Betrayal Trauma Recovery advocates for the safety of women and children. By interviewing three abusive men who recognize their abuse and want to change, BTR hopes to offer insight and information that will help women get to safety, not try to rescue their abusers.
BTR supports Center For Peace as the only abuse cessation organization that addresses pornography use as abuse and takes emotional, physical, spiritual, and financial abuse seriously.
Many victims of betrayal and abuse hope that their abusive partner will change, regardless of their decision to stay in the relationship.
True change is difficult to detect and when women wait for their abuser to change, they may be in constant danger of further abuse and betrayal.
Anne Blythe, founder of Betrayal Trauma Recovery, interviews three men (David, Gus, and Adam) who have recognized their own abusiveness and are working toward changing and living amends to their families. As women understand what real change looks like, they are better able to set and maintain safety boundaries that will protect them, whether or not their abuser changes. Listen to the free BTR podcast and read the full transcript below for more.
Real Change: The Abuser Recognizes How His Choices Harm Others
When abusive men recognize and accept the ways that their behavior has harmed their families, they may be on the road to true recovery.
Betrayal and relational abuse can cause devastating effects to a woman’s health and wellbeing. Many women experience:
- Chronic pain
- Sleep disorders
- Eating disorders
- Mood swings
- Emotional numbness
- And more
Gus shares the tragic reality of his wife’s serious health issues caused by the trauma of abuse and betrayal:
She had pneumonia and it was just from finding out everything. It put her mind and body into shock. This isn’t just an emotional breakdown. This is real and it really effects way more than I think it does.Gus
Real Change: When Abusers Accept That CONTROL Is Central To Their Abusiveness
Many abusive men blame situations and feelings for their abusive behavior, things like:
- Coming from an abusive home
- Being exposed to pornography as a child
- Mental disorders/illness
- Lack of social support
- Addiction to pornography and/or substances
The reality is that abusers abuse because of how they think, not because of how they were raised or how they feel.
The choice to try to control other people is at the heart of abusiveness. Many men refuse to accept this, but as Adam explains below, until they do, they cannot change:
I couldn’t fix something that I didn’t know was a part of me. I’m not just working at stopping one or two behaviors, I’m working on revamping—Control/ALT/Delete—a hard restart on everything that I thought I was and creating a new me. Part of that was recognizing all these other behaviors, actions, and the consequences and fall-out of everything.Adam
David understands and accepts the role that control plays in his behavior toward his wife and children:
The word ‘control’ just really goes to the heart of what abuse is all about, and that, I think, is something that helped me get over that hump of accepting the word ‘abuse.’ No, I’m not the person who is going to throw a punch or who’s going to block a doorway or something, but every time I’ve lied it’s because I’m trying to control an outcome. Every time I have gaslighted or manipulated, in any way, I’m trying to control an outcome in an unfair way.David
Abusers Must Accept That It’s ABUSE
Many men get hung up on the word “abuse”, choosing instead to water it down with words like “harm”, “acting-out”, “issues”, and “mistake”.
Using the word “abuse” and owning all that it entails is a necessary benchmark in the process of changing.
Abuse is a tough word. To mentally put myself in the same shoes as the guy who’s going to kick in his wife’s teeth, that’s a really tough pill to swallow. There’s a lot of pride that gets in the way of that. To knock that pride down took a lot of effort.Adam
How Abusers Can Learn To Recognize Their Abusive Behaviors
David shares four ways that men can begin to recognize and own their abusiveness:
- Encourage your wife to get educated about abuse, trauma, and addiction.
- Listen to what your wife says.
- Be proactive in your own recovery.
- Don’t weaponize recovery tools
What Is “Living Amends”?
For an abuser to truly change, he must commit to and constantly work toward, living amends. This means that rather than a momentary “making amends”, he spends the rest of his life creating safety and peace for the family that he abused.
This means that men need to be willing and available to help their partners in any way that they need it as they heal from trauma:
You have to listen to what your wife says. You have to really be willing to say, ‘Tell me what you need from me and whatever you ask me to do I will do. The man cannot say, ‘You tell me what to do and I’ll do it’ and, in effect, put the entire burden upon her because this is a woman who just had her entire life completely demolished.David
Betrayal Trauma Recovery Advocates For Women’s Safety FIRST
At BTR, we believe that every woman deserves emotional, sexual, physical, and financial safety. Waiting for an abusive partner to change without creating and maintaining effective boundaries is not safety, but it is important to know that men can change – if they are willing to put in the work.
As David, an abusive man in recovery says to victims of betrayal and abuse:
Don’t make saving your marriage your priority. Make your education and your growth and your safety your priority, so that, hopefully, in the future, you have a marriage that’s actually worth saving.David
Contrary to what some may believe, Betrayal Trauma Recovery advocates for safe, healthy families. The best way to create a safe, healthy family is by making sure women are safe from abuse.
One way we can help is by providing a safe place to share. With more than 15 sessions a week, it’s easier than ever to find a Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group session that fits your schedule without having to leave your home. Each session is led by a Certified Betrayal Trauma Specialist.
Welcome to Betrayal Trauma Recovery, this is Anne.
We have a very interesting episode today. Everyone’s going to want to tune in because we have the husbands of three women from our community on. We’re going to be calling them Gus, David, and Adam, so welcome.
Gus: Thank you.
David: Thank you.
Adam: Thank you for having us.
Anne: Before we get to this amazing interview, if you are wondering what the reality is in your relationship and you’re struggling to know if you are being gaslit or abused, please join Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group. Go to btr.org and click on Services. You can see the tab for our online daily support group. We have multiple sessions per day in multiple times zones, so check that out.
Also, know that Betrayal Trauma Recovery partners with Center for Peace. Many women ask us if there’s a place where we can send our husbands that adheres to this abuse model, and Center for Peace is that place. If you’re looking for a recovery program for your husband that adheres to the abuse model, check out Center for Peace. The website is cenfp.org.
Many people think that BTR is anti-man or maybe pro-divorce and we are neither of those things. We are very pro-safety. Safety is the top priority.
We’re going to start with a very difficult question and we’re just going to go down the line starting with Gus and then we’ll go to David and then Adam. Their wives are in our BTR community. Let’s talk about how you came to realize that your addictive behaviors were actually abusive to your wife.
Gus: In one sense, I think it’s something that continually is expounded upon. I’m like, “Okay, this is how I’ve hurt her.” Then, as I go on, I’m like, “Oh no, that was just the beginning.”
In the beginning, it was when she, literally, got physically ill when she found out a bunch of stuff. She had to go to the doctor. She had pneumonia and it was just from finding out everything. It put her mind and body into shock. That was probably one of the biggest things. I was like, “Oh, this isn’t just an emotional breakdown. This is real and it really effects way more than I think it does.”
Anne: David, what about you?
David: For me, it really starts with safety. After my most recent D-day, seeing the reaction on my wife’s face and in her body and the sound of her voice kind of made me frantically look for ways to get her in a safe place. Part of that safety-seeking was, “I’m going to listen to the things that she has to say. I’m going to do my best to open my mind.” I’ve just made it sound like a far easier process than it actually was.
There were a lot of false starts and stops throughout that. I’ve tried to become safer for her, and listen to the things that she says, read the things that she recommends, and watch the videos that she wants to show me. That helped to chip away at this wall that I’d built up around the word abuse because abuse is a tough word.
I deal pretty regularly with women who have been very violently, physically abused, and to mentally put myself in the same shoes as the guy who’s going to kick in his wife’s teeth, that’s a really tough pill to swallow. There’s a lot of pride that gets in the way of that.
In order to knock that pride down, really for me, took a lot of effort to say, “I’m going to listen to my wife when she says something that I disagree with before I immediately start to argue with her. I’m going to take a deep breath and ask the question is this true or does this apply to me?”
Getting involved in recovery groups with other men has really helped me to see what abusive behavior looks like. Even my own abusive behavior because I’ll see somebody else doing it and I’ll think, “Man, what a jerk that guy is.” Then I’ll have a moment of clarity where I’ll say, “Oh, that’s what it looks like when I do exactly what I’m criticizing him for.” Being involved in a community like that really helps to open my eyes to the effect that my behavior has had when I see the effect that some other guy’s behavior has on his wife.
Anne: I think that’s why groups are recommended. You can sort of see what other people are doing and think, “Uh.” The only problem is if you think, “Well, at least I’m not like that guy.”
Okay, Adam, your turn. How about I ask you another one? Why do you think it’s so hard for men to understand that their behaviors, like lying, manipulation, gaslighting, deceit, things like that, are abusive to their wives? Why was it so hard for you to recognize?
Adam: Because I didn’t want to realize that. For me, realizing that meant that maybe some of the things that I was thinking that I was, all this negative self-talk, it was actually true or that maybe I really was bad.
I had a lot of internal struggles. I’d say my biggest hang-up in my recovery and my work towards recovery or even just acknowledging that I was an addict was that I was a liar. I could not be honest. I think, being honest with myself was probably what I was running from. Not knowing how it was affecting my wife or even really even caring at the time.
Anne: I tend to think that honesty is a skill. It’s a character trait, but it’s also this skill because, naturally, when we feel embarrassed or when something happens—I see my kids do it, they naturally want to lie.
They’ll say a little lie and I’ll be like, “Okay, you have another choice here.” This is the skill here that you can learn of honesty, and that’s one of the skills that men are learning when they’re in recovery, and women too, there are women addicts out there.
We’re all trying to improve on the skill of honesty, but it’s definitely something that, when you don’t want to tell the truth, is very difficult, especially to yourself. I think that’s really good.
Adam: Absolutely. I feel like lying is a skill, you get better at it. It’s something that you hone. You realize what you can get away with and how you can avoid the consequences. For me, there was a lot of my addiction that became a skill that I honed over time. Breaking that skill and creating a new skill is definitely two-fold.
I do want to say, going back to the original question, reading the book Why Does He Do That? and being in a group has really helped me see the effects of my actions, my addictive, abusive actions.
Gus: Can I add something? I think one of the other things that has really benefited me understanding that, is being in groups, not only with the men, but especially more with the women spouses of those husbands. Because, for whatever reason, we go through this thing where we think that our wives just don’t understand and they somehow transform into the bad guy.
But when I hear about other woman sharing her vulnerability and her pain, then I’m like, “Oh, she’s really hurt by that.” I would reflect and be like, “Oh, I’ve done the same thing to my wife, that must be like how she’s feeling.” That’s been probably one of the most beneficial things.
Adam: Same with me. I’ve been able to be more empathetic towards my wife by seeing how other people treat their wives and their reactions and then going, “Wow, I’m doing the same thing.” It’s mind-boggling why that would happen, but it does. I can be more empathetic towards another person seeing it from the outside than when I’m the abuser causing the abuse. Being able to see that I’m actually doing the same thing.
David: I would like to just add, I agree with what Adam said about recommending Why Does He Do That? I very strongly recommend that book to anybody listening to the podcast and also to a lot of people who I just encounter. I read the book and, afterward, as I was talking about it with my wife and she said, “What did you think about the book?”
I was almost embarrassed to say, “You know, I don’t see a lot of myself in that book,” because I was afraid that I was about to get into an argument. She responded with, “You know, I don’t see a lot of you in that book either,” which made me feel pretty good about myself. But, even if I’m not the terrorist as Bancroft describes it, or the Mr. Right, or all of these different guys that he describes, I’ve definitely seen some of those things and it helps me to kind of refine my approach to my relationship with my wife. There’s always a skill to be learned in becoming less and less abusive.
Anne: Now that you guys have read Why Does He Do That? your next homework assignment is to read The Verbally Abusive Relationship by Patricia Evans, because I look at these two as like the bibles of abuse. I wonder, if you didn’t see yourself in Why Does He Do That? if you would in The Verbally Abusive Relationship because there are some really subtle ways that I didn’t recognize before that are abuse.
One of them is stopping a conversation in the middle of a conversation, but not for boundaries’ sake but to control the conversation. I was really surprised about that, so that’s your next homework assignment and maybe after you guys read it you can come back on the podcast and tell me what you thought about it. It’s called The Verbally Abusive Relationship by Patricia Evans.
David: You mentioned the word “control,” which to me, I think, just really goes to the heart of what abuse is all about, and that, I think, is something that helped me get over that hump of accepting the word “abuse.”
No, I’m not the person who is going to throw a punch or who’s going to block a doorway or something, but every time I’ve lied it’s because I’m trying to control an outcome. Every time I have gaslighted, every time I have done any kind of manipulation, I am trying to control an outcome in an unfair way.
I think “control” really gets to the heart and soul of all of it and that is, “I’m going to control you in order to protect myself,” even if that doesn’t feel like abuse when I’m in the middle of it. Once you get out of it and you look back you can say, “Oh, okay. I get it now.”
One of the insights that I’ve had is definitions. We love definitions in order to communicate well with each other, but definitions are something that can really be weaponized. For example, if I say, “All right, here is my definition of what acting out looks like or what a relapse is.” What that means is I’ve drawn a bright line.
As long as I walk up to and get my toe within one inch of that line but don’t cross over it, then, hey, I’m in the clear. I haven’t violated it, I haven’t relapsed, I haven’t acted out and you can’t feel mad at me because I didn’t cross that line. I’m trying to control your feelings by using a definition. So many of the tools in the recovery drawer can be double-edged swords this way because you are using something that is supposed to help you recover, in order to control somebody else’s response.
Anne: Yeah, I think that’s one reason why this topic is bigger than just porn use. That’s why the abuse umbrella seems to fit better because there are also these societal norms for men around “controlling a situation” or being in control. In general, our society has not taught men to recognize this type of abusive behavior, or women, and so it’s very difficult for people to wrap their head around that these forms of subtle “controlling the situation” are actually really harming someone else.
Women, classically speaking, have had a hard time with their voice. Speaking up, so that we’re being understood or saying things, especially when they’re dismissed, and gaslit. It’s bigger than just pornography. It’s also this huge societal imbalance between the way that men and women are perceived and how they are interacting in a lot of ways.
Once you were able to embrace the words abuse, knowing that abuse is a behavior and that behaviors can change and that people can change their behavior, how did coming to the understanding and then accepting that your addictive behaviors were abusive? How has that helped you improve your life? Let’s start with Gus.
Gus: I guess it comes down more to the rude awakening of recognizing that I really have been a terrible person. You look back and you’re like, “Wow, I am these things. I have done all of these things.” You start recognizing this is a bigger deal than I had at first thought. You recognize the physical aspects of it. Physical in every way. The physical side effects of what any kind of abuse does.
I can be verbally abusive, and it can affect someone physically. I have been physically abusive to my kids. I was mean. I took it out on everybody. Recognizing that I have ruined lives, I’ve taken them away from what they were supposed to be. It’s a heavy thing to bear, and I don’t know if there is any way to bear it without accepting it and being like, “I need God in this because I can’t do it.”
Anne: Well, and you certainly would not be able to bear it if you weren’t willing to change. The change part, I don’t know but I’m guessing, makes it a little bit easier to bear? Because, if you’re not willing to change, then denial is the only option. Otherwise, you’re just a really terrible person and you’re just going to continue to be a terrible person.
Now, I know the weight of it is very severe and very difficult, but as you have admitted that and moved forward has that made things better for you?
Gus: Oh, yeah. I don’t know if I would consider it a weight anymore. It’s very liberating, in a way, to accept this is what I am, but this doesn’t necessarily mean this is what I will always be. It cuts off the self-deception. I think, for myself anyway, I didn’t recognize how much energy, focus, time, and attention I put into the self-deception, that it being gone is a relief, and just the acceptance is a relief. If I can learn to accept myself without all the crap, all the negativity, and if I can learn to love and accept myself. That’s the only way I can move forward.
Anne: We will talk about living amends and how that helps you process and move from the point of “I am a really bad person” to “I was,” in the past tense.
Adam, what about you? How has coming to understand and accept that your addictive behaviors were, in fact, abusive helped you work toward recovery?
Adam: When I first realized, that moment, there was an intervention between some ecclesiastical leaders and friends, and the moment I realized that I had an addiction, I actually felt hope. It was the hope of “I’m not broken, and I can heal, and I can do something about this.” It was empowering, in a way, and that helped me get on a path towards recovery.
I think realizing that I had abusive tendencies, abusive behaviors and that my addiction itself was an abuse, it woke me up to how complex and serious this addiction really was. That it just wasn’t one dimensional or two-dimensional, it was totally three-dimensional, and I had to work on every aspect of my life.
Anne: You had mentioned before that one of the reasons you lied was to avoid the consequences. Do you think in admitting that, “Okay, this is abuse, this is harmful,” that you sort of leaned into the consequences and how has that worked out for you?
Adam: I couldn’t fix something that I didn’t know was a part of me. In that sense, knowing that I had another dimension to my addiction has helped my recovery that much more, in that I’m not just working at stopping one or two behaviors, I’m working on revamping, Control/ALT/Delete, you know, a hard restart on everything that I thought I was and creating the new me. Part of that was recognizing all these other behaviors, actions, and the consequences and fall-out of everything.
Gus: This might not sound the most pleasant but, in the beginning, when someone is in denial and whatever change has to happen to make them progress in the right direction, I think, at least for myself, I wasn’t where my feelings towards others forced me to want to do better.
I don’t know if it was because I was still in such a selfish state, but I think it came down more to an understanding of myself and what was going to happen to me, if I didn’t change. Then, as I started getting sober, then the ability to have more empathy for my wife and children began to grow and increase.
Anne: Yeah, Lundy Bancroft says that. He says that an abusive man is only concerned about the consequences to him, not so much about what’s going on around him. Until you have a period of non-abusive behavior, can you even start to think about how it was affecting other people.
Okay, David, I’m interested to hear your take on this, how admitting these behaviors were abusive helped you work toward a healthier life?
David: I want to start by saying I’ve counseled with a lot of men who’ve told me, “You know, I don’t know if my marriage is going to survive,” and I will always tell them, “I’m not the least bit interested in your marriage surviving because, right now, you don’t have a marriage that’s worth saving. What I’m more interested in doing is saving you.”
If you can be saved, and that’s a big if, then you might be the kind of person who’s worth staying married to, so let’s focus on getting you sober. Let’s get you to stop being abusive. Let’s get you to make some of the progress that your wife really is desperately hoping that you’re going to make towards being a safe person for her to be around.
I think questions about safety really have to start with that attitude. We can’t approach the problem by saying how do we save this marriage and then with a stronger marriage how do we fix the people in it because, if one of those people is just really vicious and harmful, then that’s not a marriage that’s worth saving.
How does a man become a safe person so that he’s worth being married to? I’d say the first step is that you have to listen to what your wife says. You have to really be willing to say tell me what you need from me and whatever you ask me to do I will do.
That’s a lot easier said than done, but as with anything in life, it gets easier with practice. There’s an interesting corollary to that that I’ve learned. The man cannot say, “You tell me what to do and I’ll do it” and, in effect, put the entire burden upon her because this is a woman who just had her entire life completely demolished.
As she’s surveying the wreckage, the man walks up to her—a man who’s supposed to be her companion and on the same side as her—and says, “Listen, if you don’t come up with a solution then that’s on you.” Step one is listening to her, but step two is you really have to be proactive in your own recovery. You can’t simply say, “If you don’t demand it of me then it’s not my responsibility” and then wash your hands of it.
I really want to echo what Adam had to say about weaponizing Why Does He Do That? but the reality is that any of these tools can be weaponized. Step three is don’t weaponize any of these tools. It’s hard to do because you have to be conscience. You have to be aware of what you’re doing so that you don’t weaponize these tools.
I want to give an example of this. The phrase “I get my validation from God” can be a very healthy attitude or it can be a weapon. “I get my validation from God” was something that really helped me as I was struggling through a hard time when I just wasn’t feeling a lot of validation from my wife because, reality check, I didn’t deserve any validation from her, but not to the extent that I didn’t deserve any validation at all, like, “Hey, I made some progress. I made this little baby step. I want you to throw me a party. I want you to congratulate me.”
I want you to give me some kind of a grace period where now the next time I screw up I could say, “Yeah, but what about that baby step that I took three weeks ago?” When a man in recovery does make a positive step and the woman doesn’t react the way that he expects or hopes her to react, the healthy response is to say, “That’s okay, God knows my heart. God knows that I have made this difficult and important step. If she’s not willing to acknowledge that right now that’s okay. I’ll get my validation from God for now.”
Now, here’s how you weaponize the phrase. “I get my validation from God” is a weapon when you say it as, “I don’t care what you think. Your opinion is not important to me because God’s opinion is important, so I’m going to ignore you.”
That’s just one of the many ways that you can take these very good, strong, healthy tools of recovery and turn it. A hammer is a tool, but it’s a weapon too, if you want it to be, and any of these things can be weaponized. Don’t weaponize the tools.
Speaking to any of the men who are listening to this, your wife can be one of the most important tools in your toolbox of recovery but don’t weaponize that. First of all, you have to recognize she’s not a useful tool if she doesn’t get an education into what abuse looks like and how to get out of it.
The more educated she is, the more she’s going to hold boundaries, and it’s going to hurt. You have to recognize, “Hey, she has every right in the world to educate herself and then to hold these boundaries.” Building up resentments over those boundaries is weaponizing.
Codependency ideas are weaponizing, “Hey, you’re supposed to be helping me out of this, but you have your own messed up things going on so you’re not doing your half of things.” That’s weaponizing it. Having a wife who is strong, educated, committed to holding her boundaries, there will never be a better tool, but just like anything else it can be weaponized. You know, “You’re treating me unfairly.”
To the women out there, don’t make saving your marriage your priority. Make your education and your growth and your safety your priority, so that, hopefully, in the future, you have a marriage that’s actually worth saving.
To any men who listen to this, thank you for listening. I really appreciate it. I want every man in the entire world to hear what I have to say. Recovery is possible. Honesty is possible. Living without the shame, the guilt, and the fear, it’s actually possible. No matter how many times you’ve failed. I failed over and over and over again and I’ve thought the worst possible things about myself, but you don’t have to live that way.
Anne: At this point in the interview, David made a very emotional plea to men to change. To seek truth and seek safety for their wives. Also, the microphone went out right at that moment and we lost him. We’re actually going to pick up this conversation again in next week’s episode. We’re going to be talking about things like living amends and how abusive men can make restitution for their abuse, so stay tuned for next week.
As always, if this podcast is helpful to you, please rate it on iTunes. Every single one of your ratings helps isolated women find us. If you need one-on-one support or if you need to talk to somebody, go to btr.org. We have two different options for you. Number 1, we have individual sessions that you can schedule at any time and they’re online. You can do it on your phone or in your car while on a tablet or on your computer. You can find a time that works for you.
Number 2, attend Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group where you never have to schedule an appointment. There are multiple sessions a day in multiple times zones so you can just hop on whenever you need to.
Our coaches get it immediately. They can help you set boundaries and you will not have to explain what’s going on or try to convince the therapist that this is abuse. Our coaches get it immediately, so go to our website btr.org to learn more.
Until next week, stay safe out there.