If you’re like most women in our community, you’ve asked yourself this question:
Is healthy marriage a myth?
Is it even possible to be in a marriage where I feel safe, loved, validated, and comfortable?
If you’ve been abused, the idea of safe, loving marriage may seem impossible. But Chandra’s back on the podcast sharing the finale of her powerful story – of overcoming two abusive marriages and finding healing in a third, healthy, happy, and easy marriage.
Tune in to the free BTR.ORG podcast and read the full transcript below for more.
Healthy Marriages Don’t Include Secret Porn Use
When you’ve got a man that is not secretly using porn, you get to be the apple of his eye. What I mean is you get to be the center of his world because he’s not distracted and looking around at everything else. And that’s what I wanted getting married, was to be in a situation with somebody that really loves me and cares about me and wants to focus on me and love me, and me love him in return. And that’s what I wanted. And now I finally have that and it’s like night and day.Chandra, Member of the BTR.ORG Community
Betrayal Trauma from a husband’s secret porn use can be devastating. Healthy marriages include transparency and fidelity.
Secret porn use is often accompanied by gaslighting, lying, manipulation, and sexually coercive behaviors. These forms of abuse create a completely unsafe environment for women and families. Healthy men provide healthy environments for healthy marriages. Secret porn use has no place here.
Let’s Talk Power-With (Instead of Power-Over)
Healthy marriages operate using a power-with dynamic:
The mentality is that neither member of the partnership is trying to control or manipulate the other – both are lifting the other and in doing so, both individuals (and the marriage) are growing and thriving.
In an abusive dynamic, the abuser is consistently seeking power over the victim. Whether this is done covertly or overtly – the abuser uses manipulative, coercive, and even violent tactics to control the victim.
Healthy Marriages Exist – We Promise!
Women in our community have expressed time and time again that they have entered into second or third marriages with “normal” (healthy) men. And the stark difference between the abusive men and the healthy men in their lives is often beyond description. Chandra says:
It’s so much easier. It’s so peaceful, it’s so different.Chandra, Member of the BTR.ORG Community
If a healthy marriage is something you would like to seek, make safety your number one priority. As you seek out emotional, sexual, physical, and financial safety, you open up your reality to the possibility of healthy relationships.
Welcome to BTR.ORG. This is Anne. Chandra, a member of our community is back on today’s podcast. If you haven’t heard the last three episodes, she’s been sharing her story and it’s been amazing. So if you haven’t, then listen to those three episodes first (This Is How Abusers Control the Narrative, Abandonment: What You Need To Know, Abusive Second Marriage? You’re Not Alone) and then catch up with us here. We’re jumping in right at the part of the story where she was talking about a pornography addiction recovery therapist that they had gone to and how she thought that maybe they did a good job, and I was like, no, they didn’t. And then I’m about to explain why. So we’ll just jump right in.
At that point, his approach was really good. I mean, it was better than anything else we’d done. We’d been to counseling two or three times.
This Is Why Couple’s Counseling Can Harm Victims
I would not say that his approach was really good if he didn’t tell you you were being abused. It puts an abuse victim in further danger, and that is what is so scary about the abuse recovery world, is that they are not informing people or treating or even acknowledging that this is a perpetrator and abuse victim. And so it’s just super dangerous for the victims.
Yeah, I think the reason I thought that it was better than what we’d had was because he did identify to my ex-husband, my second ex-husband, he had identified to him that I was injured and he did identify that, and he was trying to get my ex-husband to take the necessary steps to address the injury that had happened to me.
What injured you though? Was it abuse that injured you?
He didn’t call it that, but he, he basically said, “This can’t get better until her injury is addressed properly.”
But he didn’t accurately define what had injured you.
“He Was Just Going Through The Motions”
No, no. He didn’t go that far. But it was better than anything I had come across up until that point. And he would split us up and speak to us separately. So he would give my ex-husband homework to do, but he would ask us to report back as well on how things were going separately. So I got to provide feedback on what was happening myself. You know, it evolved beyond what some counselors do, right. But it still wasn’t quite hitting the mark while, I’ll just say what I recognized was that my ex-husband was just jumping through hoops and making it look good. I recognized that he was just going through the motions, and that’s when I realized that I was done. We had Christmas and he had gone home on Christmas Eve and he was gonna come in the morning and open presents with us.
But when he went home that night, he was upset that he hadn’t been the center of attention. And he basically, he texted me and said, You know, I’m so depressed, you know, I don’t get enough attention from you. I think I’m gonna kill myself. Of course, I was terrified, and when he didn’t show up in the morning, I actually went over to his house to check and see if he was okay, and I half expected to find that he’d shot himself or something. That wasn’t the first time he did that. And I realized later, that’s emotional abuse and manipulative, and it was very upsetting. And after that happened, I just thought, you know what? I don’t wanna do this anymore. This is a cycle. You know, I didn’t call it abuse at the time. I just went, this is not, I just don’t wanna live this life anymore.
Feeling Alone in Processing Trauma
I deserve better than this. You know, basically the entire experience, the 15 years that I’ve had, um, since my first husband left, I have not found decent support in my faith community with a few exceptions. There’s been a few people that were really caring and loving, but for the most part I found people do not want to talk about it. They don’t want to look at it. They don’t wanna hear your story, and why can’t you get over it already? And I don’t, I also don’t feel like the trauma is well understood. Like something like losing a baby or the death of a spouse is really seen. It’s almost like there’s a hierarchy of what’s considered trauma and is worthy of compassion and what’s not. And I, I really got the sense, I started to think, Wow, you know, it almost feels like I’m being ostracized and treated like I’m second class because they think that I must have done something wrong to deserve what happened to me.
And I thought about like, why would they think that? And I think it’s actually a defense mechanism where people are afraid of that kind of thing happening. Like, I don’t wanna be the abandoned woman. I don’t wanna be betrayed. And so if I think to myself, well, she must have done something to deserve it, and I don’t do those things, then it won’t happen to me. And without anybody actually ever saying that, that is the sense that I have gotten over the years from the way people have reacted to me and treated me.
Denial As A Safety-Seeking Behavior
I tend to agree with you. I think that they think there’s some way to manage it. I also think that a lot of women are in that situation if they talk about it or if they empathize with you, or if they don’t blame you at all, then they think that could also happen to me in a very real way. In that they are actually going through it. And so they think, okay, well, I’m not gonna talk about it or acknowledge it or whatever, and then he won’t leave me.
Yeah. I’m not gonna face it. I’m not gonna talk about it. Yeah, totally. And the other thing I experienced was people, you know, just trying to diminish it, like make it into a one time event. You know, I understand that thing happened to you in the past and that was hard, but you know, you shouldn’t let it affect how you are now. And it’s like, that is not a one time event. What happened to me, what happened to me has been ongoing for 25 years, and I continue to suffer. I watch my children suffer. I continue to be abused. I am, as of now continuing to be financially abused by my first husband. It’s not a one time event. And people don’t understand that it’s a really long process to overcome the trauma that happens around those circumstances.
Victims of Covert Abuse Need Support
And they don’t understand that we’re still being abused, actively abused. Yes. Actively. And when you tell them that, they’re like, wow. They just don’t get it.
They don’t get it.
There’s nothing that you could say to be like, no, I’m still being actively abused. Well, you’re not married to him, so how could he be doing that? Is he hitting you? Is he coming over to your house and smacking you in the face?
Yeah, it’s so subtle. But the thing is, I found myself getting more and more angry at those reactions. And you know, like I said before, I’m a praying woman. I prayed for help because I knew I was just so angry and frustrated and I don’t think I had ever really had the support that I needed. BTR.ORG Group Sessions didn’t exist when I was going through my first abandonment and betrayal. And I didn’t have any close friends that had been through it. And even my own family I had, you know, they loved me and tried to support me, but no one really understood what I was going through. And I felt very alone for many, many years and was just in executive functioning mode, just trying to make stuff happen for everybody. And when I found the BTR.ORG Podcast, your podcast, I have to say, that was the first time in, you know, it’s been 15 years that I have felt validated, supported, understood.
BTR.ORG Is Here For You
And the anger that I was feeling towards, you know, my faith community and family and all the people that have questioned me and made me feel like they didn’t understand or they didn’t care or they thought I should just get over it already, the anger started to dissipate. I didn’t really see it as abuse until I really started listening to this podcast. And I only found it in the fall just a few months ago. And like it’s done so much for me to actually really begin healing some of the spiritual and emotional wounds that I’ve had. You know, I was high functioning, making stuff happen in my day to day life and was focused on that. But when my daughter, my youngest daughter turned 18 and she actually, she moved out and I was on my own, you know, empty nester in the new marriage. And I realized I had a lot of wounds to heal and I was feeling very angry about some of my experiences with people in my faith community. And I thought I needed help. I think that’s why I found it, because it was the right time. And I think God knows when we need certain things in our life. And that’s, I think that’s why I found it when I did.
“Knowing That We’re Not Alone Is So Healing”
I’m so glad you did. I’ve heard so many stories like that of people who said, I need help. I need help. They say a prayer, stand up, go to their computer and find this podcast. Yes. And I’m actually super, super humbled by that thinking that like, yes, Heavenly Father is directing them here. And I’m so humbled to know that that’s happening, but also so grateful that he helped me to start this podcast and has helped BTR grow so that people can find us. It’s grown in ways that I never imagined. And so I think, you know, God’s hand really is in this and he really does love us and care about us, and he wants us to find each other and hear these stories because knowing that we’re not alone is so healing.
Yeah. What you’re doing is incredible. And I think it’s inspired and it’s really, really badly needed.
Well, I needed it, which is why I started it.
Wrapping up today, is there anything you would share with our audience that you feel like, man, I really wish I would’ve known this. Or had I, I mean, we’ve talked about that, like knowing it was abuse, knowing that you are worthwhile and loved and that you can take action to keep yourself safe. I mean, we’ve talked about some of those things, but if you could go back and maybe just say one thing to yourself back in the day, what would you share with yourself?
“Pay Closer Attention to the Gut Feelings”
That’s a hard question cause there’s a lot, there’s a lot of things I wish I could have known much earlier, but I think probably one of the most important things would have been to pay closer attention to the gut feelings. And I don’t know how to get over the issue that women face when they’re being lied to. It’s not normal to actually think that someone is lying to you. I have to share something. I was reading a book by Malcolm Gladwell called Talking to Strangers. He uses some examples to illustrate something called Truth Default Theory, which came out of Timothy R. Levine’s research. He’s a distinguished professor at, uh, the University of Alabama. He has this theory about how when we communicate with other people, we not only tend to believe them, but the thought that maybe we shouldn’t doesn’t even come to mind.
And it makes it possible for people to communicate in society, but it makes it really hard for women in these situations to actually detect lying in their husband. And when Malcolm Gladwell was writing about this, he said, we have a default to truth. Our operating assumption is that people that we are dealing with are honest to snap out of truth default mode requires a trigger. A trigger is not the same as a suspicion or the first sliver of doubt. We fall out of truth default mode only when the case against our initial assumption becomes definitive. We don’t behave like sober-minded scientists, slowly gathering evidence of the truth or falsity of something before reaching a conclusion. We do the opposite. We start by believing and we stop believing only when our doubts and misgivings rise to the point where we can no longer explain them away.
Understanding “Default To Truth”
Doubts trigger disbelief only when you can’t explain them away in the movies. The brilliant detective confronts the subject and catches him right then and there in a lie. But in real life, accumulating the amount of evidence necessary to overwhelm our doubts takes time. He says in his book, you ask your husband if he’s having an affair and he says no and you believe him. Your default is that he is telling the truth. And whatever little inconsistencies you spot in his story, you explain away. But three months later you happen to notice an unusual hotel charge on his credit card bill. And the combination of that and the weeks of unexplained absences and mysterious phone calls pushes you over the top. That’s how lies are detected. Default to truth becomes an issue when we are forced to choose between two alternatives, one of which is likely, and the other of which is impossible to imagine default to truth biases us in favor of the most likely interpretation, right up to the point where believing becomes absolutely impossible.
This is how most human beings are wired. In those rare cases where trust ends in betrayal, those victimized by default to truth deserve our sympathy. I came across that and it was really validating because I’d had people ask me after my husband left and his affair came out and I had said, I knew something was going on, but I just didn’t know what, and I, I knew something was wrong and I knew he was, he was lying to me. And, and I remember one woman in particular said to me, Then why didn’t you just leave if you knew? Why didn’t you just leave? She was challenging me and I thought I couldn’t explain it at the time, but now after reading this, I understood we’re not wired to think people are lying to us, especially not our own husband. Exactly. It takes a lot of evidence to get to the point that pushes us over that edge. And it’s funny because after all of this has happened, I think everybody’s lying to me now. It’s really hard for me to trust anybody. If I almost think if I could go back to talk to my younger self, I would wanna say, don’t believe everything people tell you; even and especially not necessarily the people that you trust the most. They might not always be telling you the truth. Be willing to consider that.
Trauma Mama Husband Drama
I’m gonna take a break here for just a second to talk about my book Trauma Mama Husband Drama. You can find it on our books page which has a curated list of all of the books that we recommend. My book is a picture book for adults. So it is the easiest way for you to explain what’s going on to someone who might not understand it. It’s also just a good reference for yourself because it shows what’s happening with very telling and emotional illustrations as well as infographics at the back.
I’m always telling women in this situation where they find out about porn or they find out about something that’s a really big lie to reconsider all the other things he said. So for example, if they said, well, I went and talked to my pastor and he said that I’m fine and that I can, you know, whatever, maybe consider, he never actually talked to the pastor. Maybe the pastor never even said that. I said to my therapist this and the therapist said this, maybe consider the therapist didn’t say that at all. There’s so many things to consider that you think, okay, well I caught him in this and then he went to the therapist and this is what the therapist said.
“Someone Lying To Me Is a Safety Issue”
And they don’t realize that perhaps the therapist never even said that. And so we just don’t know what we don’t know in these situations because we’re lied to so much that it is impossible to know where the truth starts and where the lies end or you know, either or vice versa. But what you can know is this person is not trustworthy and I need to be safe and someone lying to me is a safety issue. Yeah, it’s, it’s not a moral issue, it’s not an annoying issue, it’s not an addiction issue, it’s a safety issue. You deserve to be in a relationship where you are emotionally and psychologically safe because this is not psychologically or emotionally safe for you to be in a relationship where someone is lying to you, especially if they’re lying to you constantly. That is just super, super unsafe. And it’s also really bad for you spiritually because then you’re having to go against what God is trying to alarm you about.
Like the spirit or your internal intuition, whatever you wanna call it, is screaming out to you something isn’t right. And in order to trust your husband in that instance, you’re having to go against the ultimate truth and that is the spirit of God. If you’re religious or your own intuition or the universe or whatever you wanna call it, in my faith I call it the Spirit. And I just wanna let women know like, don’t worship evil. Don’t throw the Spirit out the door and the things it’s trying to warn you about in order to worship evil essentially, or believe someone who is lying to you, get to safety. Right. Safety, safety, safety is so important, but it’s so hard to determine when you’re not safe. That’s the problem. It sounds easy, but determining this is very, very, very hard. Yeah. And so, you know, I don’t blame anyone who is going through the difficult time of trying to sort out what is happening, especially if they’re never getting the correct information. I think it’s insane that people can go to clergy, they can go to therapists, they can go to multiple therapists, and the word abuse is never even mentioned.
“Marriage Does Not Have to Be This Grueling, Terrible Slog”
It’s a strong word, but it’s the right one. And you know, 90% of solving a problem is defining it properly.
Exactly. Well I appreciate you taking the time to share your story. You are so strong and so amazing. And just a real quick note at the end, now that you’re married to someone who is not abusive, I hear from people in that situation, I’ve never been in that situation, so I don’t know what it’s like, but for women who are in abuse situations who don’t know it’s abuse, when they go to clergy or friends or therapists or whoever, a lot of people will tell them, Well, you know, marriage is really hard. It’s a lot of hard work. And then I talk to women who have been in abuse situation and then they marry a man who’s non abusive. And frequently, I would say a hundred percent of the time, probably 99% of the time, they’re like, it’s not hard work at all. Like it’s a little bit of work, but it’s not, I don’t even know what they’re talking about. Marriage does not have to be this grueling, terrible slog. Do you agree with that? How are, how are your feelings?
Marriage to a “Normal Man”
Oh my gosh. Wholeheartedly after the craziness and chaos and pain and struggle of two abusive situations. I would say being married to a normal air quotes normal man. It’s like, it’s the most, I, I can’t even describe the difference. It’s so, it’s so much easier. It’s so peaceful, it’s so different. And, and I’d wanna just say this, the difference, you know, being intimate with a man that is not caught up in porn versus one who is, that is like night and day. And that’s real love. When you’ve got a man that is, is not addicted to porn, you get to be the apple of his eye. What I mean is you get to be the center of his world because he’s not distracted and looking around at everything else. And that’s, I, that’s what I wanted getting married, was to be in, in a situation with somebody that really loved me and cares about me and wants to focus on me and love me, and me love him in return. And that’s what I wanted. And now I finally have that and it’s, it’s like night and day.
Well that’s what marriage is or should be, right? Yes. I mean, men who are, that’s tricky getting married and don’t actually want to love their wife. They’re not committed to loving her. They don’t really care. What they want is a sex slave maybe, or someone who does their dishes or something.
Why do those men even get married? I don’t even understand why they’re getting married.
I don’t either control maybe –
I’m not sure. Yeah. Somebody to do the dishes and make dinner. I don’t know.
Marriage to a Non-Abuser Isn’t Super Hard!
I think they perceive it as a control thing, right? Someone’s in their power and a lot of the abusers also like it when their wives have children because then they can entrap them, right? So from a religious standpoint, like, oh, get married, have kids and abusers are like, great because then she will be stuck with me forever. And getting away from me is very, very hard. So all the religious scripting too makes it difficult for us to recognize, like maybe having a kid with this guy is not the best idea. You know? It’s, it’s so, so complex and I really appreciate you taking the time to share and thank you for saying that cause the more women I talk to in healthy marriages that are saying that makes me really happy. And I just wanna share that with everyone else. Like, when people say, Well, you know, this is an average marriage cause the average marriage is really, really hard. No, it’s not. The answer to that would be, well the average marriage to an abuser is really hard.
But not a non abuser.
Nope, not a non abuser. It’s totally different.
And I’m so happy that you’ve got that. Well, thank you so much for taking the time to share your story with us today.
Yeah, thank you. Thank you for taking the time to hear it. It helps to talk about it.
If this podcast is helpful to you, please support it. And until next week, stay safe out there.
This was awesome! Stability is sexy. Marrying a man who is emotionally and psychologically safe brings the stability marriage is intended to have.
So so useful! I need so much to get safe.
Hoping my story helped (it sure helped me to share!), and I have so much appreciation for Anne, the BTR.org community and podcast. Thank you for the opportunity.