If you’ve left your abusive marriage hoping and wishing for the opportunity to be loved and cherished in a safe, healthy relationship, you’re not alone.
Many women in our community have the perfectly normal and healthy desire for a loving relationship post-abuse.
Nora is back on the BTR.ORG podcast sharing the final installment of her 3-part story – as well as sharing the secret to healthy relationships (spoiler: it’s something we’ve been saying all along).
HERE IT IS: Healthy Relationships Are NOT HARD
Victims of abuse and betrayal understand the relentless day-in, day-out trauma of the never-ending cycle of the abusive relationship. Even the most benign interactions feel like incredibly hard work.
Healthy relationships take time and energy, but they are not difficult.
Here on the BTR.ORG podcast, Anne has interviewed dozens of women who have entered into healthy relationships after abuse and they have all said the same thing – being in a relationship with a healthy man is easy.
If your relationship feels difficult and exhausting, you may be in an abusive relationship.
So Here’s The Secret
I’ve met quite a few advocates who are now married to healthy men after an abusive relationship. And one of the things they tell me, “It’s so easy.” They didn’t realize how easy it can be.Anne Blythe, Founder of BTR.ORG
The secret to healthy relationships is quite simple.
A marriage or partnership should be your place of refuge – a space where you are loved and supported. Your partner or husband should make life feel safer, more enjoyable, and more full. If life feels heavier and less safe with this person, then you may consider moving on and making space for the person who will be the healthy partner for your new life.
BTR.ORG Is Here For You
At BTR.ORG, we know the vulnerability of entering the dating field after divorcing an abuser. Please join our daily, live BTR.ORG Group Sessions for the support and validation that you need as you begin this new chapter.
Welcome to BTR.ORG. This is Anne. I have Nora back on today’s episode to tell the ending of her story. We ended last week talking about the fact that our ex-husband will be released from jail and how stressful that is. Like knowing that that’s coming up. We’re gonna jump in at that point. Oh, it’s really sad and disheartening to realize that the justice system is more about the rights of perpetrators, and then it is about protecting victims, making sure that their rights aren’t harmed in, you know, sentencing them and, you know, all these things and the protection and making sure that the victims are safe is not high on the priority list. Or even believing the victims is really hard. So I am so sorry that you got that sort of hanging out there in space. It’s not the same at all, but I had something similar with mine and it just, I dreaded it, you know, as it was coming up. So I just wanna empathize with you that, that that is really hard. When did you, when was your divorce final?
It took a while. I filed in 2016 and then worked on the marriage for another year, and it finally was finalized at the very end of 2019. I don’t know what compelled him to sign the paperwork because part of his profile is also to be very demand avoidant, but I don’t know if he wanted to look good for the courts, but he finally let me go. And so it was completely, completely done.
Dating After Divorcing an Abuser
The divorce has been final and you’ve been divorced for about three years.
More than two for sure. And um, it took so long in part because, you know, my attorney advised to wait until we found out what the outcome of his trial was before we moved to finalize things.
So since you’ve been divorced and you’re dating again, can you talk about how your experience with abuse and betrayal and also the nightmare of the court system and all of that, how your experiences have affected your dating life?
Yeah, I’ve felt like I’ve had opposing forces and certainly strengths and weaknesses in that. Um, I’m vigilant as one would be probably many of your listeners are, if they have stepped into this realm. I look for signs of autism and abuse. It’s not to say that I would’ve automatically excluded someone on the spectrum. In fact, I ended up on a few dates with men on the spectrum and I figured that out very quickly. The signs of abuse pop out. I’ve come to be an expert at reading a dating app profile for red flags, but even so, I ended up in relationships. I would say I’ve ended up in personality disorder relationships. So I stepped back when I found myself in those situations and took a bit of a break because I really had to be honest with myself and say I didn’t have a baseline for what a normal relationship was like, because we started our relationship in college.
Establishing a Baseline For Healthy Relationships
So I was really entering the dating realm for the first time as a true adult. And I remember having this moment with one of my therapists where when I said at the time I was being given estimates of what content was on his computer, and there’s saying 50 to a hundred thousand images. And I looked at my therapist, who was a man in his late thirties or so, and I said, Is that a lot? Because I, it had been so normalized that men look at porn, every man looks at porn. So it was just what men do. So that another man was shocked by what he was doing was kind of a wake up call for me. And I had to be really mindful of that, that I didn’t really know where I had to learn how, where to set my boundaries based on what, what my, or what my expectations could be.
And to learn that I could set my expectations as high as I wanted and I could just wait longer. And I did. And I actually am in a really wonderful relationship right now. So I listened to these stories all the time of women who aren’t ready and I’m, you know, I celebrate them that they know they’re not ready. And I’ve listen to women who are hurt again, and I hurt for them cause I’ve hurt too. But anybody who wants to be in a relationship, again, I, I want that for them because I believe it’s possible. If it’s what they want, their abusers should not ruin that for them.
“There Are Healthy Men Out There”
Yeah, I agree with you a hundred percent. It’s interesting because when I was with my ex and I was in this pornography addiction recovery world and working on like helping him with his addiction and stuff, I, I genuinely felt like all men are porn addicts at the time and now that I’m out of that and I have been introduced and I get to interact with a lot of healthy men, I have more hope than I have ever had before. Personally, I don’t wanna be in a relationship. But at the same time, like I do agree with you that it is possible. Like I want women to know that, like I don’t, I don’t want abuse to ruin what they want and what they care about, you know, so, so many abusers are ruining, for example, their victim’s faith. They, they really desire a faith in God, for example, or a faith in anything or something, and that gets ruined for them. Or a belief that they could have a healthy relationship or, you know, anything like that. And so I really, really appreciate you saying that, that like, if that’s what you want and, and you’re in a good place and, and a healthy place to be in a healthy relationship, like there are healthy men out there. So thank you. Thank you for saying that and congratulations that you feel like you’re in one now. That’s great.
Yeah. Thank you. It’s super special. I mean, it’s easy to sit in this happy space and say it is possible. Um, but I absolutely support this and I think a lot of us end up in these relationships because we’re just lovers and we’re kind, caring, flexible people that, you know, want to be invested. So, you know, it would be a profound waste for us to not pursue that if that’s what we want. There are plenty of other ways to invest all your kindness and your love, and you could put it into things like podcasting, children, so many things. Yeah. But if that’s what, if that’s what people want, it’s absolutely doable.
Healthy Relationships Are Not Super Difficult
I’ve met quite a few advocates who are now married to healthy men after an abusive relationship. And one of the things they tell me, and, and I don’t know if you would agree, but is that like they, it’s so easy. Like they didn’t realize like, oh, it’s so much like you don’t even know how easy it can be. And that, that also makes me happy because that whole like marriages work and it has to be a ton of work. Is I, I’m not saying marriage isn’t work, but in terms of like, it’s sort of a way to manipulate women into thinking that a marriage has to be hard and you know, these things have to be really difficult when with a healthy person it maybe doesn’t need to be that difficult, you know? Do you feel that way? How do you feel about that?
My goodness, that speaks to my experience. So well, my partner and I, we joke about this, we will mock language of what the conflict might be. I bought for Christmas, uh, you know, a deck of relationship questions and we snicker our way through it because we’ve a discussed three quarters of the content that’s on these cards already, I think meant to prompt like really deep conversation. We already did it on our own. And the rest of it, you know, anything that delves into areas of conflict we snicker because we just don’t feel like we’re ever going to be in that sort of position because we’re so open in our communication, which was the biggest challenge in my marriage is so absolutely simple. It’s been, it’s less than a year. It’s about eight months and it’s so exciting.
How Does Nora Keep Herself Safe?
It is exciting. Yeah. I wish you well with that. That’s really good news and I’m so happy that, that you found that. So that’s, that’s awesome. In terms of abuse in general, but also specifically with perhaps your particular abuser who is in prison right now, but also maybe flying monkeys or other people who don’t quite understand our situation, what tools and strategies do you use to keep yourself safe?
So my favorite genuine tool, like the absolute it’s a product is something that I think you’ve mentioned on your podcast and I think maybe you’ve used it and then stepped away from it. I’m not sure, but I, I haven’t had the chance to use it with my, with my abuser, but with my abusive ex in-laws, I use Our Family Wizard to communicate. So it’s a software for the listeners who don’t know that allows you to document, timestamp all communication; it all goes in one place. You access it when you want to and need to and feel safe doing so. And there can never be any misunderstanding about whether a message was received and what it said because it’s all documented.
I use that now.
Oh good. Yeah.
One Point of Entry
I love it. And I, I agree, I I highly recommend it. I I highly recommend that with abusive people, if you’re forced to interact with them, that you only have one point of entry. So it’s not your phone, it’s not your email, it’s not texting, you know, you limit it to one place. Cause then you can keep all communication right there. The other reason I like one point of entry and I like it to be written down is because then everything they say and every interaction that you have is in writing. So there’s no way that they can be like, well I said this, you know, like when we spoke. So I also really recommend like not speaking with them in person, not ever having actual conversations but keeping everything in writing. Um, just because they, you know, turn things around and say they said things they didn’t say and you know, et cetera, et cetera.
Absolutely. And this whole family, unfortunately this family system is just designed around not following the rules. So I’m not compelled to accept any communication in any other format. I had it written into our agreement, the court order, and I pay for it. So there’s just, there’s no question they can’t argue it’s there. I pay for it, we use it. Yeah. And so that’s, that’s helpful. You know, and another thing related to communication is truthfully, and, and I hope your listeners will understand this, this is certainly something that I struggled with a lot. My ex, I believe he dog whistles. I don’t know if that’s a term that you’ve discussed on your podcast or familiar with.
What Is “Dog Whistling”?
I think I’m familiar with it and I’m very excited for you to introduce this to people if they have not heard of it before. So yes.
Right. So the idea that only dogs hear a certain frequency of a dog whistle, my ex will say certain things in letters to my children that are designed, I believe, to get a reaction out of me that no one else would see as problematic. And of course that works beautifully in the courtroom too, but it was something that, you know, I would have panic attacks every time one of the letters hit the mailbox because I felt I had to read them because I had to, you know, I’m the line of defense between my children and whatever content is in this letter. But I have friends, they’re fabulous in terms of the “Gallow’s Humor”. I send them a copy of the letter, a couple close friends and we read it together and they help me remove myself from getting hooked into that, that feeling of being controlled by that message and just finding the humor in the moment. Um, and it’s a small thing but you know, it hits my mailbox every other week. So I’m constantly dealing with him, even though I’ve exited the relationship, I still have to engage in this way. So I make sure that it’s done in a way that supports me.
“The Justice System Does Not Recognize That An Abuser Can Still Abuse Their Victim From Prison”
It is so sad to me that the justice system does not recognize that an abuser can still abuse their victim from prison.
Right. The fact that he’s allowed, and not only allowed, but the court protects his letters to your kids. Like you said, I’ve exited the relationship, but I still am forced to interact with him and he’s in prison. Do you realize what you’re doing? If it was a stranger who had, let’s say, raped you once on the street and then let’s say he got 15 years prison for that, they would never, ever, if you, if you said, he writes me a letter every other week, they would be like, Whoa, whoa, whoa. You should not be reading those letters. He should not be sending these to you.
Exactly. I mean, he’s shored up this line of attack too, because that’s really another reason why I believe my ex son-in-laws have been brought into this picture. They have weekly phone calls with my children, so it’s another reminder and they engage in a lot of the same behavior and you know, they have the right to send, you know, gifts and so they create their own chaos that I won’t necessarily go into. But yeah, we all know as the abuse victims that these are tactics that they use, but they go, they fly right under the radar. And I, you know, I’ve thought about this too, it, with, with respect to the in-laws having, um, having access. They haven’t seen my children in a couple years cause Covid allowed me to shut down the in-person visitations for a while. But, you know, I thought the similar thing to what you just said, if my ex-husband and I were together and on the same page and decided that our parents or our in-laws were toxic, we could say, No thank you. You cannot spend time with my children. But because he and I do not see eye to eye, my in-laws get to step in and create whatever scenario they want to. I feel like if I had a dog, I would have more of a say over what choices I make about my pet than about my children and their safety.
Trauma Mama Husband Drama
I’m gonna take a break here for just a second to talk about my book Trauma Mama Husband Drama. You can find it on our books page which also has a curated list of all of the books that we recommend. My book Trauma Mama Husband Drama is a picture book for adults. So it is the easiest way for you to explain what’s going on to someone who might not understand it. It’s also just a good reference for yourself because it shows what’s happening with very telling and emotional illustrations as well as infographics at the back.
The only hope is for our children to age out of the process. Then they’re trusted to make their own good choices about their future and their relationships with their parents.
When Nora’s Story Went Public
So as we conclude, one aspect of your story is that some of it was publicized in the news and you had a court case and stuff like that. How do you think having it in the news or having maybe the general public know about it, even if you didn’t know people, just knowing that it was out there, how did that affect you and how has that had an ongoing effect on you?
There’s nothing quite like your partner cheating on you and then having everybody know, I’m grateful that I didn’t actually find that out until I had processed the possibility and I was beyond wanting to be with him. But it’s disheartening and it’s hard to think about my children reading it and it might, my almost 12 year old has been pursuing some Google searching. So we’ve been talking a lot about it. You know, I had news reporters in my driveway. There was social media chatter. It’s hard to stomach, you know, I created a healthy distance from it, but it’s so interesting to watch, you know, the people who said she absolutely shouldn’t have said anything and you know, she’s ruined her kids’ lives and why didn’t she say something earlier? Which I couldn’t because they didn’t actually know, but it was misreported.
Dealing With Others’ Judgment
I think that’s a hard thing, but an interesting thing because, you know, we’re all consumers of the news and we read a story and we, you know, pass judgment or don’t I guess, but based on our life experience and what we read and and how discriminating we are in, in the kind of news we consume. But when you’re, you have that experience of mistruths put out there, it shows you how often the news gets it wrong. So I, I do try to process everything that I hear now even more deliberately, but going forward, you know, it’s a curious thing. I don’t know how much of it’s gonna be in the news. You know, part of me wants to speak out, continue speaking out and, and, and put the story out there. But I also don’t want to be shut down by my ex because he certainly doesn’t think I’m speaking the truth. I don’t know, I have these mixed feelings about what it means to have it be public. I want, you know, I wanna make good use of it, but it might work against me in some ways.
When was he convicted?
He was convicted in 2018, in the middle of 2018.
Nora’s Ex’s Conviction
Okay. And when did Me Too happen? So I guess I’m just wondering about his conviction in light of Me Too and I wonder if/when he does get out the climate has maybe shifted a little bit in terms of the media (thank goodness) seeming to believe victims more than they have historically.
I think Me Too was the, maybe the fall before, I wanna say me too, was 2017, I’m not sure. Um, so it would’ve already been in people’s minds, but, you know, I, whether it was or not, I, I thought it was super interesting that the jury convicted him and, you know, I worked with victim witness specialists in the courts and they were saying, Yeah, this jury, you know, when they heard him, he’s being unfaithful and the way that he, he was treating you and that your testimony was credible, you know, he was not, he was not winning over many people and they said particularly the, you know, the, the mothers on the jury, you know, they saw you just trying to protect your children. So I don’t know if the climate makes a difference cause ultimately it comes down to who’s on the jury or who’s on the judge’s bench. I think that has a lot more to do with it.
Yeah, it’s too bad that in our divorces we don’t have a jury of moms.
I Believe You. This Is Happening. Trust Your Instinct.
I just want to, you know, reiterate the kind of message that you share on the podcast all the time is: get to safety. You’re not crazy. Something we say in my support group a lot, I believe you, this is happening, trust your instinct; all of those things. We say them over and over again in support communities, but they’re powerful. Say them to yourself, trust yourself. Cause that’s ultimately how, how you can get to safety. So don’t, don’t discount you.
You are amazing. Nora and all of our listeners are amazing. You have been through the most horrific, nightmarish experiences all of us have, and I’m feeling so much better, uh, personally and like luckily the real charge of that trauma has left. And I feel happy and peaceful and grateful a lot of the time. But I do remember that charge of the trauma. And so, so many women are in that super, super traumatic time who are listening and Nora understands it. And the wonderful thing is, as a community to support each other, to help each other, to give each other, you know, I’ll say spiritual hugs or hugs from across Apple podcasts. Just knowing that there is a whole community of women out there who completely and totally understand, and we are all different, we all look different, we all sound different, we’ve all made different choices, but the things we have experienced, the patterns of lying and gaslighting and deceit and blame and all of that is so similar. I’m just so grateful to not be in this alone. And I’m also grateful that as a community we are becoming more and more healthy and we’re able to teach our children and hopefully one home at a time. We’re making this world a better place.
Absolutely. Thank you so much for having me and for all that you do,
If this podcast is helpful to you, please support it. And until next week, stay safe out there.