pornography use is abuse
Is Cheating Emotional Abuse?

Learn from Dr. Omar Minwalla why cheating is abuse.

Do you wonder why your husband’s infidelity is so painful? Abuse hurts. And Cheating, secret porn use, and other secret sexual behaviors are abusive.

Dr. Omar Minwalla, clinical sexologist and founder of the Institute for Sexual Health is on The BTR.ORG Podcast detailing exactly how secret sexual behaviors are abusive to partners and families. Tune in and read the full transcript below for more.

Cheating is Abuse – Here’s One Reason Why

The intentional manipulation of partners in order to hide affairs, secret porn use, and other secret sexual behaviors is abuse:

“This intentional psychological manipulation of a partner can be extremely damaging to a partner’s gut instinct and her ability to use it and make good decisions. Even just lying in a relationship is abusive. There is erosion of integrity in the relationship. There is a deceptive reality that is already eroding and hurting the possibility for integrity to even exist in the relationship or in the family. Integrity is a very fundamental and basic attribute of a healthy relationship or healthy family.”

Dr. Omar Minwalla

Gaslighting is the Tip of The Iceberg

Altering a partner’s perception of reality (gaslighting) is 100% psychological abuse.

But how else is cheating abusive?

Listen to this episode to understand the multi-dimensional abusiveness of infidelity, secret porn use, and other secret sexual behaviors.

BTR.ORG Is Here For You

As Anne shares in this episode, understanding and accepting that your husband’s behavior is abuse, can be difficult to process. Please don’t suffer alone. Attend a BTR.ORG Group Session today and find a community that helps you heal.

Full Transcript:

Anne: I am a little nervous today because I have Dr. Omar Minwalla on today’s episode. I’m a little star struck! I have admired his work from afar and read many of his articles. I am so impressed with his work and very humbled that he agreed to come on to today’s episode. Dr. Minwalla is a licensed phycologist and a clinical sexologist. He specializes in sex addiction, compulsive sexual behavior, patterns of infidelity and relational abuse.

He completed his post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Minnesota Medical School Program in Human Sexuality. In 2009 he founded the Institute for Sexual Health (ISH). ISH provides services related to his innovative model of treatment for compulsive abusive sexual relational disorders.

Compulsive Abusive Sexual Relational Disorder (CASRD)

I am jumping up and down about your developing model called compulsive abusive sexual relational disorder (CASRD). Can you explain this term and how you came up with it?

Dr. Minwalla: Sure. Compulsive Abusive Sexual Relational Disorder is meant to be a diagnostic term that expands beyond the traditional definitions of sex addiction. Let’s back up and review how sex addiction is typically defined, as well as the term “compulsive sexual behavior”–a term that is also similar to sex addiction. Some professionals say “compulsive sexual behavior” and some say “sex addiction.” Either of these terms are usually used to describe a disorder related to sexual behavior where there is a lack of control and significant negative consequences.

In my working with sex addicts and people struggling with compulsive sexual behavior for many years, I realized that there is another disorder that wasn’t being named and wasn’t part of the traditional definitions.

“A secret life or world is, in and of itself, a form of abuse.”

That was that often if a person is in a relationship, patterns of interpersonal abuse and integrity disorder show up. What I mean by that is having a deceptive, compartmentalized sexual or relational life or reality while in a relationship or in a family; another way of saying it is having a secret life or world while you are in a relationship or a family is in and of itself a form of abuse.

In many ways, it’s a type of sociopathic behavior. This means it’s a selfish world view where often the welfare of others is not being respected. There is a lack of remorse or guilt and there is often an externalization of blame or responsibility. In essence, it’s a long-term pattern of disregarding and violating the rights of others, particularly family members and your intimate partner.

Understanding CASRD

While sex addiction and compulsive sexual behavior really focus on the sexual behaviors themselves. They usually don’t have a clear diagnosis or labeling of the integrity, abuse, or relational conduct problems. So the term Compulsive Abusive Sexual Relational Disorder is simply my way of trying to spell it out clearly. So the compulsive part is referring to the sexual behavior part; the abusive refers to the patterns or relational abuse and integrity problems. The term ‘sexual relational’ is just specifying exactly what we are talking about which is sexual in relational behavior. It’s a developing model.

At this point I feel like it’s really important to have a term that is very clear and spells out exactly the two parts of the problem. The sexual and abuse parts.

How is Cheating a Form of Domestic Abuse?

Anne: This is my favorite model that I have come across thus far in my experience. I talk with many people who say that adding the label ‘abuse’ to this situation is going too far and making it way more serious than it needs to be. For me, I’m thinking that without the label ‘abuse’ somewhere in the discussion, it does not correctly express the severity of the situation and what victims are going through and what their experience is.

Can you explain from your perspective how sex addiction problems are a form of domestic abuse?

Cheating Is Abusive To The Entire Family

Dr. Minwalla: Like I’ve just started to name, putting this sexual behavior aside, the minute someone has a deceptive, compartmentalized sexual life or sexual or relational reality or life and they are in an intimate relationship or a family system, that, in and of itself, makes it abuse. It’s abusive in many ways. In order to maintain a deceptive reality, one has to tell all sorts of lies. By nature, they have to be dishonest in the relationship. There are often patterns of lying or lying by omission. There are often partial truths.

One of the most abusive aspects of having a deceptive compartmentalized life is that there is often a lot of intentional manipulation of the partner’s reality which is sometimes referred to as gaslighting. Gaslighting often can be very damaging in terms of eroding and hurting her relationship with her gut instincts. Usually someone’s gut instincts can detect that something is going on. Whether someone becomes conscious of it or not–usually our gut instincts are somewhat aware.

The Abusive Nature of Gaslighting

In terms of gaslighting, if she confronts or brings something up and then the abuser or the sex addict is intentionally manipulating her away from that truth and getting her to ignore her gut instincts, that is very damaging to her gut instincts. Gut instinct is an important survival instinct we all need. We all need a good relationship with our gut instinct!

This intentional psychological manipulation of a partner, sometimes over many years, can be extremely damaging to a partner’s gut instinct. It can damage her ability to use it and survive and make good decisions. Even just lying in a relationship is abusive. If you have had years and years of lying and maintaining a secret world while pretending to be honest in a relationship or family, this in and of itself is very damaging.

Why is Cheating Abusive?

There is also the erosion of integrity in the relationship. Whether the person knows about the secret sexual world or not, the fact that there is a deceptive reality is already eroding and hurting the possibility for integrity to even exist in the relationship or in the family. Integrity is a very fundamental and basic attribute of a healthy relationship or healthy family. If someone is chipping away at the integrity of this system, there are a lot of symptoms that can slowly start to emerge. The chance for healthy integrity to even exist is corrupted and eroded over time.

“Having a secret sexual life diverts attention away from the relationship and away from the family.”

Dr. Omar Minwalla

Then there is also other types of harm and abuse. For example, having a secret sexual life diverts attention away from the relationship and away from the family. There is a lot of vital energy of nurturance and care. Sometimes love, time, financial resources, emotional resources, sexual attention–all are withdrawn from the relationship as it goes elsewhere.

There can also be a lot of blaming the other partner, sometimes explicitly. For example, if there are problems in the relationship or problems with sexuality, the perpetrator may blame her and make up reasons that she is either overweight or controlling or unattractive and these are not even legitimate reasons.

More Reasons that Cheating is Abuse

They are cover ups and a way to explain what is going on by blaming the partner when actually the reason these things are happening is because there is a secret sexual life going on.

It’s also sometimes taking huge risks in a relationship or a family where, for example, someone may not have safe sex and then come home and have unsafe sex with their partner. There are all types of risk taking and potential harms that a person is potentially engaging in that could be harmful or potentially harmful to the family–like legal consequences, STDs, acting out partners who become vengeful and violent or cause problems on social media. There are a lot of things about having a secret sexual life that are abusive.

It’s Not Going “TOO FAR” To Label Cheating as Abuse

Anne: And having lived through it, that is the best word to describe it. I really appreciate your work. I think that ignoring it or downplaying it is so dangerous to victims. It also does not help perpetrators face the reality of the consequences of their actions. So I really appreciate that about your model.

Dr. Minwalla: One other thing since you brought up a really good point. Some people think it’s going too far (to call it abuse). I was actually trained as a clinical sexologist. Part of this training was specializing in sexual offending in sex offenders. In that work, it became really clear that the standard of care when working with any type of abuse dynamic is that one of the first things you learn in training is that language is really important and to use appropriate terms.

“To not use the word ‘abuse’ is actually clinically inaccurate.”

Dr. Omar Minwalla

Even though this isn’t physical abuse and it may not be sexual offending, when there is emotional or psychological abuse as in the case that we are talking about, to not use the word ‘abuse’ is actually clinically inaccurate. I think most people who deal with perpetration of any kind know it is extremely important to use appropriate language terms. To not mince words. There is no benefit to avoid appropriate terms. I think a lot of sex addiction professionals have been trained from an addiction perspective and don’t have a lot of training in abuse or how to treat perpetration or perpetrators of any kind.

So I think there is a squeamishness and a tendency to consider using the word ‘abuse’ as somehow overreaching or shaming the addict. Demonizing the addict. And I think it’s just appropriate care and extremely important to use the word. I wanted to follow up about what you mentioned that some people think using the word ‘abuse’ is going too far.

Calling it Abuse Helps Families Establish Safety

Anne: I think that or that they would like me to hedge. To qualify that in some cases it could be abuse. In all cases, he has abused his wife’s trust at the very least. For me, it seems appropriate that in all cases to include the word ‘abuse’. And a discussion about abuse and what the consequences of his abuse to her have been. What she has suffered due to his behaviors. From my perspective, this is the only way we can really protect women and help them get to safety.

Dr. Minwalla: Yes. And to follow up, if you are leaving the word ‘abuse’ out, one of the main problems is that it doesn’t get treated. This leads to sex addicts or people dealing with compulsive sexual behavior who go for treatment–this has been the tradition for the past 50 years–and the focus is simply on stopping the sexual behavior and helping them gain control.

For example, if there is a porn problem or a problem with prostitution or strip clubs, all the focus is on how to get the person to be sexually sober. Which is defined as how to get the person to stop sexually acting out or going to strip clubs or being with prostitutes, etc.

Sexual Sobriety Doesn’t Necessarily Create Safety

The problem is this person could have had years and years of hiding this, deception, and gaslighting and lying and manipulating and none of this is being clearly diagnosed. So it’s not clearly treated with a real methodology. So we often have many patients who are sexually sober or are working on stopping the sexual behavior. But they continue to have an integrity problem. They continue to be deceitful, to lie, to gaslight. And no one is mentioning or bringing this to treatment. It’s not just using appropriate terms but to use them with appropriate treatment.

Without terms, there is often no treatment and you end up having an abuse problem that it is going untreated. The second part why this is so problematic is if no one is treating the abuse, then you are really ignoring the victims and so no one is recognizing the victims or the abuse. It ends up being a very serious omission.

Correctly Labeling Cheating as Abuse Helps Victims Live in Reality

Anne: An expert told me that the women she sees are not identifying as abuse victims. So when they come in they don’t describe themselves as abuse victims. I mentioned to her that I didn’t see it either for seven years. I was attempting to see what was going on in my life, head on, not really understanding what was happening to me. So I would not have described it that way at that time. What would you say to experts or therapists who say that women that don’t see the abuse? For example, she says he is a good guy. He just needs help getting his porn problem under control.

Dr. Minwalla: First of all, I would say that in my experience, the minute I use ‘abuse’ and explain it as emotional and psychological and explain exactly what I mean by that, I have never had a partner or spouse refute it or push that away. I actually have the opposite. They usually become emotional and break down. They start crying. And they feel extremely validated, they resonate with that term. When I do bring up the term or language, it is extremely resonating with victims and partners and spouses.

Cheating is Societally Accepted – That Doesn’t Negate the Fact That’s It’s Abuse

The other thing I will say about that is infidelity, cheating. We as a society do not recognize it immediately as domestic abuse. Society has trained and even indoctrinated us into normalizing this type of abuse. It is still very difficult for people to immediately think ‘domestic abuse’ when we are talking about cheating or infidelity or patterns of sexual acting out. That’s also a big explanation of why victims themselves are not used to seeing these types of behaviors or dynamics as domestic abuse. Because society has indoctrinated us into a perception of normalization.

“This Behavior Is Actually Domestic Abuse”

Part of this normalization is that when there is cheating or domestic abuse, people often either blame the partner or the relationship. I have had many clinicians and professionals I respect immediately go into “it takes two to tangle” model. And that somehow if there is cheating or infidelity or acting out then it must be there is a sign that something is going on in the relationship. And blaming the relationship which also means blaming the intimate partner’s spouse. So there is a lot of biases.

“There is a lot of normalization for this type of abuse.”

Dr. Omar Minwalla

There is a lot of normalization for this type of abuse and it’s hard for everyone–professionals, victims, and perpetrators–to really get their head around the idea that this type of behavior is actually a form of domestic abuse.

Anne: I think it’s so dangerous to avoid the word ‘abuse’. Because if women are educated about what abuse is and that it is happening to them, it can help get them to safety. For an abuse victim whose husband is gaslighting her and keeping her confused, to keep her in this confusion and self-blaming and not being able to assess the truth of the situation…part of the model you are developing incorporates gender pathology. I would like you to describe and explain this to our listeners.

Unhealthy Societal Scripts That Fuel Abuse

Dr. Minwalla: The word ‘pathology’ means disease or disorder, something that deviates from a healthy or normal efficient condition. Gender Pathology simply means there is some kind of disorder disease in how someone is manifesting their gender identity or sense of themselves in terms of gender. Like attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors that are related to being masculine or male or feminine or female.

It really relates to my model and the idea of Compulsive Abusive Sexual Relational Disorder because in my work with many, many men, there are many unhealthy societal scripts that boys and men are taught around how to view women, marriage, and sexual entitlement where they are entitled to get their needs met at the expense of human rights.

Why Do Men Cheat? Understanding the Underlying Beliefs

All of these ideas are indoctrinated into concepts of masculinity that all men and boys are subjected to and take in in varying degrees. Even men who don’t see themselves as misogynists have often taken in a lot of these ideas passively, just by being in society. It really relates to sexual acting out.

What I have found is that many men and boys are taught that one way to increase their gender esteem or their sense of masculinity is to conquer, objectify, and gain attention of women or girls. We are all familiar with notches on the bedpost. The more notches you have, the more masculine you are. You are gaining masculine self-esteem.

“Sexualize and conquer and gain the attention of women.”

When we look at men who are acting out, often times part of what might be going on is that it’s a way for them to temporarily increase their gender esteem or their masculine sense of self-worth. Not in a healthy way. But this is one of the drives for acting out as often. A lot of men have gender wounds. A sense of inadequacy or impotence. They don’t feel like they have a lot of self-worth in terms of masculinity.

One way of coping or temporarily gaining gender esteem in an unhealthy way in terms of what they have been taught is to sexualize and conquer and gain the attention of women. This is very related to the sexual acting out part. The concept of gender and gender pathology.

A “Deceptive Compartmentalized Sexual Life”

The other part of the disorder which is the abusive part. Specifically having a deceptive compartmentalized sexual life is very much a male tradition and a norm. This type of sexual entitlement to have a sexual life on the side is very much encouraged in traditional masculinity and gender pathology. A lot of men encourage each other. Give each other props. Very few boys are taught that having a secret sexual life is a form of abuse.

There is just not a lot of immediate knowledge around cheating as being a form of domestic violence. Like we were just talking about, we have all been brought up to not consider that cheating and infidelity is a form of domestic abuse. Society has normalized it. Part of the way this happens is in how we define masculinity. How society brings boys and men up to absorb a certain amount of sexual entitlement and encourages them to have compartmentalized sexuality.

Cheating Involves Extreme Amounts Of Justification And Minimization

Anne: Abuse experts say that the abuse has a control and entitlement element. For example, they aren’t abusive because they are angry. They are angry because they are abusive. They aren’t losing control. But when they become abusive they are actually trying to take control. The impetus behind it is that they have lost control. So they are trying to take control through lying or rage or some other control mechanism.

I think this is really interesting–the dichotomy between the two things. Between an abusive episode from a man wanting to take control of a situation and then he has lost control of his sexual behaviors. Can you speak to the issue of entitlement and control in this scenario.

Cheating is “A Covert Form of Dominance and Control”

Dr. Minwalla: What I will start with is having a secret sexual world or life while in a partnership or in a family is immediately a form of dominance or control. It’s a covert form of dominance and control because the abuser actually has information he is intentionally withholding that they know if their partner or family member knew about, they would take certain actions to protect themselves and would respond in a way that advocates for their safety and well-being.

So intentionally withholding that type of information from someone is already a form of dominance and control and can give the abuser a sense of control and power just by having a secret sexual life that the family or wife or partner does not know about.

“A Secret Sexual World”

Sometimes, whether it’s conscious or unconscious, just having that secret sexual life does play a role in providing for the abuser a sense of control and power and dominance. That might be part of the motivation in maintaining, for many years even, a secret sexual world. Sometimes it can be very explicit during times of anger or feeling powerless or feeling dominated in the relationship.

I have had men tell me that the fact that they had a secret sexual life or had the ability to then go and act out actually gave them a sense of retribution or power or balancing what they were struggling with in terms of power or control.

Anne: I think this is important to bring up. To understand the dynamics of abuse and power and control in this scenario. How do you see the treatment field evolving and do you have any concerns?

Pushback & Politics in Adopting the Trauma Model for Partners

Dr. Minwalla: One positive development is that I started recognizing and researching trauma symptoms in terms of the partner/spouse of sex addicts in 2005 and for many years it felt like I was really pushing uphill an idea that others weren’t receiving well. There was a lot of pushback and politics. Around 2011, I started to see a shift where more and more people were recognizing that partners do indeed experience trauma and PTSD and complex PTSD. Now I do see a positive trend towards challenging the codependency models and to move away from those models and replace those models with a trauma approach in dealing with the spouse of the sex addict. This is actually positive.

“A lack of rigorous understanding”

One concern I have is that among professionals, there still seems to be a lack of rigorous understanding of what was actually so damaging about the co-sex addiction model and why the co-sex addiction and co-dependency models used alone are actually a form of victim blaming. In many ways, it parallels what abusers often do in a defensive way.

One common scenario for abusers is they quickly want to say they have learned that what they have done is wrong and let’s move on and put it behind us. Let’s not talk about it or reconcile ourselves with what happened. Let’s bury it and move on.

Challenging The Co-Dependency & Co-Sex Addiction Models

I feel like some professionals, because there is a movement and a growing number of professionals who have challenged codependency and co-sex addiction and are moving towards a trauma model, are very quick to just move onto this trend and change words on their website and say they use a trauma model when they really haven’t done the hard work of reconciling the approach they used in the past [by discovering] why it was harmful, looking at themselves about what it was about them that contributed to their use of the damaging model and the harm they may have caused patients. There is a lack of depth and rigor I think in this transition for many professionals.

This concerns me primarily because there are a lot of partners who are going for help and they are actually being hurt by elements of the co-sex addiction or co-dependency models. They are still having experiences clinically that feel like victim blaming or insensitivity. I think it’s because prematurely professionals say they use a trauma model without fully understanding what that means. Because of that they end up still perpetrating a lot of clinical mistakes and the old model still comes through. A lot of partners still feel this.

Spouses Experience Trauma When Their Partner Cheats

Anne: I have this same concern. One professional recently wrote about me and this podcast and what I say. He said that I’m spreading a very dangerous philosophy around that the women are merely victims. He says he uses the trauma model. I was thinking we are ‘merely’ victims in this scenario. It’s not that we are perfect. Unless you view someone who is a victim of abuse and a victim, then you are not able to get to the root of the trauma.

Dr. Minwalla: I have one more concern which is that even among the trend to recognize that partners experience trauma and to treat them as trauma victims and survivors, there is still among the trauma professionals a hesitation and misunderstanding on how to clearly name the abuse. Which takes us back to our original topic about how important it is to name, for the addict, that he is an abuser and to use these words when it is appropriate.

I find that there are a lot of professionals who are treating trauma who are squeamish and unclear about how to appropriately use the word ‘abuse’ to describe the perpetration and treatment and their clinical understanding of the sex addict.

“Where Is The Trauma Coming From?”

I think over time this will change because they logically have to go hand in hand. If you are looking at the trauma and really understanding it, the next question is where is the trauma coming from and what is causing it. The minute you ask that question, you have to realize there are patterns of abuse that are causing the trauma. It’s not just discovery of the secret sexual world that causes trauma, but the patterns of abuse such as gaslighting and victim blaming or years of lying and deception are often causing a lot of trauma.

I think that over time people will be forced to recognize the idea that if we are recognizing trauma, then we have to recognize the abuse. They go hand-in-hand. At this time I still see a lot of well-intentioned trauma therapists who are trying to treat partners and still are refusing or are timid to use the word ‘abuse.’

Understanding the Me Too Movement in Relation to Dr. Minwalla’s Research

Anne: I started this podcast about the same time the Me Too movement started and began to get traction. Do you have any thoughts about the Me Too movement? How it intersects with what we are talking about today?

Dr. Minwalla: The Me-Too movement is helping society and our culture recognize and take more seriously violence towards women in general, particularly sexual violence and behavior towards women that is abusive. I think it has also raised awareness of how men abuse power. It allows us to see more clearly the pervasiveness of sexual entitlement which goes right into my model in terms of gender pathology and how certain ideas around masculinity. How society indoctrinates men and boys into their way of thinking about women and sexuality and sexual entitlement and how it can lead to abuse.

What About the Partners & Families of the Workplace Me Too Offenders?

One important comment I will make about the Me Too movement is that there are often many victims in the discussion who go unnamed and unrecognized and are often living with their trauma and pain in silence. What I mean by that is that when we look at these high profile cases of high profile men men who people have held accountable for harassment or other forms of inappropriate sexual behavior in the work place, most of these men also have wives or partners or have children or families.

This means that while these men are engaging in all of these inappropriate and offending behaviors in the work place, they are also engaged in the deceptive and compartmentalized sexual world that their primary partners in relationships don’t know about or that their families and children don’t know about. This, according to my model, is again having a deceptive compartmentalized sexual life is in and of itself a form of abuse. Not only are they abusing women in the work place, they are also domestic abusers in terms of having a secret sexual life. They are abusing their intimate partner and family.

“When we expose these [Me Too] men, I wish we would also consider the partner at home, and the children and families.”

Dr. Omar Minwalla

What we tend to focus on are the victims in the work place which is absolutely essential and legitimate. This is actually a great awakening for all of us to have. At the same time, when these we expose these men or we are talking about these work place violations, I wish we would also consider the intimate partner at home and the children and families and recognize they are potentially victims of abuse and are probably hemorrhaging behind the scenes. A lot of the spotlight often does not go to them.

I think they legitimately should be named more. I think over time as these cases come out in the news or we see a headline that we more readily think about the partner and the spouse and the family and the children as well, that they can also legitimately claim #metoo.

“When there is a violation or abuse, there is victimization.”

Anne: We are kindred spirits! As you are saying these things, I am so grateful. These same issues have been in my thoughts and on my mind; I’ve talked about them sometimes on this podcast. I am so grateful for you and your work and for advocating for victims of abuse in these situations. I am grateful to have your voice!

Dr. Minwalla: Yes. I think we are kindred spirits! The agenda to get these ideas out to help victims and perpetrators and relationships and society is important. I’m on board with this agenda for sure.

I want to respond to the feedback you got around the word ‘victim.’ I think that people for many reasons take a negative stance around that word. I think it is so important clinically to be clear with our language. There are many times when it is important to properly use the word ‘abuse.’ It’s just as important to understand the word ‘victim.’ When there is a violation or abuse, there is victimization. I think at the beginning of any healing journey is to name it clearly and that it is really important for victims to have that named and for them to understand it.

Calling Abuse, Abuse

This is different that somehow an agenda of keeping someone in a victimized state or somehow wanting them to own a label that is stigmatizing that they should feel burdened by for the rest of their life and prevent healing from happening. This is not at all what the word ‘victim’ should mean. I feel like a lot of professionals immediately become suspicious or nervous to use the word ‘victim’ appropriately. I think this is just as important as using the word ‘abuse.’ People have accused me, also, of perpetually keeping partners in a ‘victimized’ state which is absolutely not the case.

Anne: I had someone at a conference come up to me. She said, “Your podcast was the first time I actually felt safe enough to define myself as a victim. Until I could do that, I didn’t know what to do to get better.”

Can You Use the Word “Victim” to Help Yourself Establish Emotional Safety?

That feeling of defining the situation for what it is in order to make progress is so important in order to facilitate healing. Because if you think you are part of the problem and so you try to be more loving and more forgiving or dress more sexy…but this isn’t really the situation, then you’re going about your healing process the wrong way and it won’t take you to healing. Your abuser will keep abusing you. You will continue to experience trauma. You can’t move out of victim mode without recognizing that you are a victim.

This is my feeling about it. I never want women to say, “I’m a victim and so therefore I’m doomed. Now I can’t get to safety. I can’t do anything about my situation.” I want them to use this understanding to get themselves to safety.

Dr. Minwalla: I absolutely agree. A lot of my model advocates that healing comes from metabolizing reality. The reality in these cases is that there has usually been significant victimization and abuse. Part of the healing has to be reconciling and metabolizing that piece of reality. If that people are ignoring that peace of reality, it will be very hard to heal.

Finding Hope in Dr. Minwalla’s MOdel

Anne: As an abuse victim, it is difficult to metabolize that! I never perceived myself as a victim. I’m a strong, capable, smart woman! This is how I perceived myself and so realizing what had happened to me was devastating to me. I also felt so stupid because I didn’t think I was this type of a person. It also enabled me to set the boundaries I needed to set, to get to safety. The boundaries I still maintain because my ex is still choosing to continue to be abusive.

But now I can feel the result of this in terms of the peacefulness I feel in my home and my ability to heal now because I’m not letting my ex abuse me anymore. It is amazing! I’m enabled to get the space I needed to heal and move forward. I have actually not had a professional describe it the way I have genuinely felt about it the way that you have today. It gives me hope for professionals everywhere that they will be able to see things from this point of view and protect victims.


  1. Jeanne

    Thank you so much for this incredibly validating podcast. I have been (and remain) in a 36 year marriage with the man I love who is an intimacy anorexic. He has denied me intimacy since our second week of marriage… perhaps we never had true intimacy, but I was 20, vulnerable and obviously ignorant of what it meant to marry a 29 year old after a short romance. I have struggled so much with severe depression, trying to hold it all together, trying harder and harder to do more, be more, love more, serve more, waiting on God, praying and fasting. So many of us, (I dare say the majority), have been failed by the church and have been left feeling unseen, unloved, and uncared for by even God. I am so grateful for you both, BTR, Leslie Vernick, Patrick Doyle, Dr. Sheri Keffer and Dr. Douglas Weiss. Finally, after 36 years, there is a beacon of light shining in the darkness. Because of each of you and your part in bringing God’s love, support and encouragement to spouses and significant others like me, I am feeling real hope that I can continue on my healing journey. Thank you beyond words! ❤️??

    • Anne Blythe

      I’m so glad you found us! Hugs!

    • Laura Calenberg

      Have you looked in to Aspergers? My husband has just been diagnosed at 64! Couldn’t look in my eyes and had no affection or empathy. Read up on it. You may be in the same boat.

      • Anna Mos

        Bingo! Mine was 64!

      • Jaime

        My husband has Asperger’s too. We’ve known for 20 years. I’m in a support group for that as well as wives of porn addicts and as I see them in my feed I can’t tell the difference in how the men’s behavior is described. Completely Changed shortly after the wedding and we’d been together several years before getting married. He saw nothing wrong with having a secret sex life outside the marriage. I don’t look like those women so he lost interest early on and just pretended he had ED until I found out when he started working from home a couple years ago. So 15-20 years.

  2. Laurie

    This podcast so perfectly puts into words what I’ve been trying to express to counselors, pastors, well-meaning friends and family for about 14 years. Simply controlling the behavior is only one half of the issue, especially when the acting out has been habitual and continues for long periods of time. I went through years of being accused of not truly forgiving, being vindictive, and even labeled as having a superiority complex, all because I couldn’t just “leave it in the past”. I have never wanted revenge on my partner, but have felt excruciatingly invalidated by every person we went to for help, making true reconciliation and re-building that much more difficult. Thank you so much for putting into words what I have been agonizingly trying to express…perhaps this podcast will be the next step toward true understanding and healing.

    • Anne Blythe

      I’m so grateful that you found it helpful!

    • Monica

      This is so true i love the words you used here…
      “felt excruciatingly invalidated by every person we went to for help, making true reconciliation and re-building that much more difficult.”
      I can’t even begin to describe the damage done by all the venues of support and help i have tried to talk to and work through from counselors, 12 step programs, the Christian church, and tons of ministries in this field and so many others about the abusive relationship i have had with my husband for 23yrs. He was a sex addict before i met him and was able hide his addiction for 17yrs. Everyone i know thinks im crazy and controlling, even manipulative some think im possessed with the spirit of Jezebel lol…even though its really the other way around. ive lost all my friends and relatives bc of his covert abuse and even though i am no longer willing to be a victim and have removed myself and my 4 children from the relationship it is so difficult to find the help i need to heal for me and my kids.
      All the programs out there fall into one or more categories…either they want to charge 6k+ to get the coaching/therapy you need to heal or they are free but treat you as if you had some responsibility to the breakdown of the marriage. Many of these venues mean well but are still stuck in a Co-addict or Co-dependent model, even when they say they are using a trauma model.

      where can i go to find the support and help i need for me and my family without it costing my my left kidney to do so. One day when i am healthy i am so going to start a ministry to women and children that is free or cost effective for those who’s lives have been destroyed by sexual addiction, lack of support and misplaced responsibility. This lifestyle breeds poverty and the only ones who can afford to get free are the ones who have access to the finances and means to do so. This is an epidemic in our world and just raising awareness without an affordable solution will not be nearly enough. If there are resources out that i havent found yet please let me know bc i have called and asked so many of them already and in 6yrs have not found one that is affordable. i understand it takes a lot of financial resources but there has to be another way. I am tenacious enough that i will do whatever i have to heal but not at the cost of my kids or selling myself to work as a single mom 60+ hrs to afford it. 12 step programs were started out of this need but they are still using the co-addict/co-dependent model even in programs like SA-ANON( Sexaholics Anonymous)
      I am new to this sight so i know there may be resources here i have not discovered yet but if there is could you please post the links here so i can look into them. I really need resources for my kids too as the effect of their fathers addiction has spilled over to them as well and 3/4 of my kids have accessed porn as a result as well and bc my husbands venue of choice we are not safe to be in relationship to him in any form so i honestly need legal resources as well.

      thanks so very much for your bravery and boldness in sharing this information. it will forever be a huge part of my recovery journey.

  3. Michelle

    Thank you for this. The sad thing is some people cannot afford the help they need. I’m in this situation myself. Also, in some areas (like the one I live in) don’t have anyone trained for betrayal trauma and ptsd. My husband keeps saying “This is not getting any better.” It’s been 16 months since discovery for us. I told him “No, it’s not getting any better because I’m not getting the professional help I need.” He thinks that comforting me and telling me he’s sorry is going to make this all go away. I don’t understand him. He’s read many books on sexual betrayal trauma and says he understands what I’m going through but then makes comments like the one above. I’m not sure what to do. I’m in desperate need of help but can’t afford it, plus there’s no one in my area. Any advice or suggestions please?
    Thank you!

  4. SueAnn Phillips

    This is the first time I have felt completely validated and like you got it – all the pain, struggle and abuse from not only my ex husband and what he put me through for 17 years, but what his family continues to do because they cannot accept the reality of the situation. I believe those who cannot accept this as true and valid have never experienced it. Access to pornopraphy continues to grow and I believe that I am a part of the first wave of victims being revealed. The waves behind me will be even greater. I’m so grateful to your work and the peace and comfort it has given me.

    • Anne Blythe

      I’m so glad it’s helpful! It’s so hard when people don’t see it for what it is . . . You’re beautiful and this is your home:).

  5. Chandi

    Very validating thank you, thank you, thank you.

    • Anne Blythe

      I’m so glad it’s helpful!

  6. Chandi

    This was very validating. Thank you

  7. Adree

    Thank you for this. I have been going through the slow process of discovery of my soon-to-be-ex husband’s porn addiction and extra-marital affair and have been dealing with the fallout of betrayal trauma for almost a year now. I can relate to everything said in this Podcast, and have been waiting for a professional in the field to adequately give a name to the experiences I’ve undergone. I keep saying to myself that I feel like I’ve been in an abusive marriage, and you just clarified, that, yes, I have. I really hope this label sticks in the profession, because it’s so accurate of a description (from a victim’s perspective). I also hope that legislation, law enforcement, etc. soon adopts this form of domestic abuse as something victim’s can seek legal help for.

    • Anne Blythe

      Thank you! I’m so glad you find it helpful.

  8. Diane

    Wow! I was gaslit for 27 years. Finally I kicked out my husband and I didn’t know why. Slowly the truth came out. It was painful but validating to know I wasn’t crazy all those years. Finally I divorced him and now I am married to a normal guy. I would encourage everybody to muster up the strength to leave. The problem won’t go away.

    • Anne Blythe

      Thanks so much for sharing!

    • Pookie Miller

      I agree—the problem (the abuser) will not go away. An excellent book is LEAVE A CHEATER GAIN A LIFE by Tracy Schorn

      • Anne Blythe

        Thanks for the heads up on these resources for women in abusive relationships!

  9. Deborah West

    You’ve described my husband perfectly. But don’t forget the flat out lying. He’d lie to cover up. He’d lie and blame shift onto me. He’d lie and make excuses to try and justify his behavior. He even lied to his therapist. These men surely do express a form of sociopathy. Only when ‘the victim’ realizes that it’s not her, it was never her, and it never will be her problem, will she heal.

    • Anne Blythe

      Thank you so much for sharing.

  10. Jane

    Dear Anne, Dr Minwalla and the BTR team,

    Thank you for this absolutely fantastic podcast. It is the most validating and helpful interview I have ever heard in this subject. I replay it often whenever I get caught in the repetitive loops of self blame and doubt.

    My story, like so many others, is one of a long term relationship (17 years) most of which I was unaware of his secret sexual life. I only became aware in the last 5 years and went through a living hell trying to understand what was happening; if I was safe and/or if I was to blame (as he told me I was), for both his acting out behaviours as well as his daily dishonesty.

    He once told me that I was easier to control when I was “unwell” and also that him knowing I didn’t want him to do “it” , made him want to do it more. This fits so much with the abusive and integrity components spoken of in this podcast.

    20 months ago he actually ended our relationship right out of the blue in the midst of a luxury exotic holiday. He is now with a Thai woman he met at one of the local Thai massage parlors he frequented. She barely speaks English. He posts photos on Facebook with her on their exotic holidays and looks to be so happy. I have literally been replaced, traded in like an old car that can’t be repaired as I was told. It is beyond horrific and I have been so traumatized by it all.

    All our professional colleagues see him as an immaculately behaved, highly educated,articulate, intelligent professional at the top of our field worldwide (which he is) and would never believe what he is capable of or how he has treated me.

    Only our sex addiction therapists would be able to validate some of this because of what they witnessed first hand. Part of the problem is that he never agreed with the diagnosis of sex/porn addiction and wouldn’t enter treatment or use porn blocks or work a program.

    I tried far too hard, for far too long, turning myself inside out, compromising my own values , believing our relationship could be saved and putting up with appalling treatment that has almost cost me my life.

    I fell for all the sweet talk, love notes, dishonest promises, gifts, flowers, luxury holidays and meals over and over. But it was all just very sophisticated grooming. I should have walked away and saved myself much earlier.

    Anyway, now I am set free from it all by his decision and am working to rebuild my shattered self and life. He hasn’t even said sorry for it all or shown genuine remorse. Only justifications and rationalisations mostly to do with my “over reactions, unhappiness and neediness”.

    Thank you again so very much for this excellent interview and for all the wonderful work you do to help betrayed partners. I am truly grateful.

    • Anne Blythe

      Jane, I’m so glad you found it helpful. I’m so sorry for all that you’re going through! We’re here for you:).

  11. Jennifer Yule

    O>my gosh! You just nailed it! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! I’m so thankful for people who are willing to call it what it is!!!!!!!! So much damage is done to the innocent party! And shame, shame on those who try to minimalize it!!!!! I don’t care who says “Well, I don’t agree with you that it’s abuse…you are supposed to walk in forgive ess, blah, blah, blah! Such ignorance in the church! Porn users have forced a broken marriage covenant upon the innocent one!!!

  12. shari prouhet

    It’s amazing I found this today. I can’t begin to verbalize my horror story right now, but validation came through this find. Thank you!!

    • Anne Blythe

      I’m so glad you found us! Being married to an abusive man who uses pornography is horrific. Hugs!

  13. Liz moore

    Thank you ! This podcast validated my story. Yes my husband was deeply embedded into porn, as a result I was abused and victimized
    These were words I need to hear
    I finally separated and divorced after 29 agonizing years of wondering what was wrong with me AND being questioned by therapists as to what role I played in the demise of the marriage
    HUH !?

    • Anne Blythe

      I’m so glad you found us! I’m proud of you set boundaries.

  14. paulette siegel

    thank u so much..

    • Anne Blythe

      You’re welcome! So many people don’t know that pornography use is an abuse issue. That it’s emotionally abusive and psychologically abusive, and that when a man doesn’t tell his wife about his porn use it constitutes sexual coercion. I’m so glad you found this to be helpful.

  15. Ali G.

    Thank you a million times for this. I felt for several years that something was wrong. Finally I left with my children, after almost 27 years of marriage. He never admitted to infidelity, but wouldn’t even sleep in the same room with me for about 5 years. I had a chance to move back near my parents and took it. 6 month later I learned that his girlfriend of several years had moved in with him. I asked why he wouldn’t just ask for a divorce. He wouldn’t give a reason, but I’ve realized that it was because in me he had a cook, housekeeper, and babysitter (including for our disabled son). He got to spend weekends with his mistress while I kept things running. It’s been 3 months since D-day, I’ve filed for divorce, and I am slowly processing the terrible trauma. The years of gaslighting, lying, and rejection really took their toll, but I’m learning to stand on my own and to realize this was his problem, not mine. He shows no remorse, and because our youngest is only 10 and we share custody I still have to have contact with him. That makes the recovery far more difficult. But I am beyond grateful for resources like this–for women who understand the complete devastation that infidelity and lies causes.

    • Anne Blythe

      I’m so sorry for everything you’ve been through, but grateful you found us! Welcome!

  16. janet

    I feel so validated by this podcast. I am a victim of emotional abuse. The addiction is drugs. It doesn’t matter what is used, porn, drugs, physical violence, food, anything can be used for addiction to apply what is spoken of in this podcast. i just can’t believe it.

    I have spent the last 15 years trying to figure it all out. He has been addicted to drugs the entire time, so he is a functional drug addict. Since there is no “major” issue, why is there a problem? Right? Well, it’s the same stuff just a different vice. I have to be controlled. The gaslighting has about killed me to the point of insanity. No matter where i turned, 12 step, counseling, faith, it was the same thing: you have a choice. Well what choice do i have if i don’t even know what is going on??

    I was in a fog of cognitive dissonance which was overwhelmingly unsettling, painful and the ultimate crazy making. From church books on loving him out of abuse, to being beneath a man, to you can’t divorce, it’s a sin…to counseling… it’s your fault you are enabling… to a 12 step for codependence where I had to admit it was my issue for wanting to fix a problem…just saying this is traumatizing. No one ever said I was a victim. In fact, it was my choices which caused it, apparently. No matter what I protested I was told it was my issue and my choice. How could I grow if I didn’t even know what my issue was or couldn’t see it … I couldn’t’ see it because I wasn’t doing it.

    What ended up happening is i played right into the hands of the abuse setting the situation even stronger for gaslighting. I had to completely abandon myself. It reached the point where there was no hope… no outcome would end well based on any of these models. I spent hours of time and shame and guilt and money on blaming myself for someone’s behavior. I even asked if I had gotten a black eye would it be abuse and I am a victim? or would it be my choice and fault because I chose to be there? No one likes this question. The cognitive dissonance created from the erroneous models were actually more devastating to me because it kept me a loop of not being able to decide because I never knew what was wrong. I literally felt my mind was exploding. No matter how hard I worked and tried. This podcast explains this point… which is a summary of my experience. I can’t heal what I don’t know. Healing comes from metabolizing reality. The reality in these cases is that there has usually been significant victimization and abuse. Part of the healing has to be reconciling and metabolizing reality. If that piece of reality is being ignored, it will be very hard to heal. Thank you for this podcast. I made a donation as a sign of my gratitude. You have no idea. Thank you.

    • Anne Blythe

      You’re welcome! I’m so glad we’ve been helpful to you!

  17. J

    Wow. Finding these podcasts and Dr. Minwalla – this is the deepest most thorough recognition I have felt since discovery. Thank you so much.



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  2. When Your Husband Is Unfaithful | Betrayal Trauma Recovery - […] Yes, infidelity is abuse. At BTR, we consider any extra-marital, secret sexually perverse behaviors, including pornography use, to be…
  3. The Codependency Model Exposed | Betrayal Trauma Recovery - Infidelity, pornography use, and other sexual acting-out behavior are abusive. It is important to label victims as victims, or abusers…
  4. Anonymous - Men who choose to engage in problematic sexual behaviors have been treated as "sex addicts" according to the traditional Sexual…

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