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My Husband Says I'm the Problem
My Husband Says I’m the Problem. Is He Right?

J.R. spent nearly a decade believing that she was the problem in the marriage. Learning about emotional abuse helped her establish safety boundaries.

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My Husband Says I'm the Problem

J.R. spent nearly a decade “working on herself”, trying to be a better wife to improve her marriage. She didn’t know she needed to learn about emotional and psychological abuse to realize that she wasn’t the problem. If you’re husband says your the problem, there may be something else going on.

This episode is Part One of Anne’s interview with J.R.
Part One: My Husband Says I’m the Problem. Is He Right? (this episode)
Part Two: Should I Divorce My Husband for Emotional Abuse? Can I?

Could I Be The Problem in Our Marriage?

Many victims may blame themselves for the emotional and psychological abuse because that’s what the abuser wants them to think. Convincing her that she’s the problem is part of the psychological abuse.

My Husband Says I'm The Problem In Our Marriage

You’re Not The Problem (His Emotional Abuse is the Problem)

You are experiencing emotional and psychological abuse and/or sexual coercion if your partner:

  • Uses gaslighting to contort your perception of reality
  • Commits sexual betrayal, including secret pornography use
  • Establishes a pattern of manipulation and table-turning
  • Blames you for their choices
  • Creates an environment where “walking on eggshells” is required for emotional survival

J.R. talks about how she experienced both relief and dread when she realized she wasn’t the problem.

If this resonates with you, we’d love to see you in a Betrayal Trauma Support Group Session today.

Full Transcript:

Anne (00:01): Welcome to Betrayal Trauma Recovery. This is Anne.

Today we have a member of our community. We’re going to call her J.R. She is a 29-year-old mother of four. She spent almost a decade of her life in a psychologically abusive relationship. Welcome, J.R.

J.R. (01:41): Thank you, Anne. I’m so happy to have this opportunity.

Anne (01:45): You said that you attribute the beginning of the end of your abusive relationship to BTR. Do you want to start kind of there and then we’ll start at the beginning.

When J.R. Discovered The BTR.ORG Podcast, She Still Thought She Was The Problem

J.R. (01:57): In 2020, I discovered The Betrayal Trauma Recovery Podcast. To be honest with you, I was trying to rack my brain to figure out how I found the podcast, and I really can’t remember. I feel like it’s a God thing for me. I was going through some things with my ex-husband. I’d known about his pornography use throughout our relationship. We had been through a lot at that point regarding his addiction, but I never would’ve used the term abuse. I would not have been able to classify it as emotional abuse because I didn’t have the terminology.

I just remember actually at that time, we were living in Washington state and I was driving through this gorgeous Oregon countryside mountains, just really beautiful landscape on my way home from dropping a friend off at the airport, and I was listening to just episode after episode of the BTR podcast, and I just remember this feeling of, well, to be honest, it was dread.

Identifying Gaslighting & Emotional Abuse

(03:19): It was like, oh my gosh, this is me. And it was the first time I was hearing anyone really describe what I was going through. I think in the past I had seen myself as the villain because what I didn’t know at the time was my trauma response was very explosive, very intense.

So I always felt like the villain in certain situations with my ex. But hearing some of the women talk on the BTR podcast and just hearing you, Anne, talk about safety and gaslighting and emotional abuse, it was becoming clear to me that that was my situation.

Simultaneous Relief & Dread When You Realize You’re Not The Problem

Anne (04:04): Well, I’m so glad that listening to the podcast helped you. I’m guessing simultaneously relieved that someone could describe what you were going through and then also, wait a minute, it’s this bad. Can you talk about that?

J.R. (04:21): I had moved across the country with this man and our two children, pregnant with our third child. I had just dropped off the last of, we had some visitors all right in a row because I had just given birth to my third child.

We had some visitors. I had just dropped off the last of the visitors and I was driving back to my home with this man. So yes, there was the relief in like, oh my goodness, I’m not alone. And I finally feel understood. I finally feel seen.

But the dread was I am driving back to this place and I don’t know what I’m going to do. My children were there. I had no idea what I was going to do. So there was a sense of dread, and I’m driving right back into this situation.

When Physical Battering Isn’t Present, So You Figure You’re The Problem

I hear a lot of the women on the podcast talk about their husband’s anger and whether it’s verbal assault or even physical.

(05:22): But with my ex, I didn’t really see a lot of those signs. I didn’t see anger. I didn’t see any sort of violence or undertones of being agitated. It was so covert because he just immediately from the beginning of the relationship began gaslighting me and creating this alternate reality for me.

I just believed him right away. And I feel like maybe he didn’t need to go to another tactic as far as being more aggressive, or maybe that’s just not his flavor of abuse. I’m not really sure why, but I didn’t see him as an angry person. I just thought I was the problem.

“I knew he was lying to me, but I could never prove it.”

We would get into these fights, but he wasn’t actually fighting back. It was just kind of me basically fighting with a wall because I knew that there was something going on between us. I knew he was lying to me, but I could never prove it.

And so he just kind of capitalized on that and made me believe I was crazy. And so actually from the very beginning of our relationship, I started seeking therapy and have gone to multiple therapists on and off over the past decade or so, most of that being me, looking for what’s wrong with me, how do I change me to make this work?

“He took my honesty, and used it to his advantage.”

Anne (07:07): In terms of how you were viewing it at the time, you would define his behavior as problem solving. He seemed like he was engaging and that he was talking to me and that he was reasonable and that I just had some serious problems that I needed to work through. He had manipulated you to the point of that, is that what I’m hearing?

J.R. (07:29): Yes. I think that’s really accurate. And actually even where you say manipulating, that stirred something in me to remember when we first started dating, I have a very keen self-awareness, and I told him flat out, I’ve struggled with jealousy in the past and it is something that I am really trying to work on and grow in and move through, but I just want to be upfront with that.

That is a struggle of mine. And so I think right there, he took my honesty and used that to his advantage.

Abusers Weaponize Your Vulnerability To Make You Believe You’re the Problem

Anne (08:07): So in that way, he weaponized your vulnerability against you, but you were not aware of this at the time?

J.R. (08:15): Right. I had no clue honestly, for so much of our relationship, because of a lot of my spiritual background and upbringing. I saw him as this tool in my life that God was using to bring about sanctification in me. So I just really was like, okay, this person is a mirror pointing out the things in me that need to change, the ways I need to grow. And I was thankful for that.

Identifying Spiritual Abuse

Anne (08:45): Spiritual abuse. Was he using spiritual abuse or was he quoting scripture or saying God wants you to change or anything like that? Or was that just how you were sort of interpreting in the moment?

J.R. (08:56): I think it was mostly coming from my own values and convictions. What they taught me. I don’t know that he was really explicit about it, but I think he definitely capitalized on that. And he was a church leader. He was on staff at our church.

And so really the spiritual abuse, I think it did come from him, but it sort of, I would say trickled down from our pastor who he was on staff with. It felt like the perfect cocktail that just worked in his favor against me to keep me right where he wanted me.

J.R.’s Thoughts on Therapy

Anne (09:43): So because you spent so many years in therapy thinking that it was you that had the problem, rather than realizing what was going on, what are your thoughts about all that time that you spent in therapy?

J.R. (09:56): I don’t regret it. I think I’ve been able to do a lot of personal work on myself that has really made me a better mother, a better friend, just a better person in general. So I don’t regret it.

But I met my ex in 2011 and 2012 is when I started in therapy and when I started I would’ve said I would not talk to any therapist who wasn’t Christian based and had this a religious specifically Christian background. And that was something that was very important to me.

And now when I look for a coach or a therapist or counselor or someone even that I’m just going to go to confide in or to get advice from, I’m very wary of Christians. Which is really sad because I still have a very firm faith in my spiritual walk and my spiritual journey is very important to me. And so I lost a lot of trust in the church community and in Christians who are in positions of influence because I saw so many that could have helped me.

And I felt like in a lot of ways there were key players throughout my story that not only didn’t help me get to safety, but actually very firmly rooted me deeper into the abusive relationship I was in.

When Clergy & Therapists Enable Emotional Abuse

(13:08): Therapists only know what you tell them, right? And so if you go in and you’re talking about your jealousy, for example, or things that you’ve sort of integrated into you, maybe things that aren’t even true that you’ve integrated that the abuser has told you they’re only going to go with you there, they’re not going to say,

Hey, wait, stop, who told you that? Why are you thinking this? Is it true? They’re just going to go where you go.

And so an abuse victim can end up not ever identifying the abuse even after going to therapy. And then similarly with the church, they don’t identify the abuse. In fact, they add this layer of spiritual abuse sometimes of have you prayed hard enough or do you have enough faith or have you submitted, were you in the type of Christian Church that wanted you to submit to your husband? Was that a thing with your faith?

Submission to Your Husband – Does that Make Him Right

J.R. (14:02): Growing up? Not so much. But when I first got married to my ex, so we dated for about four years, and then we got married right before he graduated from college, and he graduated from a very reformed evangelical Christian college, and he got sort of inundated with this certain type of theology and doctrines and that he sort of fed all of that to me. And I was just so excited and passionate about Jesus that I wanted to do what I felt like I wanted to find.

Well, what is God’s will and if that’s God’s will, then I’m going to do it. And that kind of led me as an adult. I kind of flipped 180 from what I grew up being taught.

So I grew up around very strong women, women who were very, very opinionated, very loud, and then I kind of flipped over to, oh, the only good type of Christian woman is a submissive one. I need a quiet spirit, I need to be shy. Maybe not shy, but timid. I need to be meek. All of these things.

And I really struggled with that because it didn’t resonate with who I felt like I was, who I felt like God made me to be, but I just latched on and believed that that was my role in life and that I just wasn’t very good at it.

“You’re so good at being you. We’re so good at being ourselves.”

Anne Blythe, Founder of BTR.ORG

Anne (15:46): That breaks my heart because you’re so good at being you. We’re so good at being ourselves, and that’s who God made us to be. I think. So it breaks my heart when women are trying to contort themselves in this misogynistic view of who they are, that because they’re being spiritually abused, they want to do God’s will because they love God. What gets lost in that is God loves us, God loves you, and he created you for you not to be subservient to someone else.

And it really gets lost when that spiritual abuse comes into play. So you’ve talked about how you went to therapy. You’ve talked about how you really were manipulated to altering the way that you viewed yourself and religion to try to survive this situation thinking because he told you this, that it would make things better.

The Moment You Realize You’re NOT The Problem

J.R. (16:52): I guess I would say it wasn’t until 2020 that I finally realized it didn’t matter what I did. It wasn’t going to change. It wasn’t going to quote unquote work because he was the problem and I was believing for so long that I was the problem. So really, I spent so many years and adding child after child into this mess of just banging my head against the wall.

And I remember when I was a stay-at-home mom for the beginning of my children’s lives, and I remember just saying things to him, it’s hard to do all of the things in a day that you want to get done in the house, make the meal, keep the house clean, do this and that with the kids and all this stuff.

And so I said, I can’t do it all, but what is one thing that would mean a lot to you that when you come home from work, it’s like, oh, I’m so thankful that this thing is done.

The Belief That “Divorce is Not an Option”

(18:05): And I would ask him things like that because I wanted it to work, and I was convinced that I was the problem. I think I knew it wasn’t working, but it was so ingrained in me that divorce is wrong. Divorce is not an option. That I was like, well, it’s got to work. So if it’s not working, I’m not doing the right thing or I’m not trying hard enough because if I put it on him, then I can’t control it anymore.

Then I feel hopeless. Well, if it’s up to him and he’s not willing to change, then I’m just stuck in this horrible marriage forever. It made more sense to me to just take it upon myself because at least then I had some sense of control.

When You Realize That ABUSE Is The Problem, Not You

Anne (18:55): I think a lot of women feel like that because for me, realizing I was a victim and saying I am a victim of abuse was simultaneously liberating. I can’t do anything about it.

And then also horrifying. I can’t do anything about it at the same time, and it is horrifying to realize that this situation, there’s nothing that you could do to improve him.

You can improve your own life and your own situation once you know that you’re a victim of abuse, but you cannot improve your quote marriage or the situation with your family, and that’s devastating to realize because then what do you do?

That’s the next step. During this time, did you ever discover porn use? Infidelity? Can you talk about that for a little bit?

Is His Pornography Use the Problem?

J.R. (19:50): At some point in 2012, I found pornography on his phone, and I can remember it so clearly. I was sitting in his car and he had run back into the house that he was living at at the time to grab something. He came back out to the car and I just was sitting there staring and showed it to him. Just didn’t even say anything.

I just showed it to him and he just sitting there just looked me in the eyes and denied it, and it took me aback. Looking back now, it’s like, now I’m not going to lie, Anne.

It’s really hard not to be very hard on myself and almost mad at myself because right then and there, I knew what was in front of my face. I saw it with my own eyes, and this man is sitting there just lying through his teeth about something that it’s like, why would you even lie about that?

(20:55): I have it right in front of me. He kind of pushed back for a little bit, but eventually I’m just like, well, I don’t really care what you say. I’m seeing it in front of my face, so I don’t know why you’re trying to pretend this isn’t what it is.

So that was the first time, but I didn’t have the knowledge, the understanding of what this really was and how it really worked to think anything more than, obviously I was crushed. I was devastated, but I just thought, okay, I guess this is just maybe a part of me thought this was just going to be everybody.

The Discrepancy of Abusive Men and Their Public Personas

Anne (21:33): Did you find that finding porn, but then his behavior at church and the persona that he portrayed at church, what did you think about that discrepancy?

J.R. (21:46): So at the time, he wasn’t in any kind of church leadership. He was still in college. He went to a Bible college. It was almost trendy. It’s for the guys to talk about accountability and –

Anne (22:06): his “struggle” with porn?

J.R. (22:08): – if I hear the word –

Anne (22:10): “struggle”

J.R. (22:11): YES!! ARG!!!

Pretending It’s Not A Problem to Survive

J.R. (22:13): Yes, I didn’t like it, but I just was like, well, this, that’s what it is. It’s a struggle and he’s trying and you don’t know what you don’t know. I found that. And throughout our dating relationship and then our engagement, I would say it would go months at a time where I wouldn’t find anything.

He wouldn’t say anything, but then it would always be me discovering something on his phone.

So that would happen. And whenever that would happen, I would get all upset and we’d have this big blowout and I would just decide, well, he’s not going to be honest with me about this, so I need to let it go and stop thinking about it because I’m going to drive myself crazy.

Because I didn’t see getting out of the relationship as an option. I didn’t know about setting boundaries. I didn’t know how to reach out for help. So I just thought, well, I guess I just have to pretend things are fine in order to just survive.

Having to “just survive?” That’s The Problem.

Anne (23:29): Well, and that’s why some people call abuse victims survivors is because you’re surviving and everything that you do in this scenario is to survive. And so that’s where the term surviving comes from. I’ve always not liked that term. It feels like you survived something that you didn’t. You’re still in the middle of, right. I’m like, I haven’t survived anything yet. I’m still on the boat and the boat is still sinking. I don’t feel like I’ve survived. But that is why some people use that. I like the term victim. It’s just pretty straightforward. But other people don’t like that because they feel like it’s maybe unempowering, but I feel like it’s very empowering.

Once you realize no one’s coming to save me. We’ve got to get myself to safety because this is not going to turn out well unless I start making my way to safety. J.R. and I are going to pause the conversation here, but stay tuned. We will continue it next week.

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

Discovered porn or inappropriate texts on your husband's phone?
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