Let’s talk about strategic covert abuse (aka “his disease”)

  1. After years of pregnancy, birthing, and caring for babies and toddlers, her children were now in school and she had finally carved out a project for herself—training for a marathon. When the big day came for her to run the first one ever, her husband dropped off the radar screen. He didn’t go to the race. He wasn’t at the finish line. When she got home he wasn’t there, either. When he got home he picked a fight right away and never asked about her race. When she thought he was calmed down, she tried to share her experience and how great she felt about reaching this goal, he would not respond. Then, she noticed he was being abnormally careless about his phone which usually never left his possession, so when he left the room she picked it up and found his full day’s sexting exploits, arrangements for hooking up, and post-sex banter. She realized he was punishing her for looking after herself and achieving this significant goal. The memory of everything that day could have meant was now slimed with his weaponized sexual and sexualized activities.
  2. Her years of study were complete. She had just been advised that she would receive a special award for academic excellence. When she told him he stood very still, said nothing, and then seemed distracted and too busy to celebrate her achievement. He left and was gone quite a while. Maybe he was getting some flowers or a bottle of wine to toast the future? But he came home empty-handed and just as distracted. Soon after, the police came to the door wanting to speak to him about a complaint he exposed himself at a transit stop. She was reeling. He was silent. She tried to straighten out what had to be a big mistake. But it wasn’t a mistake. He had done it. They were threatening to arrest him. When  the officers could see the truth was sinking in, they packed up to leave, told her he was probably under stress, and on their way out the door indicated she had to get him to a therapist and they would be in contact with her to make sure she had done it. “What was going on?” she wondered in confusion. One moment he was going to be arrested and the next moment everything was her responsibility. Her husband stayed silent and unavailable to her. The next morning she had to keep an appointment to have her graduate photograph taken. There was no joy on her face, only the terrible strain of what she had just gone through. The photographer tried to help, but was completely booked so she couldn’t come back another day and still meet the deadline for the class picture. When she got the proof she sobbed at what should have been a milestone picture of a happy and confident woman. She hardly recognized herself. Needless to say she didn’t buy any, but was reminded of it in the class picture—which she never framed and never hung. Meanwhile she got her husband to a psychiatrist, where she later learned he spent nearly seven years lying about everything, emerging very proud of himself for the con he completed on the doctor. His strategic “crisis” ensured she could never think of her graduation or speak of it without him as the ugly centre of attention in her head, instead.
  3. She had always wanted to learn to fly and now she was doing it…
  4. She was going to be honoured for her role as a key volunteer serving as Chairperson of a benevolent foundation…
  5. Her success as a writer brought many offers her way and her husband declared himself her “agent”…
  6. It was her birthday and she just wanted to be with the people she cared most about…
  7. She had an opportunity at work that she never dreamed she would have…

I could write pages of stories large and small that outline how husbands or boyfriends transformed occasions meant to celebrate the wife or partner into nightmares. This is one way we experience covert abuse. It is not “compulsive” or “random” but strategic and purposeful. We cannot imagine anyone doing it, never mind our husband or boyfriend, so we never prepare for it. However, he does it and the outcomes are all similar. We can’t have anything of our own to celebrate, especially achievement, recognition, success, or affirmation.

Like all abuse, this covert strategic abuse is about control---specifically controlling your feelings in the moment and in the memory of the occasion. Sometimes it’s an “in your face” thing, but sometimes it takes time to understand what is at the root of that nagging feeling that is like a cloud over a moment that was supposed to be wonderful. And yes, they also don’t care if they get caught—even by the police. As I’ve discovered in my work, it often doesn’t matter if they are caught—the burden to fix it all is off-loaded onto the wife or girlfriend anyway. (You won't be surprised to find this tactic often employed in the prevailing treatment model for these men, since the model was created by one of them.)

If you still aren’t sure what I’m talking about, let’s define each word from a simple google search.


·      relating to the identification of long-term or overall aims and interests and the means of achieving them. 

·      carefully designed or planned to serve a particular purpose or advantage.


·      not openly acknowledged or displayed.

·      hidden, often hard to identify.


·      treat (a person or an animal) with cruelty or violence, especially regularly or repeatedly.

When the men called sex addicts direct their abuse strategically through critical timing and do so without directly opposing the person or the occasion, as well as create or use opportunities to achieve a cruel or violent outcome for their target, it’s time to stop pretending they have a “disease”, “can’t help themselves” and “aren’t responsible.” Abusers need to control others by any means possible. And this is just another way these guys do it, and get away with it.

Maybe something like this has happened to you. Your life is meant to be celebrated in every way possible, and those extra special moments should live as happy and encouraging memories in your life. His positive participation in those times is what positive mutuality in a primary relationship is all about. If that’s not what you’ve been getting, your story is safe here.

With you,



Diane Strickland