the abuse cycle
The Abuse Vortex

When victims become empowered through trauma and abuse education, they can find safety and begin healing.

Pornography is an abuse issue. The concepts of “addiction cycles” and “addict behaviors” lead victims down rabbit holes that don’t help the escape from the abuse vortex.

Sarah McDugal, abuse expert, joins Anne on the free BTR podcast to expound on the abuse cycle, or vortex, and empower partners of porn users to seek safety. Read the full transcript below and listen to the free BTR podcast for more.

Abusive Behaviors Of Porn Users

In the “porn addiction” culture, it is often said that porn users may behave abusively. This is not accurate:

Abusive men often use porn. 

It is impossible for a man to use pornography and not be abusing his partner.

If you are concerned that your partner may be unfaithful through pornography use or other sexual acting-out behaviors, here are some behaviors to watch for that indicate that he may be using porn:

12 Signs He Could Be Watching Porn

  1. He has a lack of empathy. 
  2. He blames you for everything. 
  3. He seems to be hiding something from you. 
  4. He lies to you. 
  5. He doesn’t fully disclose the entire financial situation or money disappears. 
  6. He compulsively uses electronics, like his phone – often taking it into the bathroom with him.
  7. He has gaps in his timeline.
  8. He has a general disregard for other people and their property. 
  9. He has a sense of entitlement or arrogance. 
  10. He has flashes of anger or unexplained irritability. 
  11. He jumps from one hobby to another, completely losing interest in something he was previously obsessed with for a period of time.
  12. He tries to persuade or force you to engage in sexual experiences that are unfamiliar, unsafe, or degrading.

Understanding The Cycle (or Vortex) of Abuse

Victims of betrayal and abuse often feel like they are stuck in a never-ending cycle – sometimes their partner is loving and kind, generous and romantic. Abruptly, he becomes angry, withdrawn, negative, or depressed. Then just as suddenly, he’s romantic, sweet, and involved with the family.

As victims become familiar with the “Abuse Vortex” they can better identify the abusive behaviors of their partner, and then set boundaries to protect themselves and their children from harmful behaviors.

The 5 Phases Of The Abuse Vortex

The 5 Phases of Sarah McDugal's Abuse Vortex

Uncovering The “Butter Up” Or “Grooming” Phase

When women experience the euphoria of the grooming phase, they may feel so content, so relieved, so exhausted after the other devastating phases, that it may be terrifying to consider that when he’s being nice, he’s actually still abusing you.

Sarah explains it this way:

Good acts are their own form of abuse because they are deceiving you in order to get you to trust them and not stand up and hold them accountable.”

 Sarah McDugal, abuse expert

Often during the more disturbing phases of the cycle, women will commit to themselves to leave the relationship, set boundaries, and find support.

But when the abuser starts grooming, or “buttering her up”, her resolve weakens (out of both exhaustion and the power of the abuser’s manipulation).

As women become familiar with what grooming is, they are better able to see that, as Sarah says:

Dr. Jekyll doesn’t have an evil twin. He is the evil twin, because he’s the one that gets you to drop your guard.

Sarah McDugal, abuse expert

Betrayal Trauma Recovery Supports Victims of Betrayal and Abuse

Empowerment through trauma and abuse education can help victims separate truth from the false reality that their abusive partner has created. In this process of understanding reality, victims need strong and safe support systems to help them through the painful emotions and difficult decisions they will need to make.

The Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group meets daily in every time zone and offers women a safe place to process trauma, express hard feelings, share their stores, and ask important questions.

Join today and find the community that you deserve.

Full Transcript:

Welcome to Betrayal Trauma Recovery, this is Anne.

If you missed last week’s episode with Sarah McDugal, go back to last week and listen in. We had an amazing discussion, from a faith perspective, about how women need to be safe from abuse. So, if you haven’t heard that I encourage you to go back.

Sarah McDugal is an author, international speaker, and abuse recovery coach for women in the faith community who are healing from abusive relationships. Her passion is to lead women out of the wilderness and into a wild and abundant life with Jesus.

Welcome back for today’s episode, Sarah.

Sarah: Thank you, Anne. We had so much fun last time I’m excited about today too.

History Of Codependency And How It Further Abuses A Victim

Anne: So, I was really dying to ask you this. When it comes to codependency or co-addict or co-sex addict, how do you see in your community this term being used against victims?

Sarah: I think it’s bunk. One of the biggest things I get from women on a continual basis is this whole idea who are trying to figure out which way is up. They’ve recently found out or keep finding out that they are married to a sex addict, that their whole world is not what they thought it was.

Then they go to therapy or their husband goes to therapy and comes home and tells them that the real problem is that their co-addicted and they’re part of the triggers and that they’re codependent and they are as equally responsible for his sex addiction as he is.

I can’t tell you, maybe you already know, but there are so many women who have an incredible experience of their therapists re-traumatizing them when they get hit in the face with the idea that they are, somehow, supposed to share in the responsibility for their spouse’s sexual addiction.

“Every Adult Human Is Responsible For Their Own Choices. Period.”

There are so many reasons why that is completely wrong. Including the fundamental reality that every adult human is responsible for their own choices. Period.

You’re not responsible for your husband’s choices to be sexually unfaithful or visually unfaithful or mentally and emotionally unfaithful. There are those who would push back on that and say, “But wait a second, she didn’t give him as much sex as he wanted.”

Okay, but what about the guy who’s single? If you are in a faith community that teaches that sex is for marriage, then that means singles are supposed to be celibate.

But, all of a sudden, when you get married you have some divine right to get as much sex as you want whenever you want it and if your spouse doesn’t give it to you then it’s just understandable if you cheat? That is not the way God presents self-control.

We talked about 1 Corinthians 6:18 in the last episode, where sexual sin is actually a sin against your own body not anyone else’s—although you might also sin against someone else’s body in sexual sin if you choose to do so—but first and foremost it’s a sin against your own body.

The Abuse Vortex And Infidelity

If your spouse is choosing to sexually sin, that’s a sin that they are choosing to commit against their own body. Beyond that, what about the person who their spouse is in a car accident? Is that where you were going to go?

Anne: Yeah, that’s the example I was going to say. The wife is in a car accident. Okay, so now you can go have an affair?

Sarah: A husband who honors his wife by staying faithful when she becomes paralyzed or is incapacitated by illness or disease or has some physical ailment, we honor him but if he just says, “Well, she is fully capable and just doesn’t give me enough sex or as much as I want it so it’s understandable that I cheated.” No, that is a rationalization of sin.

Anne: It’s also abuse, because we don’t know if that’s true. Number one, maybe she’s having sex with him every day, maybe that’s the case. Secondly, maybe she’s not having sex with him because he’s yelling in her face and he’s miserable to be around and she’s afraid of him. There are so many valid reasons why she might not want to have sex with him.

Understanding How Abusers Use Their Partners

Similarly, many men are saying this when they are getting what most people would consider plenty of sex. Nobody in the drug addiction world says, “Okay, here’s a heroin addict and he’s just not getting enough heroin.”

Sarah: He’s not getting enough heroin from his spouse, so he had to go get it off the street and now we need to deal with that.

Anne: Yeah, more drugs don’t help. If they’re using their wife as their drug, she is a receptacle for their abuse. He is abusing her in the same way that he’s abusing pornography. He’s abusing sex with her for his own addiction, for his own purposes, and she becomes part of the addiction, part of the drug.

That means that, if she’s not acting like an object, if she’s not acting as someone in porn would act, then she’s not doing it right. Weird, she wants connection.

Abstinence And Boundaries For Safety From The Vortex Of Abuse

Sarah: Or mutuality. Yeah. I advise women, when they’re in this kind of situation, that in order to truly see whether or not their sexually addicted spouse is going to put the work in to find recovery and healing, they need to not be getting sex.

Anne: Yeah, we recommend abstinence as well, as a boundary.

Sarah: You can’t try to control or manage someone else’s sexual addiction with what you give and expect for them to find healing and rewire their brain. That is actually what needs to happen when someone has become a sex addict.

They need brain rewiring and the only way to do that is from a perspective of abstinence. I completely agree with you on that.

The Vortex Of Abuse And 12 Step Programs

Now, a little history. I’m sure you guys have covered so much of this kind of stuff before in other episodes, but have you covered the history of the codependent/co-addict philosophy getting drawn into Sexaholics Anonymous or S-ANON?

Anne: We have, from another woman’s perspective, but I would love to hear yours, so, please.

Sarah: Okay, so the history, as I understand it, is that the codependent/co-addict philosophy treatment was really borrowed blindly and pulled over from Alcoholics Anonymous. So, AA had this co-addict philosophy where the spouse of an alcoholic is codependent and is trying to control the alcoholic.

I have some issues with that philosophy, in and of itself because in alcohol addiction I think there is a lot of abuse that goes on as well in an abuse mindset, but sticking with our realm of sexual addiction/sexual abuse, no research was done on how sex addiction and spouses of sex addicts might be very, very different than substance, narcotics, alcoholics, and so on.

“It Just Doesn’t Apply To Spouses Of Sex Addicts”

There is an incredibly amazing book called Your Sexually Addicted Spouse, by Dr. Barbara Steffens and Marsha Means. I’m glad you’re familiar with it. I love her material.

She did thousands of hours of research on this and showing that the whole co-addict who’s trying to control the addict and they’re addicted to the addict, it just doesn’t apply to spouses of sex addicts.

If you are a woman, as I have been and, Anne, as you’ve been and so many of our listeners here, who have experienced this intense betrayal of broken vows and shattered trust that comes from discovering that the person you’ve loved and trusted is a sex addict, you’ve experienced an incredible trauma.

The reality is, with sexual addiction, it is almost never just one disclosure. It’s an ongoing trickle of discoveries, disclosures, and lies, and then other layers of lies. Then things that have to do with money or time or work or friends or other people that you had no idea about.

Trickle Discoveries And The Vortex Of Abuse

Your world unravels around you, as if you had a hand-knitted sweater and you clipped a thread and started pulling and everything just falls apart around you and it often happens slowly. Repeatedly. You’re having your sense of safety shattered over and over and over again as these discoveries trickle out over time.

Anne: Yeah, and I think people discount the abuse in between that. They might say, “Well, this disclosure was upsetting and then a month later another disclosure.” They don’t recognize that, in-between those two disclosures, there were lies and manipulation that were happening that were also causing trauma.

That is also part of that abuse, and that is what causes the trauma, in addition to finding out that you’ve been lied to. It’s a whole yummy, delicious, disgusting, basket of abuse that you are presented with.

Help Victims Understand That They Are Stuck In The Vortex of Abuse

I think the hardest thing is that you have been in an abusive relationship, but you don’t know it. Realizing that it was abusive, is very difficult to come out of that fog and start putting the pieces together. It’s a process, and I tell people often that the number one reason why women don’t get out of abusive relationships is because they don’t know that they are in one.

Sarah: Yep. I would agree, 100%.

Anne: Yeah, and, when they start realizing it, that’s when I think my trauma got worse. When I realized how bad the abuse was. I didn’t realize how bad my situation was and how unsafe it was.

“How To Have A Healthy Marriage” Books Set Women Up To Be Abused

Sarah: When I had just become a single parent and I was still trying to make sense of all the half-truths and outright lies and people I had been isolated from that actually knew the truth, a friend of mine gave me a copy of Dr. Steffen’s book, Your Sexually Addicted Spouse, and she wrapped it in brown paper so that nobody would see it.

No offense to Dr. Steffens but the cover on this book is just awful. She needs a new title and a new cover, and I would promote the heck out of it, but I always feel like I compulsively need to apologize for the cover.

A friend of mine had given it to me and I let it sit in the bottom of my dresser drawer underneath a bunch of stuff for probably three or four months. I finally pulled it out when my parents had my kids and I was home alone for the weekend. That book put me in bed.

I described it as hooking onto a fire hose and downloading my previous 12 years of trauma in a sitting. I ended up reading it over two or three days. I had to get up, I had to stretch, I had to lie down on the floor, I had to go take a hot bath to loosen my muscles. My entire trunk, my core, my muscles seized up.

The Vortex Of Abuse Leads Victims To Believe They Are Codependent

I ended up having to go to physical therapy afterwards because the physiological response to the fact that I could relate to some aspect, or multiple ones, in every case study in that book, was psychologically, emotionally, and physiologically overwhelming.

I realized that I had such a visceral negative reaction to therapists telling me, “Well, you’re kind of codependent on this. You’re just trying to control him.” I couldn’t articulate to them why they were wrong. I just knew they were so wrong, and that book gave me the vocabulary and the understanding of terms to be able to really articulate that.

I realized that what I had gone through was like a carjacking. If you get carjacked, you’re going to compulsively check the back seat before you get in because you want to get back to safety over and over and over again. You might do that for 10 years.

That doesn’t mean you’re trying to control the carjacker. That means you’re trying to make sure you are not voluntarily or blindly placing yourself in harm’s way again. That is actually a healthy response.

Every Man’s Battle” Harms Women

Here’s the thing though, Anne—and this is a beef that I want to throw out there and you can tell me what you think—I believe that a huge category of the literature that we have on what is considered to be healthy marriage, actually sets women up for swallowing this whole codependent/co-addict kind of thing when they are with a sexually abusive spouse.

For example, Every Man’s Battle, if you don’t have sex with your husband at least once every three days you are creating a problem for him and he can’t be held responsible for his thoughts. Excuse me?! What about every unmarried man out there that you say should stay celibate?

Anne: Well, even books that are on how to communicate better, for example. Like, “use I statements” or whatever, just simple books on communicating better with your husband. Even those. We become master communicators. We’re very direct and use I statements and everything, but that cannot keep you safe from abuse.

Why Does He Do That?” Helps Women Escape The Vortex Of Abuse

Sarah: Yes. What about the whole Love & Respect, the Eggerichs’ book? The whole idea that you owe respect regardless of what someone does or how they act or how they sin, you still respect them and, hopefully, they get around to loving you too.

Anne: I know, it’s like the patriarchy has decided that women are going to leave us, so we have to tell them to stay in their lane. Yeah, it’s awful.

I want to take all of the marriage and communication books and sex addiction books and throw them out the window and only say read the Bible and read Why Does He Do That?

Abuse-Pornography/Sex Addiction-Abuse

Let’s educate everybody about abuse first, because it seems like so many of the marriage problems, they don’t know that there’s pornography going on underneath and abuse going on, and it’s really scary.

Sarah: I will tell you, I have yet to see a case where there were other factors of abuse in domestic violence where sexual addiction, sexual abuse, pornography addiction was not a factor, on some level.

Anne: Me too, same thing. My book is in editing right now, and the premise of it is making a case for adding pornography to the abuse checklists that the National Center on Domestic Violence has.

Like, “Does he control your transportation? Does he do this?” One of them should be, “Does he use pornography? Does he lie to you?” Those are really important.

Let’s talk about abuse now. Some people say, “Is pornography a factor?” I say it’s not a factor, it’s abuse, in and of itself. Let’s talk about how you came to that conclusion as well.

The Vortex Of Abuse & Pornography

Sarah: A big part of the conclusion for me is just that I have yet to see an abuse case that doesn’t have some sort of sexual deviance or dysfunction, primarily centered around pornography.

I have yet to meet a husband who is addicted to pornography who isn’t, in some way, abusing his wife. As far as I’m concerned, in both anecdotal and professional experience, those two are inextricably tied together.

Anne: Yeah, it is abuse. I mean, I’m at the point where I don’t even want to say they’re tied. I want to say, “It is abuse, in and of itself.” When someone uses porn, they are abusing their wife, period, and they are abusing other people, like we talked about in the first episode.

Lying, Manipulation: Pieces of the Vortex of Abuse

Secondly, they’re also going to have these co-morbidity factors: lying, manipulation. Those, in and of themselves, are also abuse.

Sarah: Yes, they are, and they are creating an ongoing unsafe environment for their spouse and their children.

Anne: Right. Let’s go back to these communication books or marriage books or other things. A lot of women don’t know that their husband is using porn, so they think, “Oh, let’s go to couple therapy,” or, “I’m going to get this communication book,” or, “We’re going to go to this marriage retreat,” or whatever.

Symptoms Of A Pornography Addict (Abusive Behaviors)

If they don’t know but they’re suffering the consequences and they’re receiving the abuse, even if they’re not aware of it, how can we help educate people in general so that women are not unknowingly being abuse?

Sarah: I’m just thinking, if my husband hasn’t told me he’s watching porn, how do I know he might be?

Anne: Right. What I say to women is, “If you see lying and manipulation, if you’ve got a lot of anger going on, if you have something and you feel like it’s just not quite right, don’t say, ‘Well, it’s not porn because my husband would never do that.’ Consider all of these as co-morbidity factors.” They’re almost symptoms.

Is My Husband Using Porn?

Sarah: If you haven’t caught your spouse watching porn—some women walk in accidentally, but some women can be married to someone for decades and never actually observe them in sexual infidelity, and they may still be highly, highly addicted to pornography or even be sexually unfaithful in real life.

The thing is, with today’s internet, smartphone world, the technology for pornographic release is in your pocket, two clicks away, at all times. It’s right there. Just because you’ve never found dirty magazines or your husband doesn’t bring home X-rated DVD’s, does not mean he’s not a porn addict.

Signs You Are In The Vortex Of Abuse:

If things are just not great and you don’t know what’s wrong. If someone isn’t openly watching porn, but:

  • They have a lack of empathy, if they can just check out and stonewall you when you’re crying or hurt over something.
  • If everything becomes your fault.
  • If they have secrecy.
  • If they’re lying to you, you catch them lying or you just know they’re not telling you the truth and you don’t even know why.
  • If you have money that disappears
  • If they tend to be addicted to their electronics.
  • If there are gaps in their time. Like, they’ve been saying that they’re working late and then you find out from some colleagues at work that they actually haven’t been.
  • If there is a general disregard for people, property, a sense of entitlement or arrogance.
  • If there are flashes of anger or unexplained irritability.

All of these things are co-morbidities with pornography addiction. All of them. Any one of them can be. Multiple ones together are strong indicators that someone is filling their mind with pornography.

Cyclical behaviors, and when I talk about cyclical behaviors, let’s just say you have someone who is in the faith community and really convicted about it and six weeks later they’re on to the next new thing.

Understanding The Vortex of Abuse

They decide they’re going to get healthy and start exercising, and they seem really self-controlled for a little while and then it’s all out the window and they’re binging out on everything, they’re eating late at night, they’re eating junk food, and they’re back into some addictive cycle. Those are addictive behavior patterns.

Anne: For them, it’s the addiction cycle. For us, the victim, it’s the abuse cycle.

Sarah: Yes, but I tend to avoid using the term “the cycle of abuse” because it’s all abuse. There is no “honeymoon.”

Anne: No, it’s grooming. In fact, we just created a new infographic on “The Abuse Cycle,” and instead of having the Honeymoon Phase I called it the Grooming Phase, because that is just another part of the abuse.

Sarah: Yeah, I agree. Julie Owens who is a domestic violence expert across the country, she calls it “manipulative kindness.” Any time they are being nice to you, you know, we always talk about the Jekyll and Hyde. Dr. Jekyll doesn’t have an evil twin.

He is the evil twin, because he’s the one that gets you to drop your guard. There is no true love in an abuse situation. There is no honeymoon where it’s actually genuinely real.

The Abuse Vortex: Butter Up, Burn, Blast, Batter, Beg & Blame

What I say is that it’s actually that you’re living in a vortex and you feel like everything is swirling and off-balance all the time. It often starts with buttering you up and, when you’re getting buttered up, it’s really just because you’re just getting ready to get burned.

You’re buttered up, not because they love you, but because you’re getting ready to fry. Yes, you are buttered in order to be burned. The buttering up phase is like what they, traditionally, would have called the honeymoon.

That’s when there’s the gifts and the love-bombing, except it’s not love, it’s manipulative kindness. It’s fake deceptive kindness and there are always strings attached. Then, if you point out anything that didn’t follow through right or something happens, they flip a switch and then it’s burn.

The “Blast”, “Burn”, & “Batter” Phases Of The Vortex Of Abuse

After that, you have a blast of arguments or frustrations. It can be passive aggressive or you’re walking on eggshells or there’s a verbal lashing out.

When you’re getting buttered up, you feel hopeful and loved. When you’re burned, you feel betrayed and heartbroken. When you’re getting blasted, you feel worthless and self-doubting because if you point it out it escalates, and you start second-guessing and questioning yourself. At times, it may escalate into battering.

We’ve got buttered up, burned, blasted, and now battered. This is an intensified version of being blasted and it can get aggressive physically or sexually, threats of harm or suicide. This is the point where they say, “Oh, he snapped.”

No, he didn’t. He’d been buttering up, burning, and blasting prior to this and battered is where you start to feel scared and small. Then, if they know that they’ve gone too far and they’re deciding to go back into buttering you up because you have been pushed too far, they may apologize or cry or make promises, and insinuate that the behavior was your fault. That’s the begging and blaming phase.

The Abuse Vortex

Then you feel obligated to forgive and selfish for having wanted more. That point is when they bring you flowers. I call it The Abuse Vortex. Like the center or eye of the hurricane or tornado, everything is swirling around you and the thing with this is that they are not a linear cycle.

They can happen in any order or no order at all and all apparently good acts are their own form of abuse because they are deceiving you in order to get you to trust them and not stand up and hold them accountable.

Anne: Yeah, in fact, in my scenario before I understood the abuse and before I could reframe it with the correct framework, I thought that my husband was an amazing man and he was incredible, and he was the best, and then, every once in a while, he would lose it.

Then, after I was able to recognize the abuse for what it was, I realized that he was a very manipulative scary, harmful person all the time, who wore an amazing mask. That mask is what would fall off every once in a while. When I reframed it like that, I was able to see everything as part of the abuse.

The Abuse Vortex Can Span Any Amount Of Time

If we can go back to the cycle—although I agree it’s more of a vortex—for just a second, and say they go to their CSAT sex addiction therapist and things get better. Then they don’t hear about a disclosure and things are pretty calm for maybe six months. The cycle, it’s so long to them, that they have a hard time recognizing that it is a pattern or a tornado, or whatever you want to call it.

Sarah: I agree. You know, I realized that at one point when I began recognizing that in my own history. I was a pastor’s wife, so when I first got married, there were a lot of things that took my focus as a ministry spouse, clergy spouse.

I realized, looking back on it, that whole butter, burn, blast, batter, beg, blame, butter up was probably a 12-18-month kind of thing, which made it really hard to pin down. By the time it was the end, it was down to like every 4-6 weeks. It was like a constant boomerang whiplash kind of environment.

Anne: Mine, toward the end, got down to almost every other day. It started getting really bad about the time he was arrested.

Track The Patterns Of The Abuse Vortex In Your Marriage

Sarah: There would be times when he would go through all of those in a day, but the overall typical thing was just every few weeks.

Anne: Sarah and I have talked about her coming back again another time, especially to talk about things specific to faith communities. I’m really excited so stay tuned for that episode in the future.

Today, we’re going to conclude with the fact that we know that many women who are listening are currently in a relationship where her husband is either still exhibiting these abusive behaviors or he is in that buttering up or grooming stage and she can’t really tell if it’s real change or if it’s just grooming again.

Make Safety And Loving Well Your Goal

So to conclude, what advice would you give to women who are listening and feeling really depressed in listening to this and thinking that maybe they did have someone who was making changes and now they’re not so sure and they are nervous, and they’re scared? What advice would you have for them?

Sarah: My advice in that kind of situation would be—well, there’s a few things I can think of, even if you’re in a position where you seem to be facing where the only option available to you is to grieve what you thought you were building in your marriage and you are wondering if you’re going to have to accept that this is not going to work, that does not have any reflection on who you are and how valuable you are, as a woman.

One of the biggest things that I think women, who are spouses of sex addicts, struggle with is the internal damage that it does to us and who we are, who we think we are, and how valuable we think we are, because of our husband’s or ex-husband’s addictions.

Escape The Abuse Vortex By Finding Yourself Again

One of the things that I have learned along this very hard road is that even if this ends up being the death of your dreams and you end up facing the grief that comes from the betrayal and it doesn’t get better the way that you might have hoped for, that you are still an incredible, amazing, strong, resilient daughter of God.

There is still an incredible future ahead for you even if it doesn’t feel like it right now. I say that because I have been in that moment and wondered what was ahead and felt completely bereft and abandoned and betrayed and shattered.

On the other side of it, I can see how God has led in rebuilding and restoring every step of the way, even though it didn’t look like I thought it would. I know that if He has done that for me and He’s done it for others, that He can do it for you too.

Face Reality So That You Can Escape The Abuse Vortex

Anne: Yeah, I think it’s so scary for victims to face the abuse head-on because there are two unsafe scenarios. The first unsafe scenario is “I’m in an abusive relationship.” The second unsafe scenario is maybe divorce.

Both of those are not good, and it is a very difficult place to be. The answer is, though, that one of those difficult and painful truths will lead you to safety and the other will not. Facing it means, “I don’t know whether or not I’ll be divorced or not, but I need to start moving towards safety.”

If we can make safety our goal rather than divorce or ruining our family, or whatever worry that we may have about what’s going to happen to us. If we can make safety our goal and start working towards safety, then, if we end up divorced, it will be as a result of our seeking for safety and it feels a lot better that way than it does with, “I just have to get divorced because I don’t have another option.”

You’re moving towards safety. You’re moving toward peace.

“Peace, Safety, Stability, Strength”

Sarah: Yes, peace and safety, and stability, and strength. What I have seen over and over and over again is that the women who end up facing this formidable and unbelievable set of choices discover that they are way stronger than they ever thought they were.

When you look at it as, like you said, seeking safety, but also here’s another way that I like to look at it, and that is loving well. You see, loving well means that if you love your husband you want salvation for him, right. You want him to be the kind of man that God has called him to be including in his character and his sexuality and his life.

Allowing yourself to stay where you are letting him sin against you with impunity is not good for his character, just like it’s bad for your safety. Removing yourself from that, in order to love him well, by holding him accountable to the standard God has set, not you, is actually the best possible thing.

Set Boundaries To Escape The Abuse Vortex

Oh, my goodness, that just makes me think of all of this material that I have on narcissism and how narcissists and extremely selfish people only respond to consequences, not to what we traditionally call grace. We could talk about that a very long time at another point, it’s a whole other subject. But loving well means holding them to the standard God has set of honesty and purity.

Anne: That’s God’s standard for us as well. He’s saying, “This is what I deserve, as God, and this is what you deserve too, and we will not accept anything less.”

Sarah, you are brave and amazing, and I am so excited to get to know you and so excited to have you on the podcast. After we get off today’s episode, I’m going to ask Sarah to send me a list of all the other things that you want to talk about.

Share Your Thoughts In The Comment Section Below

Listeners, if you’re like, “Hey, I wanted Sarah to talk about this or that,” or whatever it is, please leave a comment below.

Let us know what else you want us to cover, but, for right now, those are the two things I’m interested in, Sarah. The narcissistic perspective: how love, service, and forgiveness will not motivate someone in that mindset and, secondly, what this is looking like in faith communities and how we can help our faith communities understand the horror of abuse and how to combat it.

Sarah: That sounds awesome. Let’s do it.

Anne: Thank you so much for coming on today, and I will talk to you soon.

Betrayal Trauma Recovery Support

To our listeners, come and be safe with women who love and care about you, and we understand because we’ve been through it. We are your tribe. We are here for you. Please check out the individual sessions and the Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group.

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Until next, stay safe out there.


  1. Sharla Flake

    Thank you for this and the other podcasts I found you by getting an email that lead me to Liberating Saints Virtual Summit. Your podcast there described perfectly my 52 year marriage. I have been working to get get him out of our home for the last 2 and a have years when I realized he was abusive. He took me to see our Bishop and Stake President who both know him well and they concluded I am just trying to punish him. Two months ago the last thing I told my Bishop was you are having a problem because it is “she said, he said,” but I will have to do what I need to do to be safe. I can see the “immediate goodness of God” as is see the people He has blessed me with and this knowledge he has brought me to. I now see more clearly what our marriage has been. Knowledge is power and I feel strengthened to get to safety.

    • Anne Blythe

      I’m so grateful it was helpful! Thank you!

  2. M

    Please have Sarah speak more on the subject of narcissism… she began and I would love to hear more. Almost every sign described is exactly what I’ve seen in my marriage. The cycle or “vortex” described is exactly what I’ve lived for years. Even with being in the middle of a divorce and having an order of restraint, I can still have a short conversation with my husband and come away feeling absolutely crazy and blaming myself for everything that’s ever happened, even though there are piles and piles of evidence against him. It was not until my sister sent me one of these podcasts that I started to finally understand what had been happening for so long.

    • Anne Blythe

      Yes, emotional abuse is so difficult to understand! I’m so grateful we’re all learning more about how to spot it and protect ourselves.

    • Vanessa Riordan

      Oh my gosh, I am ever so grsteful to listen to this audio. I was told how selfish I am to file for divorce and to not immediately forgive his porn addiction. I was blaned for breaking up our family. I have lived with his porn addiction for 19 years and have always found it instead of him coming to me and being honest about his addiction. The betrayal is shattering. I am living with him and my son as I have been a housewife so I cannot move on but at least, he can continue with his porn addiction but I am now in my own bedroom.

      • Anne Blythe

        I’m glad you’re finding some semblance of emotional safety in your own home:). Hugs!

  3. Brooke

    Anne, thank you. Answer to my prayers (and my email 😉

  4. Sally burden

    Love this, made me feel good, I am not alone. Continue the fight for freedom!!



  1. 3 Empowering Words For Victims | Betrayal Trauma Recovery - […] Even during his good times, if he goes back to abuse and betrayal, however minimal, victims must understand that…
  2. 5 Ways To Help The Child Of A Narcissist | Betrayal Trauma Recovery - […] even realize what boundaries were until a couple of years after I left him. I was just kind of…
  3. 50 Things About Betrayal Trauma | Betrayal Trauma Recovery - Emotional abusers skillfully keep their victims in patterns of emotional, social, and psychological entrapments that makes escape seem impossible.

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