The following article and podcast include an interview with the abusive partner of a woman in the Betrayal Trauma Recovery community. At the time of this podcast, *John is working toward recovery and is not abusing/betraying his partner. While his insights are appreciated, BTR does NOT advocate for victims to stay in abusive relationships.
One of the most frequently asked questions in the BTR community is:
Can my abusive and unfaithful partner change?
At Betrayal Trauma Recovery, we believe that abusive men can change with intense and long-term sustained work toward living amends. Anne, founder of Betrayal Trauma Recovery meets with *John, an abusive and unfaithful man who is now seeking to live amends and create safety and peace for his family. Read the full transcript below and listen to the BTR podcast for more.
Giving victims a glimpse into the thoughts and behaviors of an abusive man may be enlightening and helpful on their journey to safety.
The Abusive Behaviors Started Before I Met Her
Generally, abusive men have used pornography or acted-out sexually in other ways before meeting their current partners.
This is helpful to understand because it shows a pattern of entitlement and control over women’s bodies – abusive behaviors and tendencies that they take into the relationship.
I Knew It Was Wrong But I Didn’t Want To Say “I Abuse Her”
Abusive and unfaithful men almost always know that their behaviors are wrong and harmful, but they are reluctant to use the word “abuse”.
“I rationalized everything I was doing to her. I knew that what I was doing wasn’t right, but I would never allow myself to fully admit to what was actually happening.”
Victims can use this information to help them understand that they will probably never get the validation that they deserve from their abusive partner.
Instead, seeking safe people and support systems who will listen, validate, and compassionately hurt with you, are essential to your healing process.
Rather than continually seeking apologies and validation from the abuser, women can understand that they will most likely always rationalize, minimize, and blame her for the abuse. There is no validation from someone who will not call it what it is: abuse.
I Had To Make Sure I Was The “Victim” So I Could Rationalize My Abuse
Abusive men love to be in the “victim” role. When they are able to play the victim in the relationship, they can continue their abusive and unfaithful behaviors while making the real victim, their partner, feel badly for them (as well as making family, friends, and others feel disdain for the real victim and pity for the abuser).
- How can you recognize if your abusive partner is playing the victim?
- Does he regularly say that you are hurting his feelings?
- Does he say that you don’t care about his feelings?
- When you are having a bad day, or feeling a negative emotion, does he mirror your feelings and require comfort and care?
- When you are in genuine distress does he seem “off”, angry, sulky, or distant?
- After he confesses, does he require comforting and forgiveness?
Center For Peace: An Abuse Cessation Program That Works
When abusive men are truly ready to change, the hard work that is required is intense and on-going for years. BTR has partnered with Center For Peace, an abuse cessation program that specifically works with unfaithful men who are emotionally, sexually, psychologically, and spiritually abusive.
Men who have decided to change need access to professionals who will guide them through the process of discarding abusive thinking and behaviors, and rewiring their thoughts and actions to become truly safe individuals.
Betrayal Trauma Recovery Supports Victims of Betrayal and Abuse
At BTR, we prioritize women’s safety above all else. We believe that you should too.
Your emotional, physical, spiritual, sexual, and financial safety is of paramount importance. Join the Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group to receive the support you need as you begin setting and maintaining boundaries that will separate you from abusive behaviors.
The BTRG meets every day in every time zone, offering women the validation, support, and compassion that they deserve as they begin their journey to healing.
Join today. You deserve it.
Welcome to Betrayal Trauma Recovery, this is Anne.
I have already started crying before we even started today’s episode because I have Jenn and John with me today. If you have not heard the first part of Jenn’s story, please go back and listen to last week where she talks about the abuse that she endured during her marriage, the divorce, and, also, the fact that she’s now dating her ex-husband who is on the podcast with us today.
John: Hello, thanks for having me.
“It’s A Process And I’m Trying My Best”
Anne: Like I said last week, I know John and I know his family. I’ve known him longer than I’ve known Jenn, so this is really emotional for me to see what looks like could be a hopeful story. John, so you know, I told everyone that I do not want to set you up on this pedestal that you’re the model recovering addict.
I don’t want people to listen to this podcast in that way. I would like them to listen to someone who is working through recovery, hoping to reunite his family, but there are things you don’t know, that you don’t know yet. Things that we all don’t know at this point.
John: Absolutely, it’s a process and I’m trying my best but there are definitely stumbles and it’s certainly not the end of the road for sure.
Abusers Don’t Want To Admit They’re Abusive
Anne: Right. Let’s talk about when you were married. Did you realize that your behaviors were abusive to Jenn?
John: I had a hard time while we were married putting the term abuse on it. I rationalized everything I was doing to her. I knew that what I was doing wasn’t right, but I would never allow myself to admit fully what was actually happening. Everything I did was on purpose, but I kept downplaying it to myself and it allowed me to continue doing what I was doing.
Anne: When you say everything you did was on purpose, do you mean that it was a calculated action?
John: Yeah. Well, I don’t know about calculated, but it wasn’t like I was inadvertently doing things. I wanted to get something and so I would do these things. For instance, one of the things I used to do was—we have five kids together—we’d be at family gatherings or we’d be at people’s houses and when it was getting close to time to go I would make sure that she was busy doing something else and I would get all the kids and we’d all go get in the car and then wait for her.
Abusers Use Specific Strategies To Manipulate And Control
I used that to make it look like we were always waiting on Jenn. That she was putting herself before us and I had to do everything with our children. That was not on accident, that was something that I knew what was going on, but it was really easy to play it off as something that was not on purpose.
Anne: That you were helping out?
John: Absolutely. I looked like the good guy.
Anne: We have an infographic coming out very soon about what abuse is, and one of the things that it says is that the behaviors are purposeful. When I say calculated I don’t necessarily mean that you sit around scheming like Mr. Burns, but I mean that you’re expecting a result from it. I’m going to lie about my porn use, for example, because the result is then she won’t be mad, or I won’t look like the bad guy, or whatever it is. not realizing that that lie, in and of itself, is abusive.
Pornography Use Was The Beginning Of The Abuse
Let’s talk about the porn use. When did you begin viewing porn? I’m guessing it was before you met Jenn.
John: It was. It was as a teenager. I had memories of doing it and it really became a problem when I was in high school. That was probably 22 or 23 years ago, and it got worse and worse over time. It got to the point where it was multiple times a week at least, oftentimes multiple times per day. I was able to rationalize even my porn use.
There were so many levels of this abuse that was going on. Stuff that I chose to expose myself to I could rationalize away and say, “This maybe isn’t even pornography.” I was deep in it and it has held me trapped ever since I was a teenager.
How Do Abusers Justify Their Actions?
Anne: I knew you back then. Thinking about that, how did you justify to yourself your actions and behaviors that were secret, that nobody knew about, with your public church image?
John: I don’t know that I could completely. I knew that there was this dark side and I would always think to myself, “Oh, if only you knew.” I think that was why I was rationalizing it as maybe not even being porn.
Abusers Minimize Their Actions
There were a few times that I googled “Is this actually pornography?” and “What is the definition of pornography?” I found somewhere I could rationalize what I was doing. I’d be like, “Okay, this isn’t that bad, and the masturbation is something that every guy does.” I really just downplayed what I was actually doing.
Then I would abuse Jenn and I would tear her down and get her into this corner and then turn it back onto myself where I could play the victim for what was happening in our marriage and that I had an excuse. I was going to this porn that I could then rationalize as not even being porn.
It was this big ole world that I just built up in my head and it really kept me trapped for a really, really long time.
Anne: So, you know me, we’re not best friends or anything, but we grew up in proximity to each other. I don’t want to say anything more than that as to give your identity away or my identity away. Saying that, I think that you can imagine how I would be a very bad victim. How my ex would try to do those things, like turn it back on me, and I would just end up fighting him all the time.
Abusers Are Master Manipulators
With Jenn, she ended up being a very good victim. She learned that if you yelled and screamed at her that she would be like, “Oh, okay. I’m going to stop.” Were you actually conscience of that? I’m very curious. Were you actually conscious of how to wield anger as a tool of power and control?
John: Yeah, I learned that I am very good at manipulating. I’m very good at arguing in a very condescending manner. I feel like I’m a smart guy and I can argue in a way that can make the other person feel terrible about themselves and make myself feel really good. I used that a lot on her.
Abusers Control, Manipulate, And Gaslight Victims
It would hurt her and looking back that happened a lot where I would make her feel like she—well, I guess she should speak to how it made her feel, but, in my view, it trapped her in this space where she didn’t know her worth because she listened to everything I was saying to her.
Anne: How do you feel about that now?
John: It’s not fun to think about. I think I’m at a point right now where I used to be afraid of the conversations we would have. When she would want to talk, I would get very very anxious because I was waiting for what holes she was going to poke in everything that I’d told her and everything that had happened.
“I’m Trying To Do Everything I Can To Undo Abuse”
It’s still hard to have the conversations, but it’s turned from dreading them to being a little curious and wanting to know what it really did to her, and it’s hard. I feel very remorseful about it and I’m just trying to do everything I can to undo—as much as it’s possible—to undo abuse.
I know that that’s not really a road that has an ending, but that’s what I’m here for. Just trying to do what I can to show her how special she really is and how to undo that.
Anne: Yeah. What role has your relationship with God played in this process?
John: Well, He’s only played a role in the last little while. I went through a phase where I stopped going to church. I became very angry with Priesthood authority and blamed the church for a lot of my problems that I had brought into my own life.
I have learned recently that surrender is a very real thing and it is the tool that gets me through times where I feel like I want to get sucked back into pornography. I feel like I have gained a different appreciation for what Christ can really be there for.
Recovery Versus Restitution
I used to have a view of the Atonement as you go and repent and it just kind of magically takes care of it. I now view Him as someone who can be there when no one else can be there because no one else can fix the problems that I have made for myself. Only He can, and only through Him am I to the point where I’m at, where I feel like I’m actually changing as a person.
Anne: So, your behaviors now to make restitution, can you now see that as an active act toward recovery, but not post-recovery? Do you know what I’m saying? From my viewpoint, I see a lot of abusive men or addicts who don’t ever utilize restitution as a means or a tool for recovery, and they don’t realize that without it they can’t recover.
They might say, “Yes, I did that in the past,” but they haven’t made any type of restitution for it, they haven’t told the truth about it, they haven’t faced it head-on, they haven’t actually made restitution, and they think that they can recover without it. Can you talk about that for a little bit?
Healing From The Inside Out
John: I’ve been reading the book He Did Deliver Me from Bondage (by Colleen C. Harrison), and she talks about being healed from the inside out versus from the outside in, and I feel like that’s part of it.
You can stop looking at pornography, you can white-knuckle it, or whatever people like to call it, but the only way that I have found to really feel like I’m changing from the inside-out is to really stand up for what I’ve done and accept that this is the reality and do something about it. I can’t fix it. I can’t undo it.
We’d all like to use the word undo because everyone hopes that there are no consequences for their actions, but for me I found that my recovery has gone hand-in-hand with being willing to truly accept what happened in the past and stand there with Jenn as she was trying to go through the emotions of everything that I had done.
Anne: How has your view of your children changed from when you were acting out and being abusive to now, where you’re actively working on recovery?
“My View Of The Past Is So Distorted”
John: I don’t know that I have a good answer for that one. Jenn, you can correct me if you feel like my view is wrong here. I rely on her a lot for memories and things, because my view of the past is so distorted.
We’ve had a number of conversations where I’ve told her how I remembered it and then she’s like well, here’s kind of what really happened. Then we let it sit and kind of go over it again because I was so deep in this stuff that I just have these memories baked up in my head.
I always was a good dad. I thought I thought that was my saving grace. I would spend time with them. I always had a short temper while I was looking at the pornography and that’s still something I struggle with, even as I’m working on recovery.
“I Would Do It Because I Would Get Something Out Of It”
Hopefully, as I’m further along the path it gets better. It is a little better than it was. I guess one thing that is different is I genuinely want to put them before me at times. I genuinely want to put Jenn before me at times.
Before, I would do it because I would get something out of it. Either “Oh, I’m going to take the kids to dinner” when I really wanted to go to dinner, or that sort of thing to make me look good in front of everyone else. That, maybe, is a little bit different than before, but it’s not as drastic as the relationship with Jenn.
His Temper Is An Indicator Of His Abusiveness
Anne: So, maybe internally it looks a bit different for you but externally it looks kind of similar is what you’re saying?
Anne: What do you think Jenn?
Jenn: I think that that’s a pretty good analysis. I feel like, before, the kids were used a little bit in order to manipulate me, but he was always a fairly good dad. He may have been a little more absent at times, like not as attentive. I will say though, now as he works on this and stuff, he is an excellent dad. He’s very attentive and he is very considerate of the kids.
Anne: Is his temper reducing?
Jenn: Yes. Definitely.
Anne: I don’t want to throw your dad under the bus here John, but I do know that he had quite a temper as well, so that’s also familial. You’re also just learning new ways of interacting, right?
Abusers Lead a Life That Looks Good On The Outside
John: Right. Growing up in my household he was a member of bishoprics, and that sort of thing. I always felt like my family growing up, it was the outside-in type of mentality. Where we all sat in the row at church and we all were nice and quiet. We always got comments on “all those kids you have, they’re so quiet and so well-behaved.”
Inside of the house, a lot of us lived in fear. I remember growing up and the garage door would open at 5:30 and my stomach would go in knots because I didn’t know what was going to happen next.
Anne: This is just a totally random story that I want to tell just because I feel like telling it. All of your family is very small. They’re all very small in stature, they’re small and they’re short. My family is bigger.
I remember going to your house for dinner one night. I thought the portion that your mom had put on the table for all of us was for me. “Thank you,” and I said it and I was just about to start eating out of the bowl, it was macaroni and tomato sauce, and they were like, “Well, will you pass it?” I thought the whole entire bowl was for me. Is that crazy?!
John: That is hilarious.
Making Restitution Is An Important Part Of Recovery
Anne: Well, I am really interested in how this plays out, and know that restitution is part of the recovery process. You cannot recover without it. Your restitution, frankly, will be the rest of your life. You will be making restitution for the harm that you’ve caused for the rest of your life.
There will come a point where, I believe, from my perspective, the Atonement will be able to make up for that. There will be a time where your kids will be healed, where Jenn will be healed, and you will be healed, if you continue on this path. That healing will not have occurred through your actions but through Christ, but without our actions, they couldn’t.
John: Yeah, I don’t go to the women’s groups and hear that side of it. I know from the men’s side I see how other men have tried to make restitution. I guess I don’t have a good response for it.
I do agree that restitution is a lifetime. I literally destroyed the last 14-15 years of her life and how do you make that up? You don’t. I can be here and try to be the person that she deserved from the beginning.
“They Say They Attempted To Make Restitution, But They Actually Didn’t At All”
Anne: You know, from our perspective—like, for example, with my ex—many addicts or many abusive men, they say they attempted to do restitution, but they actually didn’t at all. My ex is dating someone new and I actually spoke with her (she’s super-nice, I really like her) and she told me that he tried and tried and tried and did everything he could to save the marriage after he was arrested. When I know that he did zero.
From the men’s groups, John as you go, it is helpful to know that a lot of the stuff that you’re hearing may or may not be true. So, if they say I tried and tried and tried and she wouldn’t talk to me or she wouldn’t do this or she wouldn’t do that, he might not even be telling the truth. I just want to throw that out there so if you’re an addict and you’re listening and you’re thinking, “Well, I tried to make restitution.”
I want to ask you what did you do to make restitution? Did you say, “Even though I don’t want to I’m going to pay more than it requires for child support”? What actions did you take? Restitution isn’t just saying you’re sorry. It’s active actions to repair the damage that you’ve done.
Entitled Thinking Leads To Abuse
What would you say has been the hardest thing to give up? Have there been any specific thought process or sort of entitled thinking has been particularly difficult to give up?
John: Well, my entitled thinking expands through my whole personality. I would feel entitled to anything someone could feel entitled for and I think I still run into that. I think that’s still a struggle with Jenn, where I do become selfish and when I’m not doing the things that I’m supposed to be doing daily.
There are signs that we see now, where I’m starting to kind of head down the wrong path and we can cut it off a lot earlier than before. Back to your question, I guess I just felt entitled to do what normal people can do and accept that I’m an addict and there’s just going to be things that I can’t do.
Fears About Dating The Recovering Abuser
For instance, we went to see Wreck-It Ralph 2. It was a triggering movie and I tried to ignore it. I was sitting by Jenn in the theater, our kids weren’t there, it was just us. She knew that what we were watching was triggering, but I sat there and didn’t say anything because I couldn’t bring myself to accept that I can’t sit in a Disney movie.
I think that’s been one of the hardest things. Just to accept that I’m going to be different than what “everyone else” can get away with because it leads me down paths that I can’t go down. So, I think that’s something I still really kind of struggle with here and there.
Anne: Jenn, what has been your biggest fear in dating John again?
“I Know How Fragile It Can Be”
Jenn: I know how fragile it can be. How quickly it can turn, and that mind-shift can change, and it can go back to the selfish and go back to right where it was. My biggest struggle has been just learning to take it one day at a time. To just wait and see and just let things play out. That’s been my biggest struggle.
Anne: Yeah, because you guys are dating again. How long have you been dating now?
Jenn: Probably like a year?
John: Yeah, it depends on how you define dating, I guess.
Anne: Well, your together like boyfriend and girlfriend?
John: Yeah, it’s probably been the last 6-8 months.
Can Abusers Change?
Anne: Do you refer to each other as your boyfriend and girlfriend? I didn’t think about this. How do you refer to each other? Or your Ex-wife?
Jenn: No, I just say John. The people at my work just laugh about it because they don’t know how to describe it either. A lot of times, they’ll just say “Jenn’s husband.” They’ll just use the term “husband” because it’s just easier and you don’t want to explain it. Another one that we use is the “kids’ dad.”
Anne: How often are you at the house now John? What does the schedule look like?
“This Is Where I Want To Be”
John: I’m here daily. I spend as much time as possible with Jenn and the kids. This is where I want to be. I still have my apartment, but I found that it feels a lot lonelier now than it did before we started dating again and I just don’t really like being away from her or the kids.
Anne: Well, I pray that you will continue down this path and that you guys can be a full-fledged family again someday, whenever that feels right or whenever that happens or if it happens at all. You know John, even though I’ve known you longer, I’m firmly on team Jenn, right?
Hold Strong Boundaries To Minimize The Effects Of Abuse
John: I have no doubts.
Anne: For our audience, there was this time where John called me, and he was worried about Jenn. I said: “I will figure this out for myself and for Jenn, but not for you.” Do you remember that conversation?
John: I do, very well.
Anne: What did you think of that conversation back then?
John: I wasn’t offended by what you said. I guess I kind of expected that, rightfully so, you wouldn’t have much trust in what I was calling you about. I hadn’t not only earned your trust, but I had also given you plenty of reasons to not trust that my intentions were totally pure, and I didn’t have something else going up my sleeve. Yeah, I guess I don’t have any strong feelings one way or another.
“I Don’t Trust You”
Anne: Yeah, I was surprised that I was so blunt, “I don’t trust you. What you’re saying about Jenn is concerning me, but I will check on her separately and I’m not going to report back to you.”
That is my hope for all women here. That, together, women can stop abuse through holding boundaries and that men can realize how they have been abusive and make restitution and stop their abusive behaviors.
Recovery Tips From An Abuser
In conclusion, John is there anything that you’d like to share if there are any men who are listening who are struggling with abusive behaviors or with making restitution? What have you learned that you’d like to share with them?
John: I think one of the biggest things I’ve learned is that the pain that I saw when I was abusing Jenn was real. That it feels hard and you can feel like a victim when she needs to talk about it, but you can know that you’re on the right path when you want her to talk about it and you want to be there for her. Just know that the memories of the situations, you have different perspectives, but hers is going to be correct every single time.
“I’m Going To Trust Her Reality Rather Than Mine”
Anne: Is that one of the entitlements, John, that was hard to give up? How did you get to the point where you were willing to say, “I’m going to trust and go with her reality rather than mine?”
John: You know, they say that you kind of have to hit rock bottom before you turn and that’s what happened. I just hit a point where I realized that I had lost everything, and this road that I was headed down and I thought looked better, was not better.
It was way, way, way worse than I ever imagined. I wanted off that path. So I was willing to do anything to get off that path. The path I wanted was to be with Jenn and to have my family again.
Abusive Men Who Want To Change Must Turn Defensiveness To Curiosity And Empathy
I said prayers and I felt like it was time for me to truly listen. To really listen, not to just sit there and let her talk but to stop worrying about what’s happening inside of me when she’s talking. To just watch her face and listen to what’s coming out of her heart. Not even necessarily what’s coming out of her mouth, but what she’s trying to tell me.
That’s really when it started to change and it only took a couple of those conversations where it was kind of like being hit by the bus of, “Oh, my goodness. This is way worse than I thought it was.” Then it turned into almost a curiosity of “how bad was it?” I think that’s an ongoing conversation forever to really grasp how bad it had really gotten.
“It’s Just So Crazy”
Anne: Hopefully, things will continue to go well, and 20 years out instead of ‘yo mamma jokes you’ll be telling how bad was it jokes. It was so bad that…
John: Well, I think there is some of those how bad was it that we kind of laugh about now a little bit because it’s just so crazy. It doesn’t make any sense. Back then it did, I thought it did.
Jenn: It didn’t.
Anne: Well, I am so glad to know you both. I’m really grateful that I saw you at UCAP. I’m really grateful that I know you personally, John. Perhaps we can check back with you in a year and see how things are going again. If they’re going terrible maybe we can just have Jenn on, but if it’s still going well then we can have you both on.
Pray For John And Jenn
If our listeners are the praying type, I just want to ask all of our listeners to just say a little prayer for John and Jenn and their five children. That these changes can lead to permanent behavior changes. That you can be reunited with your family again sometime, whenever that is.
I know that’s what you both want and that’s what all of us want. I’m really grateful to know you. Thank you so much for coming on today’s episode.
John: Thank you. This was wonderful.
Center For Peace Is Here For You
Anne: Like I talked about last week, we have partnered with an organization called Center for Peace. Center For Peace takes the Betrayal Trauma Recovery approach to help men stop their abusive behaviors.
Even though it is a hard road, at Center for Peace, the top priority is the victim’s safety. It’s not protecting him from his shame or delving into the reasons why he does things. It doesn’t matter why you do this. This abuse has to stop.
Coach Joi, from Betrayal Trauma Recovery, also runs the Center for Peace Program. If you are looking for a place that really takes the BTR approach for an abusive man, then check out Center for Peace.
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