Viewing Betrayal Through The Lens Of Domestic Violence

Viewing Betrayal Through The Lens Of Domestic Violence

Welcome to Betrayal Trauma Recovery, this is Anne. Staci Sprout is a Licensed Psychotherapist, author and publisher. With 20 years of experience as a therapist and social worker in a variety of settings from community mental health in hospitals to private clinical practice. Staci is also a Certified Sex Addiction Therapist, that is CSAT.

Since 2006, she has dedicated her practice to helping individuals, groups, and couples in recovery from sex and relationship addictions. She conducts trainings on sexual ethics for professionals and is an experienced retreat and conference speaker sharing the story of her recovery from childhood trauma and multiple addictions. She lives near Seattle, Washington with her husband, who is also in recovery.

Anne: Welcome, Staci.

Staci: Thank you, Anne, glad to be here.

How Domestic Violence Involves Various Types Of Abuse

Anne:   Staci, you published a book in which you self-identify as a recovered female sex addict, among other addictions. Yet, in your memoir, you also share your experience of being betrayed by two different sex addicts you were in relationships with, one after another. Do you also identify as a betrayed partner?

Staci: Yes, I do. I am a survivor of betrayal, absolutely. Although, the focus of my book was on educating people about sex addiction and what that can look like, and how it can connect to childhood trauma.

There’s lots of overlap of other kinds of experiences, including as an older person meeting, and falling in love and being betrayed by two different men. There’s more in the book. But the emotional infidelity of one that I was engaged to, at the time, was terribly wounding for me. I didn’t understand what was wrong, really.

We went to two different couple’s therapists to try to get help for what I now call emotional domestic violence through his infidelity. It was unclear if it was a physical infidelity. It was absolutely clear it was, at least, an emotional infidelity, but, at the time, I was too dependent on him to leave. I just couldn’t imagine life without him.

How Does Domestic Abuse Relate To Trauma

Eventually, he broke up with me, which was a great gift he gave me at that time. Then, I wrote also that another man’s sexual infidelity, which was incredibly painful. Thankfully, by that time, I was in a different place. I was able to be more independent on my own. I was able to end the relationship.

Some couples choose to stay together, or they choose to reconcile, as long as both people can agree on the offense of the infidelity, the lies, and the other wounds caused by the betrayal. As long as the offender is willing to change the behavior and repair the damage they have caused. In my original relationship there was just no identification of the offense. I was just called too sensitive, or overreactive. Neither therapist could see it.

If people can recognize it and want to repair, it’s not easy. I’m happy to report that in my work, as a therapist, helping couples reconcile successfully is one of the most wonderful and rewarding parts of the work I get to do.

Anne: With your experience with those therapists who were not able to identify what was happening, did you feel betrayed by them, as well?

Staci: At the time, I felt angry. I felt enraged, but because they were in an expert position and I was in a struggling couple, I didn’t know for sure. There was some gaslighting in there. I guess I can look back and say that they tried the best they could, but I think that healing from betrayal needs to be looked at from a domestic violence lens. That is what enables therapists to treat it effectively.

Why Betrayal Is Domestic Abuse

Now, looking back, I think they lacked insight. They lacked training. They lacked perspective. I don’t, now, feel so betrayed, but it certainly was, at the time, an additional—one of my colleagues calls it therapy-induced trauma. It felt traumatic at the time and our relationship ended. At the very least, ineffective, in terms of helping us get to resolution. At the time, yeah, it did feel like a betrayal.

Anne: Many of our listeners have had that experience of going to a “specialist” and having it not be identified. Then, having the trauma of that experience just pile on with the trauma that they were already experiencing.

That is why I appreciate that we agree that this needs to be addressed from a focal point of domestic violence or abuse. Because within that context, is the only way to appropriately approach this type of situation without re-harming, or re-traumatizing the victim of the chronic manipulation.

Why Domestic Violence Can Involve Betrayal

Staci: Yeah, I see that in the people that come to me for therapy, as well. I started a group for betrayed partners. One day, we were sharing stories about the members of the group, and how many therapists they had been to that had blown them off. I think the most was six, before they got into my practice.

Yeah, there’s a lot of need for more training and education, and healing. There are a lot of therapists who have had wounds of this type in their own life, that they haven’t worked through one way or another, so they’re not able to help other people with it, until they can get that healing themselves.

Anne: Tell me more about your private practice, as it relates to betrayed partners.

Staci: Right now, I would say partners healing from sexual or relationship betrayal makes up about one-quarter of my practice, maybe 30 percent on any given time, if I add in couples. Most of the betrayed partners that I’ve seen have been female. There have been three males that I have worked with over the years.

Domestic Abuse Can Be Isolating

As I mentioned, I have had a group that is very helpful for women to come together and talk about what it’s like to be betrayed and really do the work of unhooking the blame of self that either the individual can place on themselves, or the addict or the person doing the betraying can place on them, or the therapist who doesn’t understand, or the culture who is judgmental. Definitely, support groups are really powerful.

I see them in individuals and couples work and they teach me all the time about the devastation that they they’ve experience as they’re stepping into more and more empowerment. One of the things we do is called an impact letter, where they make a formal accounting of the harm they’ve suffered.

As part of that, and I know part of the conversation you and I have had before, one of the things that does come up for partners are sexual problems in their life, that are as a result of being partnered with someone who betrayed them, or in the cases of the people who I see who have sexual addictions and have been acting out that addiction and hurting their partners.

This issue of partner’s sexuality and the wounding in relationship really hit home for me when I was giving a presentation a few years back at a conference called, “Restoring Hearts,” for women impacted by sexual betrayal. That’s an annual conference, takes place this year in April, in Bellevue, Washington.

What Are Some Responses To Domestic Violence?

When I presented, I was going through the stages of grief and the complexities of grief partners can experience. One of the women in the audience, she said, “After I found out about my partner’s betrayal, I went out and, unbeknownst to him, had an affair. How do you grieve when you’ve done something like that?”

I was so honored by her bravery to be so vulnerable in a room of people. It helped me to have a broader lens when I’m getting to know partners and what they’re going through in their grief, that some of the problems around their sexuality are very complex. The ripple effects of the betrayal can be multi-layered and very devastating.

Anne: I talked with one very reputable therapist. I asked her, “What is the percentage of betrayed women that you work with, who also end up having an affair, for example, or going into alcohol addiction, or something like that?”

She thought it was about 50 percent, which I was like, “Whoa, we need to address this on my podcast, then, because that means that there is a percentage of listeners who, as a result of their betrayal, are reacting with other unhealthy behaviors.” In your experience treating betrayed women, what do you hear about the unhealthy sexual behavior that they have struggled with?

Sometimes Domestic Abuse Causes Unhealthy Responses

Staci: You mentioned alcohol, or other drugs. Certainly, I hear about use of that outside of what they would’ve used before or starting to use something that they didn’t use before, as a way of trying to numb the pain. In terms of sexual behavior, the most common examples that I have heard over the last 12 years or so have fallen into three themes.

One area of sexual problems are things a partner did while they were in the relationship with the person who acted out, their sexual addiction or their sickness, and encouraged that partner, or coerced them to do things that made her feel uncomfortable or regretful, or ashamed.

I hear things, not usually at first, because when partners struggle with sexual behavior, as a result of being betrayed or in relationships with someone betrayed, they often feel tremendous shame. They’re dealing with lots of other issues and chaos and safety up front. Sometimes these particular issues don’t come out until later, when they’re out of the biggest chaos and they’re feeling safer.

Domestic Violence Can Feel Shameful And Lonely

Over the last 12 years, or so, I hear partners talk about sexual struggles in three distinct areas. The first area is things that they did at the encouragement or coercion of their sexually addicted, or sexually sick partner, that made her feel uncomfortable, regretful, or ashamed.

Summary of things I’ve heard over the years, generally, would be a woman looking at pornography with their partners regularly, and they didn’t want to, but they did it to go along with or because he was so insistent, going out to clubs, aka sexual exploitation organization, or joining burlesque communities, which are communities based on erotic engagement as opposed to heartfelt connection, typically.

Women who are coerced, or talked into, or influenced into creating pornography with their partner, participating in other activities with their partner, that are outside their comfort zone, feels like a toxic stretch, or they’re coerced into trying new sexual positions or techniques that they don’t want to.

In fact, the driving factor behind these influences are what I call outside-in, or often pornography-driven, sexuality, or addictive sexuality. They don’t originate from the organic, creative, heart-centered connection of the couple, and their developing sexuality. The pornography, or other artificial sexual stimulation, or these outside communities become a very toxic third-presence in the sexual relationship and dominate the process, and it’s horrible. That is a wounding I hear about a lot.

There Can Be A Sexual Component to Domestic Abuse

We talk a lot about what does the sexually sick person, or the sex addict do, and all of that can also evoke great shame for partners, “I can’t believe he did that. I can’t believe he did that to me.” That’s a whole additional category of shame that partners often take on.

I think what you and I are trying to have the courage and strength to talk about is that this is a category of things that partners are coerced into doing. They get caught up in the outside-in drive for many reasons. The underlying feature is it’s not their genuine, authentic sexuality. They would not have come up with the idea, and they go along with it.

Then, later, what I hear about as they’re working through their grief processes, they have to grieve those experiences as part of the cost of partnering with someone sexually sick. It’s really tough for them.

My message to them, because they feel so much guilt and shame, is that you cannot evaluate your behavior outside the context of your love or connection with someone who is seriously sexually sick. It is contextual behavior.

Why Women Have A Hard Time Leaving Domestic Violence

The pressure that sex addicts, or people who are sexually broken can put on partners can be relentless and incredibly confusing. They can be threatened, or blackmailed, or chronically manipulated and it can be overwhelming.

Some partners suffer from Stockholm syndrome, which is a psychologically term for someone dependent on an offender, who then goes along with, or even becomes complicit in behaviors in order to survive.

Ultimately, the healing work focuses on defining and claiming one’s own authentic sexuality, “This is what I want. This is not okay with me.” The areas they’re not sure about, then they get to explore that.

I think that’s one thing that is missed in the conversation of so-called porn being an okay way to explore sexuality and there’s no harm caused by it. It’s missed this dynamic of the force of it on people who get addicted to it and then the force that they bring to their relationships. We’re seeing that with women of all ages.

A key piece of work that people do, when they have succumbed to that, and they realize, “This is not what I want, and I never wanted it, but, because of the relationship, was engaging in it.” They have to express their grief at the partner’s abusive influence on them and forgive themselves for their actions in the context of their own betrayal. They can, and they do, so that is a beautiful thing.

How To Honor Your Self After Domestic Abuse

Another area that I hear partners struggle with, in terms of their own sexuality in relationships with betrayal in them, is changing their own appearance after finding out about an affair with another woman or discovering their husband or partner’s porn habit. I do see that sometimes partners react in changing who they are.

They may not even be aware of what they’re doing. They just suddenly want to do something different with their appearance. I see sometimes they dye their hair, or they get Botox or a facelift, or they get a breast augmentation surgery. Sometimes, their partner who is sexually sick encourages this as part of controlling the partner’s appearance, which is harmful. Mostly, I’ve seen these changes right after discovery of the lies, affair, porn addiction.

While I totally support a woman’s right to choose how she expresses her beauty, there are times when the shock of betrayal creates a reactive urge to compete with the other woman, or the women in porn and becomes another outside-in or porn-driven expression. It’s more about becoming like someone else than expressing her true self.

If a recently betrayed partner wants to make a significant or permanent change in her appearance, I just try to explore her motivation and gently. I don’t want to judge any woman for wanting to look how they want to look, but I do want to prevent regret if it’s just a reaction to the betrayal and the discovery and the shock.

Why Is Sexual Betrayal Considered Abuse?

This is one of the ways I feel like the sexual betrayal is so clearly abuses the partner’s sexuality, because it devastates, often, her sexual self-esteem. These reactions can be an attempt to reclaim it, which reclaiming that sexual self-esteem is awesome. Again, I emphasize they’re not at fault for their partner’s betrayal, nor should they have to compete with anybody else to get their attention.

Anne: I’m glad you’re bringing this up. I’ve had several friends who have had breast augmentation surgery after the discovery. Not that they would have them removed, per se, but it is a source of regret. I really appreciate the gentle way in which you’re addressing this.

Staci: One thing I want to add is, as part of my training as a Certified Sex Addiction Therapist, I learned about some specialized assessments and screening tools that help partners identify how their partners sexually problematic behaviors have impacted their life.

There are three tools that I think listeners might be interested to hear about. One of them is free, called the Betrayal Bond Index and one of them is $6.50, and that’s called the Partner’s Sexuality Survey, or PSS.

There Are Tools To Help With Domestic Abuse And Betrayal

The Partner Sexuality Survey looks at 11 dimensions of a partner’s sexuality. The Betrayal Bond is a 30-question test. It gives you a preliminary response, when you take it, what your results are.

There’s another tool that you can take, if you see a CSAT, it’s called the Inventory for Partner’s Attachment, Stress and Trauma, or IPAST. That’s a much more comprehensive overview of how the experience of sexual betrayal has affected partners and looks at previous relationships and how to cope. I find it really helpful.

There’s so few resources, in general, for partners, and to have an entire assessment tool to look at, “What are some of the common areas that betrayal affects people?” I very much appreciate having it. I think it could be interesting for anyone to take the Survey, or the Betrayal Bond Index, and see how they come out, and talk it over with someone they trust.

Anne: A link to all of these assessments, so just go to, and search Staci Sprout, and there you will find the article that has the links to these assessments. It’s awesome. I really appreciate it. We want to help the women who are dealing with this, especially with those own behaviors that they’re having a really difficult time with, that they need help with, so that they can feel more peace in their lives.

What Are Some Impacts Of Domestic Abuse?

Staci: Mm-hmm.

Anne: For the women who have actually acted out themselves, women who have had an affair, women who have been seeking anonymous sex with other men, can you talk about that?

Staci: Yes. This is another facet of what can happen that may not come out in the very beginning of treatment. It may be a while before a partner will say, “Hey, there’s this other thing I need to talk about it, and I don’t want to talk about it, or it’s hard to talk about.”

Sometimes, we’ll talk about it right away, but, usually, because of shame, they stay silent until they feel really, really safe. Like the woman at the conference who confessed to an affair post-betrayal, is an extremely vulnerable and volatile time for partners, as you know. If they want to stay in the relationship, many that I get to talk to say they think about do they want to cheat. They were cheated on, maybe they want to cheat. Retaliatory affairs do happen.

According to some research I’ve read, they are more common with betrayed male partners, but it can happen with both genders. It’s a very high-risk time, because, after you find out about the betrayal, you’re feeling traumatized, disconnected, you want to fight, or run, or freeze. The relationship is so horrible, typically, that the partner’s in shock or anger, or they’re confused and hurt. Their emotional needs are very high.

How Safety Can Bring Healing From Domestic Violence

We would hope that a betrayed partner, who would open up to someone else outside the relationship, like a friend or acquaintance, or coworker, might be met with understanding and support. Sometimes, that person actually moves into emotional enmeshment, or initiates a sexual intrigue on either side, which can progress into a physical affair. Participation in this may be a passive aggressive expression of rage.

In some cases, the partner is vulnerable and opens up to someone new, and then they’re groomed during that time, by a predatory person, which adds another injury to the betrayal they’ve already suffered. What I say, when partners tell me about these kinds of experiences—well, it kicks me into an assessment mode, because my response is different depending on what’s going on.

The first thing I would ask, if someone was participating in an emotional or physical affair outside their partnership, is to find out if they feel like it’s a problem or not. I’ve not actually had a partner say, “No, it’s fine. It’s no big deal,” but I would just make sure.

Because if someone didn’t feel like it was a problem then they may be using that as an attempt to exit the relationship. If that’s really clear, I would, “Then let’s support you to do this directly, rather than to risk discovery, a blow-up, and resulting devastation of a really dramatic exit.”

Mostly, partners are ambivalent. They want to stay if there’s healing, if they’re respected, if there’s sobriety, if there’s fidelity, if there’s truth. Sometimes, keeping another relationship on the side, even in an emotional way that’s not acted out physically, is an expression of their ambivalence about the relationship. I try to help them sort out what their values are about the relationship and are they willing to be all in versus the pain of holding a secret.

Why Shame Can Be An Effect of Domestic Abuse

Other times, the affair partner is what I call an effort at forced empathy. What I mean by that is where they do what’s been done to them in an attempt to force their partner to understand their own pain. Which is a little different than just retaliation, right, where you’re trying to express an action that will retaliate or hurt someone.

Maybe it can be mixed up in there together, but, basically, in these cases, if their behavior is trying to get the empathy they so much need, then I would offer perspective that it’s not very effective.

If someone wants to reconcile, I really encourage them to stick with that process, because, oftentimes, if their partner is not showing empathy, it’s actually a capacity issue, a psychological capacity issue. A partner, because of their wounding, has not developed the complexity in their brain to be able to hold their heart empathy. That is a treatment issue where they need to get support and treatment, so they can have the capacity to do that.

The reconciliation process, which I support people to do formally with therapists who are experienced in it, it requires fidelity on both sides in order for people participating to feel safe enough to do it. I would encourage them to hold onto their decision to make a best effort at reconciling.

How Abuse In A Relationship Thrives In Silence

They don’t have to commit to permanent reconciliation until they do get that empathy, but I encourage them to let go of any outside detractions or distractions or infidelities if they want to try to achieve that. That empathy does come, eventually, in most all the people who stick with the work that I see, those couples, but it can be painstakingly slow.

Getting support while one is going through that, while you have a partner who doesn’t have empathy yet, is so essential, because, otherwise, how could anyone do it, really.

I ask partners, also, when they’re thinking about their values, what is their overall vision and purpose of their life. That, typically, clarifies whether or not infidelity fits in. It’s messy and complicated but healing happens. It’s just life. I’m trying to take it, as they say in recovery, one day at a time.

Anne: It is a very difficult, complicated, painstaking process. I agree with you. It does happen, it can happen, and that is the best-case scenario for most couples—I would say all couples to have a beautiful, happy, empathetic relationship. That’s what everybody wants, even if they don’t know how to get it.

I love this forced empathy concept. I had never heard of it before you brought it up. I’ve been thinking about it a lot since we originally talked about doing the podcast. I’ve been thinking about how I try to force empathy with my children, and how they probably are not capable of that empathy yet. I think just knowing that that concept exists and having that in my mind will probably help me a better parent. I’m grateful for you for bringing that up.

Why Self-Awareness Is Important In Healing From Abuse

I want to end with the very difficult and, perhaps triggering, question for our audience is that, if you have participated in these behaviors, are you a sex addict? If, within the context of your relationship with a sex addict, you too have participated in sexually unhealthy behaviors, does that make you a sex addict? How would you address that question?

Staci: That is a great question, because I think a lot of partners fear that. Two things to keep in mind, if you’re trying to sort that out. Number one, have your behaviors come in reaction to being betrayed or are they independent of betrayals?

That would be one thing to be curious about. In other words, someone who’s influenced by a sex addict in the context of relationship, or they’re betrayed and then, in reaction to that devastation, start looking at porn, maybe their checking up on their partner and then they start looking at it more, or have a retaliatory affair, or trying to get the person to understand by having an affair, forced empathy. Those are context-specific behaviors.

With sex addiction, typically, we see that they occur related to other triggers. The pattern is much longer, over a period of time, can come and go, like binge-purge, binge-purge, but it’s not contextual to the betrayal. I think there’s a difference between a woman self-identifying as a sex addict and acting out that behavioral pattern in relationships, because sex is often relational.

Although, for women sex addicts, there is a distinction between women who engage more in relation-based sexual acting out and women who engage in more objectification, that kind of non-relational sexual acting out.

How Does Addiction Relates To Domestic Abuse

When you hear someone say, “Oh, I’m more a sex addict,” and someone else might say, “I’m more a love addict or relationship addict,” they self-identify as sex addicts and they act out in relationships. Maybe they have serial relationships, a whole bunch at a time, maybe their deceptive, maybe they mix in more objectifying behaviors like pornography.

Anne: Okay.

Staci: I run a group for female sex and love addicts. There is definitely overlap in terms of women in the group who have been betrayed. But, what makes them feel more like they are sex and love addicts is, even though they had one betrayal that was profound and damaging, they also had a repeat pattern with various relationships where they were not betrayed.

In fact, they were often in the role of betrayer. We’re looking at pattern over time. We’re looking at who instigates the betrayal. Those are things that, I think, women tend to then identify more as sex and love addicts.

Why Sexual Addiction Is Domestice Abuse

Anne: Sex addiction and betrayal trauma are very complicated. That’s why we have a podcast. That’s why we’ll never run out of things to say on the podcast because, from our perspective coming from the abuse angle, that the lying and the porn use and the infidelity are the abuse in and of themselves. In conclusion, Staci, would you like to share anything else with our audience?

Staci: For me, personally, I identified as a sex addict because it made the most sense to me on some level that was just about me and my own self-identification and didn’t mean I wasn’t also a betrayed partner of a sex addict. I was both.

I always tell people who are trying to heal, just work on the thing that’s killing you the quickest. Only worry about the labels as much as they help you find help. I now call myself a recovered sex addict, because I no longer struggle with preoccupations or obsessive thoughts or ritualized behaviors or sexual acting out. I don’t struggle with that.

I also respect that there are people who still struggle with those things and maybe it originated in the betrayal partnership, but it’s taken on a life of its own, or maybe there’s a long pattern of it that goes back to childhood, or maybe it started with porn use and it hasn’t gone away. The sexual harm that’s out there is vast, but so are the resources for healing that sexuality, the sexual betrayal, the sexual patterns.

Connection Is Key In Domestic Abuse Situations

I wanted to segue into something that I’m really passionate about right now, which is I’m starting a newscast. It’s on Facebook Live Friday’s at 5 Pacific Time. It’s called sex addiction in the news. I would encourage anybody who’s interested in this topic to check it out. It’ll be once a week and just a half hour or so, or even send me stories, if you find news links related to healing from sexual addiction and partners who are healing from betrayal trauma.

Join Staci’s Newscast On Facebook

I think part of the problem is we don’t talk about it. When we don’t talk about it, we can’t self-define. I’ve had a lot of women write to me after they read my book, “Naked in Public: A Memoir of Recovery from Sex Addiction and Other Temporary Insanities,” and tell me they identified with parts of the book but not with others.

It’s just about trying to get stories out there where people are feeling safe and get into the conversation, so people can define what fits and what doesn’t so that they can know where to get help and where to get relief.

Anne: Absolutely. If you struggle with sexually compulsive behaviors, if you’re struggling with other addictions, either as a result of or in the context of a betrayal or if this is a pattern that you’ve had throughout your life, I recommend Staci’s site to you. It’s

Begin considering your own compulsive behaviors, whether within the context of the betrayal or outside the context of the betrayal, but simply so that you can get the help that you need to find the peace and the happiness that you deserve.

Domestic Violence Can Feel Hopeless And Confusing

I need to thank everyone profusely for your patience. I’ve been creating automated emails for all the services and things have been crazy. If you’ve gotten random emails from me. Some of you got emails from services that you purchased in October. It’s just been insane. The website is coming along. It’s very exciting.

We have changed the topics so that you can take any topic either individually with a coach or, if lots of women sign up at the same time, you can take it in a group setting. That way, we were able to meet all the needs of any woman at any time. That took us a long time to figure out. Thank you for being patient with us as we evolve. I really appreciate that.

A lot of women are getting a lot of good feedback on that checklist, so please print it out, slip it under the door of your clergy, take it to your therapist, talk to people about it. It’s a really good resource and I want every woman to know about it.

Recently, the LDS Church came out with a new policy that women can take someone else with them in an appointment where they’re going to talk to their clergy about their husband’s abuse. I want to encourage all of you who are LDS to always take a trusted friend, a safe woman, or a safe person with you, who understands the abusive nature of pornography addiction, when you go in to talk to your church leader about your husband’s behaviors.

Also encouraging you, when you go in there, to tell your church leader, “These are the things I am going to do to establish safety. These are called boundaries, and I need you to support me in these boundaries. This will make a huge difference in the ability of women to get healing.

To Address Abuse, We Must Know What Abuse Is

I’m very, very grateful for that policy and I really, truly believe that God directed that. I’m grateful that He answered our prayers.

I have some crazy news. Are you ready for this? I don’t know if you’re ready for this, but I received a restitution letter in the mail yesterday. I’m going to talk about it and how I feel about it and where I’m at with it.

Stay tuned for next week’s podcast, because it will be an update on my recovery, what’s going on with me. I think that you’ll find it very, very interesting. In fact, I want to tell you all about it right now, but you’ll have to wait until next week.

If this podcast was helpful to you, please rate it on iTunes. Every single one of your ratings helps increase our search engine rankings and helps women who are isolated find us. We’d also appreciate it if you would go to our website and comment on any of our posts or pages. The more engagement we get, the better our site ranks on search engines.

Our goal is to find every woman who needs us, so every woman can have access to the checklist, every woman can save years and years of pain and confusion if they understand what’s going on, and if they know what to look for.

Until next week, stay safe out there.

How To Talk About Your Divorce Due To Porn Use & Abuse

How To Talk About Your Divorce Due To Porn Use & Abuse

Welcome to Betrayal Trauma Recovery, this is Anne. I have Caroline on the podcast today. She is a BTR client who recently got divorced. We’re going to talk to her about her experience and what she went through and how she’s feeling now.

Anne:  Welcome, Caroline. You’re in this post-divorce situation. When people ask you why you got divorced, what is your response?

Caroline: Although I knew about my husband’s pornography addiction from the beginning, I didn’t know what that entailed. In the end, he refused to get help, refused to get treatment. It wasn’t because he had a pornography addiction, but it was because he did not want to get help, even refused to believe that he had an addiction to begin with.

How To Handle The Questions About Divorce and Abuse

Anne:  When you say that to people, do you think they respond well, or is it a triggery experience to have to talk about it with people who are wondering why you got divorced?

Caroline: It’s definitely a panic zone because you don’t know how people will react. Some people are very educated on pornography addiction, and others aren’t. They believe that it’s normal. The reactions vary. It’s only been in the past few months that I’ve felt like I can actually say the word pornography, when I’m talking about my divorce.

Anne:  You mentioned that you knew about his pornography use while you were dating, or before you got married. Did you see any other red flags?

Caroline: As I was thinking about post-divorced, I was incredibly surprised at how many red flags there actually were. I think I just refused to see them. One characteristic that I’ve learned, through BTR, is that addicts are narcissists and the term gaslighting.

What Are Some Red Flags of Abuse?

Some of those narcissistic traits were that our dates were always extremely lavish and expensive. It seemed that he just had untapped funds. From the get-go, date one, he wouldn’t give me hardly any time alone, always had to be around me, knowing what I was up to, surprise visits. He would fake sick at work just to come see me. It felt like he almost forced himself into my life.

I was flattered at the time thinking, “Wow, this guy really likes me. He’s so cute. He’s got all this money. He’s got a good job,” but now I see it as him being controlling and insecure and practicing those narcissistic traits. He was a strong member of his church up until a few months before we met.

He had a lot to say about his inactivity in the church and a lot of excuses how he was being treated unfairly. He undermined his parents while still having them in the palm of his hand. He constantly seeked praise and validation down to the littlest things. If he wiped off the counter, he would say, “Hey look, look what I did. I wiped off the counter,” just fed off of what other people thought of him constantly.

Is Narcissistic Abuse Easy To Spot?

Anne:  I want to make a clarification there. I would not say that all porn users are narcissists, meaning they might not all be diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder. However, I do think that porn users exhibit narcissistic behaviors, whether or not they’re diagnosed. I think that’s probably what you’re saying.

Caroline: Yeah.

Anne:  I was just thinking about my ex. He contacted some people in my life, because he was trying to get information about filing taxes before we were divorced but while we were separated. He said things like, “I love Anne so much. I need to make sure that I do this for her,” and just went over and above how amazing he was for filing the taxes.

He really felt like he needed tons of praise for just every day normal things that, literally, he had to do. If he wouldn’t have done it, he would’ve been breaking the law. It’s like, “You’re not going to get a ton of praise for filing your taxes. Every single person has to do that. I don’t know why you’re the hero for filing taxes.”

What Are Abusive Narcissistic Behaviors?

Being educated about what narcissistic behaviors are is super important for women so that they can know, “Oh, that was not a man being completely and totally in love with me. That is love-bombing. That’s about them, not about me. This is an unsafe situation. I need to take a step back.”

Which, what woman wouldn’t want to be love-bombed. That’s what we see in romantic comedies. Our culture tells us, “When you meet the right person, these amazing things will happen.” That amazing situation is meant for a romantic comedy, it is very similar a narcissist love-bombing.

Caroline: Yeah, exactly.

Anne:  That’s what you experienced there, yeah. Now, when you look back, do you realize, “Wow. Here is a very sick person. I didn’t realize how sick he was. I got manipulated and pulled into that alternate reality that he lived in,” or do you see someone that you thought had the potential to be an amazing person and chose not to?

Why Women Stay In Abusive Relationships

Caroline: I saw a lot of potential in my ex-husband. Mainly, I saw him becoming like a voice against the addiction and influencing so many people, especially the youth. I saw him mastering his personal wellness and becoming a spiritual giant and cherishing me as his wife. I really saw him and I creating a family and becoming a mother, and him becoming a father.

He talked about all sorts of different things when it came to the family and being a major influence and support to his own mom, who is a widow. I think he had many opportunities to face his addiction and many opportunities to get help. Many times, where I saw authentic reaction to what he was doing, sadness for what he had done.

Then, the next day it would be like that realization never happened. I definitely believe that he knew, to a degree, what was happening and what was going on. In the end, I feel like he almost hated himself. Then, that was where a lot of the praise and the validation had to come through to make up for that. A lot of the mourning is because you do see their potential. Somebody told me, while going through my divorce as I was having a lot of confusing and conflicting thoughts about my decision, because you feel like such a relief and, at the same time, you really miss them, and you are mourning the loss of that potential in that person. You can see it so clearly, after spending time with that person.

Why Narcissistic Abuse Is So Difficult To Recognize

It’s so hard, because you want to take them by the shoulders and shake them and tell them, “Hey, I believe in you. I see you. I hear you. I love you. You’ve got all this untapped potential right there, if you would just take it, it’s right there.” You can’t make anybody do anything. They have to be the ones to decide and actually admit, and then take the steps that are needed to recover and go into healing.

Anne:  In the meantime, our job is to keep ourselves safe so that if and when the person does decide to change, we have not been continually harmed through their either non-changing, or their process of change.

Caroline: One thing that Sarah, from BTR, my coach, helped incredibly with was that boundaries should be set in those instances. Before, I just thought marriage was this free-for-all when it comes to each other’s feelings, because, “Well, we’re married.” But she taught me that boundaries are good and that they need to be set, even inside a marriage, in order to keep yourself safe.

How Do Boundaries Help With Narcissistic Abuse?

Anne:  Especially when you’re married to someone who’s making very sad choices. What do you wish you would’ve known earlier in your marriage?

Caroline: I wish I would’ve known that pornography addiction fuels other addictions and behaviors. That it’s never just, “Oh, I look at porn, and then my day goes on and my life goes on.” I wish I would’ve known more the emotional and physical consequences of that addiction. I wish I would’ve known to ask more questions through our dating life and be very specific and unafraid of the answers.

I wish I would’ve known to put my needs and desires as a priority, and to have this lesser sense of urgency when it comes to getting married, but that it would be okay to just take our time. I think another big thing for me was that I didn’t need to settle, just because he was showing interest in me. Instead, I wish that I would’ve realized that I could have everything that I want in a man and that I deserve the full package.

What Constitutes As Abuse Within A Relationship?

Anne:  At BTR, when we say the full package, what we mean is someone who is not abusive.

Caroline: Yeah, isn’t that ironic.

Anne:  We’re not looking for this like, “Oh, he is a professional soccer player, and an ex-Navy Seal, and he has a million-dollar business.” No, no, no, that’s not what we’re talking about. We are talking about a man that we can partner with, who is not abusive.

Caroline: Yeah, for sure, just somebody that’s on the same track that I am. I want a lot out of my life.

Anne:  Let’s talk about your age for a minute. We’ve had women on the podcast and BTR clients who range from all different ages and all situations. Caroline, how old are you?

Caroline: I just turned 22.

Anne:  How long were you married?

Caroline: Three years, almost to the day. I was 18 when I got married.

Is It Possible To Heal From Narcisstic Abuse?

Anne:  And no children now, right?

Caroline: No kids, nope.

Anne:  What active steps are you taking now to heal from the trauma that you experienced from being married to an abusive man?

Caroline: One of the biggest things that has helped me heal through my divorce is affirmations. I have them posted all over my apartment. Just small things that help remind me of who I am and where I want to be, and that divorce does not define me, or that it wasn’t a failure either. I’ve also found it super helpful in the last little bit to share my story. There’s so many people my age who have been married for one to three years that are finding themselves in the same place.

In the neighborhood that I grew up in, there’s between two years younger than me and two years older than me, there is 11 of us that are married, and six of us are now divorced. It’s been super helpful for me to reach out to them and just talk to them and converse with them. We have a little Facebook group page where we can share our thoughts and feelings and progress with each other. That’s been super helpful.

How Pornography Is A Form Of Abuse

Anne:  With those six, I’m assuming pornography was part of the equation?

Caroline: Six of them are now divorced due to pornography and one because of complications with homosexuality.

Anne:  One thing I find very concerning right now is that young people are thinking that, if they talk about it, that they can somehow avoid it. That has not been my experience. In fact, for the thousands and thousands of wives I’ve talked to, many of them had a lot of conversations with their boyfriends and fiancées about pornography.

Pornography users lie. A conversation about it, or asking the right questions is not going to lead us to the truth, usually. The only thing that will lead us to the truth is observing their behaviors and getting really in touch with, “What do I need? When do I feel safe? Who am I?” being in our own recovery space so that we can observe those unhealthy behaviors in someone else.

Why Abuse Is So Hard To See

Caroline: Yes.

Anne:  For example, a lot of people think, “Well, if I am open and I’m kind and I don’t shame the person, then it will give them a better opportunity to tell the truth.” I think that is the wrong way to go, because we’re still trying to “help” that person or manage that person. They, literally, need to be able to be honest, regardless of whether their wife or girlfriend is angry, is happy, is sad. Their honesty cannot should not depend on the way that their wife reacts.

Caroline: Absolutely.

Anne:  Right now, when people talk about pornography addiction, that kind of is floating around there that women have the responsibility to not be too angry, or not be too shaming, or not be too this or that. If they do it really great, then he will open up. That just puts the blame of lying on her still, where it does not belong. It is fully his responsibility to tell the truth, regardless of how she reacts.

How To Set Healthy Boundaries To Escape Abuse

Caroline: Yes, for sure.

Anne:  BTR does not advocate for divorce. I did not want to get divorced. I felt very strongly that I needed to keep my marriage covenants. I felt very strongly that I needed to set boundaries to be safe. I was in that place of setting a very firm no-contact boundary and, also, not filing for divorce.

I’m sure that you’ve heard other people say, “Well, if you set these strong boundaries, then you’re going to end up divorced,” like it’s your fault, rather then you’re setting boundaries for safety, and if they choose to still abuse you, it’s still their fault that the divorce is happening. What do you say to people who might ask you, “Well, you’re divorced now, and you went to BTR, I guess BTR believes in divorce”? What would you say to them?

Caroline: Well, my first reaction is laughing because, before I went to BTR, I definitely wanted to make things work, but I was exhausted, and I had put off scheduling an appointment for a long time, because I was nervous, and I wasn’t sure what was going to happen.

Safety Is The Most Important Thing When Dealing With Abuse

The best thing that happened was that my coach helped me to identify my core values, that all my decisions should be made based off of those core values that we established. It was very explicit that BTR is not an advocate for divorce, but that we should also make sure that we’re in a safe situation.

The decision did come from me. In fact, when I called my coach and told her, she was actually quite surprised that that was my decision.

Anne:  Did you feel supported by your coach?

Caroline: Yes, I definitely felt support from her. The support came as helping to identify myself and work through and make progress, rather than, “You did the right thing, and you’re going to be so much happier.” It was, “You’re a strong woman. You can do anything that you put your mind to.” That said it all.

How Is Abuse Viewed Within Our Culture?

Anne:  My experience with the domestic violence shelter, when I went, basically, everyone was like, “Okay, when you get divorced,” and I didn’t want to get divorced. I felt like, “These women aren’t listening to me. How can I get help in my situation? How can I get help as an abused woman with a pornography user in my home, when I don’t want to get divorced?” I felt very uncomfortable.

I think a lot of therapists, if you start telling them, “Okay, these are the real behaviors I’m seeing, they’re very unsafe,” therapists, or the domestic violence shelter, or other helping professionals, they’re like, “Well, your only option is divorce.” Then, clergy is the opposite like, “Well, forgive, love and serve, even if you’re being abused. Someday, maybe he’ll not abuse you anymore,” which is also crazy.

At Betrayal Trauma Recovery, I wanted to make it very explicit that we do not advocate for divorce because, somebody like me, when they come and they want to get help, and they want to get to safety, but they also don’t want to get divorced, I want them to feel safe here, because that’s what I needed and I could not find.

How Does Abuse Escalate?

I could not find anywhere that held a place for, “Yes, you’re being abused, and we understand you don’t want to get divorced.” Most places, it’s like black and white. They either have to deny you’re being abused, in order to save the marriage, or you have to get divorced right now, even if you don’t want to.

Caroline: After talking with my coach for the first and second time, we talked about boundaries. I came up with some boundaries that I was going to set with my ex-husband. Once the boundaries were set in place, things really took a different turn. It made him very upset, much more abusive. It’s a different side to my ex-husband that I never had seen. To me, setting a simple boundary, I saw his true colors.

Anne:  Was it shocking to you?

Caroline: Oh yeah. I had never seen him react that way at all, just completely livid. He’d never really yelled at me like that but was throwing things. Just completely different than I had ever seen him before. This wasn’t a boundary of no physical contact.

What Are The Different Types Of Abuse?

We had been seeing a therapist who specializes in pornography addiction and the therapist told me that my ex-husband would have to make the appointments from here on out, because, at that time, for months and months, I was the one that was making the appointments and taking him to the appointments.

The therapist said, “Nothing’s going to change until he wants to do this.” The boundary that was set was, “You need to make your own appointment to go see this therapist.” That’s when he blew up.

Anne:  When I realized that my relationship was as abusive as it was, and that I hadn’t seen it as abuse, I was shocked. It sounds like that was a moment for you, where you’re like, “Whoa, he’s abusive.”

Caroline: This was a very simple thing. There was no even talk of consequence, it was just pleading with him, “Just please go. That’s all I’m asking you. One hour every two weeks,” and it was just chaos trying to ask him to do very simple things.

Is Gaslighting A Form Of Psychological Abuse?

Anne:  Without being totally berated, yeah. I was just shocked when I found out how abusive he really was. When I was managing him and when I was not setting boundaries, I don’t think I ever would’ve been able to see the level of his abusiveness.

Caroline: That reminds me. When I was just barely discovering Betrayal Trauma Recovery, I was surfing around on your website just trying to get more information. There was a list of behaviors and examples of gaslighting on your website.

Consequently, I’m sitting at work in front of my computer, and I’m reading these, I just had the biggest epiphany. Every single sentence that was listed, every bullet point was just like, “Yes, this is how I’ve felt. I’ve never been able to put words to it.”

That’s the moment that I decided, “Okay, something has to change, and I’ve got to get help to figure out what needs to happen and what needs to change.” I just remember reading those. It was huge for me.

How Do You Realize You Are In An Abusive Relationship?

When people ask me about BTR, or my divorce, and then they go into their own struggles with their spouse who is a porn user, I always refer them to that. It’s the same reaction, I can see it on their face. Every single time, its just, “Oh my goodness, this is putting into words what I’ve never been able to say.”

Anne:  I think it goes from knowing that your husband uses porn and being frustrated about that and trying to figure that out to realizing that you’re in an abusive relationship.

Caroline: Yeah, I never would’ve classified it as an abusive relationship until then.

Anne:  Yeah, so the shift from, “I’m worried about my husband, he uses porn. This is annoying, it hurts me,” to, “He is abusive,” that is one of the most traumatizing shifts in paradigm. But, once that shift in paradigm happens, I think women are getting stronger at being able to be like, “Okay, so this means I really need to set boundaries because all the love, service and forgiveness is not going to help the situation out.”

Caroline: Right, absolutely.

How Do You Move Forward After Abuse?

Anne:  You found BTR at 22. There are some women who are finding BTR at 40. After 20 years of marriage, some of them are finding it at 50. After 30 years of marriage, or women who are finding it after two or three divorces. What are you watching for in your future relationships?

Caroline: The biggest thing that I watch for now is how they treat me and how they treat themselves, how they take care of themselves and their sense of personal wellness. I definitely don’t have it honed down yet, because I still find myself having belief issues or trust issues.

Anne:  Which is part of the trauma, I think.

Caroline: Yeah, for sure. I can see the progress I’ve made when it comes to that. How they interact with other people, if they’re constantly seeking validation, or having to be the center of the conversation, or reverting stories back to them, interrupting people. The characteristics of narcissism is definitely what I look for.

How Do You Overcome Narcissistic Abuse?

Anne:  What about you? What kinds of things are you continuing to do as you progress in your healing?

Caroline: Something that I do regularly is I write about my thoughts. I don’t hide from that place of asking the hard questions of myself or facing the trauma that is constantly triggered as time goes on. If I am triggered, I like to come home at the end of the day and write about it. Sometimes I keep it, and sometimes I throw it away as a symbol, like gesture of, “Goodbye, I’m done with you. I’m done with this feeling.”

I notice that I’m a lot more self-aware with my thoughts. Exercise and being outside has helped astronomically throughout the process of just feeling whole again, and able and strong. Just staying connected to my feelings overall.

Anne:  It sounds like also just staying connected to reality.

Caroline: Yeah.

How Self-Care Can Help In Healing From Abuse

Anne:  In order to be with an active porn user, who’s actively abusing you, you’re either always fighting with them, so there’s this constant chaos, or you have to live in their reality, which is not reality.

Caroline: Mm-hmm.

Anne:  I remember one day I walked out of the house. I was walking outside, and I looked up and I felt the sun on my face, and it felt so new. I was like, “Gasp.” I looked at the birds and I remember the birds flying by and I remember looking at a tree and it was swaying. It was almost surreal, like, “Is this real? This is reality.”

I just thought, “Wow, I’ve been living in this fog inside my house with this abusive situation, and my reality has been so skewed I don’t see reality for what it is.” I started trying to do that too, just walking outside, letting the sun be on my face. I garden.

Self-care is on my list of what I’m doing now, to heal and to grow. I like the journey of it and I’m okay, but it’s a really crazy journey and I’m not doing fantastic at it, but at least I’m making small steps forward.

Why Support Is Important When Dealing With Abuse

Caroline: Yeah.

Anne:  Caroline, I know that your mom has listened to the podcast and that she’s really familiar with BTR, so a lot of the things that you are learning, she also knew because she listened to the podcast, how has that helped you as you’ve progressed in your healing?

Caroline: Well, obviously, the introduction to BTR by my mom was super helpful. I am forever grateful for the education that my mom has about pornography addiction, because that’s what it boils down to, is gaining an education about what this addiction does. Being able to have my mom there as a support was super helpful. Being able to take the emotion out of the sadness that her daughter is going through this and being able to look at the facts and be acquainted with the addiction was very helpful.

Nobody wants that to be their friend or their daughter or their sister. For a brief moment, there was that reaction from my mom of, “You need to keep trying,” and then the next day she called me, and she goes, “Honey, I know, and I was wrong and I’m sorry. I’m here for you.” She had to take the emotion out of it, which she was only able to do because of the education that she has.

Information Is Key In Handling Narcissistic Abuse

Anne:  I wish everyone who was going through this had a mom who was also listening to the podcast.

Caroline: For sure.

Anne:  Caroline, thank you for being here today. I’m so grateful that you found BTR.

Caroline: Thank you, Anne.

Anne:  I’m going to do a mini Spring Fund drive right now. We really appreciate all of you who are interested in volunteering. Unless you have a super special skillset, like you’re a professional grant writer, and you can commit 10 hours a week to Betrayal Trauma Recovery, we have realized that we need to actually hire a professional grant writer and hire other professionals who will be able to do the jobs that we need.

Instead of asking for volunteers, I’m now going to ask you just to donate so that we can take Betrayal Trauma Recovery to the next level. For example, I hired a web developer who’s been doing a great job. You’re going to notice that our website is changing quite a bit. When you go to the site, you might think, “Oh, where is this?” or, “Where is that?”

We’re optimizing it right now, for all the women who come to make sure that it’s very clear. It takes time to do that, and we have to keep doing different versions of it. I am literally praying right now, as is Coach Cat, about the best way to get women the information that they need. Do we run it as a class? Do we run it as a topic-based support call package, for example? We have not figured it out yet. We’re praying that we will make the right decision.

There Is Hope After Abuse

As things evolve, our goal is to just make sure we give women the best services possible. Because we’ve been through it, we know what that means, and we know what to look for in order to make BTR a safe place. Will you consider please, making a recurring donation to BTR to cover operating costs?

I love my job. I want to continue doing it. Go to, scroll all the way down, and you’ll see the donate button at the bottom of the page. Again, super grateful for your patience as we optimize our services and optimize our website.

If this podcast is helpful to you, please rate it on iTunes or the podcasting software that you use. We’re on Google Play, we’re on Android. Every single rating increases our search engine rankings and helps women who are isolated find us.

Betrayal Trauma Recovery Club is the place to be to process what you’re going through with safe women and professionals, so we encourage everyone to sign up for Betrayal Trauma Recovery today. Until next week, stay safe out there.

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