***Podcast disclaimer: Early in Anne’s healing journey, as are many women, she was exposed to the codependency model for recovery from being married to a sex addict. She has since realized that she and other wives of addicts have truly experienced betrayal trauma.
Betrayal Trauma Recovery no longer supports the codependency model because it has been found to cause more harm than good. Betrayal Trauma Recovery strictly uses the trauma model for assisting women who are seeking peace and safety amid the chaos of their reality.
Anne continues to utilize the 12-step manual for developing and improving her own relationship with God. Anne now uses the trauma model for her own healing. You can find more about her thoughts on this podcast here.***
Many women who have been betrayed by their husband, through pornography, affairs, and masturbation, are left feeling devastated and confused. Some women feel responsible for their husband’s abusive acting out behaviors, so they attempt to “help” him overcome them. Others just don’t know what to do or think.
Sometimes, when they seek help, they may be told that they are just as sick as their husband and they are addicted to the addict.
They may be told that they just need to be more sexual, or more loving, more understanding, or more … fill-in-the-blank. They may also be told that they are too sensitive, too over-reactive, too angry, too mistrusting, too … fill-in-the-blank.
If you’ve been told any of these things, you are not alone.
Is It Codependency Or Is It Betrayal Trauma?
Many people continue to subscribe to the codependency model of recovery, which says that spouses of addicts are just as sick as the addict. There is something wrong with the spouse and they need to be fixed, just like the addict. The spouse needs to work the 12 Steps just like the addict.
If you subscribe to this model, we understand. It’s much easier to believe that you have control—over your situation, your husband’s behavior, etc.
Sadly, we don’t have control over other people. We, especially, don’t have control over our husband’s behavior and the situation HE has put us in. We can’t change the past, it’s already happened.
Over the last two decades, there have been many mental health professionals that noticed something unusual. Wives of pornography and sex addicts were exhibiting symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Some people find this hard to believe. They don’t understand and this is a new term for them, this “betrayal trauma.” Anne, founder of Betrayal Trauma Recovery, tries to explain betrayal trauma to people, so they can understand what she’s been through.
“When I tell people about betrayal trauma, sometimes, I get some strange looks.
“Many people don’t know about betrayal trauma, and most people don’t understand it.”
What Is Betrayal Trauma?
Women who have been betrayed by their husband may feel emotionally isolated and doubt their own personal worth. Their subconscious knows they aren’t safe anymore, so they start behaving differently or start feeling depressed . They start trying to find a cause for their husband’s behavior so they can be safe.
They may be labeled as too sensitive, too angry, or too controlling, which you can read more about here. They may even be labeled abusive by their reactions to this traumatic event. For a list of Betrayal Trauma Symptoms, read here.
What Does Betrayal Trauma Look Like?
Women suffering from betrayal trauma often take extreme measures to look as though everything is under control—yet, inside they really feel out of control, crazy, and unloved. Many women isolate themselves, others start speaking out about it, and, still, others, try to ignore the “problem.”
Anne started speaking out about pornography addiction.
“In my case, I started speaking out in public to avoid the mess that was happening in my home.
“A pornography and sex addict is self-absorbed and has little to no emotional connection with others and that’s how my ex-husband is."
“Living with him brought feelings of confusion and fear into my life. I didn’t feel emotionally isolated, but many women do feel that. I did feel emotionally numb and I was constantly hustling for a feeling of fulfillment.
“In my case, it took the form of remodeling my house, publicly speaking about pornography, becoming involved in the anti-pornography movement. I was constantly trying to fix things, just fix, fix, fix, fix, fix. I had many of the characteristics of post-traumatic stress disorder.
“I regret that now because it put my family in danger.
“I didn’t know I was being a hypocrite because I didn’t understand that my husband was not in recovery and not doing recovery behaviors at the time.
“Now, it’s really humiliating and embarrassing and I think, ‘Wow, I set myself up as an expert when I didn’t know anything.’
“Apart from my obsessiveness about my house and changing the world, everything else started to slide. My trauma symptoms reached a point where I didn't want to do much of anything.
“I had always been active in nature and outdoor activities before. I stopped working out or taking care of myself physically. I stopped doing the things that I had enjoyed.
“I didn’t want to go out with my friends, I didn’t want to even go to parties or activities. To others, my home seemed clean and organized. I seemed on top of everything, but inside I often felt totally out of control and unloved, unsafe in my own home, but I wouldn’t admit that to myself.”
When you’ve experienced a trauma, such as discovery or disclosure of your husband’s unfaithfulness, you feel unworthy of joy. You can read more about how to find your joy again here.
Did I Cause The Sex Addiction?
Sometimes, women intuitively feel that something isn’t right with their marriage. Because of the lies they’ve been told and abuse they’ve experienced, they don’t believe themselves. They stop trusting themselves.
Anne could feel that something was “off,” but she was lied to by her husband. She just couldn’t figure out why her husband was being so abusive. Then he told her about his pornography use.
“I sensed that something wasn't right in my marriage from the very beginning.
“For the first 18 months, when I questioned my husband about his rage and abuse, he lied to me.
“After he told me about his pornography addiction 18 months in, he, supposedly, started recovery, but his abusive behaviors never stopped. When I questioned him about pornography during the ‘recovery’ years, I was told that ‘Everything is OK,’ but the anger was still there.”
If A Sex Addict Is Sober, Is He In Recovery?
Many women believe that sobriety means recovery. Sometimes, they don’t understand why they are still struggling when their husband is sober. Sobriety is just a starting point. We need to look for true change from our husband. You can see what that should look like here.
Anne believed her husband was sober, so she was confused when his abusive behavior escalated.
“During those five years, I felt pacified. I continued speaking about pornography addiction and my experience, appearing ‘in control.’ It even got to the point where my husband and I spoke together five times.
“Then the behaviors escalated rapidly, to the point where I knew I needed to set boundaries. I thought: He’s ruining my life and our family. I was afraid and worried.”
Can I Heal From Betrayal Trauma If I Stay With My Sex Addict Husband?
Betrayal trauma symptoms will continue if a woman is still being manipulated, lied to, and abused. Some women need to separate from their husband to find clarity. Other women may stay with their husband and still find clarity. If you choose to stay, please read here.
For Anne, she found that she needed to shift her focus away from helping her husband and toward herself and God.
“Betrayal Trauma for me is most acute when I am focused on trying to change my addicted ex-husband, rather than giving it over to God. A pornography addict is unstable, unable to follow through, and in my husband's case, abusive and angry.”
Why Do I Feel Confused When My Sex Addict Husband Says He’s Sober?
Sex addicts and abusers go through cycles. The confusion of this cycle can leave a woman feeling confused and chaotic.
“Focusing on my husband created more chaos for me.
“We moved six times in five years.
“The threat of him swearing or physically intimidating me through punching walls or screaming in my face was ever constant.
“Several times he suddenly threatened to kill himself in front of our children.
“I was constantly trying to create stability on a foundation of quicksand. Ever building, but never getting anywhere.”
Women can be further confused by the abuse and addiction cycle. There will be wonderful, amazing periods where everything is calm and peaceful. Then all heck will break loose.
Anne experienced those calm times, which left her more confused and unable to see what was really happening to her. When all heck broke loose for her, she was further traumatized.
“Then there were amazing times. Times when he was peaceful and emotionally connected. Times that I trusted him and felt safe.
“I chose to believe that these times were the reality of my marriage and that the chaos and abuse were just a fluke. I did not see the reality of my situation because I wanted desperately to save my family.
“His resentment toward me built up until, eventually, he lashed out and physically attacked me.
“After he was arrested for domestic violence the trauma was so intense. I remembered all the things he had said about other men who abandoned their families and couldn’t pull it together to repair their relationship.”
How Will I Know If A Sex Addict Is Telling The Truth?
As we recognize our reality, we begin to see things as they really are. We wonder if they will really change.
We wonder, “What does that even look like? How will I know if he’s going to change? Will I ever be able to trust him again?” For signs that a sex addict is changing, read here.
Anne knew that she could no longer trust anything her husband said. She knew his behavior would tell her everything.
“I just thought, ‘Wow, that was all talk. He does not know how to do that.’ I watched carefully for clear signs of him attempting to repair our family and relationship.
“I saw none.
What Is The Truth About Sex Addiction And Abuse?
Anne finally recognized the truth of her situation.
“On this path of healing and in recovery I’ve embraced these truths.
5 Truths About Sex Addiction And Abuse
- I am not the cause of my husband’s addiction and abusiveness.
- I can’t change or fix my addicted abusive spouse.
- HE is making his own decisions of his own free will.
- I have been deeply injured by the abuse, anger, deceit and disrespect in my marriage.
- It’s only with God’s help that I can truly heal and thrive after betrayal trauma.
Once she recognized these truths, she was able to get herself on the path to healing.
How Can I Heal From Betrayal Trauma?
Healing is a process. It takes work, a lot of work. It’s a continual process that is difficult and painful. As we work through this journey of healing, we find new triggers and uncover more injuries. For 3 things to help you heal, please read here.
Anne knows that she needs to continue working to find her own healing.
“Staying on this path of healing and recovery is important for me. It's very difficult."
"I work with a qualified therapist and I work with my support group.
“I’m slowly coming out of focusing on my ex-husband. He was my focus for so long. I wanted to do everything to help him and to save my family.”
While she was still being abused, Anne didn’t realize that she needed to be working on her own healing and recovery. She thought she was doing just fine. When she finally got to safety, she realized how much she needed it.
“When he lived with us, I thought that I didn’t need to recover. Well, I thought I was kind of in recovery. I didn’t understand what recovery was. I thought recovery was going to groups occasionally, and, every once in a while, going to a therapist. Really, I thought it was just reading about things.
“I didn’t realize that there were actual steps that I could take and things that I could do every day to find healing and recovery.”
Will His Recovery Fix My Trauma?
Many women also believe that if her husband would just get into recovery, they would be fine. Things would go back to normal. To learn more about why women need support, please read here.
Anne felt that way too.
“Back then, I thought, if he would just stop and get better, that everything would be okay. It’s not that simple. I was in trauma. I was living out an emotionally-frenzied life in constant fear.”
For some women, the first step to healing is to separate themselves from the addict.
For Anne, that’s exactly what she needed to do to see what was really going on.
“The first step to healing was to remove myself from the person who continued to traumatize me completely. I had to set a boundary to remain free from that abuse until he shows he is emotionally safe and trustworthy.”
If I’m Working My Own Recovery, Why Am I Still Being Triggered?
When we’re working through our own healing, we may find ourselves triggered and focusing on how to fix him. For more information on working through triggers, read here. When we focus on fixing or helping our husband, we tend to forget about ourselves.
Anne has found herself in this situation several times.
“Many times, my addicted ex-husband came quickly back into my focus—especially when he sent texts blaming me for the breakup of the marriage, blaming me for HIS decision to divorce.
“That has been really difficult. When that happens, I reach out for support.
“That’s when the trauma really hits.”
Trauma feels different for everyone. You can read one woman’s story about her trauma here.
Anne has discovered what it feels like for her.
“For me, the betrayal trauma feels like anxiety, it feels like fear, it feels like pain, sorrow, and sadness. Sometimes, it just gets so intense. It’s so intense I feel like I might die."
“There have been times when I have been laying in my bed and I just scream and yell and pound the bed.
“Sometimes, when I'm in the shower, I just fall down to the ground and just lay in the shower and cry and cry and cry. It is so painful."
I’ve learned through this that one thing I’m good at is accepting the pain and just feeling it. I do that quite often when the pain gets intense.”
Boundaries Can Help You See The Truth And Keep You Safe
When we’ve set boundaries and have reached some safety, we may need to adjust our boundaries. Sometimes, it takes other people letting us know that we need to have a boundary or change one to protect ourselves from harm.
Anne had a boundary imposed by the court, when her husband was arrested. She had to tighten that boundary when she realized she was still being abused by her ex-husband.
“Recently, I had to increase my boundary because my ex wrote some extremely abusive and triggering emails. After my dad read the emails, he insisted that I block his number and emails and have my ex only communicate through my dad. Since then, the constant fear has subsided a bit.
“My boundaries that I’ve set are based on love, safety, and respect for myself and for my ex-husband. My boundary of no contact enables me to connect with God and make sure I’m safe.”
Healing is a process. It takes time. If we work on our own healing consistently, we find that our trauma symptoms subside or decrease in intensity.
Anne has been working on her healing for several months now. She is finding that she’s starting to enjoy life again and taking better care of herself.
“With consistent time, effort, and the grace of God I think I’m starting to heal. I’m starting to choose a healthier lifestyle.
“It’s hard. I’m still having trouble eating well and exercising. I’m still having trouble sleeping.
“One healthy thing that I’ve been doing is yard work which has really been therapeutic and healing for me. I’m also reaching out to my support group.
“When I’m connected with God and He is my focus, I feel much calmer. I feel more peaceful.”
Learning About Sex Addiction And Betrayal Trauma Can Help You Heal
As we gain more knowledge and experience through our healing, we learn more and more. We can learn from those who have gone before us and those who are coming behind us. As we share our experiences, we can help others who are in similar situations.
Anne is still learning and growing. She does her podcast so she can teach other women what she is learning.
“I’m still in that stage of not knowing anything. This podcast is more just sharing this experience with you of where I’m at now, not that I’ve arrived, or that I’m anywhere, but that I’m still living in trauma and working through it every day. I'm trying to keep my focus on God and trying to do His will.
“I’m so grateful that you’re here with me listening to this journey and that I know I’m not alone.”
Even Without The Truth, You Can Heal From Betrayal Trauma
Unfortunately, many women never get a full disclosure, which you can learn about here. They must try to come to grips with what they do know, and that they may never know what really happened.
If you are in that situation, Anne understands. Her ex continues to deny responsibility for anything he has done.
“Even now, I don't know exactly what happened. I suspect that my husband lied to me many times."
“I still deal with the anxiety, fear, sadness, heartache, and stress of the betrayal every day.
“I’m also a single mom of three small children, which comes with its own difficulties.
“With the betrayal comes worries about the future, worries about money, and what will happen.
“It's extremely stressful.
“I entered recovery because I desperately wanted to feel peace again. I want to feel safe in my life. I’m working on it every day. I’m grateful for my support group, my mentor and my therapist.”
There is hope. Many women have experienced great healing. Many husbands are choosing true recovery.
Healing is a lot of work, but you are worth it.
If you are struggling to see the truth or need help identifying your experience, consider attending a Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group Session or signing up for an Individual Session with a qualified Betrayal Trauma Recovery Coach. Betrayal Trauma Recovery offers Individual Sessions on different topics related to betrayal trauma.
For more information on what to expect from an Individual Session read here.