When they abuse you, betray you, and harm your children, the trauma is intense and healing is an uphill battle.
But add abandonment on top of that, and a whole new layer of emotions arise.
Chandra is back on the BTR.ORG podcast, sharing what you need to know about abandonment trauma after an abusive marriage. Tune to the podcast and read the full transcript below for more.
Even When You Want The Marriage to End, Abandonment Hurts
Women in the BTR.ORG community often express that even if they were planning on divorce or hoping to leave their abusive marriages, they experienced significant trauma when the abuser abandoned them – even if they simultaneously experienced relief.
Sometimes victims feel guilt and confusion for these seemingly conflicting emotions – Shouldn’t I be grateful that he’s gone? Shouldn’t I be happy that I didn’t have to make the choice to leave?
After Abandonment, You May Wish You’d Left Him First
Looking back, I wish I had, I wish it had been me that left him because I would’ve been in better shape emotionally.Chandra, Member of the BTR.ORG Community
It’s common to play it all out in your mind, imagining that you’d been the one to abandon the abuser.
The humiliation, devastation, and grief of abandonment is real and it’s natural to wish you could have avoided it by being the one to leave the marriage first.
Abandonment Can Be A Covert Process
Remember, image-management is a top-priority for abusers.
To maintain their image, abusers tactically coerce the victim into kicking them out, so that they can blame the victim for ending the marriage. They may:
- Disclose partial truths about affairs or other sexual betrayals
- “Accidentally” leave out evidence for the victim, such as emails, texts, or other proof of affairs, STDs, betrayal, drug use, etc.
- Begin the process of financial abuse, including siphoning money from accounts
- Openly violate the victim’s safety by introducing affair partners to the children
The concept is to push the victim into a situation where she has no option but to kick the abuser out. Then the abuser gets to play the “poor me” card.
He wanted me to kick him out. I didn’t see it at the time but looking back it was painfully obvious. And then he could blame me for it. So he really wanted to leave, but he wanted to blame me.Anne Blythe, Founder of BTR.ORG
BTR.ORG Is Here For You
The betrayal trauma women experience from abandonment is unique and requires support, validation, and understanding.
BTR.ORG Group Sessions are the safest space available for women to process trauma and find community on the journey to healing. Join today.
Welcome to BTR.ORG. This is Anne.
Last week we had a member of our community, Chandra, on the episode, and she is back for the next few episodes. If you have not heard that yet, go back, listen to that episode first and then join us here. Basically, we ended with him out of the blue telling her that he wants to leave after she has forgiven him and put up with so much over the years. So we’re gonna just jump in right there.
When Chandra’s Husband Announced He Was Leaving The Marriage
And he said, “Oh, well, I’m thinking of leaving.” And I was just like –
Nothing’s wrong, but I I hate you and our marriage is gonna end.
Yes. Yeah. He said, “Nothing’s wrong.” And I’m like, well, what would it be if there was something wrong? And he goes, “Well, I’m, I’m thinking of leaving.” And I was like, what? This is right before bed. And of course he goes to bed and has a nice night’s sleep. I was up all night and I actually called his mother and I said, “Your son just told me that he wants to leave. And I have no idea why.” I asked him. I said, Why? Why do you want to leave? Why? And he, he wouldn’t tell me. He just, he really didn’t even have an answer. And I just thought, I thought, well, it’s related to the porn somehow. I don’t know how, but something’s not right here. And I immediately became like this anxious mess. I felt like I had to get up to speak all the time.
“My Stomach Was In Knots”
My stomach was in knots. It was exhausting. And it went on for about two months until he did finally leave. But during those two months we moved into the house. The back part of the other house was still vacant. And I started to clue in that when he left, he was planning to move into the back of that house. He’d been planning this for a while, like since at least May or June. And this is, so we moved in in September to the new place. We had this brand new house. It’s beautiful. It’s everything I could ever want. But I’m sitting there going, do you actually think I’m gonna pay for this myself? Cause I knew I couldn’t. I knew that my job, it wasn’t full-time hours and I knew I couldn’t afford the house on my own. And I thought, why?
What is he doing? And we went out and bought new furniture. It was like he was doing all these things to set up this life in this last house. This was supposed to be the last house. But then, um, he’s talking about leaving. And I, it just made no sense at all. And finally what he did was he wrote me a letter and he said in his letter that he felt terrible that I did not deserve the way he had treated me throughout the marriage. And admitted that he had had a lot of problems and that he had made a mistake. When he went on a business trip to Chicago, he had slept with another woman –
Quote unquote, made a mistake.
The Abuser May Try To Get You To Kick Him Out To Avoid Accountability
Made a mistake. Right? I know. Like it just, I slipped and fell into bed with her and she landed on top of me. I mean, I don’t know, whatever. Right? He said that he realized he’d made a mockery of our marriage and that I didn’t deserve how he’d behaved. And I feel kind of silly about this now, but I remember thinking, oh good. Finally all the discussions we’ve had where I’ve tried to get him to open up and connect with me and tell me what’s really going on with him. He’s finally disclosed the truth. And now we can start working on this and fixing this and making it right. Solve the problems. You know, I’m an engineer, I wanna solve the problems. Right? So he was basically just trying to get me to kick him out. And he thought that if he admitted to that, that I would do that.
Uh, your story is sounding very similar to mine because at the end, he wanted me to kick him out. I didn’t see it at the time, but looking back, it was painfully obvious. And then he could blame me for it. So he really wanted to leave, but he wanted to blame me. Yeah. It’s very weird. And they start acting crazy.
Yes, yes. Oh my gosh.
And then my bishop and everyone was like, Oh, you kicked him out, or blah, you did this to him or whatever. And it worked for some people. Right. So it just went sideways with me. I dunno how it went with you, but yeah, isn’t that interesting?
“He Didn’t Want to Look Like the Guy That Left His Wife & Kids”
I didn’t see it till later either, but I realized now, yeah, he didn’t want to look like the guy that left his wife and kids. He didn’t wanna be the man that abandons his family to go be with his affair partner. But he realized the letter didn’t work because I was still there and I didn’t say I wanted him to leave. And so the next thing he does is he decided that he would disclose everything he had done the entire marriage to me. One night he sits me down and he says, actually, that letter I wrote you, it’s not actually true. And that didn’t actually happen. And by the way, I went to massage parlors. I went to strip clubs. I was with this woman, I did that. He just, there was this big, big long list of things he’d done throughout the marriage and you know, I asked him some questions and tried to get the whole story.
But of course, looking back, I think how much of that was actually true, I don’t even know. Because the whole purpose of it was just to tell me enough to get me to kick him out without telling me too much so that he wouldn’t look like the bad guy. Because one important thing he left out was the affair he was having, which no one knew about at the time. So basically same thing happened. I thought, Oh, now I’ve got the truth. Now I know everything. Now we can start working on it. But a few days later I realized actually nothing’s changed. And he hasn’t said, we’re gonna go to counseling now, or I’m gonna do this to fix it or that to fix it. I realized that I was being fooled again. And I thought the tension in the house was palpable. Like it was so awful.
TW: Discovering the Affair
It was awful. And I was losing my mind. It was a terrible situation. And I realized the kids were probably feeling it, like it was really, really stressful. And I finally just said, you know, you’re putting us through hell. I think you should just leave cause I can’t take it anymore. Like, I can’t tolerate this. And so he practically kicked up his heels and packed a bag and left with this big smile on his face. And I, I still didn’t know, but I really suspected there was another woman I just didn’t know. I had no way to prove it. So, because there was nothing, I wasn’t aware of anything happening at the time. I was allowing him to come back into the house and babysit the kids when I was at work. So he was in the house one day and I came home for work and he left and I went down to our basement where the computer was and went in to check my emails.
And lo and behold, he had left his emails wide open. I came across the affair had been going on for four months, and it was the worst thing I’ve ever experienced reading through the emails between him and her because they totally demonized me. They were criticizing me and making fun of me in these emails. And, you know, I realize now it was all to justify himself. He had to feel like I was this awful person in order to sell it to her. And she knew that he was married and she was married too. They ended up both leaving their spouses for each other. But basically I sent all the emails to myself and then I sent them to him and he thought I was gonna try to expose him. And she was sort of coming from a prominent family in the community and she thought I was gonna like, send it to the media, which was really funny because I would never do that. But he accused me of hacking into his account and she was terrified of what was gonna happen.
Did Chandra’s Ex Leave His Email Open on Purpose?
Part of me actually does wonder if he left it open on purpose so he could accuse you of hacking into his account.
I guess that’s possible.
I’m also thinking that it would really hurt you if you found it. And he really, they enjoy that. Yeah. You know, maybe, so they do things that you think seem strange, but they have their own sick purposes for it sometimes. And the reason I say that, again, not knowing. If you feel like he didn’t do it on purpose, that’s likely.
“They Do Things Like That On Purpose to Distress Us”
They do things like that on purpose to distress us. Like that is, it’s like the opposite of what you would think and also to make you look crazy and to be able to accuse you of things. So that does happen to other women. Even if it wasn’t the case in your, in this specific instance.
I mean, it’s possible, but I didn’t get that sense. Like he was really, he was upset and said that I’d hacked his account. And I was like, I don’t even know how to do that. So I did something and I mean, maybe this was wrong, but I sent those emails to his parents too, to say, look, this is what happened.
I don’t think that’s ever wrong. People say it’s wrong because they don’t wanna get caught, but like, it’s not actually wrong. It’s proof.
Yeah. I mean, I did it because I wanted them to know what was really happening. I didn’t want them coming back on me and accusing me of being the reason the marriage failed. Mind you, a year later when we were in court, they did that anyway, so it was kind of hard because they were so loving and really good people – also part of our faith community. And it was really, really difficult to be treated like I was the bad guy. And it didn’t happen at first. It took about a year for that to happen. But eventually he managed to convince them that I was the reason why the marriage failed. And it was, oh, that was just really hard. So then I found out about the affair and that all, basically once that came out, he became really abusive overnight.
When The Ex’s “Nice Guy” Mask Fell Off
So the abuse that I was experiencing in the marriage, I would say was more the lying and the manipulation and the gaslighting. It would be like emotional, psychological. And he was very neglectful in some ways. Like he, he just would not let me in beyond his, you know, thick stone walls that he had around himself. It was more of a neglect than anything. But suddenly he became extremely, extremely verbally abusive, to the point that I had to start getting other people to communicate with him for me. And it took me a long time to really wrap my head around the fact that he was not my loving husband anymore. And I would sit there and read things he sent me, or he would yell at me on the phone and I would sit there and listen and be like, oh, you know, maybe what he’s saying is true and et cetera.
What happened was, actually so many crazy things happened right after he left. I actually lost my job because I was working on a project, a production project that got moved to Mexico. But because I was really involved with developing all the documentation for the process and, uh, the quality checks, they asked me to go and work in Mexico for a short period of time. And so I negotiated a contract and went down and worked in Mexico for several weeks on and off. And I had family members and members of the faith community helping me out with my children while I went down and sort of made enough money to keep us afloat and in the meantime was able to find a job. Unfortunately, at the time I had so little experience, we were living in the greater Toronto area where there’s lots of work, but mostly for people who have over five years of experience as an engineer, which I didn’t have.
Navigating Financial Abuse
So his parents who lived, you know, more than four hours north of Toronto, helped me find a job in a community four hours north of Toronto. The name of the city is North Bay. And I went up and interviewed for a design engineering role up there, and they offered me the job so I could start out, you know, really get my career launched because I knew from my experience in the marriage with him that he was not gonna be consistent with money. Like almost right away he started cutting back on what he was providing. And I was just hanging on to that house to keep a roof roof over me and my kids’ heads while I waited for the school year to end and my contract in Mexico. And then to start this job north of Toronto in a remote location far away from all my family, my friends, I didn’t know anybody up there, but I knew I had to go and take this job so that I could support my kids because I knew it was gonna be a battle to get him to provide anything.
So unfortunately, the child support has been sporadic almost the entire time we’ve been a part. And I know you call that financial abuse and I’m actually in a court case with him right now to make another change because my youngest turned 18 and he’s $75,000 in arrears and he wants to get it reduced by $50,000. And his motion to the court is full of lies. And it’s so triggering still 15 years later to read the things he writes and think, this guy is lying. I don’t know how much detail we wanna get into with what happened after he left, but there was a lot of abuse when I started cutting off communication with him. He started taking it out on the kids instead of me, which was really difficult to watch them go through that.
Trauma Mama Husband Drama
I’m gonna take a break here for just a second to talk about my book Trauma Mama Husband Drama. You can find it on our books page which also has a curated list of all of the books that we recommend. Trauma Mama Husband Drama is a picture book for adults. So it is the easiest way for you to explain what’s going on to someone who might not understand it. It’s also just a good reference for yourself because it shows what’s happening with very telling and emotional illustrations as well as infographics at the back.
Let’s pause right here really quickly to talk about how divorce is not the solution to abuse. I am not saying don’t divorce. Right? Please don’t get that impression, listeners, that Anne said, divorce is not the solution to abuse, and so ergo, I’m not gonna get divorced if you feel like you need to get divorced. That’s not what I’m saying. But what I am saying is when you are married to an abuser, they do have some reason to not go full on abusive because they don’t want you to kick ’em out or because they, they wanna maintain some kind of power or control or, you know, something like that. Once they realize that there’s nothing they can do to groom you anymore, it’s full on abuse.
And that is after the divorce usually, or during the divorce proceedings. Now I think that that is a phase of deliverance, right? So as we are praying for deliverance, I like to think about the story of Moses and the Hebrews escaping from Egypt. And if you’re not religious, just, you know, go with me for a minute. But the first stage is Moses brings them out of Egypt and then they’re backed up against the Red Sea. And then it’s like, oh, what do we do? Right? So I think that first stage is getting out of the marriage, and then the second stage is learning how to protect yourself from the abuse post-divorce going, you know, being able to go through the Red Sea, perhaps on dry ground. There are stages of deliverance in this, and I think that’s what the courts don’t understand. I think that’s what a lot of people don’t understand.
They think, just get divorced and your abuse problems will be solved. And we’re thinking, um, no, it’s not solving anything. We are still getting severely abused after our divorces, although, I don’t know if you will disagree or agree with me that it is exponentially better to not actually have to live with them and to have the court have some type of protection in terms of like assets and financial stuff. Even if they don’t obey it, it’s better than having them live in your house. But I don’t know what are, what are your thoughts about that?
There Are NOT Two Sides to The Story: There’s Just The Truth
Well, yeah, I would agree. I mean, certainly the abuse became very apparent and much, much worse after he left and the affair was exposed. And I definitely noticed all of a sudden he became extremely abusive. I remember thinking to myself, oh, these were all things he was thinking before, but just never said to me. Right? And he was always building a case and blaming me because everything was my fault. Everything. He blamed everything on me. At one point he said to me, oh, I’ve got 10 people that believe my side of the story.
There’s one truth buddy, but also, what? You’re like out canvassing for votes or something. That’s what you’re about?
It sounded like it sounded like he was out, you know, doing his smear campaign and building a little army of his own against me. And I thought, this is really insane.
And also like tallying up the people who he’s manipulated.
He said he had 10 people.
Crazy talk. Yeah.
“I Will Never Let You Divorce Me”
I didn’t know we were, we were building an army like that, but you know what’s really funny? I know you had done a podcast episode where you talked about the battles, uh, between the Nephites and Lamanites. And I will tell you, I I was terrified to go to court with him. And you know, one of the abusive things he had said to me right before I went to court was, I will never let you divorce me. I know that you want to choose to live a celibate life outside of marriage, and so I am never going to let you divorce me, so you will always have to be alone. And I was just like, “What did I do to deserve this, this amount of hatred from you?”
That, and that’s insane. You can’t, it’s insane. You can’t do that.
That’s what I thought. I thought, Oh yeah, watch me, watch me. Yeah. My, my bishop, my clergy at the time was a professor in the university in my town. And he, when I told him that I needed help finding good legal counsel, he referred me to this, She was a retired nun, they called her Jaws. She had retired from being a nun, she’d become a lawyer in the family court system and was there to fight for families like mine. And she was amazing. She died of cancer after my court stuff was done. And she was just, she was a blessing, I gotta tell ya. So she, she helped me fight, but before I actually started, I remember studying about the battles and I had always wondered, what is all this stuff in the scriptures for? And I realized as I was reading through all of it, oh, this is all about people who went to battle to fight for their families, for their freedom and for their rights.
“I’ve Kicked His Butt In Court Around The Courtroom A Few Times”
You know, I realized I’m not doing something wrong by fighting with him. I’m doing what I need to, to protect my kids and my family. And I got over the whole fear and the whole like, queasy feeling I had about fighting in court with him pretty quickly once I’d read that stuff and had that sense again, just to go ahead and fight. And I, you know, I’ve kicked his butt around the courtroom a few times because I realized I had some advantages over him. I heard at one point that, you know, the way to win a court case is to have more paper than the other, or the person with the most paper in the end wins. And so I kept really, really, really good records and I always came very prepared. And he often didn’t even have a lawyer and would try to represent himself and was very disorganized. And so I was able to prevail in most situations, even though he was trying to control the situation and control me. I was like, I’m not gonna let this happen. I’m gonna become strong in my career and I am gonna get to the point where he can’t do anything to control me and my kids.
That’s awesome. It’s amazing what we can do when we believe that we can, and we’re just willing to work hard. But the thing that’s so hard is we’re so overwhelmed by the abuse and that is the point. They want to overwhelm us in order to win these things and they want us to be exhausted. So that’s the part that’s just so hard is it really is a war.
“I Remember Feeling Like My Life Is A Nightmare”
It’s really, really grueling. I do remember being so bone-tired, like worse sometimes than, you know, how hard it is right after you have a baby and they’re not sleeping and you’re not sleeping for days and days, but just the emotional stress you’re going through. You’ve got a broken heart. And like, I just wanna say he abandoned me and that was really hard on me emotionally, but once I knew about the affair, there wasn’t a second that I thought I ever wanted him back after everything that had gone on. And I think having, it was five years before he left me that I thought about leaving him and just felt like I couldn’t do it at the time. I mean, looking back, I wish I had, I wish it had been me that left him because I would’ve been in better shape emotionally. But once he left and I knew why, there wasn’t a second that I thought I wanted him back. I remember feeling like my life is a nightmare. I remember feeling like that a lot, but I didn’t actually want him back.
Yeah. I felt the same way. Yeah. And tell me if you feel this shock at who he really is and that I didn’t realize the extent of the evil. Like I knew something was wrong the whole time things were crazy. But now that I’ve been out of it, looking back and even looking now at what he is doing now, the shock at like, whoa, it’s so bad. Like, it’s way, way worse than I ever could have imagined. Right.
“I Had No Idea How Bad It Was Going to Get”
Yeah. I remember feeling like the backdrop of my life had been pulled out from under me. I felt like I had no bearings. Like what? Just my sense of reality was destroyed because I was like, I remember looking back at pictures and thinking, what was really going on when this was all happening? You know, I was in this happy little world, in my little dream world with my kids and thinking I had this great husband, you know, even though I sensed there was a problem too, I didn’t realize the extent of it, like you said, and had no idea, you know, how bad it was gonna get. It was really scary.
Would you say on the whole, that in your first marriage clergy was relatively helpful?
I would say yes. The bishop that we had when we went through, when I discovered the porn, and then the year after when he left, he was very supportive of me. He was actually a mental health professional in our local hospital. And I mean, I’m not exactly sure what my ex-husband’s mental health issues are because, you know, we thought he might have bipolar disorder, I’m not sure. But when he left, he was on medication for psychosis and for bipolar disorder and depression, and I believe he had gotten all of those prescriptions from our bishop. So I found him to be quite supportive. And actually when my first husband left, I was in the process of going through the interviews to renew my recommend to attend our temple. And I had completed the part with our bishop, the leader of our congregation, and had, was ready to go into the second interview at the stake level.
When Religious Leaders Go On A Power Trip 🤢
And the person who interviewed me, when I said to him, he asked me about how things were going in the family. And I said, well actually, my husband just left our family. And he stopped the interview and he said, oh, I can’t give you this recommend . And I was like, What? Why not? I haven’t done anything wrong. And he said, “Well, you know, we, we need to wait and see.” You know, I think this man was actually a divorce lawyer and I just felt really icky about that. But what I found out was, so about a week later, I guess my bishop caught wind of what happened and he called that guy and said, “You need to give her her recommend. She has not done anything wrong here.” And so they took care of it.
I know. I was just like, Okay. I wasn’t expecting that. It was very strange as if like, somehow the whole thing was my fault and I was crushed and destroyed and going like in the middle of the trauma. And this guy’s telling me I can’t go to my place of peace. I had done nothing wrong. I’m like, this is ridiculous.
All right, we’re gonna pause right here and continue the conversation about her next marriage next episode. So stay tuned. If this podcast is helpful to you, please support it. And until next week, stay safe out there.