Betrayal Trauma Recovery advocates for the safety of women and children. By interviewing three abusive men who recognize their abuse and want to change, BTR hopes to offer insight and information that will help women get to safety, not try to rescue their abusers.
BTR supports Center For Peace as the only abuse cessation organization that addresses pornography use as abuse and takes emotional, physical, spiritual, and financial abuse seriously.
When women experience betrayal, emotional abuse, and sexual coercion at the hands of their partner, they experience significant betrayal trauma that can impact their lives in devastating ways.
Regardless of whether they choose to stay in the relationship or not, women wonder from the depths of their trauma if it’s even possible for an abusive man to truly change and spend his life living amends for the harm he has caused.
Anne Blythe explores this heart wrenching question on the free BTR podcast. Interviewing two abusive men who are enrolled in the Center For Peace Abuse Cessation Program, she is able to offer realistic truth to victims of betrayal and abuse. Listen to the free BTR podcast and read the full transcript below for more.
When Abusers Admit And Own Their Abusiveness, They Can Change
When men choose to deny, minimize, rationalize, and justify their abusiveness, change is not possible. In fact, those very acts are abusive in and of themselves.
At BTR, we recommend that women do not try to convince their abuser of the severity of his behaviors. It is important that a trauma and abuse-trained professional work with them to help them admit and own their abusiveness. After this step, abusers can begin identifying their abusive thinking and working toward living amends.
What Does “Living Amends” Mean?
When abusers have fully identified and addressed the abusive thinking that they have used to justify their behavior toward their partners and children, they can begin the process of living amends.
Living amends begins when an abuser not only stops all of his abusive behaviors, but chooses to do the hard work of unpacking and owning his abusive thinking.
Living amends, as opposed to “making amends” means that there is not one moment of apology and then it’s over: abusers must understand that the depth of trauma that they caused their loved ones requires that they put forth concerted and focused energy and behaviors to treat their families with respect and support them in their trauma-recovery.
As Adam shares, part of his choice to live amends means that he puts her recovery before his own comfort (and stops being so incredibly selfish):
I gave up my right to say, ‘Well, that’s just unfair,’ or, ‘Do you realize how this hurts me?’ I can’t do that anymore. If I want to make amends for the crap that I put my wife through, I have to be willing to drudge through the trenches.Adam
How Can Abusers Begin Living Amends?
Victims are not responsible for initiating, guiding, or helping their abuser begin or stay in the process of living amends. In fact, when victims take responsibility for their abuser’s recovery (or lack thereof), they are often in danger of further abuse.
For me, my wife tried being nice. It didn’t help. She tried being angrier and that didn’t help. It was the moment when she came to a decision that, ‘I’m going to move on with my life and you can either change or you can go away,’ and she kicked me out. The pain of recognizing that, ‘I’m alone, and I will always end up alone and in despair. I don’t want to live this way anymore.’ It was that pain that opened up a way to ‘I want to do something different.’Gus
The only action that a woman can take to assist her partner or ex-partner in changing is to set firm boundaries that separate herself and her children from abusive behavior. Beyond that, it is 100% the abuser’s prerogative and responsibility to initiate and continue working toward living amends.
What Does A Living Amends From An Abuser Look Like?
When men begin truly living amends they do not:
- Blame their wives, God, their parents, their children, their family of origin, the way that they were raised, or any other external factor for abusive and harmful choices.
- Require anything from their partners: taking a “I’ll take ten steps, but you have to take one” approach, asking when she will trust him again, or getting frustrated because of all the work he’s done and feeling like there’s been no reward are signs of abusiveness, not recovery.
- Treat children with disrespect and unkindness.
- EVER sexually or emotionally betray their partners, ever, for any reason.
- Employ any other abusive behaviors or tactics toward anyone.
Because grooming behaviors can closely resemble recovery, it’s important that women become familiar with Lundy Bancroft’s 13 signs of change.
Betrayal Trauma Recovery Advocates For Women’s Safety
What victims of abuse need to recognize is, ‘I am worth being treated well and I am going to set boundaries around this abuse.’ Your safety is your top priority, but only you can help you. Only you can decide what is safe for you or not. We get to define that for ourselves and that’s how we make our way to safety.Anne Blythe, founder of Betrayal Trauma Recovery
At BTR, we believe that every woman deserves an abuse-free life: a life where she enjoys physical, sexual, emotional, financial, and mental safety.
Women can set and maintain effective boundaries to courageously separate themselves from abusive behavior regardless of how likely their partner is or is not, to change.
Many abusers promise that they will change, in fact, it is an almost-universal tool in the grooming process of the abuse cycle.
At BTR we understand the grief, frustration, and intense anger that victims feel when their abusers promise to change, but continue abusing. That is why the Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group meets daily in every time zone: to offer women a safe place to ask questions, share their stories, process trauma, and receive help in setting boundaries.
Join today and find a community of validation, support, and compassion.
Welcome to Betrayal Trauma Recovery, this is Anne.
We have the continuation of our conversation with some of the husbands of the women in our Betrayal Trauma Recovery community. We’re discussing their epiphanies about abuse and how they’ve been trying to change their lives.
We had an unfortunate event when we recorded. David’s mic ended up going out so, although he participated in this second section of the interview, we don’t have the audio. We’ll have to have him come on again another time.
BTR Can Help You Discern If Your Husband Is Making Amends
Before we continue with that interview, so many women are wondering, “What types of abusive behaviors am I dealing with?” and, “What kind of boundaries do I need to set?” For all of you women out there, read Why Does He Do That? by Lundy Bancroft and The Verbally Abusive Relationship by Patricia Evans. Those are the two books that you need to read.
Getting into Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group is also essential so that you can jump onto a live face-to-face session online with one of our coaches at any time. We have multiple sessions a day in multiple time zones.
If you’re looking for support for an abusive man, who is trying to change and wants help, Center for Peace is what we recommend.
Center For Peace Helps Men Learn To Make Amends
Okay, back to our conversation, and this will just be with Gus and Adam because, unfortunately, David’s mic didn’t work. If we get that audio back, maybe we’ll do another episode with just his responses and, if not, we’ll have him back on and interview him again.
Anne: As you have taken your sins, so to speak, “to the altar”—you’ve been honest, done the work, exercised faith through action, that sort of thing—was that a part of your recovery process where you thought, “Okay, I’m going to do everything possible. I’m going to do living amends and then, with hope and prayer, pray that through Christ and His grace and His mercy could make things right.” Was that a part of your progress?
Is Making Amends Part Of Recovery?
Not to say that people have to be Christian to overcome abusive behaviors or to change. They don’t, but many of our listeners are and so I wanted to kind of add that in for our Christian listeners, and for our non-Christian listeners it’s still possible to stop abusive behaviors.
Gus: I grew up with a really strong belief in God. I read my scriptures all the time. By all intents and purposes, I was a great spiritual kid. When I was trying to get sober, I began to recognize that my relationship with God was, partly, a huge lie.
Not that God was a lie, but that I was lying to myself about the things that I had been taught and the things that I learned, to the point that who I was believing in wasn’t really very capable of helping me at all. I would be the first to say, “Oh, no, I believe in Christ,” but, when it got down to it, I really didn’t believe those things. I always believed, “Well, I got to do my part first and my part was never good enough for Him to do his part.” It’s not very God-like if He can’t save me from myself.
Making Amends Means Deconstructing False Beliefs
I had to go through a reformation process. I think a lot of addicts, especially religious ones, they keep maintaining this false belief in something and they don’t look at the deep beliefs that they have in it and how they react to those beliefs, so it doesn’t quite weave together.
You hear a lot of people talk about “fighting your addiction” and “If I just do these certain things, I’ll beat this, or I’ll get over this or we’ll fight through this.” I’m a firm believer that I totally lost that fight, that’s why I’m an addict. I failed. I’m the guy that’s bleeding and dying on the ground, and I have to have God. I have no ability to fight it.
Anne: Thank you for sharing that. I believe that Christ cannot help us if we are unwilling to obey the commandments. I mean He can always help us, but we need to obey the commandments, period. Honesty and truthfulness, and things like that, and starting to take a step towards obedience is what will help Christ actually activate His grace in our lives.
Making Amends Begins With Willingness And Effort
For people who are unable to tell the truth in the moment, praying to be able to tell the truth, or praying for an opportunity to tell the truth, or just starting to try to make progress toward that, I think, is at least a first step. You can’t take that step if you don’t know what the truth is yourself.
It’s so complex for addicts, I think, because, in the beginning or when you’re active in your addiction, reality and your perceptions of reality are so skewed that it’s difficult to even know where to start. I appreciate what you had said.
Recognizing Subtle Forms Of Abuse Is Part Of Making Amends
Many women in our community are being gaslit, currently, their husbands are gaslighting them. We had a recovering addict on a while ago, who gave some examples that were really subtle ways that he gaslit his wife. We had tons of women write back and say, “We want more examples of that.”
If you guys are willing, can you tell us some subtle ways that you lied or tried to make your wife feel like she was crazy, back in the day when you were using abusive behaviors? Can you tell us some examples that you would use, to help women recognize this type of gaslighting?
Gus: I can write books on this. I was thinking of this earlier, when you were talking about abuse because it is abuse. Making someone doubt themselves, that’s probably the most abusive thing that you can do. Getting someone to question themselves and getting someone to question their belief in God, it’s probably the worst thing you could ever do, all those subtle things. Some of them, the questions, in and of themselves, can be good but it’s how we use them.
An Abuser Explains His Manipulative Gaslighting Trick
For instance, wanting your wife’s definition of something. I can ask her, “What do you mean by this?” and I could really be wanting to know. Then, there are other times where, if I’m gaslighting, I would ask, “What do you mean when you talk about this, what do you mean? When you say “a slip,” how do you perceive that slip to be?”
Kind of just asking as if I’m this curious person that’s really wanting to know, but I’m really leading her away from her true feelings of “something is wrong.” Like, “What do you mean by that? Oh, that’s weird. That’s interesting. I don’t know why you’d feel that way.”
Anne: Yeah, it’s also a subtle form of control, a little bit, letting her think that it’s all her.
Abusers Control Through Manipulation And Gaslighting
Gus: Then there are the definitions, “Well, you said have I looked up anything. I didn’t purposefully go searching for anything online. I came across something on accident,” but since she didn’t ask me if I saw anything, she just asked if I looked up something.
That’s completely different, so I don’t have to talk about anything I might have accidentally found. The misleading, asking questions that don’t really pertain to anything that’s she’s asking me. Instilling any kind of confusion that I can because I’m terrified, like, “Oh no, she’s found out.”
Anne: Again, in that moment, it’s abuse. You’re not thinking, “I’m hurting her.” The only person that you’re thinking of, in those instances, is yourself and “how do I avoid getting caught?” and not recognizing it.
Okay, Adam, what about you? Can you give us maybe one specific example of gaslighting that you used?
Making Amends Means That Your Husband Doesn’t Lie. Ever.
Adam: Lying, for sure. That’s the big one. I think, that would be a struggle. I wouldn’t say that anything in addiction you can just stop. Anyone can just stop. I think there are people that can just stop certain things, but I think, for me, just trying to control the outcome, the consequences, my environment, that is still one that I would say I struggle with the most.
Part of what helps me work towards this road to recovery is the fact that my wife has educated herself and she’s not going to put up with it. If I don’t recognize it myself, she does. I feel like I’ve gotten myself to a place where, if I don’t recognize it and she points it out to me, I feel like I’m pretty good at putting the brakes on and saying, “You’re right, I see it now.” That’s been super helpful.
Anne: When you guys read The Verbally Abusive Relationship, there’s this element of “I feel good when I have power over” rather than this mutual, “We’re on the same plane” kind of thing. I really appreciate you sharing that.
Continuous Change Is Making Amends
As all of you are working toward living a healthier life and improving your relationship with your wife, you’re all currently married and living in the same homes, so you’re not separated. For all intents and purposes, things are going well for all of you at this point, right. In what ways do you continue to struggle with abusive tendencies and how are you working continually to change?
Let’s talk about that for a bit. Have you made a decision like, “I’m never going to do this thing again,” or whatever, and then you find it cropping up quite a bit or issues like that where you thought were a lot easier and they are seeming to be harder than you imagined? Let’s start with Gus.
Making Amends Means Giving Up Controlling Behaviors
Gus: I’ve learned, by now, to never say “I’m never going to do that again” because that’s the number one indicator that I will do it again. This issue comes up the most with how I am with my children. “Just no, I’m supposed to be the father figure. You’re supposed to listen to me, even when I really haven’t done anything to deserve you listening to me.”
This is probably one of the bigger issues for me, in my life. It keeps cropping back. This is heading towards disaster, take some steps back and try and move forward. It could be anything as simple as, “Hey, stop shouting.” Not being nice about it and just be like, “No, you’re supposed to do what I say. I don’t have to tell you why, just stop.”
Making Amends Means Consistent Work
That is probably the number one thing that I can’t forget about. I can’t let it go, I have to remind myself, not just on a daily basis, but hour by hour, that it’s controlling, it’s abusive. Especially with my wife, there were so many times where I would be mean to the kids and I didn’t want my wife to know and I’d try and cover it up. There’s always that fear of, “Oh no, I messed up again. What’s going to happen? Don’t say anything.”
Anne: How many kids do you have Gus?
Gus: We have four.
Anne: Adam, what about you?
Adam: The first thing that came to my mind was owning my own stuff. That has been such a big part in our relationship and my recovery. My recovery journey is just acknowledging what it is that I need to work on, and not trying to place blame on my wife, on “I was abused as a child” or anything else. I had to own my own actions.
“I Will Do Whatever You Ask Me To Do”
When my wife was able to see that and trust that that’s something that I am capable of and willing to do, that bridged one of many gaps that I’d created, I feel like. Just being able to give up a lot of the power that I’d assumed in this relationship and in my addiction through abuse, gaslighting, manipulating, being able to give that back to my wife and say, “I will do whatever you ask me to do.”
My wife’s pretty empowered, and she’s done a lot of that on her own, knowing that I will also give her that peace of mind that—for instance, early on in this journey towards recovery, we went and bought a pop-up trailer, specifically so I could move out of the house. It was a backup plan. If I was not working my recovery or acted out or lied or whatever, she’d kick me out into the pop-up trailer in the middle of the winter. I went. I didn’t fight. She knows that if she asks me to leave, she knows that, if she asks me to do something, then I will do it.
Making Amends Means Giving Up Entitlements
That’s part of me owning the fact that I gave up my right to say, “Well, that’s just unfair,” or, “Do you realize how this hurts me?” I can’t do that anymore. If I want to make amends for the crap that I put my wife through, I have to be willing to drudge through the trenches.
Even though it’s been years, as far as masturbation, and it’s been years since extramarital affairs, I still know that, if she asks me to do something, I will do it. She knows that if she asks me to do something, I’ll do it.
To me, it’s big things and it’s little things, and it’s just everyday things. It’s my job to make amends. It’s not, “I’m going to take 10 steps and you have to take one,” it’s, “You know, I’m going to take 10 steps and I’m just ecstatic to see that you haven’t taken 10 steps back.” That’s how I see it, and that’s the role that amends has taken in my life and in my recovery.
Making Amends Means Becoming A Healthy Person
Anne: Before we go to David, I want to put this in perspective. All of us are working on things, whether we’re an addict or not. If I’m an addict of anything it is television. I love watching TV and movies, but I also have these struggles with my children.
When we’re talking abusive behaviors, have I yelled at my children before? Yes. Was it abusive? Did I call them names? No. Did I hit them? No. Did I do this or that? No, but is there a healthier way to deal with it?
That might be where we all need to go: Is it abuse or not? Is yelling at my kid to brush their teeth abuse? Maybe, maybe not. Let’s say it’s not, but is it healthy? No, so how can we move toward healthier behaviors because none of us want to go to jail for one mistake that we make, like yelling at my kid to brush their teeth or whatever.
“I Am Worth Being Treated Well”
That’s another reason I think that people are so worried about using the word “abuse” because it carries such heavy consequences. Gus has so honestly talked about his kids and the abuse situation there. If we called DCFS or Child Protective Services and they came over and Gus might say, “Well, I yelled at them and I grabbed their arm and I spanked them or something,” I’m not trying to discount or minimize any abuse that happened with Gus and his children.
At the same time, let’s say it’s nothing that DCSF or Child Protective Services would take into account, and they’re like, “Okay, well that’s not actionable.” Does that mean that it’s healthy? No, so we’re all working toward being more healthy people.
What victims of abuse need to recognize is, “I am worth being treated well and I am going to set boundaries around this abuse.” Children are unable to do that, we’re trying to teach them how to do that, but as this podcast is female women, adult victims of abuse what I want to say to you, my listeners, is it’s up to you to decide what you want to set boundaries around.
“Only You Can Decide What Is Safe For You Or Not”
Your safety is your top priority, but only you can help you. Only you can decide what is safe for you or not. We’re not going to let either Child Protective Services or Adult Protective Services or our husbands define that for us. We get to define that for ourselves and that’s how we make our way to safety.
I just wanted to point that out, and also to point out that, with me, there are things that I’m trying to improve in my life too, just like you guys. In some ways, we’re all very similar. If I do something with a friend and she’s like, “Wow, Anne was just a huge jerk to me. I want to set a boundary with Anne.” That is her right to do and we all have that obligation to set boundaries when we feel unsafe.
An Abuser Makes A “Living Amends” Because He Can’t Actually “Fix” The Damage
That being said, are there some abusive tendencies or thought patterns or things with you that have been surprising to you, things that you thought would, maybe, be easy to stop and they’ve been more difficult than you thought?
Gus: That’s kind of hard. To me, when I think of making amends and stuff, I think of, “Basically, I have to put forth my life to try and fix something that I really can’t fix.” I’m not saying that’s bad. I think that’s what should be done. I am unable to understand it, unless I am going through the process of healing myself. I have to go to therapy and stuff to start understanding, “Oh, okay, this is how things should be. This is the process that we go through. I can’t love someone else more than I love myself.”
I’m not talking about selfishness. I’m talking about genuine love and acceptance because I won’t be able to understand it. A lot of the things I do: I go to therapy, I try and get as much information as I can about how to do things better, like reading books on parenting, on addiction, on abuse. Ultimately, I try and listen to what she has to say and accept it, and not try and reject it and be like, “No, you’re not putting that in the right way or anything like that.”
Making Amends Mean Doing The Work Without Being Prodded
I think that’s been the biggest help, for my wife, is me finding help for myself and being able to put that into practice because, for the most part—I don’t know about all abusers, but for the majority of abusers that I’ve met, they come from a place where they really want good things. They really want to be that great, amazing husband. They want to be that great, amazing father. They want love and connection.
I’m not saying this to be like, “Oh, we should take it easy on addicts,” because I don’t think we should or anything like that. I’m just saying deep inside they are wanting to do these things. They’re wanting love and attention. It’s been so twisted throughout childhood and life that they’re addicts now. When we work on ourselves, we open up the way to give out and receive all those things that we’ve always wanted and just didn’t know how.
“Make” Amends Versus “Living” Amends
Anne: Speaking of that “living amends” idea, like, “If she accuses me of something that I have done in the past a lot, I could perhaps let that go in this moment.” Surrender, basically, is what you’re talking about, “I’m going to surrender to this moment.” That is part of the living amends.
A lot of men will be like, “Well, what about my needs? I have all of these needs.” Really good therapists will say, “You need to put your needs on the backburner for a long time. Your concerns, right now, should only be for your victim and how you can help her and make her life better, for a really long time.” That’s also called “living amends.”
How Can An Abuser Make Amends With His Wife?
Let’s talk about that for a little bit. What are some ways that you have made amends or continue to make amends with your wife?
Gus: I would say this, from one of the manuals I’ve read, it’s probably one of the truest things I believe in. “The addict will not change until the pain of the problem becomes worse than the pain of the solution.” I can’t say this for all addicts or anything but, for me, my wife tried being nice.
If He’s Throwing Temper Tantrums, He’s Not Making Amends
She tried being like, “Oh, maybe he just needs to feel more loved, or maybe he needs more sex or maybe this or maybe this will help him.” It didn’t help. She tried being angrier and that didn’t help. It was the moment when she came to a decision that, “I’m going to move on with my life and you can either change or you can go away,” and she kicked me out.
The pain of recognizing that, “I’m alone, and I will always end up alone and in despair. I don’t want to live this way anymore.” It was that pain that opened up a way to “I want to do something different. At least just try something different because where I’m at right now, I don’t want to feel this way,” where we are so afraid of that pain, but that’s the only thing that will bring us back.
If He Says He’s Being Punished, He’s Not Changing (Or Making Amends)
Adam: A lot of the abusers will say, “You know, I’m being punished. This is punishment.” I’ve been part of groups where there are men and women involved, there are husbands and wives involved. I’ve seen that, where the abuser is saying, I’m just being punished. People are just telling my wife to punish me by doing this and this.” But firm boundaries, sticking to firm boundaries, not just firm, but hard real safety-building boundaries is an act of mercy towards me—towards an addict.
It was something my wife did for me, and it hurt. It was uncomfortable. I was upset. I pouted. I threw temper tantrums. But it wasn’t punishment. Truly, it was consequences on my part, but it was also me not really having boundaries, and then expecting help. Now, I learn what they are and live amends.
Find Safety If An Abuser Doesn’t Make Amends, Because He Isn’t Changing
In regard to these questions you’ve been asking, one of the things that have just been on my mind the most is that the addict isn’t going to change unless he wants to. I know it might be hard for some people to think, “Well, if he reads this book, or if he does this or goes to this therapy then it’s going to work.”
I’ve seen many men read Why Does He Do That? and he turns those stories and those definitions and says, “You do the same thing, you’re abusive.” I’ve seen many men read the book Why Does He Do That? and the definitions that are in there on the different types of abuse and they turn that around, they turn it against their wives and say, “See, you’ve done this,” or, “You do this, so you’re abusive.” Of course, that’s a way for them to gaslight, to get them out of a little bit of heat and, maybe, turn the tables a little bit.
Abusers Don’t Usually Change… They Just Don’t
I really think it’s important to realize when the addict really isn’t going to change, because I’ve just seen a lot of pain and a lot of hurt because their wives keep holding out, “Well, maybe this time/maybe this therapist/maybe this different situation.”
It is important to have a foundation of people that love and support you and who can help you, who are also good at setting firm boundaries because not every addict is going to want to change. That’s just the hard truth. Gus and David, they both wanted to change and that’s why they’ve made the progress that they’ve made. I wanted to change, and I’ve made progress.
He Can Make Amends By Radically Changing His Behaviors
I would just caution the victims that the best therapists and therapy and resources in the world aren’t going to save everybody. But, also, most of us do want to get better, most of us do want to change and will do what it takes. That’s really something that’s been weighing on my mind when you asked these questions.
Anne: I could not agree with you more. My ex is still so abusive. Still lies, manipulates, gaslights, blames me, the whole deal. He’s the type that would read Why Does He Do That? and decide that I was the abuser.
He’s actually becoming a therapist, to the extent of my knowledge because I hold a no-contact boundary. I know that he is going to school for something about relationships and that particular school does have an MFT program, so in my little tiny sleuthing that I did, which I don’t do much because I have no contact with him, I think he’s becoming a therapist.
He Can Make Amends By Honoring Your Boundaries
I don’t know if I would even say most do. I don’t know, we haven’t interviewed many. I would say most of the women that listen to this podcast have some serious things going on or they are trying to learn how to set boundaries. We don’t know yet what is in store for them. What we do know is that they need to set those boundaries and wait from a safe distance, to observe from a safe distance, to see what that man is going to choose.
That safe distance may require a no-contact boundary. It may require separation. I don’t know what it’s going to require, but you will be able to see what their behaviors are, as you set those boundaries. If you don’t set the boundaries you’re not going to know exactly where they’re at. Those boundaries, like Gus and Adam have already said, are essential for you to know “How safe am I?”
Making Amends Begins With Boundaries
It’s also essential for him to realize, “Okay, this is what’s acceptable and this isn’t acceptable.” If you don’t set boundaries, they’re just going to keep doing what they’ve been doing before. Those boundaries are really, really key and the most compassionate thing that you can do.
I really appreciate you coming on today to talk. I know their wives, but I don’t know them personally. I just want to put a disclaimer out there that they may or may not be the model of recovery. I’m so grateful that you came on to share and thank you for spending some time with us.
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