facebook-pixel Making the Decision to Divorce: Everything You Need to Know
Making The Decision To Divorce: Everything You Need to Know

Caroline's story highlights the transformative power of education, self-care, and external support in navigating the challenging decision to divorce.

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Making the decision to divorce is a challenging and painful space that women may come to in the wake of uncertainty and fear. Anne and Caroline delve into the complexities surrounding divorce, shedding light on the profound impact of abusive behaviors, specifically rooted in pornography addiction. Listen to this episode and read the full transcript below for more.

Pornography Addiction/Secret Pornography Use in Marriage

Caroline’s journey began with an awareness of her husband’s secret pornography use, a revelation that unfolded over the course of their relationship. Initially, she grappled with the difficulty of articulating the reasons behind her divorce, as societal attitudes and varying levels of awareness about pornography use contributed to a spectrum of reactions. One critical element in Caroline’s journey is the revelation that pornography addiction is not isolated; it often coexists and/or fuels other destructive and abusive behaviors.

Seeing Red Flags “Too Late”

Many victims of betrayal and abuse are able to identify red flags after they’re already married or pursuing separation or divorce. Often, those who don’t understand abuse will covertly blame victims for identifying red flags “too late” or choosing to “ignore” red flags.

It’s important to understand that most abusers are master-manipulators and mimic healthy behaviors to lure victims in. If you are now identifying red flags, please understand that it isn’t your fault for “not seeing them sooner.”

Making the Decision to Divorce

If you find yourself at painful and confusing crossroads where you have to choose whether or not to pursue separation or divorce, please know that BTR.ORG is here for you. Consider attending a BTR.ORG Group Session today.

Full Transcript:

Anne (00:00):
Caroline is on the podcast today. She is a BTR client who recently got divorced, and so we’re going to talk to her about her experience and what she went through and how she’s feeling now. So welcome, Caroline. You’re in this post divorce situation. When people ask you why you divorced, what is your response?

Caroline (00:22):
Although I knew about my husband’s pornography addiction from the beginning, I didn’t know what that entailed. In the end, he refused help, refused treatment. It wasn’t because he had a pornography addiction, but it was because he did not want to get help, even refused to believe that he had an addiction to begin with.

Anne (00:45):
When you say that to people, do you think they respond well or is it kind of a triggery experience to have to talk about it with people who are wondering why you’re divorced?

Caroline (00:55):
It’s definitely like a panic zone because you don’t know how people react. Some people are very educated on pornography addiction and others aren’t. They believe that it’s normal, so the reactions vary. It’s only been in the past few months that I’ve felt like I can actually say the word pornography when I’m talking about my divorce.

Anne (01:16):
So you mentioned that you knew about his pornography use while dating and before marriage. Did you see any other red flags?

Red Flags

Caroline (01:25):
As I was thinking about it, I was incredibly surprised at how many red flags there actually were. I think I just refused to see them. Some of those narcissistic traits were that our dates were always extremely lavish and expensive, and it seemed that he just had untapped funds from the get-go date. One, he wouldn’t give me hardly any time alone, always had to be around me knowing what I was up to. Surprise visits, he would fake sick at work just to come see me. It kind of felt like he almost forced himself into my life, and I was flattered at the time thinking, wow, this guy really likes me. He’s so cute, he’s got all this money. He’s got a good job, but now I see it as him being controlling and insecure and practicing those narcissistic traits. He was a strong member of his church up until a few months before we met, and he had a lot to say about his inactivity in the church, a lot of excuses how he was being treated unfairly.  And he undermined his parents while still having them in the palm of his hand. He constantly sought praise and validation down to the littlest things. If he wiped off the counter, he would say, Hey, look what I did. I wiped off the counter, just fed off of what other people thought of him constantly.

Red Flag: Needing praise for… doing taxes?

Anne (02:50):
I was just thinking about my ex. He contacted some people in my life because he was trying to get about filing taxes before we were divorced, but while we were separated and he said things like, I love Anne so much, I need to make sure that I do this for her, and just went over and above how amazing he was for filing the taxes. He really felt like he needed tons of praise for just everyday normal things that literally he had to do. If he wouldn’t have done it, he would’ve been breaking the law.

“I don’t know why you’re the hero for filing taxes.”

And it’s like, you’re not going to get a ton of praise for filing your taxes. Every single person has to do that. I don’t know why you’re the hero for filing taxes. Being educated about what narcissistic behaviors are super important for women so that they can know, oh, that was not a man being completely and totally in love with me. That is love bombing. That’s about them, not about me. This is an unsafe situation. I need to take a step back, which what woman wouldn’t want to be love bombed? That’s what we see in romantic comedies. Our culture tells us, when you meet the right person, these amazing things will happen, and that amazing situation that is meant for a romantic comedy is very similar to a narcissist love bombing.

Caroline (04:15):
Yeah, exactly.

Anne (04:16):
That’s what you experienced there. Yeah. Now when you look back, do you realize, wow, here is a very sick person. I didn’t realize how sick he was. I kind of got manipulated and pulled into that alternate reality that he lived in. Or do you see someone who you thought had the potential to be an amazing person and chose not to?

Grieving the hope of a long-term relationshipmor

Caroline (04:38):
I really saw him and I creating a family and becoming a mother and him becoming a father, and he talked about all sorts of different things when it came to the family and being a major influence and support to his own mom who was a widow. I think he had many opportunities to face his addiction, many opportunities to get help. Many times where I saw authentic reaction to what he was doing, sadness for what he had done, and then the next day it would be like that realization never happened, so I definitely believe that he knew to a degree what was happening and what was going on. In the end, I feel like he almost hated himself, and then that was where a lot of the praise and the validation had to come through to make up for that. A lot of the mourning is because you do see their potential.

Relief & Mourning

Somebody told me while going through my divorce as I was having a lot of confusing and conflicting thoughts about my decision because you feel like such a relief, but then at the same time, you really miss them and you are mourning the loss of that potential in that person. You can see it so clearly after spending time with that person, and it’s so hard because you want to take ’em by the shoulders and shake them and tell them, Hey, I believe in you. I see you, Ihear you. I love you. You’ve got all this untapped potential right there. If you would just take it, it’s right there. You can’t make anybody do anything. They have to be the ones to decide and actually admit and then take the steps that are needed to recover and go into healing.

Understanding Boundaries

Anne (06:26):
In the meantime, our job is to keep ourselves safe so that if and when the person does decide to change, we have not been continually harmed through their either non-changing or their process of change.

Caroline (06:42):
One thing that helped incredibly with was that boundaries should be set in those instances where before, I just thought marriage was as free for all when it comes to each other’s feelings because well, you’re married, but boundaries are good and that they need to be set even inside a marriage in order to keep yourself safe,

Anne (07:06):
Especially when you’re married to someone who’s making very sad choices.

Caroline (07:09):

What Caroline Wishes She’d Known Sooner

Anne (07:10):
What do you wish you would’ve known earlier in your marriage?

Caroline (07:14):
I wish I would’ve known that pornography addiction fuels other addictions and behaviors, that it’s never just, oh, I look at porn and then my day goes on and my life goes on. I wish I would’ve known more the emotional and physical consequences of that addiction. And I wish I would’ve known to ask more questions through our dating life and be very specific and unafraid of the answers. I wish I would’ve known to put my needs and desires as a priority and to have this lesser sense of urgency when it comes to getting married, but that it would be okay to just take our time. I think another big thing for me was that I didn’t need to settle just because he was showing interest in me. Instead, I wish that I would’ve realized that I can have everything that I want in a man and that I deserve the full package.

“I want a lot out of my life”

Anne (08:10):
At BTR. When we say the full package, what we mean is someone who is not abusive.

Caroline (08:16):
Yeah. Isn’t that ironic?

Anne (08:18):
We’re not looking for this like, oh, he is a professional soccer player and an ex Navy seal and he has a million dollar business. No, no, no, no. That’s not what we’re talking about. We are talking about a man that we can partner with who is not abusive.

Caroline (08:35):
For sure. Just somebody that’s on the same track that I am. I want a lot out of my life,

Anne (08:42):
So let’s talk about your age for a minute. We’ve had women on the podcast and BTR clients who range from all different ages in all situations. Caroline, how old are you?

Caroline (08:52):
I just turned 22

Anne (08:54):
And how long were you married?

Caroline (08:56):
Three years almost to the day I was 18 when I got married

Anne (09:00):
And no children now.

Caroline (09:01):
No kids, right? Nope.

Healing from trauma

Anne (09:03):
Okay, so what active steps are you taking now to heal from the trauma that you experienced from being married to an abusive man?

Caroline (09:13):
One of the biggest things that has helped me heal through my divorce is affirmations. I have them posted all over my apartment, just small things that help remind me of who I am and where I want to be and that divorce does not define me or that it wasn’t a failure either. I’ve also found it super helpful in the last little bit to share my story. There’s so many people my age who have been married for one to three years that are finding themselves in the same place in the neighborhood that I grew up in. There’s between two years younger than me and two years older than me. There was 11 of us that are married and six of us are now divorced. It’s been super helpful for me to reach out to them and just talk to them and converse with them. We have a little Facebook group page where we can share our thoughts and feelings and progress with each other, and that’s been super helpful.

“What do I need? When do I feel safe?”

Anne (10:13):
With those six, I’m assuming pornography was part of the equation,

Caroline (10:18):
So six of them are now divorced due to pornography and one because of complications with homosexuality.

Anne (10:27):
One thing I find very concerning right now is that young people are thinking that if they talk about it, that they can somehow avoid it. That has not been my experience. In fact, for the thousands and thousands of wives I’ve talked to, many of them had a lot of conversations with their boyfriends and fiances about pornography and pornography users lie a conversation about it or asking the right questions is not going to lead us to the truth. Usually the only thing that will lead us to the truth is observing their behaviors and getting really in touch with what do I need? When do I feel safe? Who am I being in our own recovery space so that we can observe those unhealthy behaviors in someone else.

“It is fully his responsibility to tell the truth, regardless of how she reacts”

Anne (11:18):
For example, a lot of people think, well, if I am open and I’m kind and I don’t shame the person, then it will give them a better opportunity to tell the truth. I think that is the wrong way to go because we’re still trying to help that person or manage that person. They literally need to be able to be honest regardless of whether their wife or girlfriend is angry, is happy, is sad, their honesty cannot, should not depend on the way that their wife reacts.

Caroline (11:53):

Anne (11:54):
And right now when people talk about pornography addiction, that kind of is floating around there that women have the responsibility to not be too angry or not be too shaming or not be too this or that, and if they do it really great, then he will open up. That just puts the blame of lying on her still where it does not belong. It is fully his responsibility to tell the truth regardless of how she reacts.

Caroline (12:22):
Yes, for sure.

BTR.ORG advocates for your safety

Anne (12:23):
BTR does not advocate for divorce. I did not want to get divorced. I felt very strongly that I needed to set boundaries to be safe, so I was in that place of setting a very firm no contact boundary and also not filing for divorce. I’m sure that you’ve heard other people kind of say, well, if you set these strong boundaries, then you’re going to end up divorced. It’s your fault rather than you’re setting boundaries for safety and if they choose to still abuse you, it’s still their fault that the divorce is happening. What do you say to people who might ask you, well, you’re divorced now and you went to BTR, I guess BTR believes in divorce. What would you say to them?

Caroline (13:05):
Well, my first reaction is laughing because before I went to BTR, I definitely wanted to make things work, but I was exhausted and I had put off scheduling appointment for a long time because I was nervous and I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. The best thing that happened was that my coach helped me to identify my core values, that all my decisions should be made based off of those core values that we established. It was very explicit that BTR is not an advocate for divorce, but that we should also make sure that we’re in a safe situation, and so the decision did come from me. In fact, when I called my coach and told her, she was actually quite surprised that that was my decision.

Anne (13:57):
And did you feel supported by your coach?

BTR.ORG coaches can help you

Caroline (13:59):
Yes, I definitely felt support from her. The support came as helping to identify myself and work through and make progress rather than you did the right thing and you’re going to be so much happier. It was, you are a strong woman, you can do anything that you put your mind to and said it all. After talking with my coach for the first and second time, we talked about boundaries and I came up with some boundaries that I was going to set with my ex-husband, and once the boundaries were set in place, things really took a different turn. It made him very upset, much more abusive. It’s a different side to my ex-husband that I never had seen, and so to me setting a simple boundary, he saw his true colors.

Anne (14:53):
Was it shocking to you?

Boundaries don’t make him more abusive – they reveal how abusive he really is.

Caroline (14:55):
Oh, yeah. I had never seen him react that way at all, just completely livid. He’d never really yelled at me like that, but was throwing things just completely different than I had ever seen him before, and this wasn’t a boundary of no physical contact. We had been seeing a therapist who specializes in pornography addiction, and the therapist told me that my ex-husband would have to make the appointments from here on out because at that time, for months and months, I was the one that was making appointments and taking him to the appointments. The therapist said, nothing’s going to change until he wants to do this, so the boundary that was set was, you need to make your own appointment to go see this therapist, and that’s when he blew up.

Caroline’s A-Ha Moment

Anne (15:50):
When I realized that my relationship was as abusive as it was and that I hadn’t seen it as abuse, I was shocked.

Caroline (15:59):

Anne (16:00):
It sounds like that was a moment for you where you’re like, whoa, he’s abusive.

Caroline (16:04):
This was a very simple thing. There was no even talk of consequence. It was just kind of pleading with him, just please go; all I’m asking you. One hour every two weeks, and it was just chaos, trying to ask him to do very simple things –

Anne (16:24):
Without being totally berated, so I was just shocked when I found out how abusive he really was and when I was managing him and when I was not setting boundaries, I don’t think I ever would’ve been able to see the level of his abusiveness.

Identifying gaslighting – and sharing the info with others

Caroline (16:41):
That reminds me when I was just barely discovering betrayal, trauma recovery. I was surfing around on your website just trying to get some more information, and there was a list of behaviors and examples of gaslighting on your website, and consequently, I’m sitting at work in front of my computer and I’m reading these. I just had the biggest epiphanies. Every single sentence that was listed, every bullet point was just like, yes, this is how I felt. I’ve never been able to put words to it. That’s the moment that I decided something has to change and I’ve got to get help to figure out what needs to happen and what needs to change, but I just remember reading those. It was huge for me, and when people ask me about BTR or my divorce and then they go into their own struggles with their spouse who is a porn user, I always refer them to that, and it’s the same reaction. I can see it on their face every single time. It’s just, oh my goodness. This is putting into words what I’ve never been able to say.

Anne (17:52):
I think it goes from knowing that your husband uses porn and being frustrated about that and trying to figure that out to realizing that you’re in an abusive relationship.

Caroline (18:05):
Yeah. I never would’ve classified it as an abusive relationship until then.

The shift from concern about pornography, to recognizing abuse

Anne (18:09):
Yeah, so the shift from, I’m worried about my husband. He uses porn. This is annoying. It hurts me to, he is abusive. That is one of the most traumatizing shifts in paradigm, but once that shift in paradigm happens, I think women are getting stronger at being able to be like, okay, so this means I really need to set boundaries because all the love, service and forgiveness is not going to help the situation out.

Caroline (18:37):
Right, absolutely.

Anne (18:39):
You found BTR at 22. There are some women who are finding BTR at 40 after 20 years of marriage. There are some who are finding it at 50 after 30 years of marriage or women who are finding it after two or three divorces. What are you watching for in your future relationships?

Caroline (18:58):
The biggest thing that I watch for now is how they treat me and how they treat themselves, how they take care of themselves and their sense of personal wellness. I definitely don’t have it honed down yet because I still find myself having belief issues or trust issues,

Anne (19:20):
Which is part of the trauma. I think.

Signs that Caroline watches for in others and herself

Caroline (19:21):
Yeah, for sure. I can see the progress that I made when it comes to that, how they interact with other people if they’re constantly seeking validation or having to be the center of the conversation or reverting stories back to them, interrupting people. The characteristics of narcissism is definitely what I look for.

Anne (19:47):
What about you? What kinds of things are you continuing to do as you progress in your healing?

Caroline (19:52):
Something that I do regularly is I write about my thoughts. I don’t hide from that place of asking the hard questions of myself or facing the trauma that is constantly triggered as time goes on, so if I am triggered, I like to come home at the end of the day and write about it, and sometimes I keep it and sometimes I throw it away as a symbolic gesture of goodbye. I’m done with you, done with this feeling. I notice that I’m a lot more self-aware with my thoughts. Exercise and being outside has helped astronomically throughout the process of just feeling whole again and able and strong, just staying connected to my feelings overall.

“Small steps forward”

Anne (20:42):
It sounds like also just staying connected to reality. In order to be with an active porn user who’s actively abusing you, you’re either always fighting with them, and so there’s this constant chaos or you sort of have to live in their reality, which is not reality. I remember one day I walked out of the house and I was walking outside and I looked up and I felt the sun on my face, and it felt so new. It was like, and I looked at the birds and I remember the birds flying by, and I remember looking at a tree and it was swaying, and it was almost surreal like, is this real? This is reality, and I just thought, wow. I’ve been living in this fog inside my house with this abusive situation, and my reality has been so skewed. I don’t see reality for what it is, and I started trying to do that too. Just walking outside, letting the sun be on my face, I garden self-care is on my list of what I’m doing now to heal and to grow. I like the journey of it, and I’m okay that it’s a really crazy journey and that I’m not doing fantastic at it, but at least I’m making small steps forward.

Caroline (22:02):

Anne (22:03):
Caroline, I know that your mom has listened to the podcast and that she’s really familiar with BTR, so a lot of the things that you were learning, she also knew because she listened to the podcast. How has that helped you as you’ve progressed in your healing?

Familial Support Makes a Huge Impact for Victims

Caroline (22:17):
Well, obviously the introduction to BTR by my mom was super helpful. I am forever grateful for the education that my mom has about pornography addiction because that’s what it boils down to is gaining an education about what this addiction does, and being able to have my mom there as a support was super helpful. Being able to take the emotion out of the sadness that her daughter is going through this and being able to look at the facts and be acquainted with the addiction was very helpful. Nobody wants that to be their friend or their daughter or their sister. For a brief moment, there was that reaction from my mom of, you need to keep trying, and then the next day she called me and she goes, honey, I know and I was wrong, and I’m sorry, and I’m here for you, and she had to take the emotion out of it, which she was only able to do because of the education that she has.

Anne (23:26):
I wish everyone who was going through this had a mom who is also listening to the podcast.

Caroline (23:31):
For sure.

Anne (23:32):
Caroline, thank you for being here today and I’m so grateful that you found BTR.

Caroline (23:36):
Thank you, Anne.

recovering from betrayal trauma
Have you been lied to? Manipulated?

Discovered porn or inappropriate texts on your husband's phone?
Are you baffled by illogical conversations with him?

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