
How Feeling Secure And Safe Helps With Recovery
Ashley: Oh, no, no. I was trying to control my environment so that I could feel safe and secure.
Anne: Exactly, exactly, which trauma survivors do. That is okay, and it’s totally natural. 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.
Anne: Ashley, for our listeners who are right now obsessively checking their husband’s phones and computers, what advice would you have for them?
Advice On Focusing On Your Own Safety
Ashley: 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, again, creating safety for myself, instead of seeking it out by controlling my environment or by searching continually through my husband’s computer. If you have not yet met with one of the BTR APSATs coaches, I highly encourage you to do so. They will be able to help you create these boundaries that will provide safety for you in your relationship and in your life.
Being Safe With Healthy Boundaries Leads To Stability
Anne: Well, Ashley, thank you so much for coming on to talk about that rough spot in your life, where you obsessively checked your husband’s phone and computer. Thank you, Ashley, for coming on. Ashley’s in our community a lot sharing her experience, strength and hope. I am so grateful to know her.
Ashley: Thanks, Anne.
Anne: I want to thank those of you who support the Betrayal Trauma Recovery podcast through monthly recurring donations.
The Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group meets is going strong. We would love to see you in a session today. Until next week, stay safe out there.