Many betrayed women have learned about the addiction cycle. But most of these women are also being abused, what do they know about the abuse cycle?

Anne, Founder of Betrayal Trauma Recovery, discusses the abuse cycle with Sarah McDugal. Sarah, an author, speaker and abuse recovery coach helps women in the faith community find healing from abusive relationships.

Previously, Anne and Sarah discussed 3 Reasons Why Pornography Is An Abuse Issue. This time, they identified signs, or “symptoms,” that may indicate that a woman’s husband is watching pornography and how many of them are abuse.

Abusive Behaviors That Could Mean He’s Watching Porn

Sarah and Anne emphasize that when a woman feels that something isn’t quite right in her relationship, it probably isn’t.

“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, they may still be highly, highly addicted to pornography or even be sexually unfaithful in real life.” -Sarah McDugal, author, speaker and abuse recovery coach

Sarah reminds women that, with today’s technological advances, pornography is always “in your pocket, two clicks away… Just because you’ve never found dirty magazines or your husband doesn’t bring home X-rated DVD’s, doesn’t mean he’s not a porn addict.”

She says that if things aren’t going well and a woman can’t seem to figure out what’s wrong, there are “symptoms” they can watch for.

10 Signs He Could Be Watching Porn

  1. He has a lack of empathy. He can’t understand why your upset about your son breaking your grandma’s crystal and then not telling you about it.
  2. He blames you for everything. He forgot to buy new blades for HIS razor because YOU didn’t remind him. He burnt his toast because you sneezed. Anything can be your fault, or someone else’s, he doesn’t take responsibility for anything.
  3. He seems to be hiding something from you. He says he went to the store to buy milk and nothing else, but the receipt shows that he bought a bag of chips and a six-pack of soda.
  4. He lies to you. Whether you catch him, or you can just tell, he’s lying, and you don’t know why.
  5. He doesn’t fully disclose the entire financial situation or money disappears. He starts receiving statements from a new bank and you aren’t “allowed” to open the mail.
  6. He seems to be addicted to his electronics. He takes his phone with him EVERYWHERE (even the bathroom) or is up all night “gaming.”
  7. He has gaps in his timeline. He says he was working late, but you find out from his colleague that he wasn’t.
  8. He has a general disregard for other people and their property. He doesn’t seem to care where your stuff is, but his stuff has a place of honor and is well taken care of.
  9. He has a sense of entitlement or arrogance. He feels like he deserves praise for doing the simplest household tasks, like emptying the dishwasher or clearing his plate from the table. He thinks he does a much better job of anything.
  10. He has flashes of anger or unexplained irritability. He gets mad because his socks were folded wrong or any other little thing.

Sarah says these are all comorbidities with pornography addiction, and that any one of these could be an indication that a husband is looking at pornography, but multiple behaviors together are a very strong indicator that he is filling his mind with it.

One more thing to watch for, says Sarah, is cyclical behavior. If he’s the kind of guy who gets really involved and convicted about something then, six weeks later, has moved on to something new, that’s also a sign that they’re an addict, “Those are addictive behavior patterns.”

It’s Not Really A Cycle, It’s More Like An Abuse Vortex

Anne points out that for the husband it’s one thing, but for the wife, it’s an entirely different story.

“For them, it’s the addiction cycle. For the victim, it’s the abuse cycle.” -Anne, Founder of Betrayal Trauma Recovery

Sarah, on the other hand, points out that even though it’s often called the abuse cycle, it feels like something entirely different.

“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.” -Sarah McDugal, author, speaker and abuse recovery coach

Sarah says there are 5 Phases of the Abuse Vortex.

The 5 Phases Of The Abuse Vortex

The 5 Phases of Sarah McDugal's Abuse Vortex

Sarah says that most women “living in the vortex feel like everything is swirling and off-balance all the time.”

The phases are unpredictable and can occur at any time and with no warning.

“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.” – Sarah McDugal, author, speaker and abuse recovery coach

Phase 1 Of The Abuse Vortex: Butter Up

In most abuse cycles, one phase is called “The Honeymoon Phase.” This is where the abuser is super sweet and brings flowers and treats his victim with extreme kindness.

Anne calls it the Grooming Phase.

Sarah calls it the Butter Up Phase. She loves how Julie Owens, a domestic violence expert, labels this behavior. Julie calls it “manipulative kindness.”

He’s only being nice because he wants something.

Sarah says the Butter Up Phase is when the abuser brings his victim gifts, love-bombs her and uses his “manipulative kindness.”

Some people say this is where Dr. Jekyll is around and Mr. Hyde, his evil twin, is in hiding. Sarah disagrees.

“We always talk about 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.” -Sarah McDugal, author, speaker and abuse recovery coach

His victim feels hopeful and loved.

Sarah says she’s being buttered up so she can be burned.

“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.” -Sarah McDugal, author, speaker and abuse recovery coach

Phase 2 Of The Abuse Vortex: Burn

After getting his victim nice and buttered up, she brings up something, anything, that didn’t go right and, suddenly, he has an “excuse” to act out in his addiction.

She gets burned.

She’ll discover it or he’ll disclose it.

Either way, she feels betrayed and heartbroken.

She’s lost all the hope she had through the Butter Up Phase.

Then she gets blasted.

Phase 3 Of The Abuse Vortex: Blast

All hope has been lost and the abuser begins to blast the victim.

This can be through arguments or frustrations. It can be passive aggressiveness or a verbal beating.

Either way, the victim is now feeling worthless and beginning to doubt herself. She starts second-guessing everything she’s ever thought about herself, her husband, and her relationship.

She’s walking on eggshells. She can’t point it out or else he may escalate.

If he does, she gets battered.

Phase 4 Of The Abuse Vortex: Batter

A more intense version of Blast, this is when the abuser escalates.

It could be through physical abuse, sexual abuse, or threats of harm or suicide.

Sarah says that for an outsider this could appear to be the abuser’s “breaking point.”

“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.” -Sarah McDugal, author, speaker and abuse recovery coach

The victim feels scared and small. She’s terrified.

Then, suddenly, she’s in the eye of the storm. The center, where it’s calm… or so she thinks.

Phase 5 Of The Abuse Vortex: Beg & Blame

Suddenly, he’s crying and apologizing.

He promises he won’t do it again.

He says he’ll change.

In the same breath, he insinuates that it was her fault.

“I’m sorry I called you stupid when you wouldn’t let me give you a massage.” (When he was trying to grope her right in front of the kids.)

“I’m sorry I hit because you wouldn’t let me show you how much I love you.” (When he was trying to fondle her while she was feeding the baby.)

It’s confusing but, at the same time, she can see that he’s “sorry” for what he’s done.

She feels obligated to forgive him. She feels selfish for having wanted something different (different being a safe, healthy relationship).

Then, the cycle of The Abuse Vortex starts all over again. He brings the flowers that mark the beginning of the Butter Up Phase.

Out Of The Abuse Vortex

Most women don’t realize they’re even in the Vortex. They just know they feel like they’re crazy.

Most of the time, they have so little confidence and faith in themselves that they just can’t bring themselves to believe that it’s not them. The really believe that their husband is a nice guy who “just snaps” sometimes.

“It’s my fault anyway,” she thinks, “if I wasn’t so (insert adjective here), he wouldn’t get so mad.”

It’s easier to blame herself. Besides, he says it’s her fault and he’s so wonderful most of the time, so it must be true.

As women start to learn more about abuse, many of them begin to see what’s really going on in their relationship. Usually, it requires setting boundaries and sometimes, literally, taking a step back from the relationship to see it from a different perspective.

That’s how Anne was able to see the truth of what was happening in her marriage. When the court issued a No Contact order, she was able to start seeing it.

“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.” -Anne, Founder of Betrayal Trauma Recovery

She realized the amazing man she thought he was, wasn’t really him. That was the abuser grooming her, preparing her for the next abuse episode.

Looking back, Anne realized there was a pattern to the Abuse Vortex in her marriage. Her husband would cycle through every few months. Then, near the end, it was almost every other day.

Sarah, who is also the survivor of an abusive relationship, reflects that the pattern in her relationship was probably every 12 to 18 months, which made it extremely difficult to recognize. But, by the end of the relationship, it had gotten to cycling through every four to six weeks.

“It was like a constant boomerang whiplash kind of environment.” -Sarah McDugal, author, speaker and abuse recovery coach

The constant churning, no matter how far apart the incidences are, and cycling of the Abuse Vortex are enough to leave anyone dizzy and confused.

The Effects Of The Abuse Vortex

The most damage, however, is to the victim’s sense of self-worth.

Most women already struggle with this. Then, to have her own husband, the man who is supposed to love and cherish her, demean and belittle her, even in an indirect manner, is a crushing blow.

Sarah says it’s the harshest effect of the abuse. To women who have been or are still in the throes of abuse, she gets it.

“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.” -Sarah McDugal, author, speaker and abuse recovery coach

Sarah remembers when she felt broken and alone. She reminds women not to give up hope.

“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.” -Sarah McDugal, author, speaker and abuse recovery coach

Sarah found her strength and it doesn’t look how she thought it would. She reminds women that God can lead them on the path to healing. He can help them find their own strength.

“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.” -Sarah McDugal, author, speaker and abuse recovery coach

She reminds women that their value is beyond what their husband says or implies it is, beyond what they believe it is. Their value is beyond what anyone can imagine.

“One of the things I have learned along this very hard road that we all hoe here 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, you are still an incredible, amazing, strong, resilient daughter of God.” -Sarah McDugal, author, speaker and abuse recovery coach

Sarah and Anne both want women to do their best to find safety from the abuse.

Anne expresses her desire for everyone to make safety their priority.

“If we can make safety our goal and start working towards that, 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.” Anne, Founder of Betrayal Trauma Recovery

Sarah agrees that peace, safety, stability and strength are the things women should strive for.

Betrayal Trauma Recovery wants all women who have been betrayed and abused to find safety.

One way they can help is by providing a safe place to share. With more than 15 sessions a week, it’s easier than ever to find a Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group session that fits your schedule without having to leave your home. Each session is led by a Certified Betrayal Trauma Specialist.

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 had continuing disclosures 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 double abuse by therapists and therapeutic organizations 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 and there is not full disclosure with finances.
  • 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

One of the things that I have learned along this very hard road that we all hoe here, and that is, because God created each of us to be responsible for our own choices and our own decisions, 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.

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.

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.

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.

Listeners, if you’re like, “Hey, I wanted Sarah to talk about this or that,” or whatever it is, please either email me at anne@btr.org or go to the website, btr.org, and comment on these episodes.

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

Our fall lineup for Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group sessions is on our website btr.org. We have so many women who write to us on Facebook or email us and tell us that Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group has been their saving grace. You can go to any session that you want to at any time. Some women go to a session a day. Some women go to multiple sessions a day.

It’s available all the time so that any abuse episode that you have, any disclosure, anything that happens you can immediately talk with women who totally get it, who can validate you, and help you make sense of what happened.

The worst thing is when you have an abuse episode or something like that and you call your mom or friend or go into your pastor or clergy and you try and tell them what happened, and it doesn’t go the way that you thought. It’s like they don’t get it, and then you feel harmed even more. That’s never good. So, Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group is multiple sessions per day so you can have the support that you need on an ongoing basis.

If you’re not a group person, which some people aren’t, we also have individual sessions available with a live Betrayal Trauma Recovery Coach. You talk with them live online, so you see their face. They’re on the computer so you don’t have to worry about childcare. You don’t have to worry about leaving your home. You don’t have to get dressed. You don’t have to wear a bra.

You can 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 at BTR.org.

Those of you who donate to enable me to continue podcasting, thank you. For those of you who have not yet set a recurring monthly donation, please go to BTR.org, scroll down to the bottom, and set your recurring monthly donation today to continue to take this message of hope and peace to women throughout the world.

If you haven’t already, and you’re so inclined, please rate this podcast on iTunes or your other podcasting apps. Every single rating helps isolated women find us.

Until next, stay safe out there.

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