Determined To Rise Above The Lies, Infidelity & Abuse

Welcome to Betrayal Trauma Recovery, this is Anne. Today, I have Sara Nye and Kelly Smith, two of the three co-founders of Determined to Rise, which is a non-profit that provides in-person retreats and events for women in trauma. We decided to officially partner with them, because our missions are very similar, but we do two different things. I’m really excited to have Sara and Kelly on the call with me today.

Anne: Sara, your first event was in Bear Lake, Utah. It was the fall of 2017. Can you tell me why you decided to start Determined to Rise?

Why Trauma-Informed Resources Are So Important
Sara: We decided to start Determined to Rise because we’d realized there weren’t really events out there for us that were as big as we wanted, as inclusive as we wanted, for the price point that we wanted, and with as many professional aspects as we wanted. We just felt like we might be able to do it better, and we thought we’d go ahead and give it a try.

Anne: I had three women from my local group here, that I meet with in person, go to your event, and they absolutely love it. That was my first inkling of, “Hey, I want to partner with these guys, because they do such a great job. Cali, what surprised you about the first event?

Cali: It surprised me that we were able to pull it off at such a large scale. We had so many women there. I think we had 82 women, and we were just three women trying to pull off this huge event. It surprised me that we were able to get the speakers that we did.

Why Are Connections With Other Trauma Survivors So Vital To Healing?
We got high caliber therapists and professionals. We were able to do crafts and meals. The connection that these women had with each other, was something that we wanted to create—not that it was surprising, but it was very rewarding to see those connections form.

Anne: I just want to add here that Sara and Cali are trauma survivors themselves. This is a retreat by trauma survivors for betrayal trauma survivors, who have experienced so many of the things that we all have experienced. Sara, what surprised you about the first retreat?

Sara: The thing that surprised me is I went into this retreat knowing that we were going to provide a lot of connection, a lot of fun, a lot of emotional processing, but what I didn’t expect was the lives that we were able to change. Some of these women I’m still in contact with, and they continue to update me on how their lives have changed since the retreat, how their confidence has grown, how they’ve been able to learn to implement boundaries in their lives, and how they feel better than ever. That’s not something I anticipated, that really surprised me.

How Seeing Others In Their Journeys of Healing Can Help Trauma Survivors
There was one woman, in particular, who almost didn’t come to the retreat. I actually had to talk to her three times on the phone, before the retreat, to calm some of her fears. Because it could be scary to put yourself out there and connect with strangers, but it’s so good. It was so good for everybody there. That’s what she said. She said, “You know, I came out of my shell, I showed up, and it changed my life.” I still talk to her all the time, and she’s just doing better and better and better.

She was actually chronically ill before the retreat, not able to walk. She had to have help to get around. Now she’s living on her own, she’s happy, she’s active again, she’s healthy. It tears me up a little every time I talk to her, because that’s something that, literally, changed somebody’s life for the better, and I didn’t expect that.

Anne: I love when women who have been through betrayal trauma and have been abused get together and feel the strength and the beauty that all of us have. For some reason, it just helps to see other women who are smart and beautiful and capable who have been through similar things and think, “Okay, this isn’t me. This is not my fault, and this is something that I can recover from.”

When Is The Upcoming Retreat For Determined To Rise?
Anne: Cali, tell me about the retreat you have planned for March.

Cali: In March, we have a big retreat planned down in Southern Utah, over by Zion’s National Park. We are currently having people enroll. It’s going to be on March 2nd through 4th. It’s called, “The Warrior Within You Retreat,” and we’re going to do things like self-defense classes and archery classes, different kinds of events to empower the warrior within each of us. We, again, have a high caliber of therapists and professionals coming—and we’re very excited.

Anne: If you don’t live in Utah, and you don’t know anything about Utah, you could fly into Salt Lake City, or you could fly into Las Vegas and rent a car. It’s about a three, four-hour drive from either place. Is that about right?

Sara: It’s about 3 hours and 15 minutes either direction, and we also have carpools available from both Salt Lake City, Idaho, Arizona, Las Vegas. We have a whole carpool page set up just for people to connect, who would like to ride together and share the gas.

Why Hearing From Trauma-Informed Specialists Can Be Helpful In Healing
Anne: That’s great. It’s also fun to get to know new people and play carpool karaoke.

Sara: There’s actually a 15-passenger van headed up from Arizona, so it’s going to be—that one’s going to be a fun one. Everything that is included includes lodging, food, all of the workshops, all of the classes, a T-shirt, a gift, a swag bag. We want to make sure that everybody feels just as included as everybody else at the events.

For what you’re getting for the price is amazing. These speakers are really great speakers. Geoff Steurer is our keynote speaker for this one coming up in March. He is one of the founders of the Southern Utah chapter of the Utah Coalition Against Pornography. He was just so excited to come do that for us. He’s actually going to be staying the whole weekend, just to hang out with the women, and talk to them and give them guidance one-on-one, with no extra charge. That’s pretty big in and of itself.

Anne: I’ll be down there. We’re going to do a giveaway for an APSATS coaching session, so if you come make sure you enter!!

Why Empathy Is So Powerful In Healing From Trauma
Anne: Cali, for locals in Utah and, hopefully, for locals all over the country, eventually, Determined to Rise provides Self-Care nights.

Cali: We try to do one every other month or so. It’s just on a smaller scale. Rather than an overnight retreat, we do a self-care night at a smaller location or at someone’s home. We can just sit with each other, get to know each other, and connect. It’s a really good opportunity for people who don’t really have those connections to be able to come and make a friend, or talk to somebody, just put themselves out there.

It’s not necessarily all about recovery, or anything like that, it’s just about connecting with women who are more, or less, in your situation or can empathize with your situation. We’ve done things like Paint Night, where we’ve brought in someone to teach us how to paint a painting. We’ve done a Valentine’s Night. We’ve all come to someone’s house and just did a big game and treat night. We try to do these every other month, and they’re a really good experience for everybody. We’ve had a lot of really good feedback.

Why Having Women Who Understand You Is So Vital After Trauma
Anne: Even before you start thinking, “Okay, how am I going to recover from this?” just being around other women who you can be honest with, and they react appropriately. They give you a hug, they tell you they’re sorry, they’re not like, “Oh, really? What did you do?” “Oh, well, maybe if you lost a few pounds,” you know, some crazy thing that we’ve all heard from someone who wasn’t safe. We don’t say stuff like that, because we know what it’s like.

Cali: Yeah. I think, at the first retreat, that was the thing that was so powerful for me, was being around 80-something other women who just got it. I didn’t have to put on a mask, I didn’t have to pretend, I didn’t have to hold back, or try to be anybody that I wasn’t. I could just be myself. I could talk about the hard things, or I could not and it was okay, because they just understood either not wanting to talk, or wanting to share.

That synergy that you feel, when you’re surrounded by that many women who get it, it’s like a buzz of air. It was tangible. You could just feel this energy of belonging and connection and comfort. I’ve never felt it as any other way. It’s such an amazing feeling.

How Is Gaining Connections Helpful When Healing From Trauma And Betrayal?
Sara: I had a lot of women tell me that same thing, that just the feeling in the room, just being in that environment with so many women, was just so powerful to them.

I did want to add, too, our first two events have been in Utah, but we do want to branch out. The plan is to, eventually, be able to take this to everybody who needs it, to have it close enough that anybody who needs it can have it. If people have ideas about locations where there might be enough interest to do an event on this scale, they’re more than welcome to email us and start that conversation about where this is needed and how. Because that is the ultimate goal, is to be able to include everybody.

Anne: The website is Sara’s email is available there, if you click on their Contact button. Those of you familiar with the podcast, when you go to their site, you’ll see that out podcast is on their site, because we provide two different resources for the same mission. We provide the coaching services, and support calls and support groups online, as well as a podcast and the transcription of the podcast on our website.

When Betrayal Trauma Feels So Hurtful, Having Empathy and Connections Can Help
We don’t do anything in person and Determined to Rise is providing that in-person real life, face-to-face, actual—you know, you can give someone a hug contact, which is also so important. If you’re interested in getting involved with that, please email Sara from their Contact page. Sara and Cali, thank you so much for being here today.

Anne: You’re welcome. I will see you guys soon, in March, I’ll be down there and I’m so grateful for all of the good work that you do with your non-profit. Women all over the world are doing such exciting things to help each other and, as we all get stronger, there is an army of healthy women. We’re going to change the world together, it’s really exciting.

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Why Reaching Out Helps So Much In Recovery From Betrayal Trauma
When I started Betrayal Trauma Recovery, I knew that all our service would be online, because women are so isolated. It’s so difficult to get out of the house because of childcare, or because of your location, or because of all kinds of different factors that make it very difficult for women in this situation to get out of their homes. I know you need in-person contact, but in the meantime, please join the Betrayal Trauma Recovery Club where we have a session every single weekday and two on Tuesdays, where you can interact with women online.

These are face-to-face meetings, you’ll see their face, you can talk to them, they just happen to be on a computer, rather than in person. Also, schedule a support call with one of our coaches. Our support groups run differently than any other groups you’ll see. We do have days and times when they run, so you can see, “Oh, okay, this is going to run on Monday, it’s going to be at 8:00 p.m. Eastern,” but it doesn’t start until it fills. Right now we have women enrolled in the workbook study, Facing Heartbreak. That one is very inexpensive. It’s 16 weeks, it’s $320.00. Coach Ray runs that group.

We Recommend Covenant Eyes Accountability and Internet Filtering on Each Device

What Types Of Resources Are The Most Helpful For Trauma?
We also have Setting and Holding Boundaries that is going to be on Saturdays at 1:00 p.m. Eastern. We have women signed up for Healing my Self-worth and Self-image, which is just a one session group with Coach Sarah, which is very powerful, and then Coach Cat’s group, So I Have Betrayal Trauma, Now What? Where Coach Cat takes you through the betrayal trauma healing stages and helps women understand, perhaps, where they are, and where they need to go.

We have an awesome opportunity where Coach Rae is going to be co-facilitating a group called, How Do I Protect and Heal My Children with Dr. Jill Manning. They will be facilitating that group together, so that will be on Saturday, March 17th at 3:00 p.m. Eastern. That does have a particular start date because of Dr. Manning’s schedule. I created the Betrayal Trauma Recovery Checklist to save women from 7 to 30 years of pain and heartache.

How Can I Continue My Healing From Betrayal?
I’ve had so many women say, “I wish I would’ve found you 10 years ago.” “I wish I would’ve found you 20 years ago, my life would’ve been different.” Please let people know about that checklist and let them know about us. The healing process does take a long time. We recommend that women start with Betrayal Trauma Recovery Club, it’s the most inexpensive way to get out of isolation and get the support that you’re looking for. Purchase a support call package and then look at our different groups and see where you are and which topics would work for you.

Thank you, always, to those of you who have rated us on iTunes or any of the other podcasting apps that you use. Every single rating that you give us, or every comment that you put on the BTR site, increases our search engine rankings, and helps women who are isolated find us. Women are searching online for this, and I don’t want them to find, “Seven Ways to Better Communicate with Your Spouse,” I want them to find the truth that they are not at fault, that they are beautiful and loved, and they can set boundaries to find the peaceful life that they need and deserve. Until next week, stay safe out there.

How To Hold A Parallel Parenting & No Contact Boundary

Welcome to Betrayal Trauma Recovery, this is Anne. We’re gonna talk about parallel parenting today. We’re going to also talk about no- contact, which is a boundary that some women would like to set with someone in separation, or sometime in divorce. This is a really safe boundary for someone who is dealing with a narcissist, or someone who is dealing with an abuser.

Related: Detecting & Confronting Gaslighting

I myself hold a no-contact boundary. I’ve had lots of women ask me questions about this. “How do you do it with kids?” “How do you do it in these situations?” We’re going to do a series about parallel parenting and no-contact. This is the first one in our series.

Why Are Boundaries So Important In Separation and Divorce From An Addict?

Related: Setting & Holding Healthy Boundaries

Anne: I want to welcome Coach Sarah.

Coach Sarah: Thank you, Anne, it’s great to be here.

Anne: We have a client, Kate. Welcome Kate.

Kate: Hi, Anne. Hi, Sarah.

Coach Sarah: Hi.

Anne: Kate is a little nervous.

Kate: Very nervous.

Anne: We’re huddled around the microphone in my basement, so it’s going to be very fun. I want to let Kate start here by talking about her current situation with her ex-husband. What’s going on, the triggers she has, and then we’ll have Sarah have some input. Sarah has a Boundaries group that runs—if you’re interested, you can go to our Services page and check that out. No-contact is a very protective boundary needed for situations like abuse, or narcissism, that I experience, and that Kate also has experienced. I’m just going to have her start, and we’ll go from there.

How Do I Determine What Type Of Boundary Is Best?

Kate: I recently divorced—was final this last October. I was married for 35 years, 3 children. I have a 17-year-old daughter living at home with me still, and 2 adult married children. I get triggered when I get an email, or a text from my ex-husband. It feels like any healing that has happened in my life unravels the minute I see a text or read an email.

I really feel strongly that I need to have a no-contact boundary. He has not respected the boundaries that I have requested and implemented in my life, but I still need to be safe, and continue the healing process from my marriage, and the betrayal, and the narcissism, and the porn addiction that I lived with every day of my life, for 35 years.

Anne: You told me a story about an email he recently sent to you about how he wanted to “co-parent”, can you talk about that for a minute?

Related: Covenant Eyes filtering software protects my family.

What Are Examples of Boundaries For Gaslighting?

Kate: One Sunday morning there was an email from him. It said something to the effect of, “Would you consider looking at this religious video, because I want to set a united front with our daughter, in her use of social media?” Well, there wasn’t any link that he provided, so I didn’t understand what he was talking about, but I knew exactly, the minute I read the email, what was going on.

This is what I call his “pretend parenting” that he’s done throughout our marriage. He comes up with a great idea we can implement in our family, and with our children to help them with whatever challenges we’re having as parents. I get on board and start to get excited about doing something as partners, together, to help our family.

When we start to present it to our children, he opts out. He goes quiet, he doesn’t talk. He starts doing something else, getting distracted, and our kids are looking at me and looking at him. Then he just starts to shrug his shoulders when they look at him like, “I don’t know what she’s talking about. She’s crazy,” and the new idea, whatever it is, is dead before it’s hit the ground running.

Can I Set Boundaries With A Narcissistic Ex?

Our children have always been conflicted when this happens, and so have I. I look like this person who’s on a quest all by herself to force our children to give up their phones before bedtime, or a new curfew. I knew this was another attempt at his pretend parenting. He does it to make himself feel good about being a parent. But then, he doesn’t want to do the hard work of implementing strategies that help our children grow and learn and have boundaries in their own life.

Even though I responded to it and said, “There’s no link,” that’s all I wrote, he never sent another email with a link, and it hasn’t been discussed ever since. As soon as I read the email and realized the dynamics that were going on, I could tell, “Okay, this is another trigger for me, because it sends me back to times when I would get excited about co-parenting with him, and then he would leave me hanging.”

Anne: I’m going to speak for Kate for a minute, if you don’t mind, since I know her quite well. Throughout my friendship with her, she’s told me several instances of emotional abuse, due to her ex.

Kate: Yes.

What is a No-Contact Boundary?

Anne: Setting a no-contact boundary seems like it would be a good plan at this point. I want to tell you one of—an example from my parenting situation. When my ex says “co-parenting” I believe what he means is during his parenting time, he would like to be able to drop the kids off at my house at will, or he would like to be able to tell me what to do. Rather than being able to have a meaningful conversation where we come to an agreement, it ends up always being a power struggle because he acts like a narcissist. There’s no way to get around that.

Kate’s dealing with that same thing. I want to introduce the concept of parallel parenting, which a lot of people haven’t heard of. When I first started going through my divorce, co-parenting was always coming up, and no one ever said anything about parallel parenting. Sarah, can you just briefly tell our listeners what parallel parenting is?

Is Parallel Parenting A Boundary?

Coach Sarah: I can. Parallel parenting is an arrangement in which, typically, divorced parents are able to parent by means of disengaging. That’s the important part there, the ability to disengage from each other in situations where they have demonstrated that they’re unable to communicate with each other in a respectful manner, with that controlling behavior that you’re talking about, with what I would call the “good guy gaslighting” that I heard Kate just talk about. It allows for, basically, an arrangement to be made where one parent might make and assume that some decision-making responsibility in different domains. That way there’s very little actual interaction between the parents.

Anne: If I could just summarize that in layman’s terms it would be you do what you want with the kids when they’re with you, and I’m going to do what I think is best for the kids when they’re with me. We don’t need to talk about this unless someone’s going to die. If there’s some kind of crazy emergency, then we can go through a third party, or we can go through a mediator, or some type of third-party so that we can agree.

Coach Sarah: Exactly.

Anne: Is that—

How Can A Parallel Parenting Boundary Work In A Situation With A Narcissist?

Coach Sarah: Yeah. Usually what that means is that major decisions—and even sometimes this can be separated out like one parent might make school decisions, another one might make medical, then the day-to-day kind of things, unless there’s some big thing going on, you just do you when you’ve got the kids, and I’ll do me when I’ve got the kids, if you have shared custody.

One of my former clients had to go to court to get her ex to sign off on allowing their kid to have play therapy. The judge actually ordered that they use this specific email system that monitors the emailing. There are a number of different programs, or organizations or businesses—I don’t know what the right word is—that you can go to that that’s their job, right, is to be that third party in situations like this.

When Does A Parallel Parenting Boundary Not Work?

Anne: Kate, what are your thoughts about it?

Kate: As I’ve read about parallel parenting, it makes a lot of sense, and it sounds great. Yet, when I read about it, I think, “Well, my situation is different because this,” or “My situation, that won’t work for me, because I don’t have a third-party.” Really, my ex-husband doesn’t parent my daughter. I have sole custody. She’s with him occasionally, but she gets to decide when she’s with him. It’s not a regular basis, so he really doesn’t have a lot of say in decisions about her. I don’t know, what we need to combine on.

It just seems like he interjects himself into my life randomly. Really, for no reason that I can see. Like for instance, I’ve asked him to send the child support alimony check in the mail. Just the other night, he texted me and said, “I’m dropping off the check, I’ll leave it under the doormat on your front porch.”

I’ve asked him not to do that before, because it’s not secure. It’s not a safe option, and, yet, he doesn’t respect that request. He just doesn’t want to buy a stamp, basically, and he wants to interject himself into my life any way he can.

Can Boundaries Help Me Heal From Narcissistic Abuse?

Coach Sarah: Mm-hmm. I love a number of things that have been said. How Kate was saying, “I think he just wants to interject himself into my life.” I agree. I hear someone who’s trying to hook you, trying to bait you. My ex is actually very much like this as well. I’m very familiar with dealing with these kinds of emails, and things like that. As far as the boundaries are concerned, I think part of what we have to do, first, is understand the gaslighting behavior that’s going on as well.

Yes, there’s boundaries, but, oftentimes, if we can’t see past the gaslighting, we’re just going to get confused about what’s actually going on, and why is this happening, then we get distracted. The thing that we need to understand about the gaslighting is, ultimately, the result is more important than how they gaslight us. What happens when we’re being gaslit? We get confused. We’re not sure like, “Do I need to respond to this email? Do I not need to respond to this email?” We just get in that powerless place again.

Kate: Those were the exact thoughts going through my mind. Like, “What do I do? Do I just ignore this?” Even though I didn’t see him come to my door to drop this check off, I felt myself triggered. I went down in my basement to just get away from possibly seeing him, or even hearing him at the door.

What About Boundaries When Dealing With Triggers?

Coach Sarah: There’s a number of things that can be done. I have a number of people—and this is something that I highly recommend to women that are in a situation where they have an abusive person in their life that they’re trying to minimize contact with or no-contact.

Do you have safe people who you can say, “You know what, I just got another email from my ex. Will you please read it, and let me know if there’s anything I actually have to respond to? Is there anything important? Is there any money, or talk about the health of the kids, or anything that I actually have to respond to? Because, otherwise, I don’t need that. I don’t need that triggery feeling. I don’t need the re-traumatization of it.” If you have safe people, I think that’s one of the most brilliant things that we can do. It doesn’t hit them the same as it does us. That’s a fantastic boundary to put up.

Anne: Right. With that, I think even just seeing the email in the inbox is triggering. If we can block them on our email and block them in our phone and have them send the email to that safe person, and, say, just send it directly to that person, so that we don’t even have to see when it pops up in our email. I think that is the best-case scenario, because then that person’s not triggered by seeing an email.

How Do I Get Help To Set Boundaries With An Abusive Ex?

Because my dad wrote my ex and said, “I will not stand for this abuse anymore. I have instructed Anne to block you on her phone and on her email. From now on, you will only write to me.” I never even have to worry about seeing an email in my inbox. I know I’m never going to get a text, because I’ve blocked him.

I want to tell a funny story really fast. One day I received a text that said, “Watch out, I’m going to get you.” It was from an anonymous phone number. I immediately called the police, and they started tracking it, because I thought, “This is my ex, or something to do with my ex.” Well, the police called and said, “It’s coming from your neighborhood.” Like that “When a Stranger Calls”, like, “The call is coming from inside the house!”

It was like that, and I was like, “My neighborhood?” He’s like, “Yeah, it’s one of your neighbors.” I was like, “Oh, my word.” He’s like, “Do you think maybe he’s having an affair with one of your neighbors, or stuff like that?” I was like, “I don’t know.” I said, “Which neighbor?” The police officer wouldn’t tell me, so then he said, “Let me just go talk to your neighbor, and see what’s going on.”

What Can I Do To Protect Myself From My Abusive Husband?

He went and talked to my neighbor, and he called me and said, “You know, it’s [blank].” I won’t say her name. She’s one of my really good friends, and I had come around the corner in my car, and she had almost run into me with her car. She was totally just joking around, and I forgot to put her phone number in my phone. She just was like, “Watch out, I’m going to get you!” as a joke.

In that moment, I had to call the police, I had to do all these things. It was such a triggery time for me, so I don’t answer phone calls from anonymous numbers, because I don’t know if that anonymous number might be from him or not. I really try to put people that I trust, like my neighbor, who I love—she’s awesome—in my phone, so that I don’t have days like that where I’m like, “Oh my word, I have to call the police.”

Sending it somewhere else is really important, which might be one of these apps, for example, like Family Wizard, or something like that. Maybe you could set up the app, make him think you’re reading it, but then ask someone else to open that app up for you, and then block him on email on your phone.

How Does Gaslighting Harm Me?

Coach Sarah: We have to back up a sec, in my opinion, because I want to go back to the gaslighting. We go back to that example that you used about the email, where he wanted to co-parent, or he wanted you to look at this video, because “We want to make sure our kids are doing well with the screen time, and duh, duh, duh.”

When a person is psychologically abusive, which is what gaslighting is, it’s emotional and psychological abuse, one of the most damaging ways that they can gaslight us is when they use our values against us. Right, so it’s this trying to hook us by hitting on our value of being a good mom, or our faith, or different things that they know are values to us that can cause us to engage with them, with, likely, no intention of actually following through.

They just want to be in control. They manipulate the situation so that they can get us to engage with them again. What we have to do in that moment is, first of all, recognize that that’s what’s going on, that our values are being used against us, and remind ourselves of what the actual truth is.

How Do I Break Free From Gaslighting?

The actual truth is I’m a good parent, right. I don’t need to watch this video. Me and my 17-year-old daughter, we’re doing great. We ground ourselves by reminding ourselves back of whatever the truth is. Then, even going further to what you were talking about, about just blocking. Right, just straight blocking so that you don’t even have to deal with that.

This is multiple layers here, right, because not everybody can go to straight blocking. Some people can. Those like Kate, like myself, that have full custody, we can do that. We don’t have to interact as much, or we can go completely no-contact, but not everybody can. When we’re looking at things like completely blocking the email, sometimes what a hurdle is for us is that goes against our own nature, our own values. Like, “That seems so mean,” like, “That’s so harsh.”

Just to completely cut somebody out of my life, especially when they’ll probably send emails like, “Why are you being so mean,” and, “You’re being unfair, cutting me out of my kids’ lives.” I don’t know if you guys have heard any of the stuff like that, but my ex will say stuff like that. Saying the things that sound good but are really empty. When our values are challenged, there’s a conflict. The conflict is between our safety or a traditional definition of what co-parenting is.

How Can I Value My Own Healing From Betrayal Trauma?

We have to really decide what’s our biggest value here, and my biggest value is I need to not go into an emotional tailspin and be re-traumatized every time I see his name pop up in my email account, or as a text. Because that has become the priority of my biggest value, then that empower us to make those kind of super-protective boundaries that might seem a little dramatic. They’re not, they’re completely necessary. Does that make sense?

Kate: It does. It always feels like, when one of these things come up, I have to choose between my own safety and what’s best for my daughter. It feels like my ex-husband almost has me convinced that me interacting with him is what’s best for my daughter. I know, intellectually, it’s not, because of past experience.

It feels like I have to put my safety on the backseat, and let him do the driving, because we have to co-parent our daughter. Like today, I had to be at a grandson’s birthday party, and he was there. I don’t know how to get around that situation, because I don’t want to force my adult children to have to have separate parties, or—I lived through that as a young mom with my parents who were divorced. They expected me to have separate parties for each set of grandparents, and that just didn’t work. It just feels like I have to put my safety needs, and my emotional security second.

What Are Creative Ways to Manage Boundaries?

Coach Sarah: How creative can we get with your boundaries? Because, sometimes, especially when we’re in a place of trauma—I don’t know about you all, but my creativity goes kind of down the toilet. I am not creative. How creative can you get?

Kate: No ideas come up.

Coach Sarah: Can it be—and then what we do is we start brainstorming. How many different options? How many different doors can we look behind to see what are the options for boundaries, so that you don’t have to completely give away your safety? Maybe you can’t have it quite as safe, which means he wouldn’t be there, but what are your other options?

Anything ranging from, “You know what, today, I can’t make this party, but I’m going to take him out on this special Grandma Day, or we celebrate his birthday.” Or, it might be, “I’m going to go in with the mindset that I’m going to see my ex, and I’m going to have an ‘escape plan’.” That’s my boundary is that I’m going to have outs, where, if I need to leave the house, I’ll go run an errand like, “Oh, I see you need some candles. I’ll go to the store and get some candles.”

What Can I Do About A Toxic Situation?

Just make up creative things, for reasons to get out of the situation if it becomes toxic, or if it becomes traumatizing to you, that you have already prepared and exit plan. Because then, again, you feel at least a little bit more in control. When you’re there, and you don’t have an exit plan, you feel trapped, you feel powerless. Boundaries are meant to make us feel safe and empowered. That’s what we’re looking for in situations like that is how creative can I get around my safety, and around the boundaries that I can implement.

Anne: The reason I wanted to do this in a series, and I wanted to do it with Kate, is sort of a test case, because I assume that many of our listeners have this same issue where they would like as little contact as possible with their abuser, or with the person who’s betrayed them, because they’re still not safe. They don’t feel safe, and they don’t know how to do it.

Coach Sarah: If you’re not comfortable setting a protective boundary of absolutely zero email contact, or texting contact, or you don’t have the ability. Maybe you don’t have the safe people like Anne and I do, one of the thoughts, as well, is that you can just not respond. Just because he sends you an email or a text doesn’t mean you have to respond. I have found that to be a particularly potent response is a non-response, because part of what they’re trying to do is get us to engage. If we don’t engage, oftentimes, they can start backing up a little bit. If we don’t give them that reaction.

I Try To Co-Parent But My Ex Refuses

Kate: I have done that with texts that I know I don’t need to respond to. Like he would text me, “Have you seen my camera charger?” or, “Can you find this in our files?”

Coach Sarah: Do you even need to get those texts?

Kate: I don’t. I don’t, because it’s just another way for him to assume that I need to take care of things he’s lost or be his mommy. The problem with my ex is he’s a narcissist, but he’s a covert narcissist. He portrays himself as this really easy-going person, who’s really friendly and carefree. But his response, if I were to block him, or if I don’t answer a text or an email, is he portrays me to other people that he’s the victim, that I’m the abuser, and that I’m not co-parenting with him, and—

Anne: That’s exactly how my ex is too. Before I implemented the no-contact, I was getting crazy texts like, “Why don’t I have diapers?” I’m like, “You can go to the store and get diapers,” or “Why don’t I have this, or that?” Just anything he could do to hook me in, but he seems like this such nice guy on the outside.

How Can I Overcome The Opinions of Others?

Coach Sarah: Those that are in the arena are the ones whose opinions matter. Those who are getting dirty and bloody with you, fighting in the trenches. The spectators, those that he’s able to sway, those are the people that are the spectators, and their opinions, although they might not be fun, they’re not the ones that we have to let influence us.

We can choose to be like, “You know what, you’re just a spectator, you are not my people who are in the arena getting dirty and bloody with me. Those are the people whose words matter, and whose opinions matter. I know those people will allow me to speak my truth into this situation.”

Kate: I just finished a Rising Strong class with my therapist, who’s a Brene Brown trainer, and I was so disappointed, because I wasn’t—

How Can Disengaging With My Narcissistic Ex Help Me?

Coach Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Kate: — at the end of the class, I didn’t feel like I had risen, strong enough.

Coach Sarah: Know, it is a process.

Anne: Absolutely, it’s a long process.

Coach Sarah: I know that we’re going to do this as a series. What Anne and I were hoping that we could have you do is have a goal of something that you would like to try with this parallel parenting idea of disengaging. Right, how can you disengage maybe just a little bit more than you have been.

It might be a little bit of a stretch, might be a little bit out of your comfort zone, initially, right, because potential pushback, but in the long run will increase your safety, will decrease your triggers, and help you build some of that resiliency. Talk about rising strong, how are you going to be able to build that resiliency, and rise fast, if you’re constantly being dinged and, basically, harassed.

How Can I Extend My Boundaries To Keep Myself Safe?

How can you implement something that’s going to, maybe, extend your boundaries just a little bit more? Push out the safety just a little bit more than you have, than right now. See how that goes, we can check in with you the next podcast and see how that went, what the successes were, how it might’ve helped you, any potential pushback, or fallout from that boundary, and then we can, hopefully, learn a little bit from your experience and some other ladies might get some insight. Does that sound good to you?

Kate: Great, I would definitely like to take the step of blocking his phone number and his email and maybe using this app to have some kind of third-party situation. I don’t have a trusted person that would be willing to do what Anne’s dad does.

Anne: At least right now you don’t.

Kate: At least right now.

My Ex Is Abusive To Me

Anne: I want women to know that it is possible. I think the number one thing that stops women from doing this, and getting to safety, is they don’t think it’s possible. Like what you said before, they don’t get creative about how to do it, because they just think, “It’s not possible, so I’m not going to try. If women think it is possible—this is possible, and with faith, I can accomplish this. Now, how do I do it is the key.

Coach Sarah: It feels counterintuitive. It goes against most of our natures where we’re loving and we’re caring and we’re nurturing, and that feels really cold to just say, “I’m going to cut you out of my life, because you are dangerous. You are harmful.” We feel like we need to have somebody give us permission to do that. It’s not just that we feel like it’s not possible, we don’t feel like we have permission.

I think it’s important that we give ourselves permission to go ahead and do that, because it’s necessary. It’s not us being mean. It’s not us being cold. Those are the old lies of the gaslighting, those are not the truth. The truth is that you deserve to be safe, so you can give yourself permission to take this protective step. I think that’s really important.

How To Focus On My Own Healing From Betrayal Trauma?

Kate: That’s a good point. I think women, in general, but especially in my religious culture are trained, and expected, to be nice and to get along and do anything, even at all costs, for the family and for children especially. That’s really going against that expectation, that cultural training, that religious training, for me to cut someone out of my life, especially someone connected to my children and grandchildren.

I would like us all to get along and work cooperatively, but this is a person that cannot work as a team in any situation. It’s just not safe. I would really to not have those texts and emails coming to me by next time. I just think the idea of an app, or a third-party is a great idea. Some buffer zone between me and my ex, to keep those triggers from happening, and then blocking him on my phone.

Coach Sarah: Yes.

Kate: It would be hard, but it would be good, especially because we have some financial issues that we still need to work out from the divorce decree, so that’s going to be extra challenging.

How To Build Resiliency With An Abusive Ex?

Anne: I’m not sure, but as you research that app, Family Wizard, or any other apps, I think some of them have the financial stuff too, that you can go through. If you’re listening, and you have the answers to this, will you please comment below, because this is new territory for so many people. If you’ve been using an app, like Family Wizard, or a third-party app, and you’re an expert at third-party technology to keep us safe, please comment on our site, and let other women learn from your experience.

Coach Sarah: A really good start on some action steps to help make these goals become a reality for you, and create a little bit more safety for you, a little less trauma, and hopefully building some resiliency for you. I’m excited to see how these things go for you.

Kate: Thanks, Coach Sarah. I appreciate your help.

Small Goals Can Help Bring Peace and Healing

Anne: We will check back in with Kate and Coach Sarah in a little while and see how Kate did with her goals. Again, I want to restate her goals to block her ex on her phone and block her ex on her email and research an appropriate app to have contact with him about her financial things and about her daughter that still lives at home.

Those are the three goals that she has made for herself today, and I am really excited to see what happens. No judgement here, if nothing happens, because we’re all just progressing any way that we can, and, no matter what happens, we love you Kate.

We’re doing our groups a little bit differently now at BTR. Our main goal at BTR is to meet women’s needs where they are. We have several different groups available on the Services page. You can sign up at any time for any of these groups and as soon as they fill, they will run. After you see what groups we have available, and you register for the groups that apply to you, go ahead and post the link for the group description page in your secret Facebook groups, or our secret Facebook group.

Are There Others Who Have Gone Through Betrayal Trauma?

Let members of those secret Facebook groups know, “Hey, I joined this group from Betrayal Trauma Recovery. Join too and as soon as it fills, it will run.” Sarah runs four groups. She facilitates Setting and Holding Healthy Boundaries, Detecting & Confronting Gaslighting, Healing My Self-worth & Self-image, and Therapeutic Disclosures & Therapeutic Polygraphs. Sarah, will you take a minute to describe your Detecting & Confronting Gaslighting group, and your Setting and Holding Healthy Boundaries group?

Coach Sarah: It’s so important, because gaslighting damages our intuition, our voice, our connection to reality, which, without that, how do we keep boundaries, if we’re disconnected from our reality? How do we know what our values are? How do we make decisions clearly about whether or not we can stay in a relationship? All of these things really have a huge connection back to gaslighting, so it’s one of my favorite groups to facilitate. Click here to register for the Detecting & Confronting Gaslighting group.

Why Are Boundaries So Important With Abuse?

My group Setting & Holding Healthy Boundaries helps so many women. We use the Vicki Tidwell Palmer book: Moving Beyond Betrayal.  that we use in that group, she talks about healthy boundaries being one of the best forms of self-care that we can do, and I agree. Again, because so many times we’re convinced that, “If I give myself permission to have the boundaries that I need to have in order to feel safe,” then we feel mean, or we feel like we’re being vindictive.

What the truth is all we’re doing is keeping ourselves safe, and this is a great group that helps us understand “What is the actual process of forming good boundaries,” and making that request to our spouse in a way that is both healthy, but solid. There’s not any kind of wishy-washiness to it. There’s a firmness that allows us to feel strong, and to have our voice heard, and to feel really clear as we’re delivering our boundaries. It’s a great course.

Anne: To check out the groups we offer, click here. Again, if this podcast was interesting to you, we’d love to hear your comments. Also, please rate it on iTunes. Every single time you comment, every single time you rate us on iTunes, it increases our search engine rankings, and it helps women find us.

How Can I Find Help?

When women are searching out there for, “Why is my marriage going bad?” or “What can I do?” I don’t want them to find, “The 10 Ways You Can be More Sexy,” or “How to Improve Communication.” I want them to find the truth, because those types of articles just keep them in that abuse cycle, and that porn user will just continue to abuse them and blame them, and the hurt will continue.

Our job here, at BTR, is to stop that hurt by educating women about what the truth is about their situation, that they are worthy of love, that they are beautiful, and that they deserve to be treated well. Until next week, stay safe out there.

How To Get The Best Support Through The Holidays

Before we begin the podcast today, it is Giving Tuesday. I hope you had a great Thanksgiving. We do have a goal of raising $5000 by the end of today. Please go to to help us reach this goal. Please mark your donation as recurring to support this podcast.

I’m so grateful to have one of our clients here today. Her name is Elsie. She found Betrayal Trauma Recovery and has been listening to the podcast and using our services. Welcome Elsie.

Elsie: Thank you for having me.

Marriage Before Discovering My Husband’s Pornography Use

Anne: What was your marriage like before you found out about your husband’s lying and emotional abuse and compulsive sexual behaviors?

Elsie: We got along well. He was egotistical but he was fun-loving and generally polite. He did have some anger issues–at least that’s what I thought it was. If I was to describe my marriage from the beginning in one word, it would be sexless. Because we were older, I think sex was not as much a priority for me as it may have been for someone younger but I did miss it. He didn’t seem to, however. After a certain period of “starvation,” I would mention it to him, he would defend himself, offer reasons for why it didn’t happen, and then make a half-hearted advance which usually left me feeling a little like a beggar. There was no initiation towards me. There was usually compliance if I said something about it, but there was no initiation towards me. After a while, it hurt a lot. I gained a lot of weight and became depressed. I didn’t know what was going on. I had no idea.

Anne: How old are you?

Elsie: 56.

Anne: When did you get married?

Elsie: 8 years ago but we were together for 10. I was around 45 when I met him and we married about 2 1/2 years later.

Anne: Was this your first marriage?

Elsie: No. We were not believers in God at the time. There was a conversion experience that came as this all happened. He suggested to me that we start going to church when I began to discover things. I went down this path and it was the best path I could have taken to help me deal with everything coming my way.

I Thought His Porn Use Was Casual, Occasional And No Big Deal

Anne: How did you find out about what was going on?

Elsie: The first time I discovered something was quite by chance. I was moved to pick up his IPod and look at it–which I never did. I had total trust in him. But something moved me to look at his IPod and I discovered he was looking on Craigslist at the personals. I questioned him about it and he said it was free pornography. I remember telling him that this was close to home because it was a city about 30 minutes away. I asked him why he didn’t look in Ontario, Canada.

Anne: So at the time, did you not think pornography was a bad thing?

Elsie: I looked at it as a casual-use and occasional thing for him and that it was no big deal. It made me uneasy; remember I was living in a virtually sexless marriage and he’s looking at this…but I had no knowledge of anything that I know now. I wrote it off and eventually I was moved again. He had gone to take a shower and something moved me to pick up his phone. I went to the all-male section on his phone and found his ad–the ad he had placed. This was the start of the ball rolling. I discovered he had actually linked up with someone. This was the first real element of infidelity that I found. It was the first of a lot. I was very disturbed by it. Something prompted me to go to Craigslist and plug in the email address and see if I could access the account he had. I did and discovered he had been on it for 14 months. He was off shore–home a month and gone on the rig for a month–and he had posted 148 postings in all the various cities he had been in. It was shocking to say the least. I contacted him about it and he was immediately defensive but the defenses began to build from the time I made my first discovery in September. This was my first step forward in me becoming the enemy.

Anne: I love that–there is no way you could get around his perception that you were the enemy. That’s really good.

My Husband Viewed Me As The Enemy

Elsie: There’s no question about it. I was. I was the one that had cracked the shell of secrecy. When I found his posting, I became a pretty determined bulldog in what I sunk my teeth into! I wasn’t going to let go until I got some answers! I had been advised by Christian people to let it go, to forgive him…and like I have said to you, I believe a lot of this was God-led, for my safety and probably for the sole purpose of just disclosing it and getting it in the open…bringing to light what was happening.

Anne:…because God loves you, right?

Elsie: Yes, ma’am, he does and he showed that through this traumatic experience, over and over again.

I Sought Out The Wrong Counselors, Untrained To Help With Sex Addiction

Anne: You mentioned a few things that were not super helpful like Christian people who mentioned forgiveness or sweeping it under the rug. Can you talk more about the things you tried or where you turned for help?

Elsie: I immediately sought out counseling. A counselor looked at me and said that what I was seeing was the tip of the ice berg. That resonated with me. He went on to some brash and harsh language and I immediately knew he was the wrong guy. So I sought out another counselor and found one. She basically took a bad situation and made it worse. she diagnosed him with PTSD, offered no counseling for me, on any level; every focus was towards him. I was not treating him properly, I needed to understand that he wasn’t well because he had PTSD…essentially counseling wise, I was abandoned. I continued and over the course of time, in 2014, I sought out a local church, contacted the pastor, met with him and explained my circumstances, and he vowed to do all he could. Of course, that didn’t help. I found that even he began to be bitter towards me because I was obviously “not forgiving” enough. This is a lot of what was called for–to be forgiving. I was never allowed to express anger. That would have been inappropriate. No one had any real answer at this point. I did eventually find a Christian counselor. We both went in individually and then together and it was some form of marriage counseling. She was ill-equipped, albeit a very good counselor, and she referred him over to someone else but the behaviors didn’t stop and one relapse led to the termination of his job and we couldn’t afford the counselors anymore. So it stopped and not long after that, I left for 3 months and I got a call from him one day saying he really wanted help. We got back together and met with a minister who began giving us spiritual counseling. I saw some change in my spouse. He seemed to be reaching towards God and it was the only change I saw. It lasted about 6 weeks. He saw a medical doctor who sought to help him with medication. This destroyed the peace that he had found–even though it was brief peace. The doctor treated him for low testosterone using a synthetic steroid or hormone. This was injectable toxicity when it comes to a sex addict!

Anne: So the doctor begins to inject him with testosterone and things get worse.

Elsie: He gave it to him to go home and do it himself.

Anne: If I had to guess, and I’m not a therapist, this is a two-fold issue here: a doctor is telling him that this isn’t a mental problem to work on and that all he needs to do is use a testosterone injection and it will solve his problem. So there is this mental shift and then there is the actual testosterone in his body. I’ve found that anything anyone suggests–no matter how small–to give them an excuse for their abusive behaviors removes the pressure from them to change and keeps them in the abuse cycle and the mental state of narcissism–or whatever the sexual mess of chaos they have going on in their brain. Any suggestion of it being something else if they are not in recovery can get them off track because they think they don’t have to be accountable for their behaviors.

Being Blamed For His Sex Addiction

Elsie: And he was not. In my opinion, any PTSD he was suffering from stemmed directly from my reaction to the discoveries! He was traumatized at being “outed” because he didn’t show any other signs of trauma; although serious childhood trauma that began years and years earlier, at a time in his life when it was well out of his control, play in. However, the general attitude was not one of recovery. It was “you’re the problem. Stop badgering me. Just be happy where you are.” And of course the constant promises that he wasn’t doing it anymore of course were not true. Until I found BTR, no one out there validated my experiences in any of this. Any time we sought help elsewhere, all help focused on him. Any focus on me said, “You’re making it worse.” I felt blamed in some ways. I was already being blamed by him.

Anne: Right. And then the help you sought out was also traumatizing. So how did you find BTR?

How I Found Betrayal Trauma Recovery

Elsie: This is very interesting. Let me preface it by saying that over the summer I took a course in Biblical human sexuality. During that time, I realized how very much I missed intimacy…gentle touch, kissing, flirtation, romance, and sex. And the class I followed this up with was a class on shepherding women in pain. Then I really began to recognize the abuse–this was just pure abuse.

So, I’ve had these classes back to back, hours and hours of crying, still no one to validate anything, and I cried out, “God, where are you in all this pain.” Tears were rolling down my face, snot bubbles, the whole shebang! I went into my room and got on my knees and begged God to bring me some relief. I know He was with me that night even though I didn’t feel it at the time. I was too emotionally distraught. Eventually I fell asleep. I woke up the next morning feeling remarkably refreshed, went to my computer, went to Covenant Eyes for some reason, and someone posting on a forum on there commented about BTR for women.

We Recommend Covenant Eyes Internet Filtering & Accountability On Every Device

I clicked on it and the rest is history! BTR was a God-send to me. This is to me, in my opinion, God’s answer to “Where are you in all this pain?” He brought me to BTR which has really helped a lot in making sense of what I have been dealing with.

There Is Validation For Us At BTR

Anne: This is why I started BTR–to make sense of what I was dealing with! I prayed and prayed to know what to do…should I let my husband back into the house, start talking to him, or do I file for divorce…I didn’t know. God’s answer to me was, “Start a podcast.” I was incredulous!

Elsie: And I am so glad! I’m glad God did that. If he had not, he would not have prompted me to come to you. It is a God-send. BTR gives women an opportunity to be validated. If I was to summarize it all in one word, there is validation for us through BTR.

Anne: I think it’s what God wants and needs us to hear: that we are not the problem and that he loves us and that all the blame and gas lighting and everything we have experienced made us question our worth; I think God wants us to know we are enough and He loves us.

How Betrayal Trauma Recovery Club Meets My Needs

So, Elsie, you joined Betrayal Trauma Recovery Club. How did it meet your needs more than any of the options you had tried before?

Elsie: I had never done any kind of group prior to beginning a BTR group. I don’t have anything else to compare it to but I think the BTR groups stand quite well on their own merits. They give support, feedback, and are run by APSATS trained coaches. Coach Rae is excellent. If you want to listen, you can; there is no pressure. The ladies, as well as the coach who has had her own experience, understood my plight. They understood the exact predicament that I was in. They offered tremendous support. It helps to know you are not alone and that there are other people out there who have sorted through it–like the coach–and others who are sorting through it and sharing ideas. If you throw something out there, someone will give you a little feedback on it and maybe expound on it a little further. This is excellent for those of us who need connection with others, who need validation…BTR offers this.

Anne: Women are trying to figure it out. They are working hard. They read books, are learning, and seeking out therapy. Unless someone who has been through it before and really understands it can help give them the words to say, it’s hard to describe exactly what is happening. It’s so liberating to hear someone else say the thing you were trying to figure out…and then you realize that is what you have been trying to say; you just didn’t have the words to say before now.

Reactive Abuse During Betrayal Trauma

Elsie: Yes! You are right. Remember that at this point I had been studying for several years now and nowhere that I had studied was this ever really expounded upon. I had never heard the term “reactive abuse” until Coach Rae brought it to me. I was often accused by my spouse of being very damaging to him and lashing out after the constant onslaught of anger towards me or if I tried to communicate with him I was belittled or shut down; he would just get up and disengage or yell at me or break things…a wide variety of totally negative behaviors. Then in time I would lash back and all the fingers would be pointing at me because now I had bruised the narcissist and was now the “bad guy.” I didn’t know that it was reactive abuse until one of the BTR coaches, Coach Rae, defined it for me. She connected me with literature that defined it very clearly. I realized that it was wrong–that I needed to stop being reactive and be more proactive in my healing.

Trying To Make Him Love Me Wouldn’t Ever Result In Feeling Loved

Anne: I think I did the same thing. All the ways that I really nit-picked him about cutting the tomatoes or his bonsai tree, or whatever it was…I think about those times and I would say to him then, “I just don’t feel loved right now.” He told me flat out: “I don’t love you. I love the kids more than you.” Or, “I can’t love you because you’re terrible.” I just didn’t feel secure enough. I think I was getting to this point where I was so irritable about little things. I’ve learned now that trying to make him love me wasn’t ever going to result in me feeling loved. I needed to set boundaries around that. This is how I could feel secure. At the time, that was all I knew how to do. I can see now how unhealthy it was but back then. I felt like I was grasping for reassurance and security in the strangest ways. It’s kind of embarrassing to think back on it!

Elsie: Do not be embarrassed! We grasp for any number of things to try to make sense of what we are experiencing. I lost 80 pounds and underwent plastic surgery. So, talk about drastic! I was 232 pounds at 5’11”. I went down to 153 pounds–my high school weight. My children were worried about me! I elected to have facial plastic surgery so I would look better. I worried about my aging…it was crazy…all the while believing that God wanted to heal our marriage. I still believe God wants to heal marriages but when it comes down to it, God heals the individuals as they draw more towards Him, and subsequently find the marriage healing. God does not place the institution of marriage above humans, in my opinion.

Individual Healing Before Marriage Healing In Sex Addiction

Anne: And there’s no way the marriage can heal without the individual being healed because abuse and pornography use are not marriage issues. They aren’t communication issues. They are abuse issues. Two people cannot resolve abuse. It has to be 100% the abuser taking accountability and making amends for his actions as well as seeking a change of heart. There just isn’t any other way around it. There isn’t any way to love and forgive and serve an abuser out of abusing you. It doesn’t work this way, unfortunately. I think we would like it to be this way because then we would have a little more control. I think all of us have tried the route of loving, serving, etc…, more.

Finding Help To Make Sense Of The Betrayal  

Returning back to your experience with BTR, before we close today, is there anything you would like to share with our listeners about your experience with Betrayal Trauma Recovery?

Elsie: Yes. I would like to say that this is not something that a woman can do alone. You have to have a community of women who understand what you are going through, what your experiences are, who, through your experiences and training can validate you and help you to make sense of this. My Christian counselor had encouraged me to get into a community–which I could not find, by the way. There were none in my local community. There wasn’t anything around me. When I found BTR and went to the Facebook page first, I discovered numerous women who were having the same experience I was having…some having separated and moved on, some fully healed, some in the process of healing, some just starting out…But collectively there is a unified understanding that fit. It fit my circumstances. It gave me a place to go where I knew whatever I would say concerning these circumstances would be well received and understood because the women in the group were experiencing the same things. I was amazed at how similar our stories were even though the specifics were different; the underlying abuse and gas lighting were very similar. I found a sisterhood in the women in BTR. I really like Coach Rae. She is the one I speak to. I bring my head into the conversation but she gives me another head to help sound off ideas. Two heads are better than one! I really, really like her. The Facebook group is there all the time–24/7. You can express your thoughts and opinions in a post–even if it’s 3 am and no one responds back right then. When you wake up in the morning, someone has stepped forward to say they are praying for you or they understand your pain or are validating it with a similar experience. It’s made a difference to me.

Free Betrayal Trauma Recovery Facebook Group

Anne: I’m so glad to hear that. When I began BTR, I wanted to provide women with all the things we haven’t had. I wanted to make it available all on-line so that women anywhere could find it. There are some women who are lucky enough to find an amazing therapist or some type of support group in their area. But there are more of us who have tried and tried and tried and been unable to find that community that we need.

Elsie just talked about our free Facebook group. It is not moderated by our couches but it is moderated by women who are in recovery. They help to moderate the group to make sure it’s safe. If you want to join this free group, go to and scroll down and enter your email. You will get a return email with instructions about how to join the free Facebook group. If you want to join Betrayal Trauma Recovery Club, go to and join. Our Club gives you access to 6 APSATS-led group sessions per week. That’s one every weekday at different times with two on Tuesdays. Keep an eye out for this schedule as it will be posted very soon at The more women who join Betrayal Trauma Recovery Club, the more sessions we will add. Elsie also talked about individual support calls with our coaches. Coach Rae is who Elsie sees; Coach Sarah, for example, is really good with helping women who are trying to help their children understand what is going on. Coach Lara is in a healthy and loving relationship with a recovered addict, as well as Coach Cat. Coach Rae is an expert at divorce. If you want to learn more, email Coach Rae at rae She is happy to answer questions about which coach may be best for you or we recommend scheduling with Coach Lara if you don’t know where to start; she can give you a lot of different options which provides understanding about which coach or group to join.

Recommended Reading: Your Sexually Addicted Spouse, by Steffens and Means

Elsie, thank you so much for talking today about your experience. We appreciate you as a client and are so grateful you found us. We are also grateful to God for bringing all of us together. My hope is that through His grace and through His mercy as we become healthier, and that we can become a force for good in the world–which is what I believe He wants from us. I think this is why He is gathering us all together.

Elsie: I agree. I encourage any woman out there who has the financial means to do so to contribute, to donate to BTR. This organization is truly a help and God-blessed.

Anne: Thank you so much for that. I would love to provide our services for free. During this horrific time for women, they are having serious financial problems. We understand that. The training our coaches receive and the things we do at BTR cost money to provide this for women. If we could, we would provide free service! We are in similar situations to our listeners. I am a single mom now and this is how I make my living, as well as our coaches. Please know our hearts are with you. We have been in these very difficult situations. Even a $2 donation really helps us.

Again, our goal for this Giving Tuesday is to raise $5000 that will help cover the costs of the website, podcast, the technical costs, and every service we provide at BTR. Go to Please make a generous contribution today and then a monthly donation to keep this podcast going and this information coming to you. If this podcast is helpful to you, please rate it on Itunes or whatever other podcasting service you use. Every single rating increases our ranking on search engines and helps women who are isolated to find us.

I want to do one more shout out to our new schedule for the Betrayal Trauma Recovery Club starting December 1.  It is only $100/month which is about the same or less than one therapy session! It allows you to have access to 6 APSATS-led group sessions per week.

Have a great holiday season. Until next week, stay safe out there!

He Says He’s In Recovery, But Is It True?

Forest Benedict is a husband and father living in Fresno, California. He is also the first man I have had on the podcast! He is a licensed marriage and family therapist and a certified sexual treatment provider. Forest is the clinical director of an outpatient sexual treatment program in Central Valley California. He is also the program manager of the Sexual Treatment Provider Program at MidAmerican Nazarene University. He is the author of the highly-acclaimed book: Life After Lust, Stories and Strategies for Sex and Pornography Addiction Recovery. His book is based on his personal recovery journey experience and research. Welcome, Forest!

Forest: Thank you, Anne. I’m really grateful to be here.

Anne: Tell us about your personal recovery experience and the work you do now with sex addicts and their partners.

One Man’s Double Life With Pornography Leading To Full Accountability

Forest: What really brought me to do this work, like many people who get into this field, was that I was raised in a pretty difficult upbringing with an alcoholic father and had some difficult traumas. Even though I was raised to be religious, I found pornography at a young age and became addicted. I led a double life throughout my teen years. It wasn’t until I was about 24 years old that I decided I really needed to take my recovery seriously. Thankfully it was before I was married. I got into treatment. I took full responsibility for my recovery and felt led to do this work. So I got my Master’s degree and got to start working in a program that treated sex addicts and helped others on this path that I feel is a result of the recovery I have done.

Look For Visible Changes Of Real Recovery From Lust

Anne: Forest, in your experience, why is it essential for partners to look for visible changes in their addict husband’s life instead of trusting the verbal promises of changes that addicts often profess? My ex would often say things like, “I have a plan…” but I never saw a plan.

Forest: I think it’s essential because so many partners in this situation have been lied to for so many years. There has been so much secrecy that once the addiction is discovered, the addict usually really believes they are going to change and they want to change; but I will tell people, even in intake, that words mean nothing at this point. This has already been proven based on the past. An unhealthy and unsafe situation has been created because of words and so ACTION IS EVERYTHING–action that is not a performance, along with an attitude change. 

Signs Of A Porn Addict in Recovery

The biggest attitude change is humility…willingness to humble themselves and submit to the process, and willing to acknowledge the trauma they have caused and get out of the victim mentality where they act like they can’t do anything. There are different attitude changes such as learning to be patient with their partner. I talk about how the addict gets this burden off themselves and they feel this huge relief but then the partner carries it from then on. So they need to be patient with this process. This is another attitude change that a partner could see happening. Unless there are visible signs, there is no foundation to know that a change is happening.

Anne: Yes. If you say, “You need an attitude change…” and they say it has changed and question why we think it hasn’t…that’s a red flag.

Forest: Exactly. The defensiveness and pride, the need to be right and not willing to listen are not good.

Anne: In my ex’s case, he ended up writing my therapist. She wouldn’t share it with me because she said it was so abusive. She said the gist is that he admitted to being abusive BUT… and then proceeded to list the things I did. My therapist said that she would not read it to me because it was so abusive. This clearly showed that he was not taking responsibility. If you start with, “I’m really sorry I have been abusive BUT…” then clearly you are not in the humble, willing to submit place.

Forest: Yes. My wife tells me that if I apologize and put the word “but” after, it nullifies the apology.

Anne: What are some signs of an addict that may not be in recovery?

Signs Of NOT Being In Recovery From Porn Addiction

Forest: The prideful attitude, the defensiveness. Also, a lot of addicts initially think that if they are sober they are recovering. A lot of addicts need to learn how to take care of themselves and manage stress, manage their emotions.  If they are going to therapy and actually learning and practicing tools, I believe addicts need structure. Everyone I work with is assigned things they need to do on a daily basis to connect with themselves, their higher power, and their partner. Recovery is actually learning to care for themselves in a healthy way. I think a partner would notice if they began to do this…at least trying to do that and trying to move forward. If they can see that the addict in their life is trying to change the way they relate to themselves and to others, this humble attitude makes a difference.

Help keep your family safe with Covenant Eyes Internet Filtering & Accountability on every device.

They won’t be perfect at it, but it is definitely not an excuse to relapse or to go back into passivity that led most of them into the situation to begin with. It’s hard work; especially when an addict comes from emotionally neglectful or abusive situations themselves. A lot of this is difficult work for them. I’ve always said that this is the hardest thing they’ll ever do. If they are willing to do it and keep at it and get an accountability partner and go to groups and do what they need to do, then it’s obvious they are investing in a lifestyle change and making themselves safer to be with.

BTR Aims To Help Women Establish Safety In The Wake Of Betrayal

Anne: At Betrayal Trauma Recovery, our number one goal is to help women establish safety from the addiction and related behaviors of lying, infidelity, porn use, gaslighting, emotional abuse, and some of the narcissistic behaviors that tend to come out in an active addict or someone who is “white knuckling” but may not be in recovery. Some of the signs I saw in my own situation were related to setting a “no contact” boundary after my husband’s arrest for domestic violence.  I was waiting for him to show some signs of recovery, and instead saw things like him shutting down my bank account, him berating me about the clothes he wanted me to pack for the kids when he would have them, or diapers…I wondered at his “inability” to go to the store to get diapers!

There were so many things he could have taken responsibility for to show that he was stepping up to the plate. Those ACTIONS are the things that are important. Part of what was so difficult during that time was that I was hearing from others that he was saying he wanted his marriage to work but that he couldn’t do anything because I wouldn’t talk to him.  He would play the victim and it was so frustrating.  I sometimes thought that someone needed to tell him what to do because he couldn’t figure it out. His solution was to file for divorce.

Know The Signs Of Emotional Abuse

But I think that knowing what the signs of emotional abuse are–this is why we have a book section on our website and I highly recommend that women read all of the books so they can have an understanding, even if they don’t suspect that porn is happening anymore or that infidelity is continuing–that they know what to look for to be aware of the emotionally abusive behaviors. 

From the wife’s perspective and from Betrayal Trauma Recovery’s perspective, we do not believe that the reasons matter…it could be a personality disorder…it could be an addiction…it could be trauma…it could be a myriad of different reasons why the behaviors persist, but to the wife it doesn’t matter. The more she tries to focus on the behaviors, the more she is sucked into the vortex of abuse rather than taking a step out and recognizing that he is the one responsible for figuring himself out. In the meantime, I need to stand at a safe distance and set boundaries so I’m not continually abused through this process.

Forest: Yes. I definitely agree with this. Anytime I mention that the addicts have a difficult challenge ahead of them because of their upbringing or background, it’s never to make an excuse for them or to say it’s ok. I agree that this is a healthy way to look at it because the partner can’t recover for him and there is no help in trying to figure out why. Partners ask why all the time and there is never a satisfying answer to that.

Anne: You’ve led a partner group for years now. How did this work inspire the piece in your article called, What My Wife Is Worth?

Women Often Struggle With Boundaries Because Of A Lack Of Self-Worth

Forest: I found that when we start to work on boundaries with partners in my group, they had a really hard time creating boundaries and enforcing them. As I helped them work through what was stopping them from doing this, I felt like a lot of them had difficulty seeing their own worth…getting to the point of seeing that they deserve to be treated well and to be in a relationship with someone who is healthy. I really felt it was related to this–self-esteem or their own worth. Jennifer Lamprey did an event for women called The Quickening and she asked me to write a piece from a male perspective. She thought it would be powerful to have a man speak to women.

It was interesting to sit down and write this piece in an hour. It was inspired. It came to me. Much of what I write takes hours and hours as I work to make it perfect. This came to me and I feel like it was one of the most validating pieces I have ever written, from my perspective as an addict in recovery. I wrote about what my wife is worth, that she is worth my best recovery efforts. I went into detail about what that looks like, that it’s not about how much sex I get or what mood she is in, that I need to be working hard at my own growth and healing. I feel like it really communicated well to the partners that they deserve to be in this type of relationship so they can set boundaries that do protect that worth and do communicate to the addict that they do deserve to be treated with respect and to be cherished. This is how this came about.

Anne: If you have comments about this episode, please scroll down and comment! We love it when you interact with us!

Forest, how does the article, What My Wife Is Worth and the partner version which is written from the wife’s perspective called, What I Am Worth help wives understand the addict behaviors that make up good recovery?

You Deserve Your Husband’s Best Efforts And So Much More

Forest: It says: My wife is a woman of infinite worth. Because of this, she deserves my best efforts. She deserves a husband who only has eyes for her. She deserves a husband in active recovery, not passively going with the flow. She deserves a husband who reminds her that she is not to blame for his past or present choices. She deserves a husband who actively opposes visual and mental lust in all forms, viewing it as the enemy of true intimacy.

It goes on like this…about being trustworthy, about not blaming her…It sets up this ideal but I don’t think it’s too unrealistic. It’s about recognizing that I do want to be treated that way, I do deserve to be the only woman. For the addicts, my intention is to call them up to a higher level of intentionality and commitment with their recovery. I find that often when this is read, it triggers shame but I hope this will be turned into the healthy guilt that leads to a realization that the addict can live up to this and that they do not want to continue living the opposite.

I love writing to inspire people. I feel like setting the standard and saying, “Let’s strive for this” is very helpful. I don’t want to sit in this mediocre place because it doesn’t help anyone achieve recovery.

Watch For Actions to Show True Recovery From Porn Addiction, Not Words

Anne: One of the things that happened to me because of my ex’s extreme case is that he went to therapy for years, I made him read things like this, I took him to conferences, etc…, and he really learned how to talk the language of recovery without actually doing the recovery work. I think the purpose of this episode of watching for those actions is critical…how is he actually treating you? Does he listen? Is he patient? If you ask a question, does he answer it without getting defensive? Is he willing to listen to your opinion? Is he willing to be, in John Gottmans’ words, influenced? Is he willing to be influenced by his wife or is he wondering why she is “bothering” him? When will the behaviors speak for themselves, is one thing wives always need to be looking for.

Forest: I totally agree with that. I love the idea of the wife catching him doing the right thing. It’s not like he is doing the right thing in front of her intentionally to perform or pretend but that she would be surprised when she walks out and he’s working on his recovery materials or when he says he can’t do something tonight because he’s really tired and might be triggered tomorrow by not getting enough sleep…catching glimpses of how he is changing his view. I know this is so difficult because of the lack of safety in the past when it’s all been a performance and when it looked like all the right actions. I am always emphasizing that addicts need to be seeing people who specialize in this and have certification because they may be putting on a performance for the therapist and the therapist needs to know if this is happening.

Anne: I want to talk about your book, Life After Lust. Why do you think it’s important for wives to read and not just addicts.

Life After Lust Helps The Addicts & The Spouses

Forest: Actually, I didn’t really think about the possibility that partners would read the book. I did write it for the addicts but one of the people who endorsed the book does partner work and she ended up doing a blog post later about how this book is fitting for lots of different audiences, including partners and she is a partner herself. It’s what I said about what my wife is worth–it gives partners hope that a recovery journey is possible. I think there is so much uncertainty in the beginning when everything comes to light and maybe they seek additional help or maybe they haven’t sought help yet and it can feel hopeless. 

Also, I put a lot of my own story into this book. It’s not like saying, “Hey, people can recover.” I’m sharing some of my own journey and what some of that can look like. I don’t present it like I’m perfect and everyone should follow me…I also talk about some vulnerable times in my recovery and how I responded to those. Some of that could make a partner nervous that I was struggling with lust and then got back on track. I’ve also been freed from acting out with pornography for over 13 years and so I feel like it is really possible. Just showing people it’s possible is hopeful. The other thing about it is that I am sensitive and aware of the partner’s experience.

I know when this lady read my book from a partner’s experience herself, she was worried that she would be triggered. She found herself really relieved and encouraged. I wrote the book in a way that honors partners. I’ve recommended books to partners in group settings that were so triggering…maybe the book went into tons of detail about acting out experiences and it triggered their trauma. In this sense, this book is safe for a partner to read and can also be very hopeful.

People Can Absolutely Change

Anne: It’s very interesting from my perspective because I speak with women all over the world about their experiences with their addict spouse. I absolutely know that people can change. If they make the decision to change and they work at it, they involve God in the process, and they are genuinely humble, accountable, honest and willing to submit to God’s will, anything can happen. Even right now, I, myself am in the process of changing and asking God to help me with certain character defects I have and things I am dealing with in my everyday life that I really want to improve. I’m not completely healed or changed yet but I have faith that as I continue to do these things, I can change. I believe this about everyone.

That being said, just because people can change does not mean they will. Sitting back and observing if they really are genuine and what they are doing to show that is what betrayal trauma recovery is all about. How do we establish safe boundaries while we observe from a distance to see if the change is real, deep and lasting…and is it sincere rather than just another way to keep me in the abuse cycle?

Forest: I think this is a really good way to look at this. I use a lot of language about partners keeping themselves safe and is the addict acting in such a way that makes it safe for them. I definitely wouldn’t recommend even trusting–I know partners often never fully trust even if the addict is doing great recovery–it’s unsafe to trust unless there is real evidence of change.

Our Focus As Wives, Come What May, Is To Stay Safe

Anne: I really appreciate your work for us and your writing is incredible. It’s all over the internet! You are doing great work to educate others about what it takes to recover. This is not our focus at betrayal trauma recovery–how the addict is going to recover or what he is going to do specifically–our focus is “come what may…whatever he decides to do, we will stay safe until we see these particular characteristics that we need to have a healthily relationship.

I appreciate those working with addicts who have the expertise who can help them because, as a wife who has been injured by that, we are not able to do it.

Forest: Yes, this can definitely get unhealthy when you feel like you are responsible for making sure they are doing all the right things or making sure you need to catch them if they do the wrong things. It’s so important for the addict to have their own accountability and therapist–whatever they need. Your organization is doing a great work in helping partners to work on their own healing and maintain a safe distance. It’s great to see.

Anne: You can find links to Forest’s website and his work via our site,

If this podcast is helpful to you, please rate it on iTunes. Every single rating increases our visibility on search engines and helps women who are isolated to find us. If you are interested in getting one-on-one help with one of our certified APSATS coaches, please go to where you can see all our coaches’ bios and schedule a support call or join a support group.

How To Set Boundaries For A Narcissist

Boundaries? “Um, what boundaries?!” That’s the dilemma Coach Rae found herself facing fifteen years ago, at the end of her first betrayal trauma marriage. Before there were books and groups designed to simplify boundaries for partners of porn and sex addicts, Rae learned a TON of tough lessons the hard way — lessons she now shares openly, humorously and passionately.

If you’re new to the concept of boundaries — register for Coach Sarah’s Setting & Holding Healthy Boundaries group. Coach Sarah addresses these common FAQs about boundaries.

  • What’s IS a boundary, anyway? 
  • Why do boundaries matter?
  • Can anyone set boundaries?
  • Why are boundaries so scary for women in trauma?
  • Will boundaries really get me what I want?
  • Won’t boundaries actually push him away?
  • What boundaries are “reasonable” for women like us?
  • What consequences are appropriate for boundary violations?
  • What if my husband won’t honor my boundaries?
  • What if my husband responds to my boundaries with anger?
  • Are boundaries forever? What if I change my mind?
  • Does my own behavior need boundaries?
  • Boundaries are confusing! So where do I even start?


Hi Everyone! I’m Coach Rae, and I’m one of the APSATS Certified Coaches here at Betrayal Trauma Recovery. I’m also an ICF Certified Professional Life Coach, Couples Relationship Coach, Divorce Recovery Coach and the Coaching Coordinator for our entire team of coaches here at Betrayal Trauma Recovery.

This week, I’m excited to talk about one of my very favorite subjects — boundaries. Actually, if I’m going to get really specific about it, I’d call this topic, “the basics of boundaries,” or “boundaries for beginners,” or “boundaries from the ground up,” or even, as I’ve occasionally entitled such conversations, “Boundaries? What boundaries?!” 

Because honestly? When I press the rewind button on my own recovery, reflecting back to where my own experience of boundaries (or lack thereof) began more than 15 years ago?

Boundaries really wasn’t much of a word in my relational vocabulary. Sure, I could probably recite the Webster’s dictionary definition by heart — because if you haven’t learned this about me yet, I’m a pretty classic “word nerd.” But when it came to applying that word to my closest personal, professional and even community relationships?

Yeah. No. Not a chance. I definitely did not know anything about that. 

You see, I grew up with this absolutely lovely (albeit admittedly hyper-idealistic) concept about interpersonal relationships, and that concept went something like this:

The Fantasy Of Love Without Boundaries

Number one: I like you. 

Number two: Not only do I like you, I actually even love you. 

Number three: I love you so much, in fact, I’m prepared to lay down my life for you. And that’s a good thing, isn’t it? Loving you even more than I love myself?

Number four: Now that I’ve forsaken all others and laid my life down for your own, I’m happy to sit back, relax, and trust you to return the favor. I mean, my life with you is a fulfillment of our destiny is it not? What more could I ask for? What could possibly go wrong?

Number five: So, I’m now eagerly waiting, for you to love me with that same, dedicated, self-sacrificial love that I gave you. I’m ready anytime, honey! My arms are open wide, and my heart’s a blank canvas. Let’s get this party started, baby! 

Number six: (and stick with me here, because this is where the fantasy gets really good) — because of this love we now so seamlessly share, while I’m busy liking and loving and living and laying myself down for you, you’re doing all of those same things for me, right? Because surely, mutual self-sacrifice is an exercise of equal proportions… isn’t it? I mean, if I lay down my life for you, and you lay down your life for me, then obviously, I’ll meet your needs, you’ll meet my needs, and both of us will ride off into the endless, needless, boundary-less sunset together.



Healthy Love Must Have Boundaries

Okay, I’ll admit it. I probably read one too many novels growing up. And chances are, my outlook on relational boundaries didn’t get me off to a terribly mature or realistic start. On your behalf, I hope that you got something a little bit more mature and realistic than I did.

But honestly? In this work I do with women healing from sexual betrayal? I can’t tell you how many fairytales turned horror-stories I’ve heard that begin this way, scripted by women with no greater (and no lesser) desire than to love and to be loved by the men we’ve so carefully chosen.

You see, when I began my journey of recovery from sexual betrayal trauma, near the beginning of the end of my first marriage, I was convinced that love could (and would) conquer all. Even as the reality of my shattered relationship came into focus, I FULLY believed that with God and faith and grace and forgiveness on my side, I could fix anything and everything that had fallen apart between us. 

Except that… when push came to shove, I couldn’t.

Boundaries Keep Us Safe When Our Best Fails

Not for lack of love or effort or commitment, but rather because of an invisible-yet-irrefutable line, one that divided the space in which I functioned from the space wherein my husband did.

That line, truth be told, was there all along, precisely as it should have been, plain as the nose on my face, letting me know where I ended and where my husband began. I simply never noticed its presence before, mostly because I’d never learned to look for it, to recognize it, or to respect its importance.

Because that line wasn’t one to which I’d grown accustomed to seeing or sensing — at least not until the moment that life as I knew it left me no other choice — I truly didn’t know the limitations of my ability to rescue my marriage, any more than I knew the imperative of protecting myself from my husband’s hidden sexual life. 

Boundaries Are Essential When Faced With Your Husband’s Sex Addiction & Abuse

By the time my relationship ground to a screeching halt, mangled with the wreckage of sexual betrayal trauma, I’d fallen into a state of complete and total panic, pouring into a surge of desperate self-preservation. From deep within that haze of hurt and fear and those horrible, horrible discoveries, I didn’t know what saving “us” might ask of me: I just know that, having invested and abdicated so much of myself into that man and into that relationship, there wasn’t any part of myself that I wouldn’t sacrificed, all in the interest of saving that marriage—never mind how utterly unhealthy it would have been for me to do what it took to satisfy my husband’s sexual appetite. 

Thankfully — and this is where my story gets a little bit lighter and a little bit brighter — in the fifteen years since my first marriage went belly up, I’ve grown a whole lot smarter and a heck of a lot stronger when it comes to recognizing that invisible line of relationship demarcation—the one I now lovingly refer to as a healthy boundary!

With the help of my own professional support team, I’ve learned more than I ever knew I’d never known about boundaries,  even within the fully functional and faithful relationships in my life—never mind the ABSOLUTE necessity of healthy boundaries within relationships traumatized by porn addiction, sex addition and other related forms of compulsive and abusive sexual behavior. 

In circles and communities like this one, when we introduce the topic of boundaries, it’s often in the context of managing or minimizing the impact of our partner’s behavior. That’s an entirely legitimate approach, and kudos to all of you for the work you’ve already done in those areas! I hope that by sharing this kind of odd and alternative story about my own boundaries (excuse me, I mean my non-boundaries) I’ve piqued your interest in going “back to the beginning,” as it were—and maybe I’ve inspired you to reflect upon your own most basic, most foundational and most original perspectives about boundaries.

Now at this point in our conversation, I’m going to pause here for a moment, and ask you about your early experiences, trials and errors within this realm of relational boundaries. Did you enter your childhood knowing where that line was, that point of demarcation between yourself and the person you love? Or did you, like me, learn that lesson the hard way, losing (or nearly losing) yourself beneath the back-breaking, soul-sucking weight of sexual betrayal trauma? How do you define a healthy boundary?

And, how has your concept of boundaries grown or changed along with your recovery? We invite you to share your comments anonymously below — and if this podcast has helped you, please consider rating it on iTunes, so that more women in trauma can find the support they need to recognize, understand and explore the value of healthy personal boundaries.

How To Learn About Boundaries When You Need Them The Most

Now, for those of you who’ve spent any time at all listening to our podcast, following us on social media or working with one of our BTR coaches, you know firsthand how often (and how emphatically) we encourage trauma survivors to seek safety and stability — those two key components that must be in place for meaningful healing and recovery from sexual betrayal. Because of our training through APSATS, The Association of Partners of Sex Addicts Trauma Specialists, we don’t mess around when it comes to those two priorities—and it’s because of that emphasis that so many of our clients learn to survive (and ultimately to thrive) beyond the paralyzing pain of sexual betrayal. 

But here’s something cool you may not yet know: 

Because we believe so firmly in the power and priority of safety and stability, we’ve recently added two new opportunities for BTR listeners to “zero in” on all things boundaries! Coach Sarah (that’s Sarah with an H) has a six-week support group titled Setting & Holding Healthy Boundaries — a group that explores a comprehensive process for identifying, crafting and deciphering all aspects of setting boundaries. Because Sarah’s support group fills up so quickly, we offer it repeatedly as soon as it fills. For more info email Coach Sarah:

How To Enjoy Healthy Sex After Betrayal, Lies & Abuse

Is Sex Possible After My Husband Cheated On Me?

If you’re wondering who I am and why I do this, I am a woman who has experienced betrayal. My ex-husband is a sex addict and he exhibited lying, gaslighting, and emotional abuse when he lived in the home.  He is still exhibiting these behaviors; he is still a sex addict who exhibits lying, gaslighting, emotional abuse, and narcissistic traits. I am here podcasting through my own recovery process. We have MJ Denis here with us again this  week. She is a licensed counselor, a licensed marriage and family therapist associate, a certified sex therapist, and she is a certified APSATS coach as a clinical partner trauma specialist. She works in Austin, texas, in private practice at Crossroads Counseling Associates where she counsels individuals and couples who have experienced or been affected by sex addiction. Welcome back MJ.

MJ: Hi, thank you for having me. It’s good to be back.

Anne: Today we are going to talk about healthy sexuality after sexual betrayal. Last week we talked about that a person has the right to say no, that they can say no, that saying no may be in a person’s best interest by helping to establish safety. Today we are going to talk about the other side of this. How do couples get from D-Day to healthy sexuality with someone who has betrayed them, especially if the betrayal involved chronic compulsive behaviors.

MJ: The first step is to create safety and stability. In order to get from discovery to healthy sexuality a couple must have safety and stability in their relationship. Sometimes we start by making sure the betrayed spouse has food, clothing, and shelter; that her basic safety needs are met. The next step is to make sure there is no more cheating, no more betrayal, no more active acting out. Also in creating this safety and stability, I believe a disclosure is necessary so the betrayed spouse knows what has happened and can make some decisions to stay safe and whether or not she wants to continue with the repair process.

Safety Must Come First When It Comes To Healthy Sex

It’s very important in this first stage of moving moving from D-Day to healthy sexuality, that a safety plan is in place where boundaries are discussed to keep both parties safe so the couple knows about communication, about visitation, about topics they can talk about so everyone is on the same page.

Anne: As we talked about last week, part of the establishing safety process is making sure the emotional abuse has ended as well, although this is a long process. I think the D-Day to the healthy sexuality is like, “Fasten your seat belts! This is going to be a process and going to take awhile. It is not going to happen in three weeks.” Someone in my group recently stated that they have made a goal to be emotionally healthy by October.

I laughed because I thought how we are all working towards emotional health. I think addicts must look at it this way: I’m going to go into this recovery process and I am going to check off the 12 steps, be sober for 6 weeks, and then we can have sex again…However, the process is not linear nor is it something to check off a list. Learning to determine our safety is part of the process.

At the beginning, at least with me, I didn’t really know what this meant. So part of my process was to determine how I felt being honest with myself and then to figure out what I really needed to do to feel safe. MJ, what gets in the way of healthy sexuality after betrayal in terms of the betrayed spouse?

What Gets In The Way Of Healthy Sexuality

MJ: there is a list of things that get in the way of healthy sexuality. One thing that comes to mind are triggers. After betrayal, so many ladies become triggered or overwhelmed or are reminded of their spouse’s betrayal. When they get hit with these reminders and they experience fear that more betrayal will happen, it can take them back down to their knees and cause them to experience “ground zero”. This certainly can get in the way of healthy sexuality. Ruminating thoughts will impact healthy sexuality. In the aftermath of betrayal, triggers and ruminating thoughts are expected. This is a normal response to betrayal so I don’t want to pathologize or judge someone for having triggers or ruminating thoughts. That makes sense. This is expected. I just want to be clear that ???? healthy sexuality in that place (around 5:38)

Something else that gets in the way of healthy sexuality is shame and insecurities from the betrayal. Every woman that I have counseled who has experienced betrayal has woundedness around her self esteem, her self concept, her looks, her character, who she is as a sexual being…The betrayal really causes her to wonder if she is less than, not good enough, broken…this certainly will get in the way of showing up in healthy sexuality. Another thing that gets in the way is really not knowing how to create physical intimacy with a partner who has an intimacy disorder.

Anne: That’s a big one! Especially since it takes two to tango! Even you saying this puts some of the responsibility of his disorder onto her, which is unfortunate.

Wives Of Porn Addicts Usually Do Everything They Can To Heal Their Marriage – But They Can’t Heal What They Didn’t Break

MJ: Well, so many times partners will do everything in their power to try to have a healthy relationship. She will do as many actions or behaviors to try to have a healthy relationship. She will read books, listen to podcast, try to learn how to have healthy communication….she’ll do many things to try to have a happy, healthy relationship, sexual and non sexual and she is only going to be able to get so far because someone with an intimacy disorder is in this relationship, and they have to learn how to be intimate.

Anne: And there is nothing she can do about that. I’m just thinking about the question I asked, what gets in the way of healthy sexuality after betrayal and the answer is, “Someone who is emotionally and sexually unhealthy.” One of the major things here is the health of your partner! There is nothing that a woman can do about this. I think so many times a woman gets shamed around this by thinking things like, “Your D-Day was three years ago; what is the problem now?” Well, it’s because he is still exhibiting these behaviors.

I had Barb Stephens on the podcast a few weeks ago. She talked about how she gave a speech regarding when spouses and partners are not getting better and the reason usually is they are still involved in gaslighting and emotional abuse. The addicted spouse is still not fully in recovery and not exhibiting healthy behaviors. In this way, it is almost like the trauma is a gift to us. Sometimes we blame our trauma and think we are being crazy.

But in some ways I think it is a gift that helps us know if we are safe or not. Sometimes the trauma is there for a reason. Sometimes the triggers are triggers because we are actually not safe or sometimes the shame or insecurities are happening because gaslighting is still happening. What gets in the way of healthy sexuality after betrayal?  Many things: abuse, sexual addiction… We know what gets in the way. What does healthy sexuality look like for partners after they have had sexual betrayal?

MJ: There are four components of healthy sexuality while in relationship with someone with a sex addiction. I would like to name them and then go back and talk a little bit about each one.

The four components of healthy sexuality while in relationship with someone with a sex addiction are: safety, communication, respect, playfulness and joy.

In thinking about safety, for women who have experienced chronic betrayal, healthy is often synonymous with “safe.” 

For the whole interview, please listen to the audio up top.

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Establishing Sexual Safety In The Wake Of Betrayal | Betrayal Trauma

I am so honored and excited to have MJ Denis with us today. She is a licensed professional counselor, a licensed marriage therapist associate, a certified sex therapist, and she is APSATS certified as a clinical partner trauma specialist in Austin, Texas.

She works in private practice at Crossroads Counseling Associates where she counsels individuals and couples who have experienced or been affected by sex addiction. Today we are going to talk about safe sex after sexual betrayal. When we say “safe sex,” we mean emotional, physical, and sexual safety. 

Anne: MJ, in thinking about this topic, where do we even start?

Sexual Safety After You’ve Found Out About Your Husband’s Lies, Affair, Cheating, Porn Use, & Abuse

MJ: We are very much in the “buddy system” when we choose our spouse. It’s really a matter of, “Hey, I’ll get your back; you get mine. I’ll keep you safe and you keep me safe and we’ll look out for each other.”

When we are in relationship with someone and our person has secretive behaviors, whether with another person or with pornography, this betrayal registers as a safety risk. Our amygdala–the part of our brain that helps us detect danger and threat–registers betrayal as danger. Our brain actually registers betrayal as a matter of life and death.

Anne: It sure feels like that.

MJ: Yes. In working with partners I often hear stories about how they discovered their partner’s sex addiction or their betrayal behaviors. Ladies will tell me when they found out about the betrayal, it took them to their knees. Some women throw up. Some can’t breathe.

Some can’t get off the floor because their person is their person for safety and when they are betrayed and their brain says, “I’m not safe; I’m not okay in the world,” ladies really loose their ability to function at times. Many partners report to me that they get sick, they lose weight, they can’t go to work. This discovery registers as a crisis, as a danger, as a matter of life and death.

Anne: I felt that, right after my husband’s arrest, when I realized things were as bad as they were because before I did not understand my true situation with his addiction and then related behaviors. I lost 15 pounds in 3 weeks. I couldn’t eat or sleep; it was really bad, especially realizing that my person who I was relying on was never safe; I just didn’t know it until that moment.

A Spouses Betrayal Registers As An Extreme Safety Risk

If our spouse betrays us and it registers as a safety risk, how can wives of addicts ever feel safe with an unfaithful spouse again?

MJ: People really experience dissonance when their spouse betrays them. Going back to us being in a relationship that registers to us as “safety; I’m your person; I’ve got your back; I’ve with you; You’re with me…” we turn to our spouse as a source of safety. When there is betrayal, the person who was supposed to be safe is the source of pain.

So many times in the aftermath of betrayal, ladies will tell me they will experience a “come here, go away syndrome.” “Come here, my husband, come here for safety…but wait, you’ve betrayed me and lied to me; you’ve cheated. Go away for safety….wait, where are you going…come back for safety.”

This can happen emotionally–wanting to go to our husband for safety so he can understand us and hold us emotionally; we can also go towards our husband for sexual safety, for physical safety. We are so vulnerable when we are going to be sexual with someone.

When we take off our clothes and naked with someone, that leaves us tremendously vulnerable. For women especially, the sexual act is one of our most vulnerable times ever. We are allowing someone to be close to us; it doesn’t get more vulnerable than that. So women must feel safe with their sexual partner in order to be sexual.

After the ravages of betrayal trauma, and from being in a relationship with a sex addict, someone with chronic betrayal behaviors, partners often need to feel safe in order to show up sexually. For partners who choose to stay with their sexually addicted spouse, this means they are choosing to stay with the source of pain and the source of their safety risk.

These ladies then try to navigate to function daily with someone they don’t trust, but they also do this tough job of trying to figure out how to maneuver physical and sexual intimacy.

Anne: It’s interesting that you talk about when they stay with the spouse. On the other hand, when a person has been betrayed similarly to my experience, once I realized my husband was not safe, I set a no-contact boundary with him until I could see he was safe enough to be able to communicate with.

All I then observed was him taking money away, not seeing the kids, accusing me of things…he would tell people he couldn’t do anything because I wouldn’t talk to him, I wouldn’t have sex with him . . . and he would say that because I wouldn’t interact with him, he could not do anything. He was not trying to establish safety.

The trauma comes in both cases – when a person decides to stay and when a person decides to impose intense boundaries which often leads to the other person attacking. In both of these cases, determining safety is the first step.

This is why I love APSATS. The first phase is safety and stabilization to make sure the level of safety is apparent before moving forward, even in just having a conversation with them, let alone having sex down the road. Am I making sense?

Emotional Safety Is Necessary For Healthy Sex

MJ: Yes, I agree with you. Establishing safety and stabilization has to be the first step. We cannot allow ourselves to be that vulnerable with someone unless we know we are safe with them. It makes sense to me that you needed to establish a no-contact rule so that you could re-establish safety.

Anne: Many women may be thinking about sex when perhaps they should take a step back and determine if they are emotionally safe to have a conversation.

MJ: In my experience in working with partners who initially have learned their spouse is cheating on them, betrayed spouses will frequently become really fearful that more betrayal will happen again. Sometimes partners will choose to be sexual with someone with a sex addiction to try to keep him from cheating again.

Women will often compare themselves to their husband’s affair partner, be it a pornographic image or a prostitute. Betrayed spouses will compare themselves to that affair partner and wonder what is wrong with them and why they don’t measure up to the affair partner.

Sometimes partners will choose to be sexual in ways they wouldn’t otherwise to try to measure up to what they imagine that affair partner was like, or to measure up to the person in the pornography.

To Have Healthy Sex, Your Partner Cannot Use Porn

Anne: Which is so sad because we cannot compete with pornography. If a person tries to compete with it, they will always, always lose.

MJ: Always. Comparison is dangerous for us, no matter what, because we are at risk either way. If we compare ourselves and we are better than, we risk arrogance. If we compare ourselves and we are less than, we risk shame and self condemnation.

Either way we go with comparison we really come out on the loosing end. Sometimes partners who make the decision to be sexual with their spouse who has betrayed them are really at risk of compromising their own values.

When women become scared and become sexual after betrayal, maybe feeling like they need to do this so he won’t cheat on me again or he won’t leave me…sometimes they can compromise their own values and find themselves doing something they don’t even want to do, that they might never have done but are now doing out of fear and desperation.

I think this is really heart breaking. I know it happens and sometimes women really experience distress from this.

Anne: It’s sad too because the only thing they are trying to do is establish safety for themselves. This attempt at safety will not get them what they want.

MJ: Yes, thank you for bringing it back to why would we have sex with someone who has betrayed us? It goes back to safety. If this is my person and go back to them for safety, I might be sexual with them in the aftermath of betrayal because they are the person I go to for safety and I’m trying to maintain it.

When I am working with partners, they often ask me, with despair, why they want to stay with him after he has hurt them so much…in this place it is important to realize she isn’t staying because there is something wrong with her or she is broken. She is staying because this is her person and she is attached to him.

Often I hear ladies saying it’s their fault that they have been betrayed; it must be–If I had been thinner, sexier . . . If I had been more or less – asked less questions, not shared my opinion as much, not stuck up for myself as much, etc.

Anne: In my world it was “if I had been smaller…”

Healthy Sex Requires Emotional Intimacy

MJ: Really, there is nothing you are another betrayed partner could have been or done or acted like to keep the betrayal from happening.

Someone with a sex addiction who is in their active addiction and not in active recovery will make choices to betray and that is their choice; it’s not because you are the betrayed spouse did or said something wrong or weren’t enough or were too much. It’s because that person chose to betray. That’s on him.

Anne: In this case, the only thing we can do is get support and reach out.

MJ: Absolutely. I’m a big proponent of a care team. I believe that recovering from the impact of sex addiction really takes a team. We need a safe support system–a therapist, a coach, a support group–each can be instrumental in helping partners to heal after they have been impacted by their partner’s sex addiction.

Anne: When I get into a group where I hear women speaking about similar behaviors in their spouses and then I look at how each woman is so different. For me, it was that I asked too many questions, shared my opinion too much, and “too controlling.”

For others, it is that they didn’t say enough. Then I realize that it doesn’t matter what we are like, the behavior of sexual addicts are very similar and they use the same tactics regardless of what their spouse is doing.

MJ: Yes. I recently had a client who joined a support group and she said there were women of all shapes, sizes, ethnicity, ages, educational and socioeconomic backgrounds; it didn’t matter the differences. What she recognized is that they were all betrayed by someone who had a sex addiction.

It proved to her that it didn’t matter how she showed up in the world. She was in a relationship with someone with a sex addiction who was active in his addiction. She was going to experience betrayal and that was not her fault.

Healthy Sex Is Emotionally Safe

Anne: What typically keeps partners from saying no to their sexually addicted spouse when he is not in recovery?

MJ: Partners get really scared here and often wonder if it is ok to say no. I think what gets in the way of saying no is a list of fears. Sometimes women have a fear of further betrayal and it keeps them from saying no or causes them to hesitate saying no to being sexual.

Ladies fear being criticized for saying no or being condemned by their spouse. Ladies have a fear of being a bad wife or a fear of being alone. There is a huge list of fears that get in the way.

Anne: One of those fears could be that her partner would say she isn’t giving him sex….in society this isn’t acceptable. Society says a sexless marriage means it’s the woman’s fault…they don’t understand all of the reasons why I might be saying no. Just the fact that a partner can use the weapon of, “She refuses to have sex with me” is terrifying to women.

MJ: Yes. And addicts tend to use this as justification for their betrayal. It isn’t fair or accurate. He will choose to betray not because she is or is not sexual with him.

Anne: Yes. It doesn’t matter. Let’s talk about values conflict in this situation.

MJ: In thinking about why partners feel scared to say no, sometimes they experience values conflicts. Some examples: on one hand, she might value being a good and loving wife and she might tell herself that being this kind of wife means she is sexual or she shows up sexually.

A conflicting value that might happen at the same time is that she values safety and wanting to pull away from him in order to be safe. On one hand she values that she thinks she should show up sexually and in the same moment she values that she thinks she should not show up sexually. Do I go toward him or do I pull away from him?

Another example: Ladies often tell me they value keeping an intact family unit. They have a high value on a cohesive family. They might also value separating so the kids are not exposed to sex addiction, or abuse or gaslighting or other safety issues in the home.

She might feel like she has to have sex to maintain an intact family. At the same time she values safety and feels like pulling back from being sexual with him.

Another value in this discussion is described when women talk about honoring God. For some women, they think that honoring God is submitting sexually to their husband. A conflicting value that often happens simultaneously is they may feel they are honoring God by being authentic and protecting this body God gave me, by protecting my heart that God gave me….so now what do I do?

Am I honoring God by being sexual when I don’t want to? Am I honoring God by not being sexual and protecting myself.

Anne: I think it comes down to being honest; honoring God by being honest with myself about how I really feel.

Setting Boundaries Helps Establish Sexual Safety

MJ: this is gets really confusing.

Anne: It does, especially when so many are distanced from their emotions because they have been so concerned about our addict husband–how does he feel, what can I do to help him, what can I do to help our family stay intact?

Sometimes we are distant from feeling unsafe. So many women have told me they didn’t even recognize that they felt unsafe; and that they don’t even know what that means. I don’t even know if I’ve felt emotionally safe.

With all of this being said, why do you think it’s ok for betrayed spouses to say no to sex after betrayal–or even before? If they feel unsafe, do you think it’s okay to say no?

MJ: I do think it is okay to say no. I would like to talk about saying no after discovering sex addiction is impacting the relationship. Let’s start there.

We can view sex addiction as an intimacy disorder. In -to- me-C disorder means not working. People who experience an intimacy disorder tend to not know how to be close and connected well, authentically. There is real value in taking sex off the table during sex addiction recovery, for a purposeful period of abstinence. The purpose of this period of abstinence is so the couple can work on establishing emotional intimacy.

As safety is building, the couple can begin to take steps to reestablish safe, non-sexual touch, then establishing safe sexual touch. I think there is an order to sex addiction recovery for the addict. The order involves creating emotional intimacy, being close and connected emotionally, then learning how to have non-sexual safe intimacy; then learning how to have sexual intimacy.

Setting Boundaries Around Sex Is A Relationship Barometer

Anne: This is very interesting to me because about six months before my husband’s arrest, I decided I needed emotional intimacy and that I was going to stop initiation sex; I told him that I didn’t feel emotionally safe and that I was not going to initiate sex.

I told him that he was welcome to initiate if he wanted to but that I would not be initiating. I told him I needed to see more from him in terms of being emotionally connected. Nothing happened.

He didn’t attempt in any way to reestablish emotional intimacy. In fact, I had purchased a workbook and we started it one night. He said he was so excited. I told him that he would need to be the one to pull it out and get us to work on it; I needed this to feel emotionally safe. He never pulled out the notebook; not once.

I think this type of boundary is also helpful in seeing where they really are…I am establishing abstinence to determine if they are really going to work towards emotional intimacy…or are they going to say, “Oh well. She won’t have sex with me so what can I do?” 

MJ: I’m glad you’re bringing up this kind of dynamic. There is something called excess vs deprivation. Let’s apply this dynamic of excess vs deprivation to sex addiction. Imagine in a relationship the husband has the sex addiction and within his marriage, deprivation is happening.

Let’s imagine he is not reaching for his wife; she is not having emotional or physical intimacy–not to the degree she would hope for. Instead, he is acting out sexually, having excess sexual experiences outside of the relationship.

A Sexless Marriage Is A Result Of Pornography Use

During attempts to change this, maybe before recognizing the sex addiction, he might make attempts to not be sexual outside the relationship–“I’ll do a workbook; I’m going to try to not have excess outside of the marriage”–and very often what happens is he might shut that down but it doesn’t teeter totter and make the intimacy within the marriage get better.

I see with couple I work with when they are in the first stage of creating safety and stability and making sure that sexual betrayal is not happening outside of the marriage, the hope for the marriage is if excess is shut down, will the marriage teeter totter and will there be intimacy inside the marriage? This isn’t typically what happens.

Usually there is now deprivation across the board and sexual behavior is not happening inside or outside of the marriage–because he still has an intimacy disorder; he still does not know how to be intimate. The couple has to go through the process I will describe later on of moving through emotional intimacy with non-sexual touch and then on to physical intimacy. Sometimes sex addicts are learning this for the first time.

Anne: That being said, MJ, I imagine some couples worry about when they will start having sex again. What is the process for this?

MJ: One of the common beliefs of someone with a sex addiction is that sex is their most important need. There has to be a retraining of the brain to help someone with a sex addiction wrestle with this, to help them learn that sex is not their most important need. Quite frankly, we could live without sex; someone who is not sexual is not going to die or spontaneously combust!

While we want couples to be both friends and lovers, we want to help the couple to initially create safety in their relationship–this is the part where we stop the acting out behaviors and betrayals…

Anne: and stopping gaslighting and related behaviors…

MJ: Absolutely. I see that sometimes this is harder to change for some addicts who can stop the betrayal behaviors and sexual acting out but changing their emotionally abusive behaviors such as how they show up in conflict and how they use humor–this takes more time.

It’s a relearning of how to communicate and how to respond to their person. This actually takes a lot of work. This is part of the recovery after sex addiction.

First we achieve safety and stability. Next is disclosure and transparency which I think is so important because disclosures that are done a little at a time takes a spouse back to ground zero, takes her to her knees.

There can be real trauma in getting little bits of information of betrayal at a time. Ladies need to know what they are dealing with so they can make choices about whether or not they want to stay and work on the marriage.

A therapeutic disclosure where the couple is being kept safe and being walked through about how to disclose all of the information is very necessary. There must be transparency before communication can be worked on.

Anne: We recommend that women in conjunction with a theraputic disclosure consider a theraputic polygraph as well.

MJ: Yes. This can help to make sure all information is out. It can help partners really feel another degree of safety with the person who has betrayed them.

Anne: So when we get to the communication phase, one of the things I have been learning about abuse is that it is really a perception issue. The reason why it happens is because the abuser perceives his victim in a certain way which continually causes the emotional abuse. Changing these mental processes is going to take a really long time.

If these abusive behaviors are happening, couples therapy is contraindicated until two years after the last abuse episode. From a sex therapist point of view, can you talk about this? What is the process of someone deciding they are not going to be emotionally abusive anymore, in the context of sex addiction?

MJ: When it comes to sex addiction, I find that many addicts exhibit profound gaslighting behaviors because they are trying not to get caught, they are trying to get their spouse to back up and not find out about their secret; they will be manipulative, bullying, mean, and say critical and contemptuous things to get the wife to back up.

In recovery from sex addiction, there is this period of teaching them how to recognize how they respond to being questioned, to having conflict…they have to learn how their brain wants them to gaslight and they have to challenge this and learn how to respond differently.

This really is a process and validates again why, in some ways, they might have more immediate success in stopping the betrayal behaviors, the sexual acting out, and then it could take a long time to learn how to respond kindly, not defensively, being able to accept influence.

This goes a long way to helping the couple start moving toward reestablishing a sexual relationship. the safety has to come first.

Feeling Isolated When Your Sex Life Is Unhealthy

Anne: If you feel isolated, confused, or trying to cope on your own and things are not working, your therapist doesn’t understand, you’re not making progress, please join a BTR group.

Our groups are specifically for you with trained APSATS coaches. We know there are individual differences and that each situation is unique but we have all had similar challenges. Everyone at BTR is going through what you are going through and we understand.

Join a support group today – Betrayal Trauma Recovery Club is a very inexpensive way to have up to three support groups a week that you can drop in and out of. 

If you are interested in immediate assistance through a peer-to-peer FB group by joining our community below. The BTR Secret Facebook group is peer-to-peer, and not APSATS led, but a good place to start. 

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MJ, thank you so much for your thoughtful responses. I appreciate the time you have taken to talk with us today. We are going to have MJ on next week to discuss healthy sexuality after betrayal!

Luke 18: The Parable Of The Unjust Judge

Helping Widows – Women Married To Pornography / Sexual Addicts

The parable of the unjust judge explains a lot about how to care for widows who are hurting because of their husband’s spiritual death, often caused by his pornography use and subsequent lies and hypocrisy.

In Luke 18:2-9, Jesus teaches the parable of the unjust judge. A widow comes to the unjust judge and asks him to hold her “adversary” accountable. At first the unjust judge does nothing. He’s unhappy with her continued requests for help. He decides to pacify her with words.

Jesus Teaches That Leaders Need To Do Something To Protect Widows

Jesus adds here, listen to what the unjust judge “saith”, making a point that there is no action done on his part to avenge the widow.

The unjust judge placates her, feigning righteousness, “Will not God avenge you? You pray to Him all day and night, and He listens to you. I’m sure God will help you. When Jesus comes again, will He find that you have faith?”

Christ targets this parable “unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others.”

As this kind of widow myself, when I read this scripture, it rang so true to me. I have found myself in this exact situation. 

We know the judge is unjust. So this is an example of what not to do.

One of the most common examples of a widow petitioning for help is a wife wanting her church leader to hold her husband accountable for breaking his covenants: lying, pornography use, and abuse. She does this because she loves her husband and she wants to save her family.

Related Behaviors Of Porn Users

Active pornography users exhibit some or many of these behaviors, but the severity differs from individual to individual:

  • Lying
  • Manipulation
  • Gaslighting
  • Lashing Out In Anger
  • Neglecting Emotional Needs Of Family Members
  • Emotionally Abusing Family Members
  • Neglecting Household Duties and Other Family Responsibilities
  • Narcissistic Traits

Men who exhibit these behaviors have lost the privilege of being in a family. It’s emotionally and spiritually unsafe for wives and children to be exposed to these types of behaviors. Women who have lost their husbands to pornography need to be protected. Support people need to hold their husbands accountable. They need to “avenge” these spiritual widows to enable the family to heal. 

Many times, at the very beginning of the disclosure / discovery process, widows don’t recognize the lying, manipulation and abuse. So she too might not understand that setting boundaries and holding her husband accountable is the only way to safety.

Because she is compassionate, she too may think that being supportive, forgiving, and loving is the answer – but what judges and widows miss is that setting boundaries and holding someone accountable is the most compassionate, forgiving, loving thing you can do for a person who desperately needs to cleanse the inner vessel. Luke 5:37 “And no man putteth new wine into old bottles; else the new wine will burst the bottles, and be spilled, and the bottles shall perish.”

Since there is a lack of specifics and guidance when it comes to policies about how to help pornography users and victims, women are not given consistent help. In my work with thousands of widows all over the world, the responses and ways to deal with it are all over the map – even if the behavior in the men is fairly consistent.

Telling a woman that her husband hasn’t committed adultery because is he hasn’t actually slept with someone isn’t helpful because she knows full well that Jesus himself said it is. She also knows full well how she feels. Her heart is breaking, her family is at risk because he has committed adultery in his heart.

“Freedom from accountability means that the abusive man considers himself above criticism. If his partner attempts to raise her grievances, she is “nagging” or “provoking” him. He believes he should be permitted to ignore the damage his behavior is causing, and he may become retaliatory if anyone tries to get him to look at it” (Why Does He Do That? 58).

It is essential that friends, relatives, courts, and communities understand . . . and give the woman the most complete support and protection possible, while simultaneously taking steps to hold the abuser accountable” (Why Does He Do That? 101).

Abusers think that their wives dwell on grievances and refuse to forgive “because she sometimes attempts to hold him accountable rather than letting him stick her with cleaning up his messes – literally and figuratively” (Why Does He Do That? 142).

Contrast that parable with Acts 7:24-25 

24 And seeing one of them suffer wrong, he defended him, and avenged him that was oppressed . . .

25 For he supposed his brethren would have understood how that God by his hand would deliver them: but they understood not.

I interpret that to mean, when he saw the suffering, he defended her and avenged her. He supposed that other leaders would have understood how that God by his hand would help her save her family and heal her marriage – by holding her husband accountable for his misdeeds and helping him through the process of sincere, back-breaking repentance. But they simply told her to pray and read her scriptures, and that God would help her. Have faith, they said. But they understood not that they should be God’s hands to help.

In light of the pornography epidemic, and the lack of understanding around the topic, including the severe emotional and financial suffering of the widows involved, Acts 6:1 seems especially pertinent: “And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring . . . because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration.”

Gaslighting: Manipulated Love Isn’t Love

Gaslighting In Relationships

Our APSATS coaches will help you discover your husband’s gaslighting and how to deal with it. Coach Sarah is APSATS trained and an expert in helping women find safety in when faced with gaslighting in their relationships. Click here to register for her group Detecting & Confronting Gaslighting.

I’m realizing how early I am in my recovery, and how much I don’t understand about betrayal trauma and all the complexities of recovery. I’m grateful that you have been with me as I’ve shared my recovery process with you in real time. Sometimes I feel peace and have hope, and other times I’m upset and hopeless. Good days are beginning to outnumber the bad days.

Luckily, I get to associate with the Betrayal Trauma Recovery APSATS coaches regularly, and I learn so much from them!

If you are struggling with gaslighting in your relationship, you can schedule a free consultation with one of our coaches.

What Is Gaslighting?

I interviewed Coach Sarah about examples of gaslighting in the podcast. 

Coach Sarah: Gaslighting definition: anytime someone attempts to manipulate your perception of reality, your beliefs, your thoughts, your feelings. Someone who is gaslighting is going to try and convince you that your feelings and thoughts are invalid. To truly understand what gaslighting is, we need to look past what is happening to us and focus on how we feel. Gaslighting is what we experience, so the experience of gaslighting is being confused, the inability to understand the truth, a lack of clarity.

Examples Of Gaslighting

Confusion is a big red flag of gaslighting. One example of gaslighting is that when we try to describe our reality, a gaslighter will redirect – so if you accuse your gaslighter of something, the gaslighter will turn around and accuse you of the exact same thing. There’s two reasons why:

1. If someone isn’t in active recovery, they turn things around to hide their compulsive sexual behaviors or they want to get your attention off of themselves so they don’t have to be accountable for their actions.
2. If someone is in active recovery, they might gaslight when their shame is triggered.

If someone is still exhibiting gaslighting behaviors after a year or two of recovery – something is wrong. They may have a personality disorder, like narcissism, or they may be lying about their recovery.

What Does Gaslighting Mean?

Anne: I’ve started to realize that being focused on the reason WHY the gaslighting was happening, isn’t as important as learning to recognize the gaslighting and establish boundaries to keep myself safe. But in a nutshell, if you are experiencing gaslighting tactics in your marriage, you are not safe – and that means that you need to get help to know what boundaries to set to keep yourself safe.

To schedule an appointment to talk to Coach Sarah or any of our other APSATS coaches about the gaslighting in your relationship, click here.

Embracing The Unmanageability Of Life – The Analogy Of The Drowning Swimmer

To Healing The Traumatic Experiences Caused By Our Husband’s Sexual Addiction And Related Behaviors Like Narcissistic Personality . . . 

This morning, I was studying in Matthew Chapter 9, a man approaches Jesus and he says in verse 18, “My daughter is even now dead; but come and lay they hand upon her, and she shall live.”

It made me think of my soon-to-be-ex-huband who has filed for divorce and made no effort to be reunited with his family. I knelt down and I prayed, “God, my husband is even now dead: but come and lay thy hand upon him, and he shall live.”

At this point, I feel like he has died spiritually and physically in my life, since I no longer interact with him in any way. My greatest desire is to have my husband be whole and be home. Because I’m in this state of sadness and grief because of my husband’s spiritual death and removal from our family, the next verses 20-22 really help me.

“Behold, a woman, which was diseased with an issue of blood twelve years, came behind him, and touched the hem of his garment: For she said within herself, If I may but touch his garment, I shall be whole. But Jesus turned him about, and when he saw her, he said, Daughter, be of good comfort; they faith hath made thee whole. And the woman was made whole from that hour.”

So I think of those two scriptures, back to back. It is unlikely that my husband will allow himself to be healed due to his current mindset. I have no idea. But I am seeking healing, so I can be healed.

I can be made whole from the pain and trauma I’ve been experiencing by touching the hem of Christ’s garment.

As I prayed this morning, I had an incredible peace come over me. It was comforting and warm. The feeling I had was all will be well. I will keep you safe.

Admitting Life Is Unmanageable Is The Foundation For Healing

Admitting our life is completely unmanageable can help us find peace. For many of us, admitting this seems like giving up. Or the powerlessness of our situation seems to increase the trauma.

I was single for a long time, didn’t get married until I was 31. And during my single years, I would date people and it wouldn’t work out, and I had an image in my mind that I was in drowning on a stormy sea. The water was extremely choppy, splashing in my face, and I could barely keep my head above water. I could see God in a boat, far away from me, and He had thrown in a donut shaped life preserver. The life preserver was attached to a rope, and He held the rope.

Every time, I reached out to grab the life preserver, God would pull it away, out of my reach. My head would go under water, and I’d come up again gasping, again, trying to grab it. He would again pull it away. I could never reach safety.

Working With A Trained Professional To Be Safe From Gaslighting

One of my character defects is OCD. I have a hard time being present when it hits because my mind can’t let go of my worries and get distracted by my thoughts. She suggested to me that I wasn’t working good recovery.

So I took a break from BTR and I fasted from the internet for three days to get back on track, and get God in my center. My soon-to-be-ex-husband had recently posted a post about me on Facebook, gaslighting everyone, saying that I was the cause of the divorce. I needed to get God back in my center.

She suggested that I write down all the things in my life that are unmanageable. It was quite the list: my housework, my children’s behavior, my hair, working out, eating vegetables – what wasn’t unmanageable!

At the top of the list was the consequences of my husband’s abusive behaviors and his choices. After I talked with my sponsor about how my life is unmanageable, I meditated about the image of me drowning and God being in my life – seeing him, seeing him sort of help me, but that I can’t really get the help I need.

I asked God, why do I feel this way?

The thought came to me that the reason the water was so choppy was from my own flailing about, from my kicking. The reason the water seemed to be attacking me, was that I was attacking the water. And every time I desperately tried to reach the life preserver, my own movements pushed it farther away from me.

I got the impression to stop moving and float on my back. When I did, the scene panned out and I saw myself resting quietly on the water.  The life preserver floated near enough to me for me to easily grab it, but I didn’t need to. And then I saw that I was surrounded by life preservers, and surrounded by boats. Angels were in the boats, just waiting to help me. Christ was there. I had all the help I needed.

God said, “I’ve given you this water to support you, and the air to breath. I’ve given you everything you need.”

My Recovery From Narcissistic Abuse 

I’ve been regretting my thrashing around and my lack of trust. When my life became unmanageable, that’s what I did. I didn’t know what to do, I just wanted to save my family.

God is telling me to relax and He will take care of me and He will provide for me. I’m a lot like the children of Israel. God split the Red Sea for me, and I walked to safety on dry ground, and then I started complaining. Instead of finding peace in gratitude and trusting, I started thrashing about. But I’m learning to live one day at a time, and trust the daily manna God is sending me to take care of my three children.

I have faith that God can heal me.

I’m grateful to God for telling me to start this podcast, all the volunteers that work with me here at BTR.

If you need one-on-one help, please schedule an appointment with one of our APSATS trained coaches.

If you would like to be added to our secret Facebook group, friend me on Facebook, and then send me a private message and I can add you to the group.

Can A Narcissist Change? What To Look For When Assessing Your Safety

Can A Narcissist Change?

After seven years of trying to help my husband overcome his lies, pornography use, and abusive anger outbursts, he was arrested for assaulting me. After his arrest, I came to realize that the way I needed help to approach the situation in a different way. With assistance from trusted and experienced women, I was able to set and hold the boundaries I needed to hold to bring peace into my home and create a sanctuary of safety for my children.

For me, the only was to stay safe from my husband’s narcissistic behaviors was to set a no contact boundary, while I waited to see if he would do the extremely hard work it would take him to change.

At Betrayal Trauma Recovery, we believe that everyone can change. The scriptures are full of examples of Christ’s miraculous healing, and we feel that God’s power is still available to all.

Narcissists Can Change

Through my own experience talking with women affected by the narcissistic abuse behaviors all over the world, I found that these behaviors are correlated with pornography use. Men who betray their wives and families with lies, pornography use, infidelity and abuse are not safe enough to be in a healthy marriage.

I believe that anyone, regardless of their past or mental health diagnosis can surrender themselves to God’s will and follow God’s teachings. Our online community can be a support and resource to you as you learn to set boundaries to keep yourself and you children safe. Women in our community are learning to set boundaries with the help of a professional to stabilize their situation. I believe that God has directed you to this site, so that you can get the support and help that you need.

Traits Of A Narcissistic Personality

In a nutshell, someone who acts like a narcissist is unable to interact in the world in a healthy, loving way. They have no sense of self – so they must obtain a sense of self from others. This leaves them open to behaviors and choices that aren’t good for them or their marriages.

God asks all people to center their lives on Him. In God’s words, whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it (Matt 10:9).

Husbands who behave like narcissists are so hell bent on finding their life, through the eyes of others, they refuse to be honest with themselves about who they really are and instead focus only on their outward appearance. Similar to the pharisees and sadducees in the bible. This type of behavior can be correlated with pornography use – they want to appear as sheep, while they are ravening wolves inside.

If he were to truly be honest with himself and others, he would admit the lies he tells himself and others, his unquenchable lust, his pornography use, his compulsive masturbation, his constant desire for the praise of men (especially when it comes from a beautiful woman), and admit that anger and jealously in his heart toward his fellowmen.

This makes husband’s with traits similar to narcissism dangerous to their families. They are unable to have integrity because they refuse to tell the truth. The truth is, a husband with narcissistic traits is a son of God who is living far below his potential and needs to change in order to feel God’s love in his life and be able to have a healthy, happy family. The truth is, the most loving, compassionate way to serve him is to set boundaries to keep yourself and your children safe.

Narcissistic Behavior In Sex Addicts

The narcissistic behaviors correlated with pornography use are: 

  • Lying
  • Lusting
  • Pornography Use
  • Masturbation
  • Cheating Emotionally & Physically
  • Gaslighting
  • Explosive Anger
  • Property Damage – punching walls, throwing things
  • Physical Intimidation – yelling and spitting right in your face
  • Hiding 
  • Being Secretive
  • Obsessing About Perceived Slights

Narcissistic Abuse Relationship Pattern

Being in a relationship with a narcissist is described by some as crazy-making. Christians often approach it by forgiving, serving, and looking for the good in someone. Forgiveness, service, and focusing on the positive are beautiful gifts from God to bring us peace. In the context of someone who is lying, emotionally and physically unfaithful, and abusive – the most loving way to serve them is to set and hold healthy boundaries.

Ignoring lying, pornography use, masturbation, and abuse is not God’s way. God’s way is to distance Himself from these activities to keep Himself safe – from all this His anger is not turned away, but His hand is outstretched still (Isaiah 6-9).

The scriptures repeat over and over that when man offends the spirit, the spirit removes itself. Why? Because the spirit has boundaries! And you can too.

Setting Boundaries With A Narcissist

Setting boundaries is an extremely difficult, scary experience. Seeking support when setting boundaries is essential. Because many people don’t understand our husband’s ability to manipulate others, to put on the perfect mask, it’s difficult to receive helpful support sometimes from friends or church leaders. My husband was able to abuse me by proxy through our church leader, therapist, friends and family.

There is hope. The Betrayal Trauma Recovery team is here to help you set and hold healthy boundaries that are consistent with your values. Even if it feels like your whole world is falling apart, you can find support and love through a sisterhood of women who have been in a similar situation to you.

Our APSATS coaches are specifically trained to help you gain safety and stabilize your situation, so that you can begin to heal your home from the chaos created by your husband’s lies and compulsive sexual behaviors. APSATS is the only certification available that focuses specifically on the trauma experiences of wives of sexual addicts and the behaviors associated with sexual addiction.

Only God knows your situation exactly. Only He can provide the answers and peace you are looking for. But our APSATS coaches can guide you and support you as you seek God’s miracles in your life.

What Makes BTR The Best Healing Option For Abuse Victims?

Coach Kim is APSATS trained, and talks about how addiction behaviors are often consistent with narcissism behaviors and what to do when you recognize them in your husband. 

What Came First The Narcissism Or The Addiction?

We often wonder if narcissism or Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is associated with addiction, especially in regard to sex addiction because so many pornography / sex addicts exhibit behaviors consistent with narcissism.  

The definition of NPD from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), which is the go to guide for medical and psychiatric professionals, states “Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a cluster B personality disorder defined as comprising a pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), a constant need for admiration, and a lack of empathy.”

Grandiose, self-centered, exploiting others, need for attention, and a total lack of empathy. Know anyone like that?! As much as we would like to make a NPD diagnosis, we need to leave that up to the folks with an MD or PhD at the end of their name.

How Does Being With A Husband Who Exhibits Behaviors Similar To Narcissism Make You Feel?

Imagine, you have your first child together. Your focus is, as it should be, on keeping this little miracle alive on very little sleep. But your husband starts coming to bed later and later. He is not supportive, he seems very angry with you, and when you asks why, he talks about his needs aren’t being met. 

You begin to think it’s you, the weight you gained, you can’t spend as much time with him. You begin to work on dropping the baby weight. A few weeks into working out he watches you changing and says to you, “It’s like you’re not even trying.” You are left with no self-esteem, unwanted, and unloved.

A few years have gone by and taken its toll. You are isolated and lonely.  He doesn’t touch you tenderly and you are unable to do anything right in his eyes. One New Year’s Eve, you beg him to be more affectionate with you, that you need to be touched. Defensive and angry he says, “When you can learn to communicate better, then maybe.” At a complete loss, you can feel any hope you had slip away. You are not worthy, you will never be enough. There is no empathy.

These types of examples are common in men who use pornography and men who exhibit behaviors similar to narcissistic personality disorder.

Narcissism Can Be Difficult To Detect In The Beginning Of A Relationship

It’s subtle and as time goes by their mask of “normalcy” begins to slip away. By the time you become aware, his hate, spitefulness, and passive aggressive nature have crept into your entire marriage and it will take a huge shock to your system for you to begin to see that this wasn’t your doing, it wasn’t your fault, you ARE enough, and he is the one who is NOT WORTHY of you!

That shock to your system can come in many forms, but the most common is finding out, after putting up with all the pain and hurt he has caused, that he has been lying, manipulating, gaslighting, and possibly risking your life by acting with other people. He thought he was smarter, that he deserved and was entitled to do what he wanted. His narcissistic brain created lie after lie to villainize you and to justify acting out. He will use those lies and even tell you those are the reasons he cheated time after time, after time. “Well, if you had only ______, I wouldn’t have ______.”  The narcissistic addict’s go to line.

What Else Have You Felt In A Relationship With A Man Who Exhibits Behaviors Similar To The Narcissist? 

Narcissists cause a lot of damage. The emotional abuse alone is soul sucking. You have now been sufficiently shocked into your new reality. You can see him for who he is. Whether the addiction caused the narcissism or the narcissism led to the addiction. Here you are. Now what?

What do you do when you’ve hit your limit, when you’re ready to no longer allow the treatment he has so steadily inflicted upon you? 

The Best Thing You Can Do For Yourself Is To Begin Taking Care Of You! 

Put yourself first, ahead of him. It will be difficult, but remain strong.  

Checklist For Healing From Narcissistic Abuse & Betrayal Trauma

  • Seek out an APSATS therapist and or coach who specializes in dealing with addiction and narcissistic abuse, talking through your experience can be incredibly healing. As you work through your emotions and experiences it will help you become stronger.
  • Schedule regular appointments with an APSATS coach to create boundaries to protect yourself. If he chooses to cross your boundaries, you don’t have to think of a consequence on the spot, you will have them ready. Having boundaries will not make him happy, but remind yourself they are in place to protect you.  
  • Support groups are also incredibly beneficial. Talking with others that have similar life experiences is cathartic. It helps to know you are not alone and that you will heal with time. Betrayal Trauma Recovery has a secret Facebook group. If you would like to be added to our secret Facebook group where women are interacting, friend Anne on Facebook, and then send her a private message and she can add you to the group.
  • Self-care is so incredibly important. This is your “me” time. Find what brings you peace and happiness in the chaos. Taking a  long, hot bath with a good book? Grounding yourself with a walk in nature? Kickboxing? What works for you? Take some time to find yourself again. 

You’ve been through a lot. The pain can be palpable, but you are stronger than you know.

Take the time to heal. Do what you need to get to where you want to be. You’re ready for the next chapter in your story. 

Schedule an appointment with Coach Kim or one of our other APSATS coaches today to get insight into how to set boundaries to keep yourself safe from behaviors similar to narcissistic personality disorder.