This post has been updated as of September 2020.
As a Betrayal Trauma Recovery coach, I see up close the personal devastation experienced by women who have been in long-term relationships with men struggling with pornography addiction and/or emotional or physical affairs.
In the early days following the discovery of addiction or an affair, emotional anguish, mental confusion, and physical symptoms are at an all-time high. And they can remain this way for months or even years. That’s why it’s called betrayal trauma. Few individuals get through it without some lingering side effects, even with qualified help.
Addiction and affairs are almost always accompanied by emotional and mental abuse in the form of prolonged secrets, gaslighting, and blame-shifting. Especially in the case of addiction, where recovery can take years, these behaviors do not disappear quickly, if at all.
How does the one who was betrayed make even day-to-day decisions, much less decisions about his or her future, in the midst of pain, confusion, and ongoing abuse? How does one heal amidst the onslaught of staggered disclosures, where every new discovery is a fresh open wound? How does the betrayer begin to seek help and do the hard work of recovery when the spouse’s anger and resentment trigger an already existing sense of shame, sometimes feeding the cycle of addictive behavior?
How does one heal him or herself? Is there any hope for the relationship? The answer may seem counterintuitive. Separation may be the key. Not the “pack your bags and let the door slam behind you” kind of separation. Rather, a well-planned, structured, therapeutic separation, where one or both partners are actively involved in a guided process to gain enough space, clarity, and healing to give the relationship it’s best chance at surviving.
Related: How to Tell If Your Husband Is Really in Recovery
When is a therapeutic separation appropriate? Therapeutic separations can be helpful in the following circumstances:
- When you feel unsafe emotionally or physically in your relationship.
- When you need time and space to think clearly and sort things out.
- When your communication and interaction patterns result in frustration rather than resolution.
- When you want to make the best decision for yourself and your family’s future, rather than making decisions in the heat of anger.
- When you need your spouse to understand the seriousness of the situation.
How Is a Therapeutic Separation Different?
Traditional separations tend to be unplanned and unstructured. They are often initiated out of anger and they avoid conflict rather than confronting it. There is typically no plan in place to allow for the growth of the individuals.
By contrast, a therapeutic separation is planned and structured. It seeks to resolve conflict and it is carried out with the support of a trained professional. It involves a detailed written plan including goals for personal growth. A therapeutic separation provides no guarantees, but can sometimes offer the best chance for the relationship to either survive or end with as little trauma as possible.
What Can I Expect from a Therapeutic Separation?
There are many components to a therapeutic separation. Each professional carries them out somewhat uniquely, but they all have certain considerations in common. When I work with clients seeking to recover from the impact of addiction, adultery, and/or abuse within their relationship, I encourage them to consider these key factors when drafting, agreeing to, and executing a therapeutic separation plan:
- Type–in house or out of the house, physical or psychological
- Dates–when the separation will begin and end, including a review date (if unknown or indefinite)
- Whether or not there will be legal involvement
- How long the separation is intended to last
- What the living arrangements will be–who is leaving and who is staying
- Will the one leaving have access to the home, and under what circumstances
- Rules and expectations around communication (phone, text, email, in-person)
- Privacy issues and confidentiality (What will you say to other people?)
- Agreements regarding children
- Agreements regarding finances
- Statements regarding the expectations of each partner
- Personal goals for growth
- Activities for growth that will take place during separation
- Boundaries to be honored
- Terms for reconciliation (could include a therapeutic disclosure and polygraph)
- How will the logistics of the actual separation take place
- Finally, the agreement will include a plan to evaluate the success of the separation and decision-making (Have goals and expectations been met?)
Depending on the results of the evaluation, a decision is made to either:
- Maintain the separation without changes to the agreement
- Continue this separation with changes to the agreement
- End the separation and reconcile
- End the separation and divorce
Benefits of Therapeutic Separation
The power of a therapeutic separation lies in the growth process. When couples get to this place, it’s obvious the marriage isn’t working. Once you add sex or porn addiction into the mix, it’s helpful to have a professional who is experienced in sex addiction recovery, betrayal trauma recovery, and therapeutic separation.
The growth experienced in this scenario goes beyond improving communication and lowering expectations. During separation, the betrayer will ideally be working toward goals of recovery, including identifying triggers, strategies for managing them, accountability to the spouse and others, stress management, healthy coping skills, how to support the victim, and tools to communicate and rebuild trust.
Related: 10 Ways You Can Help Your Husband Leave Porn Behind
The victim will ideally be working with a Betrayal Trauma Recovery coach to learn how to obtain emotional and physical safety for herself, create a support system, manage extreme feelings of anger or sadness, manage her triggers and establishing boundaries, regain self-trust (intuition), and how to support her recovering partner without compromising her personal well-being.
Readiness to Reconcile
Prior to reconciliation, it’s critical that couples have a clear plan to assess and ensure that all abusive behaviors and sexual acting out have stopped. It’s important that the perpetrator is capable of engaging in honest, non-abusive, and accountable ways, demonstrating his willingness and ability to repair the relationships he has wounded through sexual and relational betrayal.
The greatest advantage of a healing separation is that it provides the opportunity for the couple to get some space and calmness and think clearly about the direction in which they want to go. Sometimes we all need space apart to work on ourselves in recovery and healing so that we can bring two healthy individuals back together to face the future together, no longer as husband versus wife, but as husband and wife united against anything that threatens to divide them. Even if separation ends in divorce, couples who have worked through the process tend to face the future with more confidence, more preparation, and the knowledge that they did their best for themselves and their families.
My partner wanted divorce. For three months I watched as my marriage went into complete cascade failure. Nothing I could do or say could change the path toward destruction. It was terrifying to see the change in my spouse. She would say I was loyal to her and the children, but I could not convince her I loved her, and she gradually came to the conclusion she did not love me. She tried several times over several weeks to get me to say I wanted it myself using words that tore me apart, I had never given her pleasure, she could not stand my touch, she would not stroke me ego and tell me she found me handsome, I was too much like my father (something she knew from intimate sharing I hated in comparison). Finally, she approached me to say that early in our marriage she saw images I had been looking at though she had never brought it up. Based on the weeks prior, I knew it was likely a means of acquiring the right to divorce me. She has since admitted she cornered me with that intent. There were two schools of thought, one was “tell your spouse” and the other “don’t” both made reasoned arguments. For me, it came down to choosing to be honest. I had been terrified for years that if she discovered the porn she would reject me and want divorce. We have three children and I was terrified about what divorce would do to them. My fears were completely realized.
However, I had been in therapy for several months at this point, working to address use of porn. As a Christian I felt intense shame and guilt. I badly wanted help. I had even begun to ask God to just let me get caught. I had begun as a young teen drawn to the stimulation of seeing the images, and in the absence of intimacy within the marriage, I foolishly turned to porn as a counterfeit. I had continued this on and off during dry intimacy periods throughout our 16 year marriage.
Once I confessed it was over. There was no desire for reconciliation. She used the confession as her “out”. I asked for separation with the idea of reconciliation and she said no. She told me she had seen an attorney, so I saw one as well and was cautioned not to leave the house willingly, as a judge would consider it abdication of my rights as a father. Than the most terrifying thing I could have imagined happened. She began to claim correlation meant causation and began to claim I was dangerous for our oldest daughter. I found out when I was served the divorce papers that months of seeds had been planted and a CPS worker had interviewed my wife, children, and in-laws. I had never been approached. A bogus police investigation was launched and kept from me until court conciliation, and there at conciliation, I lost the right to be with my children. Lies about me were weaponized to support the effort to divorce me. More than a year later, and I’m still subject to supervision like a criminal. $8K in costs to different specialists, taking test after test with shrinks, all of them saying I’m no harm. The police investigation being closed because they found nothing, and I am still being treated as if I am a danger. This system gives the spouse who files far too much power.
What does a man do there? I am a betrayer. I’ve also been betrayed. It’s all on me. I used porn, I hurt her, who cares how much I was hurt by the intensity of being rejected over and over again. No one. I’m tired of being the disease, the sin, the evil.
I am by God’s grace intent on staying pure. I’m 18 months sober now, praise God. 12 steps, complete removal of any internet access, accountability, covenant eyes, prayer, and running to God’s Word when temptation comes, which it does in the loneliness of being cast out from my family.
I’m tired folks, so tired. I hate what I did. I hate having ever turned to the counterfeit filth of porn, when I should have sought those things in my precious wife. I hate it all. I’m also very angry. She wanted the divorce, and she weaponized my confession not just to get the divorce but then to make claims that tore me from my children. Was that just? Is that a right consequence? Should men, who are flooded by this evil world with sexual imagery and who foolishly give into it, also lose their children? Should they be branded as predators, and forced out of their homes, cast out of their families?
Hello, I’m stunned after reading your post. Anything I might say will sound trite compared to the real pain and agony you’ve experienced. I’m so sorry. You asked a lot of questions at the end of your story. You’ve shared a lot of details, and I’m sure there are others, but the end result seems unfair. In spite of your circumstances, which are horrible, I’m hopeful for you because of the steps you’ve taken (in your second to last paragraph). I will pray for you after I post this. Maybe God’s grace cover you and may that grace give you strength to continue doing the right things.
I’m not dismissing your feelings at all but you sound selfish. When you were in the midst of being a porn user you will never understand how much damage that did to your wife but your marriage during that time.I can tell you dont just from your comnents alone. You were not truly remorseful during the time your wife was still married to you either bc if You were then a divorce would have never been done. I’m sorry but being selfish and feeding your sexual desire was truly more inportant than your family. I am currently dealing with this same situation and this has been the issuefor a total of 14 yrs. Ive been married a total of 9 yrs the first couple didnt really count bc we werent married. We now have 3 children and ive left my husband 2xs he ended up having an affair last year on top of dealing with the porn for years. I truly dojt feel like I ja e no other choice but to divorce him he refuses to stop while I’m here. It has become a part of our marriage and as long as I’m here I’m definitely being an inabler at this point. I have 2 girls and 1 boy. This affects them greatly he’s become so life less he doesnt take the children anywhere. We dont do anything as a family only in doors ive fought for my husband and ive done my part as a christian wife and prayed for him. In the end thats unfair to me to continue to feel unloved and like an object. What person truly wants to take their children away from their father. Its going to hurt them horribly but thats who this is about its hurting them mlre to stay in a broken home verses getting out to have a true christian one. If my husband wont stop or go get help what do you expect us to do as your wife just stay here forever until we die with you having your personal fun behind our backs. Theres a difference in mistakes and just full blown disrepect. You have to take accountability for the outcome and remembered all the chances the Lord gave you before you ended up where you are now. I truly applaud you and am proud and want to point out that I also read where you have been commited and are no longer using porn. If you truly want your family back you never know how God can turn things around. But stop acting like yoir the victim. We all fall short and this is where you fell short no one is disregarding your feelings but you have to just accept that your wife finally took action and put her foot down to stop this never ending cycle that I’m sure became a part of your marriage. Please dokt take this as a bashing no one deserves to have their family taken away from them but at the sametime no one deserves or wants to stay in a fake marriage either. No woman can truly feel loved every night when her husband lays down beside her on on top of her for that matter knowing you just got finish looking at another woman. You really need to understand what if the shoe was on the other foot and she had been looking at another man every time you mad her mad or before she made love to you. Please continue to press forward as ypuve been doing bc I know how hard it has been for you to stay pure and clean. Its not easy to be a porn user or be clean and not use it but in time it will get even easier.
There needs to be something for the vice versa situation. Sometimes it’s the woman who has betrayed & the man wants to stay but has issues to deal with the betrayal from his wife. And most of the time it’s a lot harder for men to recover from this than women, generally. But this therapeutic approach seems to have gender biased slant. We should just say spouses instead of making the men to always be the culprits & women as victims. Men have been victims too & women have been the culprits. In an age where there is much talk of a gender equality it still hasn’t happened with regards to relationships & betrayal. It’s almost always typically portrayed that men are the betrayed or addicts or abusers & women as victims. This needs to change. I like everything the therapeutic approach claims to offer. But when its gender biased this way it makes me feel like this may not be for me & my wife do to the prejudice toward one gender over the other.
Yes Covenant Eyes used to be centered around the finished work of Jesus on the Cross, and repentance and restoration were based on that. Romans 6 & 8. But Covenant Eyes has definitely done away with that by partnering with New Age-based BTR (Betrayal Trauma Recovery), which has zero to do with Jesus or the True Gospel. So yes this article is definitely biased.
You are right in saying that Covenant Eyes believes in repentance and restoration through Jesus Christ. However, not everyone who wants to overcome their porn addiction is a believer. This doesn’t make their porn addiction any different from believers who are addicted. Betrayal Trauma Recovery may not center their work around Jesus or the Gospel, but they are working hard each day to help ALL people overcome their addiction. Wouldn’t you agree that this is an important mission, aside from religion?
As I continue to recover and grow during this time I continue to learn truths. I did not, nor do I deny that my actions were selfish. I have had to live with knowing the many times I felt God calling me out when our marriage was still young, and I ignored Him. I have to live with the fact that though the rejection I felt tore me apart, I contributed to my wife’s unconscious rejection of me as I allowed that terrible poison to infect our intimacy. The pain of being accused of being an abuser is actually less than the pain of knowing I am deeply at fault for the loss of my marriage.
My cry above, was a cry of intense pain born out of the exhaustion of the loss of my marriage, my family, being attacked, and accused of being an abuser. I still believe the loss of my children, and the accusations of being a predator were unjust. For me, those actions were felt as a very deep betrayal. I will admit, that I tire of seeing the man-bashing that sometimes takes place on this blog. However, I also don’t want to harden my heart, and I want to recognize that the women who I perceive as man-bashing are no less crying out in pain, and perhaps their pain is even greater than my own.
I don’t like being reminded over and over again that my sin was principally responsible for the destruction of my marriage. Covenant Eyes is very good at reminding. I have come away from reading blog posts, very angry with CE. That said, I needed (and need) to keep hearing it. Not so that I slip back into condemnation and self-hatred, but so I can grow, if only a little, in humility. Many of the blog posts sting a bit, but I imagine the Truth (good medicine) ought to sting a bit. I don’t want to be selfish and self-righteous anymore. I petition our Lord every day to change me. I think He is, though perhaps it is slow due to my own stubbornness.
My emotions can be raw. When I post on CE my words show that emotion.
It is so sad to see all the families torn apart by this, but it is encouraging to know there are good people out there fighting the fight. You all are trying to be better, trying to be empathetic. Trying to acknowledge each other’s pain and yet hold the ground that is keeping you afloat. Keep it up my brothers and sisters. God needs each one of us to band together as survivors who can run to the rescue of others who are betraying and being betrayed.
Betrayal Trauma Recovery is not new age. The physical, mental and emotional side affects were almost unbearable the first 4 months. I am a strong believer and God has been so gracious to me, but we do have human bodies that experience this pain on a very real level. For the first time I had to seek out help in the form of anti depressants to cope. It is a genuine shock to your system. If you’ve ever had a traumatic experience like a horrific car accident, it is amazingly similar except it is not a one and done event. I had a horrible car accident where I rolled my car over twice at 60 mph. The PTSD that occurred after that event was intermittent and the severe panic attacks and immediate affect lasted about 2 weeks. The experience for 4 months after discovery of my husband having an affair with my daughter in law was exponentially worse. When I found the Betrayal Trauma Recovery model, it was like I finally found someone who truly understood what I had been experiencing. I couldn’t figure out why I had been experiencing such severe physical and mental problems in the form of panic attacks and nightmares until this was explained. Just having the understanding and recognition that I was not going crazy started to make the healing easier. For a man who has not been on the receiving end of such deception and betrayal to think that it is not real, is ignorant.
Thanks, Brianne, for speaking up about the reality of post-traumatic stress from betrayal trauma. It is real, it is true, and women need good treatment for it. Bloom for Women is a great place to start, for anyone who needs that kind of help.