How does it feel when a man betrays and lies to his partner? Devastating, heartbreaking, confusing, empty.
Julianne Cusick, co-founder of Restoring The Soul, joins Anne Blythe on the free BTR podcast to share her own story of experiencing the devastation of betrayal. Read the full transcript and listen to the BTR podcast for more.
“I Trusted The Lies”: The Trauma of Discovery
Before discovery, many women feel that something is “off” in their relationship. They often blame themselves and try to change to become “better”. However, betrayal is not a marriage problem – it’s his problem.
When men disclose the truth about the betrayal, or victims discover the truth for themselves, women can experience a severe traumatic episode.
Julianne shares what discovery was like for her:
It was shortly after our third wedding anniversary, when I caught him in a lie, that things started to unravel and he said the dreaded words that any woman would hate to hear, which is, “There’s something I need to tell you.” At that point, he started to disclose his struggles, his secrecy, and his behaviors over the last year that I had no idea was going on.Julianne Cusick, co-founder of Restoring the Soul
Self-Care After The Trauma of Discovery
After discovery, many victims experience feelings of:
To cope with the intensity of these emotions, victims can practice daily self-care. Even if it’s only moments day, women can:
- Nourish their bodies
- Stay hydrated
- Breathe deeply
- Talk to a safe person
When victims practice self-care, they are better able to process the trauma and begin taking steps toward safety and healing.
The Trauma of Constant Lies and Manipulation
Gaslighting, outright lies, blame-shifting, and withholding the truth are ways that unfaithful and abusive men protect their abusive behaviors.
Tragically, constant manipulation takes an emotional toll on victims psychologically, mentally, and even physically.
When women begin to see the extent of the manipulation, they can re-experience the trauma of the initial betrayal(s) and experience new trauma.
The confusion that accompanies gaslighting can be so intense that women can have trouble deciphering reality.
“I Trusted The Lies”: Seek Support Now
When you’re living [in a manipulative relationship], actually seeing it is so difficult unless you’ve got a multitude of concrete examples and you’re also tuned in to a network of other victims, which is why we have the Betrayal Trauma Recovery group.Anne Blythe, founder of Betrayal Trauma Recovery
Safe support can come in a trusted support group, a trauma and abuse-informed professional, and having a network of other victims who understand covert abuse.
The Trauma of Broken Trust
Trust does not co-exist with lies and betrayal. Women often feel immense grief when they see the reality that their partner has trampled on the precious trust that was given.
The trauma of broken trust can be long-lasting and subtly present in many aspects of a woman’s life. This is an unfortunate but realistic effect of betrayal. Women can begin healing this trauma as they seek safety, find strong support, and practice daily self-care.
Can Trust Ever Be Rebuilt?
The sorrow of broken trust can feel overwhelming. Many victims want to know if they will ever be able to trust their partner again.
The answer is yes, but only if their partner does the extremely hard work of earning her trust back by living an honest, sober, and abuse-free life and choosing to live amends.
That trust really takes a long time to be rebuilt and restored. It has a lot to do with how the man responds. Is he angry? Is he defensive? Is he blaming? Is he evasive? Does he continue to not hold the truth? Does he continue to lie and gaslight? Or is he forthcoming and repentant and broken and shattered by the impact of what he’s done on his wife’s heart? Is he pursuing truth and transformation?Julianne Cusick, co-founder of Restoring the Soul
Betrayal Trauma Recovery Supports Victims of Betrayal
At BTR, we understand the agony of betrayal. The loneliness, the grief, and the confusion can be overwhelming for victims.
We believe that every woman deserves a safe place to process trauma, share her story, ask questions, and form connections with other victims.
The Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group holds multiple sessions daily in every time zone. Join today and receive the validation, compassion, and support that you deserve as you begin your journey to healing.
Betrayal Trauma Recovery Supports Victims of Betrayal
Welcome to Betrayal Trauma Recovery. This is Anne.
I have Julianne Cusick on today’s episode. She has experienced first-hand the devastation of sexual betrayal and the isolation, fear, and shame that can accompany it.
Julianne is the co-founder of Restoring the Soul. Her primary focus is working with women suffering from betrayal trauma as a result of their partner’s sexual compulsiveness, pornography use, and infidelity.
“I Trusted The Lies”: Seek Support Now
She speaks to the hearts of women from her own story of healing and redemption and has a passion for healing the hearts of hurting women. For the past 15 years, she has met with women one-on-one and led Soul Care Support Groups for wives overcoming intimate partner betrayal.
Julianne: Anne, thank you. It’s so great to be here with you today.
Anne: Let’s start with your personal story, which was your baptism by fire into this new world of emotional and psychological abuse that isn’t widely recognized.
He Was Honest, So I Trusted The Lies
Did you recognize your husband’s abusive behaviors at first?
Julianne: No, Anne. I didn’t. Part of that was because they were hidden and secret from me, but prior to our engagement and subsequent marriage, Michael disclosed to me that in his teens and twenties he had struggled with pornography and compulsive sexual behaviors.
I was young and naïve, Anne. So I said, “Well, that’s fine. It’s in the past. But it’s not okay once we get married.” For the first year he was “sober” if you will. But then it was during our second year of marriage that he started to act out, unbeknownst to me.
“I Caught Him In A Lie”
It was shortly after our third wedding anniversary, when I caught him in a lie, that things started to unravel. He said the dreaded words that any woman would hate to hear, which is, “There’s something I need to tell you.” At that point, he started to disclose his struggles, his secrecy, and his behaviors over the last year that I had no idea was going on.
Anne: Yeah. The dreaded D-day that everyone talks about. They talk about their life before D-day and their life after D-day. It doesn’t always have to be discovery of porn use. It can be the day that you recognized, “Whoa, what he’s been doing to me has been emotionally abusive,” or something like that. It doesn’t always have to be a confession on their end. D-day can be just the day you realized that your life was different than you expected.
Betrayal Traumatizes Women
Julianne: It can be anything that’s significant to the individual. For me, my D-day was the the day he told me. I did not discover Michael’s behavior, he disclosed to me. That’s really significant. I’ve worked with women both ways and I think more women kind of stumble upon it and discover it.
When I caught Michael in the lie, he didn’t continue to lie to me, which was a real gift. He started to disclose everything. I didn’t go through that denial period with him gaslighting for months or years. It was the D-day of this is the destruction of the marriage that I thought I had and the man that I thought I knew.
Anne: Now, you’re still married to Michael and you guys are public about your story. Before he disclosed to you, did you have something in your gut, or did you suspect something was wrong or was this completely out of the blue for you?
“I Didn’t Feel Emotionally Connected To Him”
Julianne: The behavior really was completely out of the blue because I had so much respect for him. I just didn’t put the two together. Relationally, I felt a disconnection. I didn’t feel emotionally connected to him.
We had recently celebrated our third anniversary right before this D-day and he’s professing his love to me and has this gift. I remember thinking, “This is a bunch of bull. I don’t believe what you’re saying. You’re saying one thing but I’m feeling something different.” I think what I did pick up on was there was a real emotional disconnect in our marriage. He was saying all the right things, but I didn’t feel it in my gut.
Common Marriage Advice Doesn’t Work When Lies & Manipulation Are Involved
Anne: When you were having that feeling of “You know what, something’s not quite right,” again, you were disconnected from the fact that it was porn use or infidelity or whatever was going on, but when you had that gut feeling that something wasn’t right, did you try any of the common marriage advice like “love, serve, forgive,” or anything like that? Did that work or did it not work?
Julianne: Well, thankfully, I wasn’t exposed to any of those things, and three weeks later, when I did find out the truth, I was devastated. I was angry, and I’m very grateful that we got some good counsel right away.
Abusers Are 100% Responsible For Their Choices
Our mentor said, “Julianne, this is not about you at all. This is everything to do with Michael, and if you guys are going to have a marriage, Julianne, you are 0% responsible at this point and Michael is 100% responsible. Michael, if she’s ever going to trust you again you have to be completely, 100% honest with her.”
We embarked on a journey. He continued to tell me things from his past whether it was before we’d even met, five, ten years prior, or within our marriage. It was brutal. It was devastating, but he was committed to bringing everything into the light, and because of that I was able to begin to slowly trust him over the course of probably that year.
Anne: Let’s talk about the psychological abuse. Like the lying and the gaslighting that was happening before he started being honest, but you didn’t know about it. You’ve got sexual coercion going on, where you have a sexual boundary of no porn use that he is not disclosing to you and other types of behaviors.
Gaslighting And Lying Are Abusive
A lot of people don’t like BTR because they think we’re too extreme because we call those types of behaviors abusive. What are your feelings about that?
Julianne: I think gaslighting is absolutely abusive. Before we had the term clinically, when I started working with women and sharing my story and I would hear the outright lies that women were being told and they were saying this doesn’t make sense to me. For lack of a better term, we just called it “crazy-making.”
Gaslighting Is Psychological Abuse
I think what was crazy-making, for me, was, on one hand, here was this respectable, responsible man that I admired, respected, and trusted, and, on the other hand, here was this double life. This secret life that I didn’t know about, that his friends didn’t know about, that was secret and hidden. That just existing was crazy-making, was gaslighting.
Anne: Well, it’s also flat out lying to you.
Julianne: And some of it was direct, as in, “Well, I’m working,” when he really wasn’t working. Thankfully, it was a short period, it was only a year. He was caught before his behaviors got worse. For me, thankfully, before it was 5 years or 10 years or 20 years.
“I Trusted The Lies, Now I’m Experiencing Betrayal Trauma”
Many of the women I work with, that’s what they’re dealing with. At that point, the gaslighting and psychological trauma or the psychological abuse and the betrayal trauma just increase exponentially the longer that women are subject to that man living a lie.
Anne: Now, you’re a psychotherapist, were you a psychotherapist before this happened to you?
Julianne: No, actually my husband was a trained therapist at the time. He had worked in clinical mental health and then got his master’s degree the first year we were married. Then, the third year of our marriage, right before all of this came out, I was supposed to start my master’s degree.
“I Trusted The Lies”: Shame For Our Abuser’s Choices
I had audited his program and sat in on all of the classes, but it was my turn to go through for credit to actually earn my degree. Really, by the grace of God, Anne, I just didn’t have a peace about doing the degree that summer, and it had been a goal for almost five years. I withdrew from the program.
Almost to the day that the program would have started is when I caught Michael in a lie, and he disclosed everything. There was just no way I would have been able to go through this—I call it my master’s degree in trauma from God.
I couldn’t have done that and actually been in school in a master’s program. I would have ended up withdrawing anyway, and everyone would have known, and the shame—because even though we, as women, haven’t done anything shameful, so many of us, I find, feel ashamed of what our husbands have done and we somehow feel like we’re shamed.
“Our Trust Has Been Broken, Now What?”
Anne: We feel stupid, too. Like, “Why didn’t I see this or why didn’t I know?” There’s a shame that comes along with that too, I think.
Julianne: Yeah, it can. I encourage women not to add that level of shame onto themselves, but many women do feel like, “How come I didn’t know? What’s wrong with me that I didn’t see this?” Our only crime is that we trusted.
Anne: Yeah, and in order to be in a relationship and be happy and move forward there has to be some element of trust, so it was like a calculated choice that we made. Why would you get married with this skeptical heart? That’s not going to work.
Julianne: Absolutely. Nobody ever marries somebody they don’t trust, at least I hope they don’t. But then we find out, “Oh, my gosh, our trust has been broken, now what?” That trust really takes a long time to be rebuilt and restored. It has a lot to do with how the man responds.
“IS He Willing To Make Life-Long Amends?”
Is he angry? Is he defensive? Is he blaming? Is he evasive? Does he continue to not hold the truth? Does he continue to lie and gaslight? Or is he forthcoming and repentant and broken and shattered by the impact of what he’s done on his wife’s heart? Is he pursuing truth and transformation?
Anne: Yeah, and also, I would say, willing to make life-long amends. Living amends of this, continually. I’m not saying forever and ever and ever, but I am saying recognizing the damage that he’s done and needing to make things better for his wife who he’s hurt so badly.
Julianne: That was another gift that Michael gave me. He really pursued me, relentlessly, and I was not nice to be around. I was like, “Look, I don’t like you, I don’t love you, I don’t know if I ever will love you, but I’m staying.” I didn’t feel like I really felt released to divorce.
“Set Boundaries Immediately”
In retrospect, I now talk with women and say, “Wait at least six months to a year before you make a life-altering decision because you’re in a state of trauma.” Looking back, it was probably that trauma state that I was in. “I can’t make a decision right now, so I’m going to kind of watch and wait and see what happens.”
Anne: Yeah, I was in that boat too. I do encourage women to set boundaries immediately, whatever those are. With me, the gaslighting and the emotional abuse was so extreme, and the denial and the blaming and blame-shifting and all of that, that I had to set a no-contact boundary. There was literally not one interaction that I could have, where I wasn’t somehow blamed or gaslit, and so I set a no-contact boundary, but I didn’t want to get divorced.
I waited and then he didn’t do anything. He didn’t pursue me in any way or try to make amends. Nothing. Then he filed for divorce. I was like, “Okay. “Clearly, he’s not doing anything and, if he files that’s where his heart is.”
Financial Abuse, Lies, and Abandonment
I felt a lot of peace knowing that I had set my boundary and I was safe at that point, although not financially safe. Then it also felt very emotionally disturbing to watch what he was doing from a safe distance. I mean it was heart-wrenching because he did everything that I didn’t want him to do.
He first shut down the bank account and then files for divorce and then lies to everybody about what happened. Every single thing that is a nightmare, happened. It’s actually still happening. In fact, I recently found out that he is becoming a therapist. Since I have no contact with him, I’m not 100% sure, but I think that’s what is happening, so I will correct the record if that’s not the case. I think he’s doing that to prove to everyone that he’s the one that’s healthy.
Set Safety Boundaries Right Away
Even though he’s doing that, I’m like, “He is full-blown gone. There is no part of him that recognizes the truth, I guess.” I’m having a lot more compassion for that lately as I heal more. When people say “wait a year to make a decision about things,” that is not the same as wait a year to set a boundary.
We want women to be safe while they’re thinking about what to do. You can set a boundary immediately and then make those life-altering decisions later or, in my case, he made his way out of my life.
It’s Easier To Know If You Can Trust With Boundaries In Place
Julianne: Yes, I agree. Thanks for the clarification there. I agree with boundaries, and I set immediate boundaries with Michael. We had separate bedrooms, he slept on the floor in the living room and I had the bedroom in the apartment to myself. It was that way for months. There were definitely lots of boundaries in place.
When I say “wait a year,” it’s for those life-altering decisions, like for divorce, especially when children are involved, to try and have as much stability as possible when the woman is already dealing with a crisis situation.
No-Contact Boundaries Help With Pathological Liars
Let me say to you, Anne, I’m so sorry. I’ve heard your podcast before, but to hear your story today, my heart just breaks for the gaslighting and the blaming. It’s so emotionally and psychologically damaging that the person that you’ve trusted and is supposed to have your back is actually the one that’s turned against you in such a vicious way. I’m so sorry.
Anne: With my no-contact boundary it’s been easier and easier and easier. It gets easier every year. I become stronger and my healing is better. I’m able to look at him more with compassion and sort of sorrow rather than absolute terror.
In the beginning, I thought of him as this zombie monster, who was trying to destroy me and there was nothing I could do to rationally talk with him or have a rational conversation or actually talk with him and get anything that made sense coming back. It’s scary.
“He Was The Model Husband To Everyone”
So many of the women that listen to this podcast, are living in that place of just absolute terror and fear and the nightmare. It’s hard. I think the other part of my story that’s really difficult for women to hear and it’s difficult for me to talk about because I don’t want to stress anyone out or freak anyone out, but he was like your husband for the first seven years.
He was very repentant. I was really proud of him. We spoke publicly, and that’s one reason why I use a pseudonym now. He was on a really big radio program talking about his recovery. He was the model husband to everyone.
Now that I’m out of it, I can see that he was gaslighting me that whole entire time. I don’t get triggered anymore so much, when I hear women who talk about their amazing husband in recovery or whatever, but because I lived that and then I lived the nightmare of realizing the years of improvements and goodness was not, it’s really, really hard.
Trust Must Be Earned Over MANY Years (Like, 25)
I think it’s hard for women to hear too. I think it’s much easier to hear the story of “Oh, they were doing really well and then they got even better.” There are stories like that, and I hope that your story is like that.
How long has it been since your discovery?
Julianne: It’s been 25 years now.
Anne: Oh, well, 25 years is a good run.
Julianne: Yeah, it is. It’s a really good run, but not everyone has that. What you had is that initial trauma of knowing about it and then that seven years is almost worse than what happened the first time.
“Do You Really Know What Abusive Behaviors Look Like?
Anne: Yeah, it was actually five, because two years in I found out about his porn use the first time, so it was five years of his “fake recovery.” We spoke publicly about it. We were the face of recovery and everything. I remember speaking in front of 1600 people with my abuser, who was abusing me at the time, and also abusing everybody in the audience because he was lying to me and everybody else, and gaslighting everybody. I think back on that, and I get physically ill, like I want to throw up.
Now, when women tell me, “Oh, he’s doing so well in his recovery,” there is this part of me that’s like, “Do you really know what abusive behaviors look like?” Because if I knew what I know now back then, I would have recognized it. I hadn’t read Why Does He Do That? I hadn’t read The Verbally Abusive Relationship by Patricia Evans.
“I Trusted The Lies”: Read These Two Books
Every single person listening to this podcast has to read those two books. They are like the bibles of abuse, and I will be coming out with a book soon about that so that people can recognize it. Had I known I think I would have been able to recognize at the time because I always knew something wasn’t quite right.
I just thought, “Well, he’s not far enough into recovery yet. He’s working on this, he’s getting better.” I thought of this upward graph of dips that go up and down and up and down, but overall the graph is going up, rather than a cycle, which is what I see now.
With you, if you could go back and talk to your younger self, what would you tell her?
“I Trusted The Lies, But It’s Not My Fault”
Julianne: Well, I would tell her it’s not her fault. I think I would reiterate that to my younger self and to any woman listening, and to you. It’s not your fault. It’s not my fault that I trusted. It’s not our fault that our husbands struggle with any kind of sexual compulsivity, whether it’s porn use or other acting out. It’s not our fault if they’re compulsive liars and deceive us and gaslight us.
Anne: Yeah. It’s not. and to that point that I made of, if I knew what I know now back then, I may have been able to recognize it. It still doesn’t make it my fault.
Julianne: No. You have that added trauma. You have a secondary injury that’s worse than the first, and then you have that five years of trusting and then that gut feeling of, “Well, I just thought it was this and it turned out it was something else.”
I’m curious, what are some of the signs that you saw that now, in retrospect, do you recognize as some of those emotionally abusive behaviors?
Gaslighting Makes It Difficult To Discern Lies
Anne: I hesitate, because so many people ask me that question, and it takes a long time to be able to see them. We can say gaslighting, but really truly understanding what that means and what it looks like takes a lot of examples and talking to other women.
If any women are listening and you haven’t read The Verbally Abusive Relationship by Patricia Evans, read that book and then you’ll be able to really recognize it. She gives a lot of really clear examples of what that looks like, but it’s not just a 10-minute, “Okay, here’s the list of things I can tell you.” When my book comes out, it will have a lot of those specific examples that women can look for.
BTRG Can Help You Get Grounded In Reality
I think that’s the thing about abuse that’s so tricky, is that everybody thinks they really understand it. Even if you tell someone what gaslighting is and they’re like, “Yeah, got it.” But when you are living in it, actually seeing it is so difficult, unless you’ve got a multitude of concrete examples and you’re also tuned in to a network of other victims, who share their stories and you can start recognizing it for what it is, which is why we run our Daily Support Group.
Julianne: Yes, another good help or support for recognizing that is a trauma-informed therapist. Somebody who is not trained in sex addiction recovery, but who has a trauma background and is trauma-informed because they’re more apt to discern that psychological, verbal, and emotional abuse pattern and bring that into the light and into the counseling.
Trauma-Informed Professionals Can Help You See Past The Lies
Anne: Absolutely. Find an abuse specialist. Find someone who’s trained in abuse, knows abuse, or is trauma-informed because, otherwise, they’re going to miss it. Also, the “let’s have compassion and not shame him” and those kinds of ways that they’re coddling the abuser. Like, “Let’s not make any decisions to separate until a year,” for example.
Well, then you might be asking an abused woman to stay with her abuser for a year. It depends on the situation, but if she’s being constantly gaslit, lied to, and manipulated, she needs to set some pretty intense boundaries right away.
Boundaries Can Help You See Reality And Get To Safety
Julianne: Yes, and really those boundaries are kind of like on a spectrum just like gaslighting is on a spectrum. Boundaries can be everything from no sexual contact to separate bedrooms to an in-house separation, an out-of-house separation. There are a lot of steps women can take to protect themselves while they heal and also to empower themselves.
Anne: Yeah. I always tell women, “If you really do love this person, if you really want to be compassionate, setting a boundary that they cannot do this to you anymore is the most compassionate thing that you can do.”
Healing Is A Process: Be Gentle With Yourself
Anne: Thank you so much, Julianne, for coming on today’s episode. We really appreciate your insights.
I feel bad that I talked so much. I think I got a little bit triggered today and I apologize for those of you who’ve heard my story. Sometimes, I still just feel like I need to explain myself. It’s really interesting. Other times, I’m fine. Today was just one of those days. I appreciate all of you for continuing to listen.
I also want to talk about how the more I heal, the fewer triggers I have. I see that as a sign that I am healing. I realize that, for some of you, if you’re new to this, some of the things I say might be a little triggering. If you’re new and you’re also really fresh in your trauma, I recommend starting back at the beginning of this podcast and listening to it from the beginning.
The BTR Podcast Is Here For You
You’ll hear the progression of my trauma throughout these four years, it might be helpful to you. I am just maybe a step ahead of some of you, or maybe just in the same place as some of you may be four years out as well. We are all going through this together.
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Join the Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group for live support today. Until next week, stay safe out there.