Have you held out hope that a pornography addiction recovery group would be the answer to your husband’s abusive behaviors?
Laurel did too – until she, like many women in the BTR.ORG community, learned that “pornography addiction” wasn’t the problem – abusive thinking was the problem. And that can’t be cured by the “Pornography Addiction Recovery Industrial Complex.” Tune in to the BTR.ORG podcast and read the full transcript below for more.
Pornography Addiction Recovery Groups Gaslight Victims
When pornography addiction recovery groups “treat” abusive men who secretly use pornography then gaslight their wives – well, they’re enabling gaslighting while also gaslighting the victim.
“That’s when I started to wake up about this reconciliation industrial complex as well, because they also minimized a lot of the behavior – they gaslit me.”
Laurel, BTR.ORG Community member
Intimate betrayal through pornography use is abusive in and of itself; Porn Recovery groups often refuse to use the word “abuse” in reference to this behavior.
Further, the many behaviors that accompany secret pornography use, including: sexual coercion, gaslighting, manipulation, financial abuse, etc., are psychologically, emotionally, and sexually abusive – yet are generally not recognized or addressed by the “pornography addiction recovery complex” – and in fact are often minimized and excused as “addict behavior”.
Do Pornography Addiction Recovery Groups Change Abusers?
Short answer, no.
The experiences of most women in our community is that pornography addiction recovery groups enable abusive behavior and blame victims for their husbands’ abusiveness.
Laurel’s experience was, sadly, not unique. Pornography addiction recovery groups told her:
“You need to work on your spiritual health. You need to work on your emotional attractiveness, your spiritual attractiveness, your physical attractiveness. You need to never hold him accountable. You don’t wanna say anything that’s gonna upset him or else it’s your fault that he doesn’t come home.”
Laurel, BTR.ORG Community Member
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Welcome to BTR.ORG. This is Anne. On today’s episode, Laurel, a member of our community is sharing her story. We started with her story last week so that you can hear her entire story. If you didn’t listen to last week’s episode, listen to that first and then join us here. At the end of last week’s episode, we talked about how she first discovered her husband’s porn use. So we’re jumping in right there after this discovery. What’s the impact to your marriage at this point?
The Anger & Contempt Were Palpable During His Periods of Porn Use
Well, the porn thing came up on and off for years, and he would go through periods where it seemed like he wasn’t using it and then he would start using it again and I’d find more stuff on the browser. Eventually I said, ‘Look, you can’t continue to use a computer that also belongs to me. You need to get your own laptop. If you need to do this from time to time, that’s not okay with me. I still have a problem with it, and it still makes me feel terrible about myself as a wife and that I’m not good enough or something, but I can’t put my own artistic work at risk. You need to have your own laptop.’
So from that point on, I didn’t see what he was doing, but what I did is notice a pattern during these periods when he would start using pornography, he would start getting very cold towards me. He would be very hostile. He had a lot of contempt. His mouth was in a tight line. Most of the time when he was around me, his body was tense. Sometimes his fists were clenched. Like he was clearly just so disgusted and just disappointed that he was in my presence and that I was his wife. There was so much anger and contempt. It was palpable for periods of time whenever he started using porn.
I love this phrase- the Pornography Addiction Recovery Industrial Complex.
How Do Abusive Men Treat Victims When Victims Have a Life Crisis?
Where does this come into play? The reconciliation? Is it a porn addiction recovery situation or through your church or therapy?
That actually happened after he moved out, and I want to explain a little bit about what occurred. We were married for 18 years. At that point, I had lost both of my parents very close together. I had dealt with both of their illnesses and deaths in a very short span of a few years. And during this time, while I was going through all of this, instead of being a loving, supportive husband, he was using porn. He was cheating and gaslighting me about it and blaming me. And the reconciliation industrial complex happened for me after he left and he left to go be with his mistress, who was his direct employee. I had just lost my father very shortly before; I was dealing with a nightmare of an estate situation, and I just literally couldn’t manage another loss. I couldn’t handle the absolute destruction of my entire life losing both parents, losing my childhood home, having this nightmare going on, and then losing my marriage and losing my new home that we had just bought together.
How Do Porn Recovery Organizations Harm Victims?
It seemed unmanageable. So I got involved with this group that I found online for saving marriages, and I ended up basically getting sucked into what I would call a cult for about a year and a couple of months. My husband’s behavior though, continued to escalate during this period, and it became more and more apparent to me how dangerously abusive he was. And that’s when I started to wake up about this reconciliation industrial complex as well, because they also minimized a lot of the behavior. They gaslit me. It was a really terrible experience overall.
Was this a Christian organization they claim to be?
And was it therapeutic, or more like Biblical-centered, Christ-can-do-everything sort of thing?
The Pornography Recovery Industrial Complex Takes Advantage of Religious Women
Funny you should ask that. They say that they are not a faith-based organization, but they really are. A lot of the stuff that they’re preaching is very faith-based. And what’s interesting about this is this experience hooked into some of the prior gaslighting that I had been exposed to as a Christian woman telling me how I need to do and be in my marriage. And there was a particular book that I won’t mention that I found to be very damaging.
So we have context, even though we’re not seeing the title of the book, this book is about how if you pray enough you can solve any problem, essentially.
It’s Not Your Responsibility to Fix the Abuser, Even Through Prayer
That’s the gist of it: that wives, if you just pray enough for your husbands in the right way and you fast and you pray and you do all the things, then you can fix all his problems with his job, with his disappointment in life, with his self-esteem, with everything. Like it’s your responsibility as a wife to make things okay for him. And one of the primary ways you do that is by praying, right? And if you don’t pray, well, you still have problems. And so if you still have problems, you must not be praying, right?
<Laugh>, yes. <Laugh>. Oh yes.
“A Manual For How to Comply With Abuse”
Okay. And this group that I got hooked into pulled on some of that other stuff because they were saying all these things that were biblical quotes and biblical references about how we’re supposed to be in marriage. It’s basically teaching people that they need to be doormats, that they need to put up with all of this terrible behavior because if they hold their spouse accountable or say anything to them, they’re just going to chase that person away. And so therefore, again, the responsibility is all placed on the one partner to just figure out the puzzle of the other person’s abusiveness, and that is the cheating, that is everything else that goes along with that.
It’s actually a manual for how to comply with abuse.
“They Say They Don’t Support Abuse in Marriage, But They Absolutely Do”
Yes. And that’s what this group was, and it was so incredibly damaging for me, but I didn’t see it at the time. So here’s another thing that’s important. Because a lot of the abuse I experienced was covert, I didn’t understand that I was in an abusive marriage. I knew that some of the rage attacks and the other things were abuse, and I knew like the name calling and things, those were abuse. But most of the abuse was covert and I didn’t know what it was because he convinced me that there was something wrong with me. He spent a lot of time in the marriage telling me there was something wrong with me and I needed therapy and my history of childhood abuse made me this and made me that. I spent almost the whole marriage in therapy, like you said, and yet it was still never enough. And so I was constantly pretzel-ing myself to just do and be whatever I needed to do to be enough and be right. And this reconciliation group fed into this because it capitalized on the belief that you need to do and be enough for this abusive partner. Now, they say that they don’t support abuse in marriage, but they absolutely do.
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 Trauma Mama Husband Drama, 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. When you go to our books page and click on any of those books, it just takes you directly to Amazon and you can throw those books in your cart after you have purchased the book. Please remember to circle back around Amazon and write a verified purchase review along with a five star rating that helps isolated women find us. It bumps trauma, mama husband drama up in the Amazon algorithm. And even if women don’t purchase the book, it helps them find this podcast, which is free to everyone.
According to the Pornography Recovery Industrial Complex…
Back to our interview.
Because to them, nothing is abuse apparently. If you’re being abused, then this does not apply to you. Like, “That’s a different situation in our group. We’re reconciling and if he’s unkind or if he lies a little bit, you just need to be safer so that he feels like he can tell the truth.”
Oh my gosh, yes. That’s exactly what they said!
Right? So they’re trying to say that everything you are experiencing isn’t actual abuse: “If you were actually being abused, then this probably wouldn’t be right for you. But since you’re not, then you just need to be better.”
This is How They Blame Victims
You need to work on your spiritual health. You need to work on your emotional attractiveness, your spiritual attractiveness, your physical attractiveness. You need to never hold him accountable. You don’t wanna say anything that’s gonna upset him or else it’s your fault that he doesn’t come home. You know, all that kind of stuff. Yeah, it’s absolutely that.
Women who aren’t being abused don’t need to go to stuff like that. That’s the crazy thing, is generally speaking, <laugh> women who are in healthy marriages where they feel loved and appreciated and cherished, they’re not going to reconciliation camps.
They’re not trying to get porn addiction recovery services. They don’t know that, generally speaking, the majority of the population of women that they’re “trying to help” are abuse victims.
Pornography Recovery Groups Enable Abuse
And these folks say, just like you said, “If you’re in an abusive marriage, we’re not talking about that. We’re not talking about you.” But actually they are enabling that very same abuse.
I find that same trouble with real harm. People will say things like, if a rape victim for example says, “I was raped.” And then they get into the details of it and they’re like, “Oh, he was your husband”, and “Oh, you didn’t scream and yell and scratch his eyes out. Well, then you weren’t actually raped and you saying that you were raped hurts real rape victims.”, as if there’s some real rape victim out there who has experienced it and you did not, so “you didn’t experience a real rape” when you did. It was real rape. It was real abuse. Them saying like, “Oh, well we don’t wanna call that abuse. This is just regular marriage stuff and if we do call it abuse, that’s gonna hurt real abuse victims.” In the meantime, they’re actually hurting actual abuse victims in trying to discount the abuse they’re experiencing.
“I Thought Because He Hadn’t Hit Me Yet, It Wasn’t Actual Abuse”
Correct. And I thought because he hadn’t hit me yet, that it wasn’t actual abuse. And I was so ashamed and so gaslit. I believed that he had been this amazing, beautiful, kind, strong patient person, and that I was so messed up that I had turned him into this abusive person, that it was my fault that the real him was the him that I thought that I married, the him that I dated. That’s who I thought the real him was, and that it was because of my trauma and past, which he told me all the time it was that he was the way he was. So I never told anyone during my marriage about any of the things that went on at home, including the overt rage attacks where he would throw things, break things like stuff that was clearly abusive. I didn’t say anything to anyone until after he moved out.
“This is Abuse”
And I told one person after he moved out, just a couple of small things, and that person said, “Oh my gosh, that’s abuse. That’s abuse.” And I thought, ‘Well, that can’t be true. That can’t be right. I can’t have been in an abusive marriage.’ And I was so confused.
I started looking stuff up and I got Lundy Bancroft’s book and I got even more confused. I called the hotline and I shared with them a few of the things that I had been through, and they said, “Oh my gosh, this is abuse. This is abuse, this is abuse.” And when I shared more things, “This is abuse. This is abuse.” And that’s when I came to understand how very abusive my marriage had been.
Safety is More Important Than Reconciliation
I wish that instead of the reconciliation stuff, instead of the porn addiction recovery stuff, or sex addiction recovery or any of that, that they would just, first of all, do a big introduction to what abuse is and then stay there. <Laugh> don’t ever go anywhere else, right? Just stick with, “This is what abuse is, this is how it impacts you, this is how to set boundaries around it.” It’s just abuse. There’s no other way around it. There’s no way to avoid it. You can’t avoid it by calling it something else. It is just abuse. I’m so grateful that you got to that point. You mentioned that one of our videos helped you recognize covert physical abuse. Can you talk about that?
So for example (and also reading Lundy Bancroft’s book helped with that), I didn’t know that violence against objects was part of physical abuse. So that was one thing that I heard in that video.
What Is Covert Physical Abuse?
Was this on TikTok or on Instagram?
I saw it on Facebook. But I think you’d posted it to multiple platforms. So some of the things that I made notes about that happened to me, some of which were mentioned in that video were “playing.” Wrestling me, grabbing me, and sometimes hurting me in his “play”, tearing my clothing, tickling me when I asked him to stop, kissing me forcefully at times so that I couldn’t breathe. And I asked him to stop having “accidents”, and I’m putting that word in quotes too, like claiming he accidentally stepped on me and it happened repeatedly or accidentally running into me. It got so bad that I started being hyper-vigilant about being aware of where his body was in space at all times, because I was constantly afraid he was going to hurt me by stepping on me or running into me or something else like that. But looking back, I noticed that he didn’t seem to have that problem with anyone else. Not in the community, not at work. He never mentioned that happening at work. I never saw it happen.
Driving Erratically is PHYSICAL ABUSE
People didn’t know him as like a klutz or clumsy or something.
No, I never saw him at any of the arts things running into people, so the behavior he only did with me. So that was eye-opening to me when I heard about some of that in the video. Another thing, when we were on a trip, he kept like running me off the road, so to speak, and I would say to him, “Hey, you’re running me into fire hydrants.” “You’re running me into trees.” “You’re running me into this stuff.” Could you please leave a little more space for my body so that I could have enough space to walk? But he kept doing it. And it wasn’t until like the fifth or sixth time that I had to say, “Hey, it’s still happening. Could you please leave enough space for my body?” that I realized it was intentional.
Intentionally Getting You Sick? Abuse.
Driving a car, he would wreck with me inside it. When we would be having a disagreement in the car, he would start getting really angry and he would start accelerating and driving in a way that I thought he would wreck the car with me in it.
Breaking and damaging my things.
He also admitted that he intentionally exposed me to germs for the purpose of making me sick. I have some immune issues, which he knew about before we ever got married. And I said, “If you’re sick, please don’t kiss me.” “If you have an intestinal illness, please don’t handle food.” But he did it on purpose and lied about not feeling well or handled food anyway. And then I would be sick for weeks and he wouldn’t really feel bad [from the illness] except for like maybe a day or two. He also admitted before he moved out that he was intentionally going around the house, wiping germs on the surfaces of things I had to handle for my healthcare needs for the purpose of making me sick. There were situations near the end where he was intentionally locking me out of the house despite me asking him to stop doing it. So a lot of things like that.
Why Did He Admit to Abuse?
<Affirmative>, when you say admit, I think this is an interesting concept because they do everything with a goal in mind. They have an outcome that they’re going for. So when they “admit” something, I believe that it’s intentional in order to get some type of result. And in that case, it sounds like he wanted you to know he was doing that either to hurt you or to get you to kick him out, or some type of goal. Do you have any idea of what his goal was in telling you that?
I didn’t at the time, but looking back on it, I believe he was trying to control me. Because he was cheating with his direct employee at the time, and this was just after I had lost my father and I lost my mother before, he didn’t want to be the “bad guy”, I think is what was going on. So I think he wanted me to be the bad guy and to tell him that I wanted a divorce so that he wouldn’t have to feel guilty or bear any responsibility. And like you said earlier about the impression management, it was very important to him to be perceived by the community as such a good guy that I believe he was trying to force my hand so that he could say he was the victim of the whole situation.
“There Was a Strategic Reason in His Mind Why He Was Telling Me Then”
That’s what happened to me. I think he was lying about porn and then suddenly he was saying, “I used porn. I used it today.” And I thought he was using anew, that he had been “sober” for years, and then suddenly he’s using it again. I don’t think that was the case. I think he was using it the whole time, but then there was a strategic reason in his mind why he was telling me then. And the reason was the same thing: I think he wanted me to kick him out.
Every single thing that they say, it’s important to think, what is the goal here, rather than thinking, “Oh, he admitted to this, so maybe he’s changing.” No, think, “What is his aim in doing this? What does he want the end result to be?” When they get to the point where they want to move on, they want us to be the ones to kick them out. They don’t wanna do it cause then they look like the bad guy.
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Yeah. And in addition to that, he wanted to make sure that I understood that he thought I was a piece of garbage. There were many other things that he did both before that time, and then after that time to make it clear to me that he was discarding me. He was throwing me away. I was trash. I meant nothing to him. The past 27 years we’d known each other were meaningless. So he made that very clear over and over and over that I was trash and he was throwing me away.
Laurel and I are gonna take a break and we will be back to continue her story next week. If this podcast is helpful to you, please support it. And until next week, stay safe out there.